Government advises citizens to act stupid?

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, January 2, 2016

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I was on the Project Gutengerg website (a website that provides free ebooks) looking for a copy of a Dickens novel, when I came across a list of the 100 most downloaded books from the previous day. I was curious to see how many of the books I had read.

I never found out because halfway through the list, I saw a title that intrigued me. “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” by United States Office of Strategic Services.

What? I downloaded it and started reading, totally diverted from my original task.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

It was published as a classified document (since declassified) in January 1944 and was created to characterize what it calls “simple sabotage,” to outline its effects and to provide guidance for how ordinary citizens can mount a resistance to an occupying enemy force.

Ooh. Fascinating.

According to the manual, sabotage can range from the complex multi-national operation with detailed planning and highly trained operatives to a campaign of “innumerable simple acts which the ordinary individual citizen-saboteur can perform.”

What a great title: Citizen-Saboteur.

Simple sabotage, which is the type of sabotage we as ordinary citizens are encouraged to practice (more complex sabotage should be left to the professionals), is more than just gumming up the works and causing property damage. Acts such as putting things in the wrong place, providing incomplete or false information, bickering with others and being intentionally stupid all serve the greater good. These acts are meant to cause delay, confusion and generally chip away at the enemy’s soul.

After reading the examples, I can’t help but notice that I seem to have some citizen-saboteurs in my life. And I have played that role myself. I wonder what that means.

The manual goes on to instruct the reader (presumably a government operative) on how to train and encourage ordinary citizens like you and me to become citizen-saboteurs. Apparently “[p]urposeful stupidity is contrary to human nature.” (That’s a relief!) With this in mind, getting a citizen-saboteur to act intentionally stupid must be repeatedly reinforced, even pressured.

The government suggests a “reasonable amount of humor” be used to entice citizen-saboteurs into committing sabotage. They, disappointingly, do not provide any examples of sabotage-related humor. Not even a knock-knock joke.

Since they provide exhaustive examples of everything else, this leads me to believe that they couldn’t come up with anything. I’m guessing the Strategic Services Office wasn’t a room full of chuckleheads. But I have filled this obvious gap in the manual by providing the following example of reasonable sabotage humor for the would-be trainer of citizen-saboteurs.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Citizen-sabateur. Citizen-sabatuer who? What?

Moving on to actual instructions in sabotage itself, the manual provides very detailed instructions. It covers everything from different ways to set fires and burn up all kinds of structures, create slow-burning fuses, obstruct plumbing, destroy technology, disrupt communications, spoil the fuel in vehicles and other acts that will cause mayhem. It provides very helpful tips on how to commit sabotage without getting caught, and provides techniques for evading suspicion if questioned. Useful information for anyone wishing to mount a resistance or create chaos.

They do caution us to be sure and do these things to the enemy, and not to the allies. It seems like an important thing to point out. We citizen-saboteurs need to keep our enthusiasm for our newfound stupidity in check and not turn our powers upon ourselves. Or have we already?

Some of their suggested tactics are alarmingly familiar.

Here are some of the suggestions for a manager/supervisor to commit acts of simple sabotage: always assign unimportant jobs first and assign important jobs to the worst employees; demand perfection when it doesn’t matter and when it does, approve shoddy work; when training, give incomplete or misleading instructions; lower morale by favoring lazy workers and giving them undeserved promotions, while discriminating against hard workers, complaining unjustly about their work; hold pointless and never-ending conferences; and insist on the approval of three people for any request.

I think I’ve worked for a manager-saboteur. More than once. I wonder who the enemy was.

Employees aren’t neglected in the field manual. They have ample opportunity to commit sabotage. Here’s some of the suggestions for the citizen-saboteur at work: work slowly, add unnecessary steps and use the wrong tools for the job; contrive as many interruptions as possible; continually ask for instructions to be repeated; blame shoddy work on poor supplies; never help another worker; create a union organization; spread outrageous rumors; be irritable; and pit fellow workers against each other.

I also seem to have worked with employee-saboteurs. It’s nice to know they had a higher purpose.

The field manual concludes with general instructions for lowering morale and creating confusion. The government suggests we give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations to questions, report imaginary crimes, act stupid (this is the most frequently suggested tactic, coming up in four different categories), be irritable and quarrelsome, misunderstand everything and constantly complain.

My favorite suggestion in the whole manual is in this final section: “cry and sob hysterically at every occasion.”

This is wonderful.

I feel better prepared for the call to become a citizen-saboteur. I’m certainly not hoping for an invasion by enemy forces, but, should it prove necessary, I am ready to sob hysterically for my country.

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger. She takes pride in her ability to sob hysterically and act stupid upon request.

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