The Radical Optimism Of Richard Linklater’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

James Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. He spent seven and a half years in the hellish Hỏa Lò Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton), where he was tortured and abused. Stockdale made it out – you might remember him from the 1992 Vice Presidential debates, where he infamously began with “Who am I? Why am I here?,” reinforcing his image as a doddering, confused old man – but many other men didn’t. Years later, when asked what kind of man didn’t survive the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale said:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

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