“I’m going to talk about heroes and heroism.
I know you midshipmen have thought about this subject—it was probably a touch of the romantic that initially stirred you to come to this place (certainly was true in my case). It’s just that today we’re grounded into the idea of egalitarianism, that it’s somehow unfair, or undemocratic, to recognize, let alone admire, those uncommon and special people who over history have risen to challenges in ways totally incompatible with conventional wisdom’s view of so-called instincts of self-preservation. In other words, we’ve become too self-conscious and embarrassed to talk about certain human behaviors limited in distribution to a highly selective few.
So tonight, I want to throw self-consciousness and embarrassment to the wind and, for a half hour or so, talk about something you should know: the history, the literature, and yes the reality of heroes. Let me tell you, they are out there—those of confounding selflessness and seeming immunity to fear; those with fires burning in their breasts, fires that may turn the tide for you as leaders someday. They have eluded concise definition since the beginning of recorded history. Aristotle would say only that they do exist and exist as the polar opposite of the beasts—that as the beasts are a cut below the normal human, the heroes are a cut above him, somewhere between the humans and the gods.”
~ James B. Stockdale from Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot
Vice Admiral James Stockdale is an American hero.
We featured Stockdale’s wisdom in our Note on another one of his speeches that was turned into a book (that speech is also part of this book), called Courage Under Fire.
Stockdale spent nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He spent four of those years in solitary confinement and was repeatedly tortured. He was the commanding officer of hundreds of other U.S. soldiersand received the Medal of Honor for his service beyond the call of duty.
The passage above is from a speech he gave to alumni of the Naval Academy and this book is a collection of speeches he gave toward the end of his life forming this compilation: Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.
This is an incredibly inspiring look at the powerful mind and equally powerful moral commitment of a hero. (Get a copy of the book here.)
It’s packed with Big Ideas and I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!
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