Monday, April 06, 2020

James Stockdale

Who is James Stockdale?

You may remember him as Ross Perot's running mate in the 1992 election. Some people made fun of him for introducing himself at a debate, with Dan Quayle and Al Gore, by saying, "who am I, why am I here?" As I read more about James Stockdale it's clear that one thing he shows us, is the importance of having a sense of humor - even for someone like him who literally went through hell for seven and a half years. More on that later.

In 1992 I was interested in Stockdale and his running mate presidential candidate H. Ross Perot as an alternative to Clinton or Bush in that election.

Ross Perot was a smart guy and a successful business man.  One of his most famous statements was when he said in 1992 that we'd hear a "giant sucking sound" as jobs went from the U.S. to Mexico if NAFTA was enacted. Here's the quote -
"We have got to stop sending jobs overseas. It's pretty simple: If you're paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, ... have no health care—that's the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don't care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south. 
... when [Mexico's] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it's leveled again. But in the meantime, you've wrecked the country with these kinds of deals."

So much for the errors of the past, who was James Stockdale?

The introduction to a lecture James Stockdale gave at the U.S. Naval Academy (links below) provides this description -
"Vice Admiral Stockdale served on active duty in the regular Navy for 37 years, most of those years as a fighter pilot aboard aircraft carriers. Shot down on his third combat tour over North Vietnam, he was the senior naval prisoner of war in Hanoi for seven and one-half years - tortured 15 times, in solitary confinement for over four years, in leg irons for two."  
"When physical disability from combat wounds brought about Stockdale's military retirement, he had the distinction of being the only three-star officer in the history of the U.S. Navy to wear both aviator wings and the Medal of Honor. Included in his 26 other combat decorations are two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Distinguished Service Medals, four Silver Star medals, and two Purple Hearts."

James Stockdale, has some things to say that are relevant to any time but in particular these trying times.

I just started reading his book Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. In the beginning he's writing about how he survived his experience as a prisoner of war and writes the following -
"I distilled one all-purpose idea, plus a few corollaries. It is a simple idea, an idea as old as the scriptures, an idea that is the epitome of high-mindedness, an idea that naturally and spontaneously comes to men under pressure. If the pressure is intense enough or of long enough duration, this idea spreads without even the need for its enunciation. It just takes root naturally. It is an idea that, in this big easy world of yakety yak, seems to violate the rules of game theory, if not of reason. It violates the idea of Adam Smith's invisible hand, or ideas of human nature, and probably the second law of thermodynamics. That idea is you are your brother's keeper."
Mr. Rogers taught us something similar when he said that his mother taught him that in times of trouble we look for the helpers and know there is hope when we realize how kind and generous human beings can be.

These are links to pdf files of two lectures James Stockdale gave at the U.S. Naval Academy -

Stockdale on Stoicism I - The Stoic Warrior's Triad

Stockdale on Stoicism II - Master of My Fate

If you are at all interested in what Stoicism can teach us in difficult times, I'd recommend signing up for The Daily Stoic.


And finally...

This Dave Dudley classic to remind us of all those truck drivers who keep this country running.

Postscript - I didn't realize until I watched this video a few times that the truck at time 1:05 is the Peterbilt 281 used in the 1971 movie Duel. If you haven't seen that movie, it's about a "bad" truck chasing Dennis Weaver who's driving a car that really needs a tune-up. In any case it seems unlikely Earl Green had an evil truck in mind when he wrote this song. I still like the pictures of trucks, the song and the honor of hard work.