Simple Sabotage

How many of the things that we do sabotage our ability to do anything, and everything

By Mark D. Harris

My son and a friend were exploring the Internet a few days ago and came across a US Government manual from World War II called Simple Sabotage. The book is written to teach ordinary citizens in the occupied territories how to do simple things to impede the operations of the Nazi war machine. The Chinese form of torture and execution, Death by a Thousand Cuts, is a related idea. By inflicting a thousand delays, confusions, frustrations, and small obstacles, the common folk in the occupied territories could help drive out the Germans.

Workers and bosses today use “The Manual” in every organization in America, and the bigger the worse, without even knowing it. People are afraid to do anything without authorization from the Boss, and no one will take responsibility for their words or actions.

Simple sabotage includes suppressing thought. In education, covering yourself is more important the covering the material. In business, agreeing with your colleagues is more important than accomplishing the mission. Conformity is safe. Imagine a group that wants to do action A, but member M wants to do action B. If member M stifles his own voice and goes along with the group, the group will do A, and all will succeed or fail together. No single individual will get blamed and punished. If member M does B and B succeeds, he will get a pat on the back. If B fails, member M will be looking for a new job.

Simple sabotage also includes acts of omission and commission designed to harm the enemy. Consider the excerpts from the Manual below.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual

The Field Manual boasts helpful measures for having a long, safe, and successful career as a Simple Saboteur. Here are a few:

  1. Use materials which appear to be innocent.
  2. Try to commit acts for which large numbers of people could be responsible.
  3. Do not be afraid to commit acts for which you might be blamed directly, so long as you do so rarely, and as long as you have a plausible excuse.
  4. After you have committed an act of easy sabotage, resist any temptation to wait around and see what happens.

The Field Manual includes pages and pages of instructions for those who want to attack the material resources of their enemies. Below is a sample:

  1. In basements where waste is kept, janitors should accumulate oily and greasy waste. Such waste sometimes ignites spontaneously, but it can easily be lit with a cigarette or match. If you are a janitor on night duty, you can be the first to report the fire, but don’t report it too soon.
  2. You can cause wear on any machine by uncovering a filter system, poking a pencil or any other sharp object through the filter mesh, then covering it up again. Or, if you can dispose of it quickly, simply remove the filter.
  3. If you can accumulate sugar, put it in the fuel tank of a gasoline engine. As it burns together with the gasoline, it will turn into a sticky mess which will completely mire the engine and necessitate extensive cleaning and repair. Honey and molasses are as good as sugar. Try to use about 75-100 grams for each 10 gallons of gasoline.
  4. Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Make mistakes in issuing train tickets, leaving portions of the journey uncovered by the ticket book; issue two tickets for the same seat in the train, so that an interesting argument will result; near train time, instead of issuing printed tickets write them out slowly by hand, prolonging the process until the train is nearly ready to leave or has left the station. On station bulletin boards announcing train arrivals and departures, see that false and misleading information is given about trains bound for enemy destinations.
  5. While loading or unloading, handle cargo carelessly in order to cause damage. Arrange the cargo so that the weakest and lightest crates and boxes will be at the bottom of the hold, while the heaviest ones are on top of them. Put hatch covers and tarpaulins on sloppily, so that rain and deck wash will injure the cargo. Tie float valves open so that storage tanks will overflow on perishable goods.

More applicable to the office environment in which many people work, the Simple Sabotage Field Manual contains pages of ideas to impair the progress of any organization:

General Interference with Organizations and Production

  1. Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  2. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
  3. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  4. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  5. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  6. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  7. Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later.
  8. Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

Managers and Supervisors

  1. Demand written orders.
  2. “Misunderstand” orders. Ask endless questions or engage in long correspondence about such orders. Quibble over them when you can.
  3. Do everything possible to delay the delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until it is completely ready.
  4. Don’t order new working materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
  5. Order high-quality materials which are hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.
  6. In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
  7. Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
  8. Make mistakes in routing so that parts and materials will be sent to the wrong place in the plant.
  9. When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
  10. To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  11. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  12. Multiply paperwork in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
  13. Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.
  14. Apply all regulations to the last letter.

Office Workers

  1. Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.
  2. Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.
  3. Misfile essential documents.
  4. In making carbon copies, make one too few, so that an extra copying job will have to be done.
  5. Tell important callers the boss is busy or talking on another telephone.
  6. Hold up mail until the next collection.
  7. Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.


  1. Work slowly. Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.
  2. Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can: when changing the material on which you are working, as you would on a lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions twice as often as you need to. When you go to the lavatory, spend a longer time there than is necessary. Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
  3. Even if you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.
  4. Pretend that instructions are hard to understand and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.
  5. Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  6. Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.
  7. Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
  8. If possible, join or help organize a group for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are as inconvenient as possible for the management, involving the presence of a large number of employees at each presentation, entailing more than one meeting for each grievance, bringing up problems which are largely imaginary, and so on.
  9. Misroute materials.
  10. Mix good parts with unusable scrap and rejected parts.

General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion

  1. Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.
  2. Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.
  3. Act stupid.
  4. Be as irritable and quarrelsome as possible without getting yourself into trouble.
  5. Misunderstand all sorts of regulations concerning such matters as rationing, transportation, traffic regulations.
  6. Complain against ersatz materials.
  7. In public treat axis nationals or quislings coldly.
  8. Stop all conversation when axis nationals or quislings enter a cafe.
  9. Cry and sob hysterically at every occasion, especially when confronted by government clerks.
  10. Boycott all movies, entertainments, concerts, newspapers which are in any way connected with the quisling authorities.
  11. Do not cooperate in salvage schemes.

I have worked in various branches of the Federal government, as well as in corporate America. Every business is awash in simple saboteurs. Every organization, every school, and every church are also infected with such people.

  1. Amanda cries uncontrollably on receiving a “C” in her university English class.
  2. Mahana, a black female liberal, and Maria, a Hispanic female conservative, wouldn’t speak or even look at each other during the group project at their high school.
  3. John acts stupid, misunderstands rules, and gives incomprehensible answers to police questioning him about an accident that he witnessed.
  4. Cynthia, an office secretary, refused to gather pertinent information, type and send the report. Someone else had to do all the discovery and writing and send her the completed product.  
  5. Ahmed requires everyone on this staff to write all communications, know and follow every rule, and never use short cuts. His communication consists of speeches to his subordinates and refers all matters to committees.

Think of how often you have seen these things in your work, school, church, or even home. It doesn’t take long to realize that we all practice simple sabotage. And not only do we sabotage others, we also sabotage ourselves. We make our lives harder and more stressful by the ridiculous restrictions, words, and work that we place on ourselves and others. Perhaps we should all carry around cards reading “SIMPLE SABOTEUR” and passing them out whenever we see others being one. Perhaps others should carry around similar cards to give to us.

One thought on “Simple Sabotage

  1. Excellent tieing of all these disparate activities together. Sign me up. We’re really proud of you and family.

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