Sabotage is a form of subversion which involves deliberate damage, interference, or disruption. In a classic example, ecological activists have disabled the engines of logging equipment in the Pacific Northwest to prevent loggers from working at various points in history. There are a number of different forms of sabotage, all of which are designed to obstruct an activity in some way, creating chaos and often generating economic problems as people struggle to resolve the damage.
Many people are not familiar with the true origins of this word, although they may be acquainted with the folk etymology, which claims that the term is derived from the practice of throwing wooden shoes known as sabots into the workings of machines. Though a charming idea, this is not, in fact correct. “Sabotage” actually comes from the French word saboter, which means “to walk clumsily,” a reference to the self-same sabots discussed above; the term is actually meant to describe the work stoppage and disruption created by sabotage.
One of the most infamous forms is military sabotage, in which saboteurs penetrate the defenses of an enemy and attempt to disrupt weapons systems, military strategy, and so forth. Sometimes, damage comes from within, with rebels sabotaging the military of their own nations in an attempt to help the enemy gain the upper hand. It can also take a political form, in which case it is primarily carried out through well-timed media releases and comments which are designed to undermine opposing political campaigns.
Ecological sabotage, or ecotage, involves acts performed with the goal of helping the environment in some way. Ecotage typically involves damaging equipment used in activities which are viewed as ecologically harmful. In industrial sabotage, saboteurs penetrate enemy companies to damage their productivity, sometimes in advance of the release of a major product. This can also be done to collect information about projects in progress and upcoming product releases, with the goal of coming out with a competing product.
Because sabotage usually involves property destruction, it is typically illegal by nature. If charges can be proved, the perpetrators may face a stiff sentence, especially in the case of military sabotage, which is often treated as treason. More mild forms may be designed to skirt the law, especially in the case of political sabotage, which can be frustrating for the victims, as they have no legal recourse.