Warrior's words

A hush fell over the assembled media—noids, struck dumb by the utterances of the uniformed officer.

'What did he say?' they asked one another, incredulity stamped on their otherwise blank faces.

'He said 'it's fun to shoot some people.''

In the aftermath of informal remarks made by Marine Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, buckets of PC and outraged ink were spilled over them in articles that tended to minimize their context. 

That context was Afghanistan, the first combat theater in the war on terror.  Then Maj. Gen Mattis commanded Marines who fought there.  Now, let's look at some remarks he made to Marine Corps Heritage Center personnel   after returning from consecutive tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On November 11, 2004, he talked about a young Marine who walked up to him one day as he was preparing for Operation Enduring Freedom. 

'This is gonna be a great war, general.  They want to die and we want to kill them.'

Not exactly the politically correct point of view.  Unapologetic Maj. Gen. Mattis then added:

'There are some people that just deserve being shot, and that's why we have Marines,' adding, 'How much manhood does anyone have who's spent the past several years smacking around women because they aren't wearing veils?'

Sound familiar?  Compare his words with those of February 4, 2005: 

'You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for 5 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.'

Anybody recall the corps of pusillanimous propagandists getting their outraged knickers in a twist over the general's words, public and published, the first time around; being shocked and awed at his verbal J—DAM?  Of course not, because there was no reaction.

So why now?

As a young Marine, Lt. Gen. Mattis served with the 3rd Marine Division and 1st Marine Brigade.  He led one of Task Force Ripper's assault battalions in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Task Force 58 in Afghanistan. 

Task Force 58 Marines seized Objective Rhino on November 25, 2001 and established a Forward Operating Base. A month later, they secured Kandahar.  In the words of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the Marine presence in Afghanistan 'pressured Taliban forces and prevented Taliban and Al Qaeda forces from moving freely about the country.'

As I noted earlier, Afghanistan constituted the context of the general's remarks.  Remember 9/11?  He and his men were fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda two months after that day of infamy.  Check your memory banks and ask yourselves if you weren't harboring thoughts and feelings of anger, of revenge and retribution that you hoped would be satisfied by swift military action such as that conducted by Gen. Mattis and his Marines.  And didn't his spoken words echo some of your thoughts and feelings at the time?

As commander of the 1st Marine Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Maj. Gen.Mattis delivered an exhortation to his men on the eve of battle.  Among other things, he told them:

'When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces who choose to fight, and destroy them.  Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose not to surrender.  While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression...fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit...carry out your mission and keep your honor clean.'

The global war on terror is, as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said, ' a long, hard slog.'  So the Marines returned to Iraq.  Prior to their re—deployment, Maj. Gen. Mattis issued battle orders.  His first words were: 

'We are going back into the brawl.' 

He told his Marines that

'Our country is counting on us even as our enemies watch and calculate, hoping America does not have warriors strong enough to withstand discomfort and danger.  You, my fine young men, are going to prove the enemy wrong, dead wrong.  You will demonstrate the same uncompromising spirit that has always caused the enemy to fear America's Marines...with strong discipline, solid faith, unwavering alertness, and undiminished chivalry to the innocent, we will carry out this mission.  Remember, I have added 'First, do no harm' to our passwords of 'No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.'  ... Stay alert, take it all in stride, remain sturdy, and share your courage with each other and the world.'

Before that second deployment the 1st Marine Division received a delivery of school supplies for Iraqi children from a volunteer group called Spirit of America.  Maj. Gen. Mattis wrote a thank you note to the group's leader, Jim Hake, telling him that: 

'We are happily modifying our embarkation plans to take this gift of resources with us overseas where they will make an enormous impact.  In an imperfect world with our Sailors and Marines going into harm's way, your gifts will reduce adversarial relationships and bridge cultural gaps. You have significantly impacted our ability to do good and, I fervently hope, reduce the potential for combat.'

These, then, are the words of a warrior, a three—tour veteran of the war on terror, a leader deserving a salute from this country he has served so bravely, so faithfully and so well.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.