“The chair is against the wall” was the phrase used by Radio Free America to communicate with its audience. Focal Upright will explain the history of this method in the blog post.
The 1984 American action movie Red Dawn is not considered to be the greatest and most beloved action movie of all time, but it has earned a good reputation. It was a movie about the Soviets invading the United States.
The movie centers on a group of high school students who call themselves the “Wolverines”, who wage an armed rebellion against their Soviet counterparts. Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell starred in the movie. Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson (with Harry Dean Stanton), Ron O’Neal, and William Smith were also featured.
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The film was a modest success at the box office, but it received a mixed reception from critics. The New York Times described it as follows: “To any sniveling, lily-livers, who suppose John Milius… has already attained the pinnacle movie-making machismo, a warning. Mr. Milius Red Dawn has more rip-roaring than anything he’s done before. This is Milius at his most frightening, creating a “rootin-tootin” scenario for World War III.” That pretty much sums up this movie’s artistic merit.
Despite the negative reception, the film has gained a cult following and there are many threads on the internet asking questions about the meanings of scenes.
The exact quote we are referring to is:
Radio Free America Announcer: It’s 11:59 on Radio Free America; this is Uncle Sam, with music, and the truth until dawn. Right now I’ve got a few words for some of our brothers and sisters in the occupied zone: “The chair is against the wall, the chair is against the wall“, “John has a long mustache, John has a long mustache”. It’s twelve o’clock, American, another day closer to victory. And for all of you out there, on, or behind the line, this is your song.
[The Battle Hymn of the Republic begins to play]
It is similar to Radio London (Radio Londres ), which broadcast the majority of WW II from England into Nazi-occupied France. It was operated by the Free French and the BBC. It served to counter Axis propaganda as well as to transmit coded instructions to Resistance members and other people involved in the fight against the occupation.
Most of you reading this have heard all the Wolverine Red Dawn quotes, but there’s more to it. Even after many decades, people are still unsure what the phrase means. We have therefore decided to conduct some research and discover everything we can.
The situation is too specific, as the phrases were meaningless to anyone who would hear them. It is not important that the chair be leaned against a wall.
Why is John’s mustache so long? Who is this John character? These broadcasts were not understood by the Soviets. However, they could hear vague, meaningless phrases. Resistance fighters who listened to them would understand that something was happening.
It is possible that the Soviets knew that it was code but had no idea what it meant. Although the exact meaning of “The Chair is against the Wall” has not been revealed, many online users believe it to mean either that a set or railway tracks had to be destroyed or that a supply drop was en route to a group of operatives.
“John has a long mustache” is a direct reference to the Allied code phrase Operation Overlord, Normandy Invasion (D-Day), this style of codeword/phrase system was used in Europe during WW2 to send instructions to operatives behind enemy lines. Like many other signals, the signal was transmitted over normal radio broadcasts. Each codeword/phrase signified something to a particular group or individual listening within Nazi-occupied territory.
This specific code phrase was sent to the French Resistance (the Maquis), signaling that the invasion would start the next day. This meant they would need to execute pre-arranged sabotage and other preparations before the landings on the French coast.
The whole sequence is a tribute to “The Longest Day”, where French Resistance members listen to the radio and hear a series of seemingly meaningless code phrases. Then they hear “John has a long mustache” repeated twice and prepare for pre-invasion plans. Although the Germans know that the invasion is imminent, they are still unsure of the landing site due to deceitful Allied tactics.
We know that Red Dawn’s coding system was inspired by the 1962 war epic The Longest Day. This movie won two Academy Awards and is still considered a classic. This movie was a docudrama that followed the events leading to D-Day (the Allies invasion of Normandy in 1944). It featured four perspectives on the same events – American British French, British, French, and German.
You’ll notice the similarities between the expression “Jean has a longue moustache” and the one “John is long-haired”, as used in the Red Dawn code words. This was not a coincidence. Milius had intended to pay respect to the 1962 war icon. Although the first phrase was slightly different, the second was almost identical. The 1962 film used the phrase to indicate that the Allies were ready for the invasion of Normandy.
It is important to note that this method was not invented and was based on historical facts. The BBC in London gave Radio Londres to the Resistance when they fled to London. General de Gaulle used this frequency regularly to communicate with France about the plans of the Allies and upcoming operations.
These codes were initially hidden as personal messages by the Germans. The Germans didn’t realize they were codes and they couldn’t decipher them. Resistance was able to execute their plans. Sometimes an operation was already in progress before the Germans could decipher the secret message.
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