Salami slicing tactics, also known as salami slicing, salami tactics, the salami-slice strategy, or salami attacks, is a divide and conquer process of threats and alliances used to overcome opposition.
With it, an aggressor can influence and eventually dominate a landscape, typically political, in piecemeal fashion. Opposition is eliminated “slice by slice” until its members realise, usually too late, that it has been virtually neutralised in its entirety. In some cases, the tactics include the creation of several factions within an opposing political party, followed by its dismantling from the inside, without giving the affected parties the opportunity to protest or react. Salami tactics are most likely to succeed when its perpetrators keep their true long-term motives hidden and maintain a posture of cooperativeness and helpfulness while engaged in gradual subversion.
It was commonly believed that the term salami tactics (Hungarian: szalámitaktika) was coined in the late 1940s by Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi to describe the actions of the Hungarian Communist Party in its ultimately successful drive for complete power in Hungary. Noting that “salami, an expensive food, is not eaten all at once, but is cut one slice at a time,” Rákosi claimed he destroyed Hungary’s leading, centre-right, Smallholders’ Party through a “step-by-step approach … known as the ‘Salami tactic,’ and thanks to it we were able, day after day, to slice off, to cut up the reactionary forces skulking in the Smallholders’ Party.” By portraying his opponents as fascists (or at the very least fascist sympathizers), Rákosi was able to get the opposition to slice off its own right wing, then its centre, then most of its left wing, so that only sympathizers (“fellow travellers”) willing to collaborate with the Communist Party remained in power.
However, according to historian Norman Stone, the term might have been invented by Hungarian Independence Party leader Zoltán Pfeiffer, a hardline anti-communist opponent of Rákosi.
Thomas C. Schelling wrote in his 1966 book Arms and Influence:
Salami tactics, we can be sure, were invented by a child […] Tell a child not to go in the water and he’ll sit on the bank and submerge his bare feet; he is not yet ‘in’ the water. Acquiesce, and he’ll stand up; no more of him is in the water than before. Think it over, and he’ll start wading, not going any deeper; take a moment to decide whether this is different and he’ll go a little deeper, arguing that since he goes back and forth it all averages out. Pretty soon we are calling to him not to swim out of sight, wondering whatever happened to all our discipline.
Software has been allegedly created to repeatedly divert tiny amounts of money, typically due to rounding off, to the creator’s account. For example, bank transactions calculated to the nearest penny leave unaccounted-for fractions of a penny; a bank software developer could potentially divert millions of these overlooked amounts. Snopes in 2001 dismissed this concept as a legend.
In Los Angeles, in October 1998, district attorneys charged four men with fraud for allegedly installing computer chips in gasoline pumps that cheated consumers by overstating the amounts pumped.
In 2008, a man was arrested for fraudulently creating 58,000 accounts which he used to collect money through verification deposits from online brokerage firms, a few cents at a time.
In 1996, a fare box serviceman in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for stealing coins from the city’s transit agency fare boxes. Over 13 years, he stole 37 tonnes of coins, with a face value of nearly CA$2.4 million, using a magnet to lift the coins (made primarily of steel or nickel at the time) out of the fare boxes one at a time.
In Buffalo, New York, a fare box serviceman stole more than US$200,000 in quarters from the local transit agency over an eight-year period stretching from 2003 to 2011, and was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
China’s Salami Slice Strategy
Refer to Chinese Salami Slicing Strategy.
The European Parliament Think Tank has accused China of using the salami slice strategy to gradually increase its presence in the South China Sea.
- In the 2016 film Arrival, Agent Halpern mentions a Hungarian word meaning to eliminate your enemies one by one.
- It is thought that this alludes to szalámitaktika.
- Indeed, this is cited in Amazon Prime X-Ray (1:07:50).
- Salami slicing has played a key role in the plots of several films, including Hackers, Superman III, and Office Space.
- In the latter film, the characters reference Superman III as inspiration.
- Salami tactics are discussed by the British Chief Scientific Adviser in the Yes, Prime Minister episode, “The Grand Design”.
- In a 1972 episode of the TV series M*A*S*H (S01E12 – Dear Dad), Radar attempts to ship an entire Jeep home from Korea one piece at a time.
- Hawkeye commented that his mailman “would have a retroactive hernia” if he found out.
- The 1987 TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam features a murder trial involving the transfer of fractional cents by bank employees.
- Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” has a similar plot to the aforementioned M*A*S*H episode, but with a Cadillac made up of parts spanning model years 1949 through 1973.
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