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The Art of Simple Sabotage

April 1, 2019

People and Culture

The rascally spies of OSS knew a thing or two about mischief making, especially when it came to undermining America’s enemies in World War II. One of their more imaginative ideas was to train everyday citizens in the art of simple sabotage.

Thus, the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” was born.

This previously classified booklet describes ways to train normal people to be purposely annoying telephone operators, dysfunctional train conductors, befuddling middle managers, blundering factory workers, unruly movie theater patrons, and so on.

In other words, teaching people to do their jobs badly.

OSS Director William “Wild Bill” Donovan had select parts of the manual declassified and disseminated to citizens of enemy states through pamphlets, targeted radio broadcasts, and in person.

While the guidebook does contain ideas for serious, hardcore sabotage you’d expect during wartime, there are many timeless (and dare we say all-too-familiar) tactics that could drive even the most sane person batty.

Here’s a list of five particularly timeless tips from the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual”:

  1. Telephone: At the office, hotel, or local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off “accidentally,” or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  2. Movie Theater Patrons: To ruin everyone’s time at the movies (without a cell phone, that is) bring in a paper bag filled with two or three dozen large moths. Open the bag and set it in an empty section of the theater. “The moths will fly out and climb into the projector beam, so that the film will be obscured by fluttering shadows.”
  3. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production,  think of the worst boss you’ve had and act like that. Be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work. When possible, refer all matters to committees for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible.
  4. Employees: Be forgetful. Clumsy. Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
  5. Transportation: Make train or air travel as inconvenient as possible. One particularly effective trick: issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an “interesting” argument.

Related Stories

“Spy Girl” Betty McIntosh
Barbara Lauwers: Deceiving the Enemy
The Legend of Wild Bill: How Donovan Got His Nickname

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