Review: James Stockdale. Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

James Stockdale was the Carrier Air Group Commander on the USS Oriskany. He was shot down over North Vietnam while filing an A-4 attack mission on Sept. 9, 1965.

Before he took that fateful cat-shot, Stockdale studied stoic philosophy at Stanford. He was a student of the teachings of Epictetus, a Greek philosopher who was born in 50 AD. Stockdale’s story of how Epictetus’ philosophy helped him survive and flourish 7 1/2 years as a prisoner of war is required reading.

Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior is a 21-page essay that can be bought on your Kindle for $1.99

I particularly liked this book because of my experience as a naval flight officer, a designation Stockdale refers to in the book as “electronic wizards.” Additionally, I went through the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) school in 1981. The SERE school isn’t something one forgets. Reading this book reminded me of what I learned there–the prisoner tap code, the importance of the chain of command, and the Code of Conduct for the U.S. Fighting Man

But the primary lesson I learned reading Stockdale’s essay was an introduction to stoicism. I am drawn to this philosophy and believe it to be an excellent foundation for practical living. This little book is a great primer. 

My Favorite Podcasts

In no particular order:

The Tim Ferris Show

#1 business podcast on all of iTunes. Tim deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.  This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more. One of the best interviewers out there.

Locked on the Gamecocks Podcast

Brought to you by JC Shurburtt and Keith Allsep. These guys get down into the weeds on football and men’s and women’s basketball games, recruiting, and depth.

Gamecock Central Radio

A really good podcast. Maybe not quite as much into the weeds as the one above, but you get great interviews about Gamecock baseball on this one. They also do a spectacular breakdown of football games.

Neil Corcoran (Tantric Dex)

A selection of various mixes in various styles. Updated Weekly “A DJ that displays a wealth of talent & versatility” Muzik Magazine (UK) “Serves up some seriously funky sounds” (Mark McAvoy, “Irelands funkiest export”

Deep Energy 2.0–Music for Sleep, Meditation, Relaxation, Massage, and Yoga

Super relaxing. I wouldn’t recommend this on your commute though.

The Tom Woods Show

Serving up a helping of rebelliousness against the State. Tom also is a master of Internet marketing and has frequent tips and advice on this score.

Diplomacy Cast

Eric Meade and Nathan Barnes produce this show. It’s not a sophisticated production, and they revel in it. You would have to be a huge board-gaming nerd to even begin to like this podcast. But if you’re a Diplomacy player, it’s a blend of hilarity and advice on becoming a better FTF player.

Scott Horton Show Interviews

Don’t listen to this unless you want to take the red pill. Anti-war and anti-State.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Dan says he isn’t a historian. I don’t know about that but he is a damned good story-teller. Most stories about warfare from the cold war to the Genghis Kahn.

I Was On a Warship Off the Normandy Coast on June 6

Just a young naval aviator at the time, it was cool to participate in the celebration of the 40th anniversary (1984) commemoration of the D-Day landings of World War II. I was aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a United States super carrier, which patrolled up the Normandy coast on June 6-7, 1984, honoring the WWII D-day combatants.

The Ike operated in the area for several weeks before the commemoration. I had the pleasure of making port calls in Brest, France, and Portsmouth, England. I took leave when we made port in Portsmouth and traveled north to London.

London town was abuzz about an upcoming visit from then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. At that time, Guinness, a beer company from Ireland, was running a successful international marketing campaign based upon obtaining photographs of famous celebrities drinking Guinness.

Reagan, of Irish descent, was scheduled to visit Ireland as part of the D-day celebration. Controversy arose. Some experts in diplomatic matters felt it would highly unseemly of a U.S. President to allow himself to be used in a crass commercial promotion. The issue was hotly debated in the media, with most conservative commentators believing Reagan would never allow himself to participate in the Guinness marketing scheme.

When I awoke in London the morning after Reagan’s visit to Ireland, the headlines on the London papers screamed out the headline:

He Drank the Guinness!!!

Remembering Roy Hodge

On July 30, 1982, Roy Hodge piloted his VAQ-131 EA6B prowler into a landing on the USS Independence. The tailhook on the prowler snagged the four wire and began to decelerate. Only the tailhook didn’t really catch the wire. The hook speared the cable. As the 40 ton aircraft traveling at approximately 125 knots was screeching to a stop, the stress and force snapped the wire rope and the Prowler rolled unrestrained toward the bow. Problem was that the partial arrested landing slowed down the Prowler so much that it was impossible to takeoff again. There was only one choice as the prowler rolled toward the edge and the ocean below. EJECT.

In the Prowler ejection system, when the pilot pulls the ejection seat handle, the the Naval Flight Officers eject first, one every .4 seconds. The pilot goes last, 1.2 seconds after he pulls the handle.

Everyone in the VAQ-131 Prowler successfully ejected and Roy Hodge and the two NFOs landed in the ocean near the ship. Lieutenant Hodge even gave a thumbs up to signal that he was ok. But . . . he was not ok. Here’s a first hand account from someone on the flight deck that day:

I remember that day well . . . . I was in VF-32, on the flight deck waiting for my plane to land to retrieve film from it. It was surreal to see the ejections (3 as I recall)…I ran over to the angle deck to see Lt. Hodge give a thumbs up and then get taken down when the plane sank. it’s one of those seminal moments in a life that you will NEVER forget.

I met Roy Hodge once at the Whidbey Island O-club. We had a drink. He was from Danville, Virginia. Roy Hodge struck me as a happy go lucky person. I wish I had a chance to know him better.

When an aircraft accident happens in TACAIR, the Navy conducts a JAG investigation and issues a report on the accident. I remember reading the message about Roy Hodge’s death and the aircraft accident. Tragedy times two.

We were all trained that upon ejecting, one should not release our Koch fittings. The Koch fittings held our bodies to the parachute. There is a legitimate concern about landing in the ocean still attached to your parachute. Your chute can drag you in the wind, or it may become water logged and sink. So, release your Koch fitting as soon as possible to avoid being entangled with the parachute. We were even provided a knife in our survival gear to cut the parachute cords. But who wants to try and fish around for a knife while being drowned? The Navy figured that we aviators would just release our Koch fittings before we hit the water to avoid the problem altogether. However, that is also a bad idea. Distances can deceive when there is no point of reference to determine your distance above the surface. You might think your only a few feet above the water, but you could be hundreds. Therefore, it was standard protocol not release the Koch fittings until your feet hit the ocean. It all changed after what happened to Roy Hodge.

After Roy Hodge’s death, we changed our pre-flight briefs on every aircraft carrier flight. When I briefed the flight, I must have said dozens of times something like:

If you have to punch out around the boat, pick a point of reference like the flight deck or the hanger deck, and then release your Koch fittings there. I’m going with the hangar deck.

Roy Hodge’s parachute was entangled in the wreckage of the Prowler. The aircraft floated a few minutes, long enough for Roy Hodge to land nearby. Eventually, the airplane sank, pulling Roy Hodge to the bottom of the Eastern Med with it.

Remember the fallen.

Tincture of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

We planted the hypericum perforatum about four years ago. It began blooming in the late spring around this time two years ago. 

The plant is named after St. John the Baptist of the Bible. However, it predates him by centuries and was used by the ancient Greeks for treating a variety of maladies, including insanity and venomous bites.

Folklore attributes mystical qualities to the hypericum perforatum plant. It is a positive spiritual force, connected to the sun and light. Christians say the flowers resemble a halo. Pagans say it has the power to ward off evil spirits. Indeed, the Latin name from ancient Greece is derived from something like “away apparition.” Way way back, thousands of years ago, the Romans and Greeks used the plant in spiritual ceremonies.

Modern scientific man questions and is skeptical of the old beliefs of our ancestors, particularly as they relate to the woo woo. But I am not a person who easily discards the wisdom of many generations. Who is to say that we modern people are wiser than our ancestors? In my opinion, we moderns don’t behave much like we have an overly generous quantity of wisdom.

Nevertheless, recent scientific studies have shown that the hypericum perforatum plant is efficacious in treatment of mild depression. Herbalists still use it for treatment of traumatic injury and other health problems. 

With all these things going for the plant, we have been harvesting the yellow flowers this spring and producing a tincture. The process of making a tincture is simple. Just harvest and macerate the flowers and place them into a jar with alcohol for about a month. The alcohol draws out the medicinal qualities of the plant, and stores them in the alcohol until the medicine is needed. 

I love my St. Johns Wort bush. I would like more of these in my garden. I cannot confirm the woo woo qualities of my hypericum perforatum plant. But when I sit down near my St. John’s plant, and look at the pretty yellow flowers growing across the bush, I am happy to be near it.