Wasp: Paper-War as a Tactic of Civil Resistance

Eric Russell’s science fiction novel, Wasp, is brilliant. It was published in 1957 and weaves civil resistance theory with creative tactics that remain fully relevant half-a-century later. What I want to do here is share some excerpts that describe a very neat civil resistance tactic. Please see my previous post for the context of the story along with the novel’s compelling theory on civil resistance.

One of the tactics that our protagonist James Mowry employs is paper-based. He writes hundreds of letters to Sirian Empire officials threatening more resistance if they continue fighting the war against Earth. This gives the semblance that the fictitious resistance group, Dirac Angestun Gesept, is far more than a one-person show.

In the early evening, he mailed more than two hundred letters to newspaper editors, radio announcers, military leaders, senior civil servants, police chiefs, prominent politicians and key members of the government.

When one is fighting a paper-war, Mowry thought, one uses paper-war tactics that in the long run can be just as lethal as high explosive. And the tactics are not limited in scope by use of one material. Paper can convey a private warning, a public threat, leaflets dropped by the thousands from the rooftops, cards left of seats or slipped into pockets and purses.

For his next paper-based tactic, Mowry choice to mail dozens of small but heavy parcels.

Each held an airtight can containing a cheap clock and a piece of paper, nothing else. The clock emitted a sinister tick—just loud enough to be heard if a suspicious-minded person listened closely.

Paper threats, that was all—but they were effective enough to eat still further into the enemy’s war effort. They’d alarm the recipients and give their forces something more to worry about. Doubtless the military would provide a personal bodyguard for every big wheel on Jaimec; that alone could pin down a regiment.

Mail would be examined, and all suspicious parcels would be taken apart in a blast-proof room. There’d be a city-wide-search with radiation detectors for the component parts of a fission bomb. Civil defense would be alerted in readiness to cope with a mammoth explosion that might or might not take place. Anyone on the streets who walked with a secretive air and wore a slightly mad expression would be arrested and hauled in for questioning.

After disrupting every-day processes for several weeks, the Sirian regime was in a state of panic deploying several thousand additional plain-clothed police officers, carrying out hundreds of random checks a day, erecting hundreds of road blocks, etc; in effect mobilizing considerable resources and time in reaction to major disruption caused by just one person. Could one man pin down an entire army this way?

Mowry wondered […] how many precious man-hours had his presence cost the foe? Thousands, tens of thousands, millions? To what forms of war service would those man-hours have been devoted to if James Mowry had not compelled the enemy to waste them in other directions? Ah, in the answer to that hypothetical question lay the true measure of a wasp’s efficiency.

Another tactic (not included in the story) is to write messages on paper money, as recently happened in Iran.

Patrick Philippe Meier

3 responses to “Wasp: Paper-War as a Tactic of Civil Resistance

  1. Pingback: What Does a Wasp Have To Do With Civil Resistance? Everything. « iRevolution

  2. Another tactic (not included in the story) is to write messages on paper money, as recently happened in Iran.

    And just as recently in Honduras, though to much less notice in U.S. media.

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