Any chance you have to get into the mind of General James Mattis, USMC, you need to make time to.
Any risks—whether, for example, singing onstage, starting a company, or rock climbing—pale compared with the risks a soldier takes in combat. A soldier risks his own life, the lives of his comrades, and the lives of innocent civilians. An officer has this burden, and more, because he also makes the decision to risk the lives of his soldiers, knowing that some of them will come to harm....and we could not have a better man on the job.
Marine Gen. James Mattis, 59, has been making these decisions for almost 40 years since his graduation from Central Washington University. He led combat troops in the first Iraq invasion as a lieutenant colonel. He commanded Marines as a brigadier general in Afghanistan in 2001. In 2003 he was the Marines ground commander in Iraq, leading the 20,000 troops of the 1st Marine Division for 500 miles over 17 days, the longest sustained march in Marine Corps history. He returned to Iraq months later to direct the fight against insurgents in the raging Al-Anbar province. Now a four-star, Mattis is commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command. It's his job to help the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines fight in coordination. He has also become a key figure in the debate over how the military should adapt to irregular warfare, the kind in which enemies hide in mosques or deploy computer viruses.
Mattis is an evangelist for risk with two core principles. The first is that intellectual risk-taking will save the military bureaucracy from itself. Only by rewarding nonconformist innovators will the services develop solutions that match the threats conceived by an enemy that always adapts. The second is that technology cannot eliminate, and sometimes can't even reduce, risk. Mattis warns about the limitations of sophisticated weapons and communications. They can be seductive, luring military planners into forgetting war's unpredictable and risky nature, leaving troops vulnerable.If you didn't just want to stand up and yell, "Yes, yes, yes! Great Caesar's ghost, yes! By all that is right and good - YES!" then you are truly lost. See why I am such a fan of Mattis?Note.
Mattis embodies the risk-taker's mix of head and heart. You can see it on the walls of his library. As one of nine combatant commanders, he was assigned the sprawling 17,000-square-foot Virginia House on Norfolk's huge Navy base. Unmarried, Mattis lives alone (Warrior Monk is one of his many nicknames). Walking into his pristine house I felt like I needed an admission ticket until I got to the two well-used rooms off a back hallway. The library shelves are packed with histories and military manuals. In conversation, Mattis regularly gets up to retrieve a volume—to cite a passage about the insurgency in Algiers or show a table about fuel use in the initial sprint into Iraq.Two things you will not see on an USN 4-Star's office; especially the last one.
One of his favorite photographs of many from his combat tours shows the men of the platoon he traveled with in Iraq. He did not command from a remote location as some generals do but made regular tours into the thick of the action. (In a five-month period in 2004, 17 of his platoon's 29 members were killed or wounded.) In another photograph, he's a young lieutenant in full combat gear, staring into the screaming mouth of his commanding officer. He is being chewed out for getting into a drunken bar fight the night before.For any service - the following should be kept for reference - on a wall somewhere preferably. The Sherman quote you would have found on mine.
Drone attacks and PowerPoint presentations give the illusion that war is more manageable than it is, argues Mattis, which is why, as he works to prepare the military for wars of the future, he abolished Effects-Based Operations, a method of planning that sought to determine actions based on quantifiable outcomes. "It is not scientifically possible to accurately predict the outcome of an action," says Mattis in explaining his decision. "To suggest otherwise runs contrary to historical experience and the nature of war."Getting tired of Nanny Navy? Well - you have a friend in Mattis.
In making this case, Mattis sounds like the economists who warned against the use of financial instruments like Value-at-risk measurements that sought to quantify risk and make it precise. He quotes Sherman: "Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster," but he could just as easily quote Nobel Laureate economist Kenneth Arrow, who warned of the same problem in economics: "vast ills have followed a belief in certainty."
Maintaining this culture of ferocity is why Mattis bristles about excessive hand-wringing over Marines who might want to ride without motorcycle helmets. Marines need to be risk-takers. That's why the corps advertises at extreme sporting events. Ferocity is part of what the corps works to build in boot camp, and it is central to its storied history and traditions. If that's the kind of spirit you need to fight wars, then you have to accept that the kind of person you want is going to sometimes ride at 120 miles an hour on a bike and hurt himself. "It's not that I'm trying to extol this kind of behavior," says Mattis, "but you have to have people who know that risk-taking sometimes means that people are going to get hurt. If you can't accept that, if your view of warfare is always hurtful and you're psychologically damaged by it, you start putting up guardrails."Finally I will call for it again - Gen. James Mattis, USMC - the next Chief of Naval Operations.
Hat tip GOH.
UPDATE: Oh, and as if you need another reason to follow Gen. Mattis - here is a quote for 'ya,
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina.