Opinion

A deficit of courage

Photo of Col. Lee Ellis
Col. Lee Ellis
Former Prisoner of War
  • See All Articles
  • Subscribe to RSS
  • Bio

      Col. Lee Ellis

      Col. Lee Ellis, USAF (Ret.), is an author and lecturer on the subject of leadership whose most recent book is “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For 1,953 days, he was a prisoner of war in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in North Vietnam, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

We certainly don’t have to go back to 1755 to see examples of enormous personal courage in our military.

As a young prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, I got to see daily acts of bravery by some of the most courageous men I have ever known.

I watched seemingly ordinary men face brutal torture rather than recant their loyalty and take part in North Vietnamese anti-war propaganda efforts. I saw senior leaders like Robbie Risner, Jim Stockdale, Jerry Denton and Larry Guarino face years of solitary confinement because they understood the importance of serving honorably.

The valor continues: even as I write this, brave American men and women in uniform all over the world face fears and dangers the rest of us can only imagine.

Somehow, we tend to expect courage from our military, from first responders, from those we regard as “heroic.” Experience has taught us, perhaps, to expect (and accept) cowardice in our politicians — and, even more regrettably, in ourselves.

The solution begins with each of us making an individual commitment to confront our worst fears and do what we know to be the right thing — regardless of the consequences. Courage, we must remember, is not the absence of fear, but a willingness to act in spite of it.

Only when each of us makes an individual commitment to lean into the pain of our fear and confront our doubts can we demand the same from our elected officials. Only then can we remind one another, our children and our leaders that there can be no honor without courage.

Col. Lee Ellis, USAF (Ret.), is an author and lecturer on the subject of leadership whose most recent book is “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.” For 1,953 days, he was a prisoner of war in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in North Vietnam, better known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”