Inspiration from Admiral Stockdale

Tim Knight from Slope of Hope's picture

Originally published on Slope of Hope last month, I thought it was worth bringing over here to ZH....

If you're like most Americans, you hadn't heard of James Stockdale until he showed up for the 1992 Vice Presidential debates and made this famous line:

Who am I? Why am I here? (video can be seen here)

Afterwards, he became the butt of jokes and was basically portrayed as a dottering old man. He and Ross Perot captured nearly 20% of the vote, in spite of being a third party ticket, and the nation soon stopped talking about Admiral Stockdale.

0110-stockdaleI hadn't thought of him for years, but last night I happened to trip across an article about the man, and I was amazed. He suffered through unspeakable horrors as a prisoner of war and, in all that time, he showed strength, resolve, and character that I imagine 99.9999% of the population lack. The guy had brass balls, pure and simple, and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage.

Read on:

Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war in the Hoa Lo prison for the next seven years. Locked in leg irons in a bath stall, he was routinely tortured and beaten. When told by his captors that he was to be paraded in public, Stockdale slit his scalp with a razor to purposely disfigure himself so that his captors could not use him as propaganda. When they covered his head with a hat, he beat himself with a stool until his face was swollen beyond recognition. When Stockdale was discovered with information that could implicate his friends' "black activities", he slit his wrists so they could not torture him into confession.

One can only imagine fellow VP-debate-participant Dan Quayle's behavior in such a circumstance. Once they mussed his hair, it would probably be all over. To continue:

Stockdale was part of a group of about eleven prisoners known as the "Alcatraz Gang": George Thomas Coker, George McKnight, Jeremiah Denton, Harry Jenkins, Sam Johnson, James Mulligan, Howard Rutledge, Robert Shumaker, Ronald Storz and Nels Tanner; which was separated from other captives and placed in solitary confinement for their leadership in resisting their captors. "Alcatraz" was a special facility in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, located about one mile away from Hoa Lo Prison. In Alcatraz, each of the eleven men were kept in solitary confinement in cells measuring 3 feet by 9 feet with a light bulb which was kept on around the clock. The men were locked in leg irons each night

What amazed me the most is what Stockdale said in reflection:

"I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."

Now here's the important part......when asked about who died during captivity, he replied:

"Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

And then, finally, the most important part of all, which you might want to read ten times to yourself:

"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

I hope the departed Admiral will forgive me for using his words as an inspiration for traders - - or anyone undergoing a challenge - - but these are some of the most inspiring words I've ever read.

Thank you, Admiral Stockdale, for everything you did. I promise that those old jokes tossed around in the 1990s about you are no longer funny anymore. You were a great man.

Oh, and just to add icing to the cake. His full name, honest to God, was James Bond Stockdale.

What a bad-ass.