James Bond Stockdale (1923-2005) was by any stretch of the imagination, a remarkable man. In his own words, he described how at one moment, he was “on the top,” the admired commander of over 1000 men and over 100 pilots fighting in the Vietnam War, “confident” and “self-satisfied,” a man who thought he had “found every key to success.”
All that changed on 9 September 1965 when he was shot down and in a matter of minutes became “an object of contempt” and a “criminal” in the eyes of the North Vietnamese. He recounted in his autobiography how in such short time, your place in life “can be changed from that of a dignified and competent gentleman of culture to that of a panic-stricken, sobbing, self-lothing wreck…”
He handled and survived the challenges of being a prisoner during the peak of the Vietnam War. That included 4 years in solitary confinement. He was tortured over 20 times during his 8 year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973. After one extended round of torture he become so depressed he attempted suicide by his wrists with a shard of broken glass. He lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date and no certainty as to whether he would even see his family again.
But after his eventual release he became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honour. From 1981 to 1993 he was a professor at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University. In 1992 he stood as vice president candidate in the presidential election. (For more on his life see Could This Be The Real James Bond?)
Stockdale was able to survive and even eventually thrive from his terrible experience by drawing on Stoic philosophy. (See What Was The Real James Bond Thinking?)
The main focus of Stoic philosophy is developing personal control, reducing vulnerability and living by a set of time-honoured standards that promote dignity, even under the harshest of conditions. To develop personal control it is vital to distinguish that which is within your control from that which is beyond it. Quoting Stockdale: