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Jul. 14 2010 - 12:01 pm | 405 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The wit and wisdom of America’s fighting general

General James Mattis eats nails, sleeps on nails, and can break a jihadi in half with one fingernail. At least that’s the impression you get from reading about the new boss of Central Command, which oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Marine Corp general’s tough-talking style has attracted a lot of admirers among defense reporters, who have compiled a list of “mattisisms”. Some of the more notable ones:

* “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

* “You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”

*  “When Gen. Abrial arrived to relieve me as the supreme commander, only don’t ask, don’t tell kept me from hugging and kissing him.”

Here’s an Atlantic compilation of 16 favorite Mattis quotes. And here’s a Twitter page devoted to mattisisms. Some are from Mattis, and some are quips about Mattis (“General Mattis doesn’t cheat death. He wins fair and square.”):

Tell me Gen. Mattis doesn’t chomp cigars. It just wouldn’t be right if he didn’t.

But James Mattis is no “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” cowboy. That’s not the sort of man who rises to become a four-star general in the Marine Corps, which tends to think more out of the box than the other services. Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman describes Mattis as a man who helped author the military’s counterinsurgency manual, and one who believes that people are more important than technology in war (“What are we creating today with our command-and-control systems? I don’t think we have turned off our radios in the last eight years.”) There’s a brain behind the cigar.

Obama might say about Gen. Mattis what Lincoln said about Gen. Grant: “I can’t spare this man. He fights.” Then again, a fighting general in a grinding, unpopular counterinsurgency campaign might not be the ticket, especially as casualties soar as America pours in more troops. Yet if you’re going to fight a war, better a tough commander determined to impose his will on the enemy.  Or as Mattis says: “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.”


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    About Me

    I'm a writer in the not-so-sunny Northwest. My work has appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, Wired.com, the Philadelphia Inquirer, National Defense and the Military Times magazines.

    I like to blog about national security and foreign affairs, though I'll write about any topic on which I have a strong opinion (which is most anything). I'm a bit of a contrarian, which drives people crazy. That's a good thing.

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