17

In the 1984 version of Red Dawn, after they receive help from the old couple and they get a working radio they are listening to the radio and a woman on the radio says, "we have a message for the people in the occupied zone. The chair is against the wall and John has a long mustache." What's the meaning behind those messages?

  • Phew! What a relief. If they had said that Peter had shaved his beard, I would have been seriously worried. Although, if Trevor had changed his trousers, that might have mitigated things somewhat. – Mawg Jan 9 '17 at 9:22
29

It is meant to be a cryptic message that can only be understood by those who know the meaning. There is historical precedence for resistance groups using radio broadcasts to communicate messages to each other like this. One of them is Radio Londres which was a BBC broadcast from London to Nazi occupied France and included propaganda messages as well as coded messages to the French resistance movement.

Coded messages

Georges Bégué, an operative with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) had the idea of sending seemingly obscure personal messages to SOE agents out in France to reduce radio traffic to and from SOE agents.

Broadcasts would begin with "Before we begin, please listen to some personal messages." It was clear to nearly everyone that they were coded messages, often amusing, and completely without context. Representative messages include "Jean has a long mustache" and "There is a fire at the insurance agency," each one having some meaning to a certain resistance group. They were used primarily to provide messages to the resistance, but also to thank their agents or simply to give the enemy the impression that something was being prepared. Because of the flood of messages and the limited number of Germans available to work to decipher them, the Nazis were not able to keep up. Often by the time they were able to decipher a message, the operation ordered would have already been carried out, prompting the occupiers to focus their efforts on jamming the messages instead.

From the beginning of June 1944, the Allies inundated the network with messages. On 1 June alone, over 200 messages were sent, making it clear to those listening that something was in the works. Although in some places the Axis jamming was more effective than others, the background noise and static were not enough to drown out the sound of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, the first four notes of which correspond to the dot-dot-dot-dash of the Morse code letter V for Victory.

Shortly before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944, Radio Londres broadcast the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's poem "Chanson d'automne" to let the resistance know that the invasion would begin within 24 hours.

  • Les sanglots longs
  • Des violons
  • De l’automne
  • Blessent mon cœur
  • D’une langueur
  • Monotone.

Blessent mon cœur d'une langueur monotone ("wound my heart with a monotonous languor") was the specific call to action.

  • 1
    I was typing up my answer in a work meeting so it took a few minutes for me to format it. This was definitely a case of two people submitting the same answer at the same time. When I started typing up my answer there were zero responses. – sanpaco Jan 5 '17 at 18:29
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    During work!...That deserves a downvote. :) – Paulie_D Jan 5 '17 at 18:30
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    This was used from London towards many nazi-occupied countries... to take a couple of examples from Norway, where they were read by Toralv Øksnevad - "Stemmen fra London" (The Voice from London): "En du kan lite på" (One/Someone you can trust), "Stå ikke stille" (Don't stand still) and "kua går med raggsokker" (The cow is wearing thick knitted-socks). They typically warned about air-drops and such. You'll also find some examples of messages sent around D-day in the move "The Longest Day". – Baard Kopperud Jan 5 '17 at 21:13
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    "The Longest Day" portrayal of the phrase: youtu.be/ePzwg0LyYL0. ;) – jpmc26 Jan 6 '17 at 9:34
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    In "The longest day", the phrase is used to communicate that the invasion of Normandy is underway. In the movie, in response to the message, the resistance group sabotages a railroad bridge. So in that sense, I think the message to the viewer is "the tide is about to turn, keep resisting" – ventsyv Jan 6 '17 at 15:40
20

The messages are code phrases/sentences that mean specific things which have been pre-arranged.

We don't know what the code is but the concept is based on radio messages sent to the French Resistance by Radio Londres during WWII.

Wikipedia

Georges Bégué, an operative with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) had the idea of sending seemingly obscure personal messages to SOE agents out in France to reduce radio traffic to and from SOE agents.

Broadcasts would begin with "Before we begin, please listen to some personal messages." It was clear to nearly everyone that they were coded messages, often amusing, and completely without context. Representative messages include "Jean has a long mustache" and "There is a fire at the insurance agency," each one having some meaning to a certain resistance group. They were used primarily to provide messages to the resistance, but also to thank their agents or simply to give the enemy the impression that something was being prepared. Because of the flood of messages and the limited number of Germans available to work to decipher them, the Nazis were not able to keep up. Often by the time they were able to decipher a message, the operation ordered would have already been carried out, prompting the occupiers to focus their efforts on jamming the messages instead.

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    100% agree. We're never told what they actually mean, but they're meant for specific people/groups. Kinda like the old standby "The eagle has landed" or "The package has arrived". If you knew how to decipher it, it would hold significance. To anyone eavesdropping, it was random nonsense. – Johnny Bones Jan 5 '17 at 18:13
  • @JohnnyBones I would argue that "The eagle has landed" and "The package has arrived" are a lot less cryptic than something like "John has a long mustache." – Michael Jan 5 '17 at 23:18
  • @Michael - And I wouldn't argue with you. I was just using those as simplistic examples. If they weren't already so common, or commonly known, the phrase "The eagle has landed" probably wouldn't mean anything to anyone. "Great. An eagle landed. Big deal..." Of course, now it's so frequently used in movies and TV shows that we know it indicates "The VIP has arrived". – Johnny Bones Jan 6 '17 at 1:14
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    @JohnnyBones "The Eagle has landed" wasn't a code phrase. The Apollo 11 LEM was named "Eagle". And it landed. Nobody was trying to conceal anything in that message. "The package has arrived" would be a code phrase, in that it's intended to conceal from an eavesdropper what the "package" is. (It could be a telegram being received, a VIP entering a building, or indeed, a lunar lander landing, and we have no way of knowing which if any it is.) – Ray Jan 6 '17 at 7:23
  • @Ray - Yes, but... – Johnny Bones Jan 6 '17 at 13:32

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