Thursday, July 07, 2005

James Stockdale was not your average warrior

Not in the least.

Check this out. You know he was a Medal of Honor recipient. You know he was a prisoner of war. You know he was a Navy pilot. You know he ran for Vice President. You may not know he had been the President of the Naval War College in Newport. As President of the College,

he introduced a course on ethics and philosophy to a curriculum that had been anchored for many years in military history, strategy, tactics and naval engineering.

"His footprint at the college was his introduction of the ethics course," said retired admiral Thomas Weschler.

Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965 and was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for nearly 8 years. Among the ideas that steeled him during the torture and pain of captivity was his study of the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus.

Stockdale believed that soldiers and sailors needed to study philosophy and literature, and he brought to the Naval War College a course that he taught. It included readings from the Book of Job, the Socratic dialogues of Plato, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and the works of Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Albert Camus, Joseph Conrad and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

"For Stockdale, a war college course in moral philosophy did not need to be organized directly around military ideas or on military writing," wrote Prof. John Hattendorf in his 1984 history of the Naval War College.

"Classical philosophy and modern literature expressed the essential ideas better than writings in social science, Stockdale believed," wrote Hattendorf. "Beyond this belief lay Stockdale's conviction that individual character, freedom, and personal responsibility were more than rules in moral life."
Individual character. Freedom. Personal responsibility. Okay. Right.

Moral philosophy? Epictetus? Kant, Mill, & Camus? Solzhenitsyn? Plato & Aristotle?

Stockdale was not your average warrior.
"He was almost superhuman in terms of his intellect, and his endurance and his patriotism," Porter Halyburton, a professor of strategy at the Naval War College, said in an interview yesterday.

Halyburton, a fellow POW at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison, described Stockdale as a brave, resourceful and thoughtful man who raised the spirits of fellow prisioners.

In a statement released yesterday, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who also was a POW in North Vietnam with Stockdale and Halyburton, called Stockdale, "one of the bravest men I have ever known. His leadership inspired us to do better than we ever thought we could. He was one of the finest leaders I have ever had the privilege of serving under."
Vice Admiral Stockdale died this past Tuesday at the age of 81 following a battle with Alzheimer's. May he rest in peace.

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