While president-elect Donald J. Trump vows to make America "great again," James N. Mattis has been tasked with making America safe again, The retired United States Marine Corps general who last served as the 11th Commander of United States Central Command, the Unified Combatant Command responsible for American military operations in the Middle East, and the Northeast Africa and Central Asia, from August 11, 2010 to March 22, 2013, is back in the mix as potential Secretary of Defense.
Affectionately known as "Mad Dog" in military circles for his tenacity and cut-throat techniques on the battlefield, the highly decorated Leatherneck has had to make difficult decisions in his days commanding troops in the field. The "warrior monk," as he is known due to his 7,000 volume library of books he keeps to nourish his mind and his monastic dedication to bachelorhood and celibacy, is willing to make the tough choice when he has to, like the 2004, 3 a.m. bombing of a suspected enemy safe house near the Syrian border, which later came to be known as the Mukaradeeb Wedding Party Massacre. The bombing resulted in the reported deaths of 42 civilian men, women and children who were attending a wedding celebration. Reportedly, it took the commander "little more than half a minute" to make the bloody decision.
Unlike prior secretaries who may have been over-educated at such places at Yale and Georgetown, allowing their high-falutin' academics blur their political vision, Mattin understands that a certain clarity must be implemented on the battlefield. Though involved in the political world, the ex-Marine refuses to engage in verbal gymnastics as many in his realm do. If nothing else, this soldier toes the line of speaking exactly what's on his mind and in the simplest of terms, or as it has come to be known, the Doctrine of Military Expediency, the prelate that defines the need for military power in support of political goals, implemented in the most pragmatic ways and means. In this case, the end-game is to install Democracy, as America has come to personify it, across the globe. "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet," is how the general himself delineates this concept. He goes on, however, to explain that this is not some merciless, bloodthirsty mission to kill anyone who may oppose our philosophies. Mattin himself requires cultural sensitivity training for his troops so that they understand the people and the culture they have been sent to conquer, subjugate, level and rebuild in the image of America. He acknowledges that the American fighting soldier has to wage war on every level and by every means - not just by causing explosions and shooting guns. None of the new technologies and weapons "would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]," the grizzled veteran said, "but I could have used cultural training, language training. I could have used more products from American universities that understood the world does not revolve around America and that embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."
Of course, his first option is a peaceful acquiescence on the part of the perceived enemy, so long as they do in fact comply with his wishes: "I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all," are his exact words to Middle-Eastern tribal leaders, words that allowed him to negotiate peacefully and from a position of strength. Obviously, the recourse to military violence is always on the table, so to speak. "We must find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy)," Mad Dog proclaimed, "and kill every one of them until they're so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact … I'm going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years." And so he did in towns like Fallujah and all through the Afghanistan and through the surrounding regions.
This doctrine and its adherents acknowledge that this post-modern world is a virtual jungle of conflicting ideologies, interests and philosophical views, and this is their justification for such a pragmatic axiom. It is a Hobbesian vision that they espouse: "There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim." In fact, they would agree with the greatest of German Chancellors, Adolph Hitler, who believed that there was no reason that man, or groups of men, should not be just as cruel as the cheetah pouncing on its prey on African savannas or the shark snatching swimmers on Florida beaches. Man can -and should - be just as cruel as Nature itself. As per the complex nature of the man himself and the seeming paradoxical nature of the doctrine he implements, this primal ferocity is tempered by a distinct humanity. He acknowledges both the thrill of the battle and the emotional impact it can have on the people individuals involved: "The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot. You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling." It is not, however, anything but a political expedient for Mattis, nothing personal, only a mean to an end: "There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don't think you do. It's just business."
Mattis fully realizes the perils of war and the deadly essence of the situation, but he is still enervated by things greater than the children he never sired, the women he never wooed or the married life he never produced: "There is nothing better than getting shot at and missed. It's really great." If nothing else, it is better than being shot at and hit - that is certain.
Obviously, these details would never be lost on such an astute historian who honed his knowledge of antiquity and warfare at Central Washington University. Moreover, this "warrior monk" who shies away from the temptations of the womanly flesh in favor of higher virtues, knows that ultimately the warriors whom he commands in the field must be as cerebral as they are tough, strong both mentally and physically, as he has tried to be. "I don't lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word," Mattis confessed; "Marines don't know how to spell the word defeat."
Basic weakness in the field of spelling aside, the former field commandant has always told his marines that "[t]he most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears … You are part of the world's most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon … Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit." He has been asked why this cerebral - almost spiritual - approach to war is so very important many times over the course of his time in the public eye. His answer is uncharacteristically articulate, not riddled with bravado and fearlessness, profanities and gory images, but is tinged with an air of steady vigilance. It is most likely because, after seeing the War on Terror drag on for some decade and a half, a war that has taken on various names and has rolled through seemingly every part of the Middle East region, he is , in fact, quite cautious: "You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it's going to be bad. No war is over until the enemy says it's over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote."
In Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece, Apocalypse Now, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore stood in a mass of colored grenade smoke awaiting a napalm strike that would massacre hundreds of his Viet Cong enemies in one fell swoop. He said, "Someday this war's gonna end," with a hint of muted sadness. He wanted the war to continue. After all, he was a soldier, a warrior, a man who stood in explosions and sprayed bullets through villages. If the war ended, would he effectively end? In General Mattis's world, even the enemy gets a vote, and, so long as the enemy shows up at the hypothetical ballot box to cast its vote for aggression, this conflict in the former Holy Land will persist. Certainly, that would be fine with the likes of Kilgore and Mad Dog, who believe there is "only one retirement plan for terrorists," which is most likely a trip to meet Allah. Along the way, in spite of the bombs and the bloodshed, Mad Dog is still growling contentedly, admitting that "t's really a hell of a lot of fun. [We're] gonna have a blast out here! I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn't get to serve." So, the "blast" (no pun intended) has been going on since 2001 and the party doesn't seem ready to end quite yet.
Enjoy, Mad Dog and congratulations.