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.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How "No" Becomes "Hell, No"

It doesn't take an army to change the world, or an average-sized militia group, either. All it takes is one individual to say the word "No". Be it a man refusing to register for the draft, or be it a gun owner refusing to register his weapons in Connecticut, it is the same: defiance in the face of arbitrary authority.

However, unless that individual wants to live the life of "Bartleby, the Scrivener", follow-up action is required.

Gene Sharp has written extensively on techniques of non-violent resistance. Here's two samples:

List of specific techniques:

Specific methods and why they work:

Many of the techniques that Sharp describes require a large number of people to implement. Also, some of the methods are aimed only at "raising awareness" instead of achieving results. As such, instead of non-violent "propaganda of the deed", those specific methods are "propaganda of the wussie".

We can do better.

Here's a 32-page OSS manual from 1944 called "Simple Sabotage Field Manual." Chapter 5 (the last and longest chapter) is great, especially the part on organizational sabotage! All the techniques listed there can be carried-out by a single individual. Some of the ideas are out-of-date, but can be adapted to present day situations.

One of the most important parts of the OSS manual is the creation of a "feedback" loop, where "the citizen-saboteur acquires a sense of responsibility and begins to educate others in simple sabotage".


In 1983, the CIA airdropped copies of "The Freedom Fighter's Handbook" over Nicaragua. The techniques in this 15-page handbook, while being more modern, aren't nearly as creative as those found in the OSS manual. Also, the CIA manual doesn't include a "feedback" loop like the OSS manual does. The cartoons don't help either.


It is with techniques like these that "No" becomes "Hell, No"!