James Stockdale

Reluctant US vice-presidential candidate

James Stockdale was a Vietnam war hero, a man of extraordinary personal courage who become one of the US Navy's most decorated officers ever. But he may be best remembered for his spell as a reluctant political candidate, when the man who withstood every brutality inflicted by the Vietcong proved no match for the very different pressures of a political campaign.

As his quixotic presidential bid gained unexpected momentum in the summer of 1992, the billionaire Texas businessman H. Ross Perot asked Stockdale - an old friend from their days together at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland - to join him on the ticket.

The decision was initially seen as a stop-gap, to allow Perot to meet ballot requirements in several states. The expectation was that Stockdale, then a senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, would be replaced by a more experienced candidate for the climax of the campaign.

Instead, Perot stuck with his man - and, on 13 October 1992, Stockdale squared up to the Democrat Al Gore and the Republican Dan Quayle in that year's only vice-presidential debate. His opening lines were two rhetorical questions that have entered US political folklore: "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Such ruminations might have been perfectly natural on the part of a retired military officer, a highly regarded thinker and teacher, whose philosophical inspiration was the Stoic Epictetus. However, they were not the expected sales pitch of a man vying to stand the proverbial heartbeat away from the presidency.

Late-night comedians went to town on the remarks, and another layer of credibility was stripped from Perot's bid. In the end, he won a highly respectable 19 per cent of the vote, and eventually ran again for the White House in 1996. But Stockdale's brief flirtation with big-time politics was over.

But if stoicism was not an ideal preparation for political debate, it most certainly was for Stockdale's ordeal in Vietnam a quarter of a century earlier. On 9 September 1965, his A-4 Skyraider was shot down over North Vietnam during a mission to attack Hanoi's oil refineries.

Stockdale ejected and landed in a village near the coast. He was seized and savagely beaten, suffering a broken leg and paralysed arm, before being taken off to Hoa Lo prison, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton". There he would spend seven and a half years, four of them in solitary confinement. He was kept in leg irons for two years and repeatedly tortured.

But to his fellow prisoners (among them the past and probably future Republican presidential candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona), Stockdale was an inspiration, as he organised an intricate culture of quiet resistance, complete with its own communications code, and refused to make the slightest concession to his captors.

In 1969, learning that he was scheduled to appear in propaganda photographs for the foreign press, he deliberately mutilated himself, slashing his wrists and smashing himself on the face with a stool. Stockdale calculated, correctly, that the Vietnamese would not dare put on show a prisoner who appeared to have been beaten.

In early 1973, he was finally released. Over his career, he won 28 combat awards, including four silver stars and two purple hearts, as well as two Distinguished Flying Crosses. In America's bicentennial year of 1976, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism.

Rupert Cornwell

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Colin Firth and Emma Stone star together in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Life and Style
The findings suggest that some of the genetic factors which influence birth size may play a part in influencing an infant’s mental development
health...while smaller babies have greater schizophrenia risk, study claims
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week