Saturday, March 29, 2014

Improvise, Adapt, and…

Last spring, I was talking with this one retired Marine - his maritime security business wasn’t doing too good, and I was encouraging him to make some changes to it, but to persevere. He should “improvise, adapt, and be victorious,” I said.

He stopped me in the middle of what I hoped was an inspirational rant and said: “Overcome. It’s ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome’.”

Rant: over. Moment: gone. Marine-turned-business-owner: not victorious.

This is how I learned the phrase “improvise, adapt, and be victorious”.

The context: The year was 1981 or 1982 1979 or 1980. Jimmy Carter was the asshole in office. It was a couple of years after the asshole gave the Panama Canal away, and a year or so after the asshole Peanut Farmer in Chief decided to impose draft registration on all men 18 and over. Asshole.

The scene: I was in downtown Akron, Ohio, my hometown. There was a man holding a sign that read “Don’t Register for the Draft”. He was a few years older than me, light brown curly hair, wearing a red checkered shirt. He wasn't part of a group or anything, just a one man protest.

He was being harangued by this one woman. She was right in his face, in an emotional state somewhere past furious, past apoplectic, and bordering on homicidal. The man with the sign stood there, perfectly calm. It was irresistible force vs immovable object, and it was the best show of restraint I have ever seen!

The lady saw me. I don’t remember exactly what she did next, but she walked away.

The man and I started talking. I had already made up my mind not to register. I was having trouble finding the words explaining this decision. It would be years before I would phrase it as: “because I’m a free man, and I intend to stay free.”

I asked him “what can be done?” He replied: “all we can do is improvise, adapt, and be victorious.” I remember thinking that that was a strange phrase, but didn't inquire.

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to the man with the sign. Did he survive? Yes, I’m sure of it. Did he survive intact? No: none of us did. The treatment we all got was, and continues to be, quite rough. 

Getting through all that will leave one with enough anger, enough rage, to last a lifetime. And, enough pride for 10 lifetimes. Exactly the ingredients needed to overcome and to be victorious.


  1. I'm pretty sure Carter did the Panama thing and the Civil Service thing in '78, cuz Three Mile Island happened in March '79, and I remember those two items had already taken place the year before. Of course I was 9, so I could be mistaken, Also Carter lost to Reagan Nov 4th of 1980, I vividly remember that date. The difference between the two terms "Victorious" and "Overcome", is a mindset issue. "Victorious" is winning, "Overcome" is being able maintain status quo despite overwhelming opposition.

    1. Mr. Dodge, hello!

      Thank you for catching the error - I've updated the post. It's strange how memory sometimes fails, especially for events that took place long ago yet still feel so immediate.

      BTW, the purpose of this post wasn't to in any way detract from the history or culture of the U.S. Military. Rather, it was to preserve a tiny piece of the history and culture of draft resisters, which is being forgotten, assimilated, and stolen at an alarming rate. More about that in future posts!