Things that make you go..Hmmm: Stoicism

Admiral James Stockdale was the highest ranking American prisoner of war during the U.S' war in Vietnam. He spent seven and a half years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He was tortured physically and mentally and kept in solitary confinement for four of those years.

After the war, though he suffered terrible incpacity he remained with the military and ran as a vice presidential candidate with Ross Perot. His experience gave him a thoughtful bent (so much so that he confused voters by being, perhaps, a little too intellectual). But who has better credentials to write an essay (or two) on stoicism.

I found this extract particularly interesting in the context of current affairs:

What kind of a racket is this military officership? Let's go right to the old master, Clausewitz. He said: "War is an act of violence to compel the enemy to do your will." Your will, not his will. We are in the business of breaking people's wills. That's all there is to war; once you have done that, the war is over.

And what is the most important weapon in breaking people's wills? This may surprise you, but I am convinced that holding the moral high ground is more important than firepower. For Clausewitz, war was not an activity governed by scientific laws, but a clash of wills, of moral forces. He wrote:
"It is not the loss in men, horses, or guns, but in order, courage, confidence, cohesion and plan which come into consideration whether the engagement can still be continued; it is principally the moral forces which decide here." Moral forces! Conviction! Mind games!

I had the wisdom of Clausewitz' stand on moral integrity demonstrated to me throughout a losing war as I sat on the sidelines in a Hanoi prison. To take a nation to war on the basis of any provocation that bears the smell of fraud is to risk losing national leadership's commitment when the going gets tough. When our soldiers' bodies start coming home in high numbers, and reverses in the field are discouraging, a guilty conscience in a top leader can become the Achilles heel of a whole country. Men of shame who know our road to war was not cricket. are seldom those we can count on to hold fast, stay the course.


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