Semper Fi, General Mattis!
Gen. George S. Patton once said to his assembled troops: “Your job is not to die for your country. It’s to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his country!” Patton was lauded for his martial spirit. But times have changed, at least in the better salons of the Fourth Estate.
When Lt. Gen. James Mattis, a highly-decorated Marine Corps general, voiced a similar thought several weeks ago, you could hear the swooning from Manhattan to Hollywood.
In an editorial on Feb. 7, 2005, The Miami Herald wrote, “Lt. Gen. James Mattis should have gotten more than a slap on the wrist for bragging about how much fun it was to shoot enemies in Iraq.
Mattis was a panel member taking part in an open discussion of the future of war at a defense industry conference in San Diego. In case you have been out of touch for the past week, here is what Mattis said, in context: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil … it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”
What do you suppose The Miami Herald might have written about Gen. Patton’s remarks?
Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, former Commander of the Army War College, moderated the panel. Retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, formerly with the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence where he was responsible for future warfare, and who is an internationally known lecturer and writer on the subject, was a distinguished panel member.
Unlike the anonymous editorial writer at The Miami Herald, Gen. Scales has the credentials to comment on Mattis’ remarks. Writing for The Washington Times, he said: “For those of you who might have the image of [Gen. Mattis as] a knuckle-dragging troglodyte, let me assure you that he is one of the most urbane and polished men I have known. He can quote Homer as well as Sun Tzu and has over 7,000 books in his personal library.”
Gen. Scales went on to say that, “Jim [Mattis] is the product of three decades of schooling and practice in the art of war. No one on active duty knows more about the subject. He is an infantryman, a close-combat Marine. He is one of those very few who willingly practices the art of what social scientists term ‘intimate killing.’ Those of us who have engaged in the act understand what he was trying to explain to an audience of defense technologists and contractors.”
And he concluded his remarks with: “My point simply is this: We must celebrate the fact that we have men like Jim Mattis willing to devote (and give) their lives when necessary to commit an act that most of those in our society would be horrified to even contemplate. If you are offended by these emotions, then seriously consider joining an Army or Marine infantry unit so that you can demonstrate how to kill an enemy in a more humane and politically correct manner.”
Peters was not so elegant, but he made his point writing in The New York Post: “The language [Mattis used] wasn’t elegant. But we don’t need prissy military leaders. We need generals who talk straight and shoot straight, men who inspire. And I guarantee you that any real Marine or soldier would follow Gen. Mattis.”
He finished his article with: “Semper fi, General.”
Can it be said any simpler?
I have internet contacts from around the world. Almost without exception, their reaction to Gen. Mattis’ remarks has been positive. The smattering of negative responses like that from The Miami Herald quoted above says volumes about the originators of these reactions. Hollywood would like us to believe that the ideal soldier anguishes about his wartime deeds or internalizes them until they overwhelm him like the retired colonel in “American Beauty,” or the anti-hero of “Born on the 4th of July.”
The simple fact is, however, that the public still flocks to see John Wayne defeat the Japanese in the Pacific, or George C. Scott play the immortal Patton. And the man on the street is still cheering today over Mattis’ remarks – no matter what Hollywood pundits think, no matter how The Miami Herald, or The New York Times, or any of the other self-appointed protectors of our moral heritage express their righteous outrage.
I’m with Col. Peters – Semper fi, General!
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor