In POW camps, officers could impede survival
Clifford G. Holderness is a professor of finance at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, and his particular interest is the behavior of large shareholders in public corporations. He is also a World War II buff.
Seven years ago, he was browsing through the National Archives’ online World War II Prisoners of War Data File. As Holderness explained recently in an interview, the usual scholarly method of inquiry is to shape questions first, and then seek data for illumination. Joined by Jeffrey Pontiff, holder of the James F. Cleary Chair in Finance, Clifford took the opposite tack. With the POW data in front of them (augmented by the Archives’ World War II Army Enlistment Records), the two settled on a question: “Is a hierarchy that is optimal in one environment [the battlefield] still optimal in a related but different environment [a prison camp]?”
In an article forthcoming in the journal Management Science—”Hierarchies and the Survival of Prisoners of War during World War II”—Holderness and Pontiff examine the fate of approximately 123,000 Americans held by the Axis powers in 280 camps. One out of 10 prisoners died in these camps overall, most from starvation or disease, some by execution.
Back in the early 1960s, black South African lawyer and activist Oliver Tambo was asked to describe a colleague who had just gone to prison for resisting white minority rule in that country. He replied that this man is “passionate, emotional, sensitive, quickly stung to bitterness and retaliation by insult and patronage.” Tambo was talking about his law-firm partner, Nelson Mandela—remembered today for his grace, humor, and empathy, as well as his remarkable courage and leadership.
What happened to Mandela in prison, what changed him so radically, is still a bit of mystery in my mind. He was often asked about a slice of this question—how he let go of the anger he felt specifically toward whites—and his responses were usually of a fairly standard therapeutic variety. Bill Clinton, in an interview aired last night by CBS Evening News, related one such exchange with Mandela.
I said, “Now, Mandela, you’re a great man but you’re a wily politician. It was good politics to put your jailers in your inauguration and put the heads of the parties that imprisoned you in your government. But tell me the truth, when you were walking to freedom the last time, didn’t you hate ‘em?” He said, “Yes. Briefly I did. I hated them and I was afraid. I hadn’t been free in so long. And then I realized if I still hated them after I left, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.” He said, “That’s what you have to do. That’s what we all have to do. We have to let it go.” I mean, that’s the kind of thing he would say to me just in ordinary conversation.
“They would still have me.” How true. But does this explain the difference between the petulant man sized up by Oliver Tambo, circa 1963, and the Nelson Mandela we came to know? Former Time managing editor Richard Stengel, author of Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, has offered some further insight into Mandela’s personal transformation during his 27 years locked up in a tiny cell. Asked in an interview if prison was one of Mandela’s great teachers, he said: ...read more
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What a CEO can Teach a Pope
“Someone, somewhere has a better idea”
In the days leading up to the election of Pope Francis, Thomas J. Reese, a noted Jesuit priest and scholar at Georgetown University, was widely quoted as saying that the next successor to Saint Peter needs to be “Jesus Christ with an M.B.A.” That’s a colorful way of putting it, and probably not many Roman Catholics would want a Vicar of Christ to talk like a VP of Strategy. It would be more than curious to hear a papal address about the church’s “core competency” or its need to “ideate” and achieve “synergy.”
Still, Reese’s point is well taken.
Off the Charts
Bang the violin, beat the piano—and lose the cowbell
At the end of a rehearsal for a December 10 concert in Gasson 100, conductor Stephen Drury nodded toward the 11 players—a mix of Boston College students and professional musicians—and declared, “That was a noisy, chaotic mess.” Coming from Drury, one of the foremost practitioners of avant-garde classical music, it was a compliment.
Failure to Communicate
The Vatican Diaries
After turning the last pages of The Vatican Diaries, I noticed an Associated Press item that began, “The Vatican praised President Barack Obama’s proposals for curbing gun violence.” The report was based on a radio commentary by the Vatican press secretary, Frederico Lombardi, S.J., on Jan. 19. Those who read John Thavis’s vivid recollections in The Vatican Diaries will have cause to be at least initially skeptical whenever they hear that “the Vatican” said this or that definitively about anything.
Recently retired as the longtime Rome bureau chief of Catholic News Service, Thavis argues that the popular image of the Vatican as a monolith, eternally on message, is a myth. On the contrary, it “remains predominantly a world of individuals, most of whom have a surprising amount of freedom to operate—and, therefore, to make mistakes,” he writes.
Re-enter Father Lombardi.