In its infinite generosity and bountiful public spirit, the CIA not long ago declassified a fascinating and hilarious document from World War II.
The document — written in 1944 by the precursor organisation to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) — was once intended to serve as a sabotage manual for European resistance movements, detailing various simple methods that could be used by civilians behind enemy lines — everything from starting fires to slashing tires.
The manual is called, aptly enough, The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, and the most interesting part of it isn’t the bit that would have been relevant to a hero resistance saboteur — igniting a leaking Nazi petrol trail with a spark from a shoe with one hand and disabling a Nazi power line with a toothbrush with the other, all the while smoking a cigarette and wearing a flat cap. No, the bit that really deserves attention is the part aimed at those ordinary citizens who would not have had the ability or capacity to actively participate in the resistance; those who carried on working as normal, often under new Nazi command, but who were nonetheless not too pleased with that and wanted to help Fuck Nazi Shit Up in any way they could.
This is where The Simple Sabotage Field Manual effectively turns into The Stifling Bureaucracy And Soul-Destroying Office Behaviour Guide, and it is absolutely amazing to read — partly because it’s remarkably comprehensive, and partly because it sounds like it could’ve been written fucking yesterday.
You office-bound folk out there, stop me if any of this sounds familiar; here’s a sample:
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.
Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of advisability of that decision.
To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
Insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
You can see the full manual here, but a few other gems include:
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
Advocate ‘caution.’ Be ‘reasonable’ and urge your fellow-conferees to be ‘reasonable’ and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on
In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
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.
The great philosopher, Fallout, once said: ‘War. War never changes,’ and I guess the same applies to office behaviour. Unless, that is, the offices of the nation are filled to the fucking brim with amateur saboteurs.
I’ve spent my fair share of time in an office environment, and any one of the atrocious turd-behaviours described above is usually enough for a vein to start throbbing in the side of my head with rage, like an end-of-level boss’ glowing weak spot. Some offices are of course better than others, but by their very nature — throwing a mix of complete strangers into a cauldron of fluorescence, forced pleasentness, and disillusioned apathy — they tend to bring out a particular, low-key brand of the Worst in a lot of people.
The manual is very comprehensive, but not nearly comprehensive enough. Especially since it can’t take into account all the lovely, lovely technology that has been integrated seamlessly into the world of the modern office over the last 70 years.
Anyway, in between massaging the glowing rage-vein in my head I had a brief think, and I thought of a few other unforgivable office sins that the CIA could include in an updated version of the manual. You can have these, CIA, my treat:
1. Send out emails without any subject lines.
2. When in a meeting, make sure that the sounds emanating from your mouth as you consume a cheap, depressing sandwich are as loud as possible. While doing so, affect the most oblivious expression for maximum effect.
3. Ask someone when the soonest is that they can do something for you. Then, ask them about the task again, but earlier than they said that they could do it. For example, if you are told that they’ll probably be able to get it finished by Friday, ask them whether it’s done yet on Thursday morning.
4. Act as if the shared kettle in the kitchen is only for your personal use. If it is empty, fill it up only for as many mugs as you need.
5. Send out bulletin/news emails with very vague announcements and without further explanation. For example: ‘Dear all, don’t worry, it is now safe to use the toilets again.’ End of message.
I have to take a break before the rage-vein pops, but if you have any other suggestions, sound off in the comments and let’s all heal together.