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World War II Advice: Defeat The Enemy By Being A Terrible Employee

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At the height of World War II, with the Allied powers battling the encroaching Axis powers on multiple fronts, any little bit of assistance helped. Though citizens in the United States, Britain, France, and other similarly minded nations could freely dedicate their efforts to defeating Germany, Italy, and Japan, residents of those rival countries sympathetic to the Allied cause had little recourse to openly offer any help. To tap into those suppressed networks of support, the Office of Strategies Services (precursor to the modern CIA) published a “Simple Sabotage Field Manual,” distributed by pamphlet and targeted international broadcast.

The instructions direct ordinary citizens to obstruct the functioning of their local governments and economies with a series of outwardly normal, but secretly disruptive actions. According to the manual’s introduction [PDF], “sabotage varies from highly technical coup de main acts that require detailed planning and the use of specially trained operatives, to innumerable simple acts which the ordinary individual citizen-saboteur can perform.” Luckily for that ordinary citizen, “simple sabotage does not require specially prepared tools or equipment […] and it is carried out in such a way as to involve a minimum danger of injury, detection, and reprisal.” 

The suggested acts range from openly seditious (start fires, slash military vehicle tires) to brilliantly subtle, the latter variety of which read hilariously like a guide for how to be terrible at your job:

For train conductors: “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.” “Make life as uncomfortable as possible for passengers. See that the food is especially bad, take up tickets after midnight, call station stops very loudly during the night, handle baggage as loudly as possible.” “Switch address labels on enemy baggage.”

FOR FARMERS

“Feed crops to livestock.” “Spoil fruits and vegetables by leaving them in the sun.”

FOR MAINTENANCE WORKERS

“Be inefficient in cleaning.” “Jam paper, bits of wood, hairpins, and anything else that will fit, into the locks of all unguarded entrances to public buildings.” “Forget to provide paper in toilets.”

FOR RIVERBOAT CAPTAINS

“Spread false rumors about the navigability and conditions of the waterways they travel. Tell other barge and boat captains to follow channels that will take extra time, or cause them to make canal detours.”

FOR MOVIE THEATER PROJECTIONISTS

“Ruin newsreels and other enemy propaganda films by bad focusing, speeding up or slowing down the film and by causing frequent breakage in the film.”

FOR RADIO ENGINEERS

“Overmodulate transmissions of talks by persons giving enemy propaganda or instructions, so that they will sound as if they were talking 'through a heavy cotton blanket with a mouth full of marbles.”

FOR TELEPHONE SWITCHBOARD OPERATORS

”Delay putting enemy calls through, give them wrong numbers, cut them off ‘accidentally,’ or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.” “Tell important callers the boss is busy.”

FOR BUS DRIVERS

“Go past the stop where the enemy wants to get off.”

FOR TAXI DRIVERS

“Waste the enemy’s time and make extra money by driving the longest possible route to his destination.”

FOR COAL MINERS

“A slight blow against your Davy oil lamp will extinguish it, and to light it again you will have to find a place where there is no fire damp. Take a long time looking for the place.” “Send up quantities of rock and other useless material with the coal.”

FOR OFFICE WORKERS

“Misfile essential documents.” “Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.” “Make mistakes in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses.” “Even it you understand the language, pretend not to understand instructions in a foreign tongue.” “Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope.”

FOR ADMINISTRATORS

“Insist on doing everything through ‘channels.’ Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.” “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.” “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.” “Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.” “Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.”

And for ordinary folks with no opportunity to engage in any of these other acts of simple sabotage, the OSS has a number of suggestions for actions anyone can take, from prank calls to general rudeness: “Hamper official and especially military business by making at least one telephone call a day to an enemy headquarters; when you get them, tell them you have the wrong number. Call military or police offices and make anonymous false reports of fires, air raids, bombs.” “Audiences can ruin enemy propaganda films by applauding to drown the words of the speaker, by coughing loudly, and by talking.” “Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.” “When the enemy asks for directions, give him wrong information.” “Act stupid.”

Under “Possible Effects,” the manual declares that “occurring on a wide scale, simple sabotage will be a constant and tangible drag on the war effort of the enemy.” While there’s no measurable data on how many people were inspired by the distributed pamphlets to subvert the Axis powers from within, that might even be considered a sign of their success; after all, no one was ever outed as an enemy sympathizer simply for being very bad at their job. However, decades later, the war long over, some of these actions still seem suspiciously prevalent in particularly inefficient workplaces everywhere. If anything here seems too familiar, keep an eye out for possible subversives among you—or maybe just nudge your coworkers to pick up the slack.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
West Side Story Is Returning to Theaters This Weekend
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM
Courtesy of Park Circus and MGM

As Chris Pratt and a gang of prehistoric creatures get ready to face off against some animated superheroes for this weekend’s box office dominance, an old rivalry is brewing once again on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. West Side Story—Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s classic big-screen rendering of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical—is returning to cinemas for the first time in nearly 30 years.

As part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics Series, West Side Story will have special screening engagements at more than 600 theaters across the country on Sunday, June 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. If you can’t make it this weekend, encores will screen at the same time on Wednesday, June 27. The film—which is being re-released courtesy of TCM, Fathom Events, Park Circus, and Metro Goldwyn Mayer—will be presented in its original widescreen format, and include its original mid-film intermission. (Though its 2.5-hour runtime is practically standard nowadays, that wasn’t the case a half-century ago.) The screening will include an introduction and some post-credit commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz.

West Side Story, which was named Best Picture of 1961, is a musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that sees star-crossed lovers Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer) navigate the challenges of immigration, racial tension, and inner-city life in mid-century Manhattan—but with lots of singing and dancing. In addition to being named Best Picture, the beloved film took home another nine Oscars, including Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (for George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, respectively), and Best Music—obviously.

To find out if West Side Story is screening near you, and to purchase tickets, visit Fathom Events’s website.

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