Archive for the 'Naval Institute' Category
Reviews by Bill Doughty
The United States Navy is making and living history right now in Hawaii in the world’s largest maritime exercise: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014), fostering collaboration and cooperation and promoting international understanding. Among the participants in this year’s RIMPAC are navies from 22 nations, including UK, Japan, and China.
Two books give perspective on the past two centuries of naval history and provide context for the history being made by the U.S. Navy this summer.
A lot has happened in the two centuries since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812: from wooden ships to littoral combat ships; the birth of naval air forces, airpower and UAV; nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines; computers and cyber-security. The world is changing too, as captured in the Maritime Strategy, from world war confrontation to global cooperation. Think about the evolution of the fleet and the world in which it operates today.
Thomas J. Cutler thinks and writes about changes and challenges over the past 200-plus years in “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy.” His Naval Institute Press book is a mainstay and now a top pick on the “Be Ready” list of the CNO’s Professional Reading Program suggested reads.
Cutler writes about the “magic” of the lore, language and legacy of the United States Navy, and invites Sailors to reflect on the “club” to which they belong. His book recounts — and makes relevant — history through the stories of Sailors in the past and present.
“The more you know about the Sailors who served before you, the more prepared you will be to do your job, and do it well. It is your turn to follow in the wakes of those who went before you, to lead the way for others who will follow you, and to make your contributions to the Navy’s ongoing legacy of honor, courage, and commitment.”
In a Chapter 6, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Cutler sets the stage with a brief description of Master Commandant (Commander) Oliver Hazard Perry, his famous pennant and the sailors who fought in the face of adversity at the Battle of Lake Erie. Cutler then gives more recent history, including the story of the five Sullivans brothers lost aboard USS Juneau in Guadalcanal Campaign, 70 years ago this year.
Cutler ties in the brothers’ namesake ships, including the current USS Sullivans (DDG 68), showing how the ship was targeted in a failed attack by al Qaeda in Aden, Yemen in January 2000. That same year, on the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday, terrorists launched another attack on an Navy ship, this time against USS Cole (DDG 67).
He recounts the heroism of the Sailors who all focused on three tasks, “caring for the injured, providing security against further attack, and saving the ship.” Don’t give up the ship…
The author packs a lot of history in this easy-to-read overview that contains stories and photos about JFK’s PT-109, Rear Adm. “Amazing” Grace Hopper, 1776‘s gondola Philadelphia, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, battleship USS Maine, Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, and naval aviator and astronaut Alan Shepard Jr., among others.
In the appendix he offers synopses of key engagements through battle streamers, showing the operational history of the U.S. Navy.
The streamers demonstrate a commitment to always “Be Ready.”
Speaking of “back to the basics,” also recommended is a new book by Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., “Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer.”
The book, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, is endorsed by retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, and former President George H. W. Bush, who served as a naval aviator and “junior officer at sea.”
Wray offers self-described bite-sized “sea stories” and practical, pragmatic “salty advice” along with plenty of lists, including traits and tributes, rules and advice, and a list of 35 books on leadership!
Interestingly, the book opens with advice from ancient philosopher from China Lao Tzu:
A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you”;
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”
– Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh Ching,” verse 17, 6th century BC
Wray’s book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is in the same “Blue and Gold Professional Library” series as “The Bluejackets Manual,” “Command at Sea,” and “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” (above), among others.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Navy Reads – http://navyreads.blogspot.com. Recent posts include reviews of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” and “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.”)
A heartfelt thanks to all of you who’ve followed the journey of the “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon” paper and for the thoughtful conversations that have followed in its wake. The upcoming survey and study on retention presents an opportunity to get at the heart of what YOU think, and help provide that relevant information to senior decision makers, our Navy family, and the American public.
I’ve been humbled to have had many positive interactions with our Navy’s leaders over the past few weeks — officer and enlisted alike, and from all communities. Please know that this effort is being watched by many, and the outcome — and your support — has the potential to foster a climate where our best, brightest, and most talented men and women choose to remain in uniform.
In many ways the continuing conversation is about two things: What it means to serve, and the importance of nurturing a sense of ownership throughout the fleet. “Service” isn’t just wearing the cloth of our nation or collecting a paycheck from the government … it’s about putting the good of the Navy before yourself. The paper has also helped reveal that many throughout the Navy, and at all levels, share a strong sense of ownership. Many have stepped forward with innovative ideas to improve processes and policies at their level of the organization, whether as a Yeoman, a Lieutenant in the F/A-18 community, or as a pre-major command surface warfare officer.
Luckily, there are many in senior leadership who openly support the potential for positive change, including Vice Admiral Bill Moran, the Chief of Naval Personnel. He has made the time for several “all hands calls” with the fleet since the release of the paper, and is truly interested in hearing from those of us at the deckplate — what inspires sailors to remain in uniform and, just as importantly, what is pushing sailors away. We’re incredibly lucky to be having this conversation with a Chief of Naval Personnel, among other senior leaders, who are willing to listen intently, think deeply, and act boldly in support of our Navy.
In the end, no matter your rank or position, it’s about asking ourselves what type of Navy do we want to dedicate some portion of our lives to … and what type of Navy do we want to leave for those that join 5, 10, 15 years into the future and beyond?
Again, my most humble and sincere thanks. The support for the paper and for the 2014 Navy Retention Study has been tremendous. If you haven’t visited the website, please consider following our progress at http://navy.dodretention.org. Keep the constructive feedback and ideas coming!
All my best,
Women and men of the Class of 2002 may think they are in the shadow of their grandparents — “The Greatest Generation” who beat fascism, crushed nazism and crossed the Pacific to avenge Pearl Harbor and win the war in the Pacific in less than four years.
“In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War” is a compilation by or about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. (USNI offers comprehensive reviews of the book, published in 2012; this is another look into the shadows.)
Put together with love and appreciation by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz and Graham Plaster — and including a foreword by David Gergen — the book is filled with essays and memories by and about members of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2002. The authors set the stage with a look back to the past:
“The magnitude of World War II provided the opportunity and experiences that shaped twentieth-century American leaders. As men served abroad, women provided support at home. All overcame great odds and faced adversity that gave them confidence and shaped their outlook in the decades to come. This ‘greatest generation’ returned from war, took advantage of the educational benefits offered through the GI Bill, and advanced the country’s economy and transformed its society. World War II veterans, while fueling economic advancement, remained resolute in their value system: service, sacrifice, and community.”
Among “Shadow’s” contributors are aviators, surface warfare officers, submariners, U.S. Marines and mothers of junior officers killed during training or in action.
The book is filled with first-person, heartfelt accounts of triumph and hardships: what it’s like in humanitarian assistance missions, duty at sea, Search and Rescue operations, and combat; what it means to face family separation, “setting aside the comforts a normal life in service to our country and the Constitution. The dark sides of these sacrifices are broken marriages, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and estrangement.”
But there is plenty of triumph here, too, focusing on why and how Navy and Marine Corps leaders choose to serve — “not for self, but for country.”
A highlight is the account by Meghan Elger Courtney, who served aboard USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) of her commitment to promote warfighting readiness for Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. Courtney recognized a need to improve shipboard physical fitness opportunities to help Sailors who would deploy forward — either aboard ship or as individual augmentees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the blessing of her commanding officer and strong support from the command master chief and Chief’s Mess, j.o. Courtney planned for, procured and arranged for installation of a new fitness center that replaced outdated insufficient gear and space. Courtney writes, “Almost immediately, I saw a positive renewal in people’s attitude toward fitness, healthy eating, and incorporating workouts into their daily routine as a way to relieve stress and stay in shape.”
“What some may have viewed as my silly pet project, the command master chief took seriously, and he became my closest ally in seeing it through. I never really knew how much the experience had impacted him until I saw him become visibly choked up recollecting it during his closing remarks when he transferred off the ship. I don’t think he thought that a young officer like me could have cared about his crew so much, but I did, and I still do…”
Courtney’s story is just one of many inspiring reflections. She said she was inspired by a quote by explorer Robert E. Peary on a motivational placard in Halsey Field House at the academy: “I will find a way, or make one.”
Other essayists share their sources of inspiration as President Teddy Roosevelt, President Dwight Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy, Senator Daniel Inouye and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others.
One essayist quotes the last two lines of a poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” in pursuing a life of purpose, wanting to make a difference:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
The authors and essayists show how core values of honor, courage and commitment make up an ethos that “forms the fabric of people’s personality and drives them to a life of service, in and out of uniform.”
“‘In the Shadow of Greatness’ was envisioned to recognize and chronicle the service of brave men and women and through their stories establish connections with the broader, nonmilitary community. These first graduates of the Naval Academy after 9/11 entered a global war at sea, in the air, and on land. This war would last more than a decade and define the United States in the early part of the millennium. The actions of the select few profiled here represent those of a much broader spectrum of patriots.”
Attacks on 9/11/2001 changed the lives of the Class of 2002.
In a short introductory piece, “Inside the Gates of Annapolis,” Adm. Sam Locklear (now Commander, U.S. Pacific Command) writes about the investment the country makes in the women and men who attend service academies, including the Naval Academy, reflecting on the morning of September 11, 2001 when he sat at his desk as commandant of midshipmen.
“I recall vividly watching the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. When the images reached the Brigade, and the uncertainty of the events rapidly became reality, I asked myself, Are these men and women, these young patriots, ready for the challenges that most certainly lay ahead. A decade of war has proven that they were more than ready. Fortunately for us all, they remain ready today. We are extremely proud of all they have accomplished and thankful that we chose the right men and women to lead the next great generation.”
The book, published by the Naval Institute Press, is a key title on the CNO’s Professional Reading Program essential list under “Be Ready.”
A version of this post appeared on Bill Doughty’s Navy Reads blog.
By Mark Tempest
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I think Cyber, Russia, Christine Fox’s comments, Coalition Warfare, budget constraints, the JSF, retention of our best talent, and the future of warfare will come up at some point. Plus more.
Join us live or listen later.
I made my way to the USNI/AFCEA West 2014 Conference because the theme is an important one. Shaping the Maritime Strategy. And because I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be snowing in San Diego. Sure enough, the speakers and panel sessions have not disappointed. And, there is not a snowbank in sight.
This morning’s keynote event was a roundtable on Information Dominance. Moderated by Mr. David Wennergren, VP for Enterprise Technologies and Services at CACI, the panel consisted of RADM Paul Becker USN, Director of Intelligence J2 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RADM Robert Day USCG, Assistant Commandant for C4I for Coast Guard Cyber Command, Mr. Terry Halvorsen, DoN CIO, and BGen Kevin Nally USMC, Marine Corps CIO.
Each spoke eloquently of the need for protecting trusted information networks in an increasingly interconnected military, as well as the complexities of the dependence on trusted networks for myriad systems, capabilities, and decision support of command and control functions. Not surprisingly, the emphasis of most of the discussion was on countering the threats to our use of the electronic spectrum, which is to say “cyber” security. Each of the roundtable speakers were insightful in describing the problem of data overload, and how that overload actually stymied efforts to retrieve information. And each commented in turn that “information dominance” was not synonymous with “cyber”, which merely represented one aspect of the concept.
The discussion amongst the roundtable members did fall disappointingly short in two critical areas. The first was the focus on technical solutions for managing data and information. Connectivity and data transfer capability dominated what should have been a cultural discussion about information management. It is not the lack of sensors, or data feeds, nor connectivity shortfalls which have hampered our attempts to wring the maximum value from our information systems. We have become so enamored of the colossal capability to access raw data that we have become less than disciplined about what we NEED to know, when we need to know it, from whom we should expect it, what form that data needs to be in, and how it is to be analyzed into information useful for decision support for C2. Little of that was directly addressed, which was unfortunate, as such lack of acumen about our information and intelligence requirements will render any system to deliver those products far less effective than they should be.
By far, however, the biggest shortcoming of the roundtable discussion was the inability of any of the panel members to actually define the term “Information Dominance” in any meaningful way. I had submitted precisely that question for the roundtable via the electronic submission system in use at West this year, but someone asked it ahead of me. The attempts to define “Information Dominance” would have made a junior high English teacher cringe. We heard what information dominance is similar to, and what the supposed goals of information dominance were, but neither was in any way a real definition. (This is not a surprise. Two years ago, the Navy had an “Information Dominance” booth on the “gizmo floor”, staffed alternately by a Captain and two Commanders. I asked each, separately, over a couple days, to give me their definition of “information dominance”. None of theirs were remotely similar, nor any more adequate than what we heard today.)
The problem, of course, is the term itself. Information cannot be “dominated”, despite assertions to the contrary. An enemy with a very specific information requirement that he can fulfill reliably and in a timely manner can be said to have information “dominance” over our massive sensor and communications networks that commanders and staffs pore over in attempts to see through the fog of war. The dust cloud from the dirt bike as the teenager rides from Baghdadi to Hit to tell the insurgents of the Coalition convoy headed their way trumps our networked, data-driven ISR platform links that cannot help prevent the ambush that awaits us.
We have much work ahead of us to make most effective use of our incredibly robust data collection systems and information networks. The solution to the problems of analytical capacity resident in C2 nodes with which to turn raw data into useful information and intelligence will be far more human than digital. Commanders have to insist on a philosophy of “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what I need to know”. And then go about ensuring that those who collect, compile, and analyze data have a very good idea of what they need to know.
And we can start by retiring the troublesome and ill-suited term “Information Dominance”. As General van Riper is fond of saying, “Words MEAN things!”. They’re supposed to, anyway.
Cross-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid.
Mid 20th Century the “Happy Hour” was a common occurrence in the USN. It was an opportunity for sailors to blow off some steam, and maybe even get a little exercise. Also known as a “smoker,” in those days a “Happy Hour” was usually series of boxing or wrestling matches when the ships weren’t busy.
In our post-prohibition world it means something a bit different, but still gives us a chance to blow off some steam. On Thursday, 12 December, The Naval Institute will host a Happy Hour in Newport, Rhode Island for members, prospective members, or anyone who wants to show up to talk about daring “to read, think and write” about sea power and national security.
A member of our Editorial Board will be there to answer questions, and some writers and thinkers who have contributed to the Institute to share some of their experiences. While there will be no punches thrown, sparing over strategy and grappling with the naval issues of the day will be encouraged.
If you are in Newport, please join us to splice the main brace at the USNI Happy Hour/Social:
12 December 2013, 1700 until the tab runs out or the grog runs dry.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
- Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
By Mark Tempest
Join us for Midrats on 14 July 13 at 5pm Eastern for Episode 184: “The Big Man Theory”
For the first half of the hour we will have LCDR BJ Armstrong to discuss his book, 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era.
For the second half of the hour our guest will be Stephen Roderick to discuss his book, The Magical Stranger: A Son’s Journey into His Father’s Life.
LCDR BJ Armstrong is a Naval Aviator and an occasional naval historian. His articles have appeared in numerous journals including USNI’s Proceedings and Naval History, Naval War College Review, and Infinity Journal to name a few. He is a research student with the Department of War Studies at King’s College, University of London. He was recently named the 2013-14 Morison Scholar by Naval History & Heritage Command and was awarded the 2013 Navy League Alfred Thayer Mahan Award.
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor for Men’s Journal. He has also written for New York, Rolling Stone, GQ, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Men’s Journal, and others. The Magical Stranger is his first book.
Before becoming a journalist, Rodrick worked as a deputy press secretary for United States Senator Alan J. Dixon. He hold a bachelors and masters in political science from Loyola University of Chicago and a masters in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
Join us live or listen later by clicking here
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
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.
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