Courage Under Fire – by James Bond Stockdale – Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior, is a short autobiography of real courage and emotional recovery of a man who had many times taken the ropes and spent over four years in solitary confinement. Stockdale endured torture, as did many American prisoners of war in Viet Nam, far beyond what we modern civilians consider endurable. It is hard to imagine the hideous brutality that he and his comrades endured, and some survived. They were beaten to the edge of death by professional highly experienced torturers and some perhaps accidentally slipped over into oblivion, and when one was in the ropes it was impossible to know if now was the moment of death.
This is the world Stockdale lived in for years, and Epictetus’s book written in the first century AD is what what he says brought him back from being totally broken in every way to a life of sanity worth living, even when he was in a state of absolute destitution and solitary confinement. He said the emotional pain inflicted was worse than the broken leg bones, and frequent beatings. Being brought out of solitary and into a world of intense physical and emotional pain on a daily basis for years on end left the world with a very sane man who has an understanding of the world I respect!
The goal of the interrogators was to generate shame, and Stockdale said he concentrated on controlling his emotions, especially those of fear and guilt. Our emotions are our own, and they are things that we can make ourselves responsible for, because we have voluntary control over them. Those things over which we have no control we simply respond to as part of the world to which we adapt, and feel no responsibility for and to which no emotions are relevant. “The thing that brings down a man is not pain but shame!”
“You’ve got to get it straight! You are in charge of you.”