In 1944, the Allied troops were gaining ground on the battlefields of WWII, but still faced opposition from the Axis powers. The weaker that enemy targets could be made, the easier and faster the military’s job would be in wresting Europe back from its occupying forces. The U.S. government thus began a strategy to undermine Axis-aligned governments not only from without, but also from within.
The Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), a precursor to the modern C.I.A., created an initially classified booklet laying out the art of “simple sabotage” — which, “more than malicious mischief . . . should always consist of acts whose results will be detrimental to the materials and manpower of the enemy.”
The Simple Sabotage Field Manual taught O.S.S. agents not only how to recruit potential saboteurs from among those who were antagonistic towards their occupiers and sympathetic to the Allied cause, but listed specific tactics average citizens in various lines of work could employ to destabilize their government and help hasten its demise. The booklet was declassified by the director of the O.S.S., William J. Donovan, with the aim of surreptitiously distributing its information by way of leaflets, radio broadcasts, or the direct teaching of European citizens who U.S. agents had ascertained could be trusted.
Though the suggestions presented in the Simple Sabotage Field Manual were designed to soften the underbelly of the enemy by gumming up the works of factories, offices, and infrastructure, what’s hilariously surprising is how many of them, especially regarding white collar work, continue to be inadvertently (we think?) practiced today.
When you read tips to employees like “refer all matters to committees, for ‘further study and consideration,’” and “Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can,” as well as instructions to managers to “Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done,” one realizes the ways in which, in the present day, employees sabotage their companies, managers sabotage their teams, and workers sabotage their own success — not for any purposeful mission, but simply out of laziness, carelessness, and a lack of motivation and morale.
Further, the general injunction to “Act stupid,” uncomfortably invokes the fact that modern citizens may be sabotaging the strength of a country they actually support.
The Simple Sabotage Field Manual thus cannot only be used as a handbook on guerrilla resistance, should you find yourself living under a tyrannical occupying government, but also a guide on how to “reverse engineer” success in peacetime pursuits — how to recognize and address would-be saboteurs in the cubicle next door (or in the mirror).
Either way, it’s a fascinating read. Below we’ve re-published a condensed version of the booklet, collecting the tips that are the most interesting, and which still remain relevant today. (Numbering/formatting was changed in places by the necessity of the condensing process.) The entire booklet can be found here.
Fight the power, and don’t forget to leave home without a bag of moths.