This year marks the 40th anniversary of the homecoming of our Vietnam POWs, a group of men who still rank as the longest-held group of POWs in our nation’s history. Most of the men are still alive and well, enjoying their second chance at freedom. But their leader, Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, is not. He died in 2005. On this Memorial Day, it is fitting to remember this man who left a legacy of unparalleled leadership. The key to his success was in his leadership philosophy.
As Stockdale floated slowly down to certain capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese enemy after his plane was shot down, he recalled the wisdom of the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “I remembered the basic truth of subjective consciousness as the ability to distinguish what is in my power from that which is not…I knew that self-discipline would provide the balance I would need in the contest of high stakes.”
When he arrived at the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous prison where the majority of the POWs were held, Stockdale entered a world in which many POWs had already shown selflessness and commitment to each other. As the senior ranking officer, Stockdale was anointed their leader, responsible for governing their conduct and keeping the group of men unified in their resistance.
He knew the Code of Conduct, the rules that govern the behavior of American prisoners of war. But, he also knew these guidelines wouldn’t be enough. And so he dug into his bag of memories from his studies of Epictetus and remembered some of the teachings: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them”; “Do not be concerned with things which are beyond your power”; and “Demand not that events should happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen and you will go on well.”
In other words, you don’t get to choose your plight. You do get to choose how you react to it.
He and the POWs were faced with a Hobson’s choice. They learned quickly that they would all eventually break under enough torture and thus violate the Code of Conduct and risk military disgrace. If they resisted, they would be tortured until they submitted—for information that had no intelligence value and that was certainly not worth their life or a limb. So, Stockdale made the difficult decision that laid a foundation for a self-sustaining organization. He instructed the POWs to resist their captors to the best of their ability. If they reached their breaking point, they should fall back on deceit and distortion—giving false, misleading or ludicrous information. Finally, Stockdale insisted that the POWs force their captors to start over at each interrogation session. This innovation allowed for failure in the moment without failure in the mission.
These strategies and tactics conformed to the Code of Conduct where they could. When necessary, Stockdale created a new path by giving each POW the responsibility of deciding how to resist. Collectively, under these new guidelines, the POWs set a goal of giving every man a chance to achieve their group mission: Return with Honor.
This act earned the POWs’ respect. Stockdale, after all, shared their pain (literally) and understood the seemingly impossible predicament these men faced. Effective resistance couldn’t be centered on Herculean displays of pain tolerance or arbitrary goal lines. Instead, Stockdale made commitment, persistence, and unity the driving objective. Stockdale was, by virtue of his rank, the man in the corner cell—the boss. But decisions like these made him their leader.
Taylor Baldwin Kiland and Peter Fretwell are the co-authors of the new book, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.
The U.S. Naval Institute is having a meetup in Virginia Beach during EAST 2013!
Come talk with members and non-members alike about issues for the sea services. Special guests include Eric Wertheim, VADM William Crowder, USN (Ret.), VADM Thomas Kilcline, USN (Ret.), and VADM Peter H. Daly, USN (Ret.) the CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute.
Tuesday, May 14 2013 6:00pm – 7:30pm
Virginia Beach Town Center
244 Market Street
Virginia Beach, VA 23462
Use the hashtag #usnimeetup for this event.
ANNAPOLIS, MD – The U.S. Naval Institute announces with distinct pleasure that Admiral James G. Stavridis, U.S. Navy, accepted the appointment as the U.S. Naval Institute’s Chair of the Board of Directors. Admiral Stavridis’ appointment will take effect following his anticipated retirement from active duty in mid- summer 2013.
Admiral Stavridis anticipates departing his current duties this summer as combatant commander for all U.S. forces in Europe; as Commander, European Command; and as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, posts he has held since early summer 2009. In his role as Supreme Allied Commander, he has directed the NATO efforts in Afghanistan, commanded the NATO operations in Libya in 2011, led security in the Balkans, developed a successful counter- piracy campaign off the coast of East Africa, implemented an improved missile-defense posture for Europe and successfully expanded alliance partnerships throughout the world.
The U.S. Naval Institute’s Authors of the Year for 2012 will be honored today at our 139th Annual Meeting.
To the scribes, to the thinkers, to the families, to those in the arena…in honor of one who served our Navy well in each of these roles. http://www.neptunuslex.com/
From the U.S. Naval Academy:
“It’s our privilege to announce a very special project designed and created at the Naval Academy that should be of great interest to fans around the world. Led by Midshipman Chris O’Keefe (now an Ensign), “A History of the Navy in 100 Objects” premieres today on the Naval Academy website at www.usna.edu/100Objects. O’Keefe modeled his “100 Objects” after the BBC’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects.” It was while listening to the BBC podcasts that he realized that the Navy didn’t have a similar series about its history and heritage and decided to produce his own. In his spare time, O’Keefe set about identifying objects in the Naval Academy collections to develop the series, and interviewed experts from the Naval Academy, the Naval Institute and elsewhere about the objects. Navy leaders such as Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Commandant of the Marine Corps James Amos, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz provided commentary for the series. Twice a week, for the next 50 weeks, a new object will be released. The first is about the crypt of John Paul Jones. Jones is considered by many to be the founder of the American Navy, and this podcast discusses his contributions to history. Future object podcasts will include the Momsen Lung, deck and hull plates from USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, and a Pearl Harbor bomb arming vane. All of the objects used in the project are located at the Naval Academy, either in the museum, the Archives and Special Collections of Nimitz Library or, like Jones’ crypt, on the grounds of the academy.”
An ambitious project! BZ Ensign O’Keefe and everyone involved!
There are times in history, where there is a roll call. Col. John Boyd noted, “That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.” With sequestration threatening to leverage the full trillion in cuts against our increasingly papered tiger, the dissenting brass must recognize this roll call. Not every fight is at arms in the field, some are quiet battles at home whose only answer is a sacrifice of power.
Those who say that sequestration “won’t happen” and “isn’t a threat” are wrong. Like FDR’s preparations for the oncoming war, the Navy’s preparations indicate the worst. From cutting 3rd/4th quarter ship and aircraft maintenance to reducing the Persian Gulf carrier presence to one, in order to survive, the navy must put itself in more danger than any terrorist threat has. A candidate for SecDef has been nominated who thinks the DoD is still bloated after the first 500 billion dollars in cuts. While the defense department prepares for a second 500 billion in cuts, the debt ceiling deal spent 60% of the savings on the first round for pork projects. Meanwhile, the military is asked to support increased global drone operations, defend from two nations whose entire military is designed to counter the US way of war, and pivot towards Asia. Of course, the Middle East has a firm grip on that pivot-foot. The strategic policy is sound, but the whole-sale undermining of the force meant to do it is unconscionable.
In his own soft-spoken words, from our Americans at War Series.
Daniel Inouye / U.S. Army /Served 1943-1947. Inouye’s remarkable act of courage resulted in being awarded the Medal of Honor. This can be partly explained by the words his Japanese immigrant father told him before deploying, “This country has been good to us. Whatever you do, do not dishonor this country and if you must die, die with honor.”
In the outtakes of this video, Inouye related to the Naval Institute that the grenade was in the hand of the arm that was blown off (THE ONE BLOWN OFF), pulled out the grenade out of that hand and threw it over enemy lines.
Atheists force Navy to cave…
Calling itself the busiest 60 acres in the world, the Naval Support Activity Bahrain (or NSA Bahrain) is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
NSA Bahrain is also home to;
- Thousands of American troops.
- Hundreds of American military families.
- Hundreds of Allied military personnel.
What NSA Bahrain is not home to:
- The Holy Family.
- Three Wise Men.
- A singular Santa Claus.
- Assorted shepherds.
- A lone camel.
- A Christmas Tree.
As reported by Fox News, it’s been a long standing tradition aboard the naval installation to host;
“A ‘Live Nativity’ that featured the children of military personnel dressed as shepherds, wise men, along with Mary and Joseph.
It was part of a larger festival that included a tree lighting, Christmas music and photographs with Santa Claus and a camel.”
Manger Scene “Unconstitutional”…
They argued the Nativity Scene promoted “Christianity as the official religion of the base.”
According to MAAF, the Nativity Scene puts service members in danger.
Per the written complaint to the Navy’s IG;
“Also of concern is the likelihood that the predominantly Muslim local population will see the U.S. military as a Christian force rather than a secular military support U.S. – but not necessarily Christian values in their Muslim country.
This even threatens U.S. security and violates the Constitution as well as command policy.”
As told by MAAF spokesman Jason Torpy to Fox News;
“It’s unconstitutional, it’s bad for the military and in a Muslim country it’s dangerous.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
TR. h/t SteeljawScribe
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer