What Does “The Chair Is Against the Wall” Mean?

The 1984 American action film Red Dawn might not be one of the best and most popular action movies in history, but it certainly has a reputation. Despite all the (ideological and artistic) controversies, Red Dawn has managed to secure a place in modern pop-culture and people still talk about the movie, its meaning and the significance of some of the moments in the movie. Because some of these moments are still a matter of confusion, we at Fiction Horizon have decided to explain one of them, i.e., the meaning of the famous phrase “The chair is against the wall”.

While the exact meaning of the phrase was never revealed, “The chair is against the wall” was actually a code that was meant to send a message to those listening to it and knowing its meaning. It was a reference to the work of the French Resistance during World War II.

In today’s article, we are going to explain the significance and the symbolism behind the phrase “The chair is against the wall”, used in the movie Red Dawn. You’re going to find out what inspired the phrase and how it was used in the movie. Enjoy!

“The chair is against the wall” meaning

In 1984, MGM released the John Milius movie Red Dawn, an action/war movie about a Soviet (who are helped by Cuba and Nicaragua) invasion of the United States that leads to World War III; the movie focuses on a group of high school students that name themselves “Wolverines” who wage an armed rebellion against the Soviet invaders. The movie starred Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Ron O’Neal, William Smith, and Powers Boothe.

While the film was a moderate success at the box office, it had a lukewarm reception from the critics, with The New York Times describing it like this: “To any sniveling lily-livers who suppose that John Milius … has already reached the pinnacle of movie-making machismo, a warning: Mr. Milius’s Red Dawn is more rip-roaring than anything he has done before. Here is Mr. Milius at his most alarming, delivering a rootin’-tootin’ scenario for World War III.” This pretty much sums up the artistic value of this movie.

Yet, despite the negative reception, the movie has attracted a cult following of sorts and there are numerous threads online asking about the meaning of certain scenes from the movie. One scene, in particular, captured the attention of fans:

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]

Now, even after several decades, people still wonder as to the exact meaning of this phrase, which is why we have decided to do some research for you and find out everything there is to know.

We know that the phrase “The chair is against the wall” was a code for the audience of Radio Free America. The history behind such a method will be explained in the next section, so this is enough for the time being. The next phrase, “John has a long mustache”, was likewise a code and it was a message send to the resistance fighters via the radio.

Now, the situation is overly specific because the phrases used were quite meaningless when someone would hear them. Why is it important that a chair is leaned against a wall? Or, why is it relevant that John has a long mustache? And who is this John character anyway? When the Soviets would listen to these broadcasts, they would only hear general, seemingly meaningless phrases, but the resistance fighters listening to them, the ones who knew their true meaning, would know that something was going on.

Maybe the Soviets knew it was code, but they had no clue what the code meant. The exact meaning of “The chair is against the wall” was never revealed, but people online assume that it meant either that a set of railway tracks must be blown up or a supply drop was en route to a group of operatives.

This explains the phrase, but the (hi)story behind it is even more interesting, so let us go there.

What inspired the phrase “The chair is against the wall”?

We know that the coding system in Red Dawn was inspired by the 1962 war epic The Longest Day, which won two Academy Awards and is considered a classic today. The movie followed the events leading up to D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, and was shot in a docudrama style, giving us four different perspective on the same events – American, British, French and German. One scene from that movie is very important for our article:

If you analyze the scene carefully, you’ll notice that the phrase “Jean a de longue moustache” is very similar to the one “John has a long moustache”, as it was used in Red Dawn. This was in no way a coincidence, as Milius intentionally payed his respect to the 1962 war classic. The first phrase was different, but the second one was practically the same. In the 1962 film, the phrase meant that the Allies were ready to invade Normandy.

Now, what is important is that this method was not really made up and that it was based on actual history. Namely, when the forces of Free France ran to London, they contacted with the Resistance in occupied France via Radio Londres, which was a frequency given to them by BBC in London. General de Gaulle regularly used this frequency to send messages to France, informing the Resistance of the Allies’ plans and about upcoming operations.

The Germans initially had no clue that these were codes, as they were disguised as personal messages, but even when they finally grasped the truth behind the messages, they never had enough men to decipher them, so the Resistance could easily execute their plans; sometimes, an operation had already been carried out by the time the Germans actually deciphered the secret message.

And this is the story behind Red Dawn’s “chair against the wall”, both related to the movie, the movie’s predecessor and the actual history behind the whole method.

And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we gave you all the information you were looking for! See you next time and don’t forget to follow us!

  • Arthur S. Poe has been fascinated by fiction ever since he saw Digimon and read Harry Potter as a child. Since then, he has seen several thousand movies and anime, read several hundred books and comics, and played several hundred games of all genres.