Thursday, July 07, 2005

Creator of The Stockdale Paradox Dies

During the Vietnam War, [James] Stockdale was a Navy fighter pilot based on the USS Oriskany and flew 201 missions before he was shot down on Sept. 9, 1965. He became the highest-ranking naval officer captured during the war, the Navy said.

Stockdale was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, known as the "Hanoi Hilton." His shoulders were wrenched from their sockets, his leg had been shattered by angry villagers and a torturer, and his back was broken. But he refused to capitulate.

Rather than allow himself to be used in a propaganda film, Stockdale smashed his face into a pulp with a mahogany stool.

"My only hope was to disfigure myself," Stockdale wrote in his 1984 autobiography "In Love and War." The ploy worked, but he spent the next two years in leg irons.

After Ho Chi Minh's death, he broke a glass pane in an interrogation room and slashed his wrists until he passed out in his own blood. After that, captors relented in their harsh treatment of him and his fellow prisoners.

See the Washington Post Obituary

"Who am I? Why am I here?"

It's sad that this significant man is today mostly remembered for these words during a VP debate when he was Ross Perot's running mate rather than for the true achievements of his life.

My primary introduction to James Stockdale came not from Perot but from Jim Collins in his wonderful Good to Great where he talked about The Stockdale Paradox. We briefly mentioned this in our bullet point summary of Good to Great and, primarily, in our earlier comparison of the Stockdale Paradox and the "Flexible Optimism" of Dr. Martin Seligman.

In a nutshell the Stockdale Paradox marries a hard look at the cold realities of the current situation with an absolute commitment that all will work out well in the long run. Stockdale said that the folks that died in POW camp were not those who said, "We'll get out by Christmas" but rather those who said, "We'll get out but I have no clue when."

Admiral Stockdale will be missed.

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