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Time is Short: The Effectiveness of Sabotage

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By Norris Thomlinson / Deep Green Resistance Hawai’i

To most of us with no military experience, the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy (DEW) of Deep Green Resistance can seem abstract. The aboveground efforts of rebuilding local food systems, local economies, and local decision making are straight-forward and well known to citizens engaged in any sort of social justice or environmental activity. More confrontational public direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience are familiar to most activists, from historical examples of women’s suffrage and civil rights movements to modern fights like the tar sands blockade and the Unis’tot’en Camp. However, the crucial underground role of directly attacking critical infrastructure, though it sounds exciting in theory, has little grounding in our daily experience or even in the history we’ve learned.

Lagos_Pipeline_Sabotage-300x200

This is probably a deliberate omission from our history books, as sabotage is a highly effective tactic for small groups, outnumbered and outsupplied by opposing forces. In any situation of asymmetric warfare, sabotage plays an important role. This is precisely why the DEW strategy depends on one or more underground resistance groups carrying out unpredictable attacks on infrastructure to cause cascading systems failures. The aboveground work of slowing down destruction and building alternatives is crucial to easing the transition to a sane and sustainable way of living, but only decisive action by an underground can stop the entire juggernaut of industrial civilization in the time available to us before complete biotic collapse.

In 1987, Captain Howard Douthit III of the US Air Force published a thesis on “The Use and Effectiveness of Sabotage As a Means of Unconventional Warfare – An Historical Perspective From World War I Through Viet Nam.” Douthit performed an extensive literature search on the subject, and his report describes historical concepts and many specific instances of sabotage. He makes the subject much more accessible to the layperson, and demonstrates the effectiveness of sabotage in a wide range of circumstances.

Douthit provides summaries of different aspects of historical sabotage, distinguishing between forms such as passive (carried out by people forced to work for the occupying power) vs active, land-based vs aquatic targets, and targets of vehicles vs industry vs utilities. He found that among the most often used (and presumably most effective) forms of active sabotage were the use of explosives and mines, cutting power and communications lines, and arson. The most common targets included fuel depots, supply warehouses, oil pipelines, ships, railway infrastructure and trains, roads (including bridges & tunnels), communications infrastructure, and electrical facilities.

Sabotage groups that were better organized, trained, and supplied were able to pull off more complex and effective actions, often causing disruptions behind enemy lines in coordination with traditional military maneuvers on the front lines. But even small, amateur, destitute groups such as the Viet Cong were able to leverage the little they had to inflict disproportionate damage on their enemies.

Conventional forces had an extremely difficult time preventing the sabotage:

The only countermeasure that stopped sabotage was the manpower-prohibitive act of exterminating the saboteurs. Committing the number of forces necessary for effective counter-sabotage also produced too much of a drain on the front line. Indeed, as this fact became known, sabotage efforts increased in a deliberate move to force the enemy to guard against sabotage in the rear area. Thus, this research indicated there were no effective countermeasures to sabotage.

Douthit concludes:

[H]istory supported the thesis that sabotage is an effective means of warfare. Sabotage was used against both strategic and tactical targets. It was proven capable of being used near the front line, in the rear areas, and even in support areas out of the theater.

[…]

Sabotage can be used against both tactical and strategic targets.

Any nation, rich or poor, large or small can effect sabotage against an aggressor.

Sabotage is an economical form of warfare, requiring only a mode of transportation (possibly walking), a properly trained individual, and an applicable sabotage device.

To read more, download the PDF of “The Use and Effectiveness of Sabotage As a Means of Unconventional Warfare” (6.3 MB). For a detailed review of sabotage operations organized by chronological period and by country, start reading at page 13 of the report (page 25 in the PDF), or jump straight to the conclusions starting on page 92 (104 in the PDF).

Many films about historical resistance, especially about opposition to Nazi occupation, show successful examples of sabotage and other asymmetric warfare actions. Browse our Deep Green Resistance IMDB Lists for recommendations.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at undergroundpromotion@deepgreenresistance.org