In a photo published alongside this article by The Washington Post on May 11, Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, could be seen carrying a stack of papers with a yellow sticky note stuck on the top. Written on it, in black ink, was the name “Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” and a phone number.
A high school student in Mercer Island, Washington, followed up and asked Secretary of Defense Mattis for an interview, which you can find here.
TEDDY: Out of thousands of calls, why did you respond to this one?
MATTIS: You left a message there and I was going through listening to the messages and deleting them. But you’re from Washington state. I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River. I just thought I’d give you a call.
Hard not to find Mattis a pretty compelling American character, imo.
On the education, I sometimes wonder how much better the world would be if we funded for nations where they have ideology problems, where the ideologies are hateful, full of hatred. I wonder what would happen if we turned around and we helped pay for high school students, a boy and girl at each high school in that country to come to America for one year and don’t do it just once, but do it ten years in a row. Every high school whether it be in Afghanistan or Syria or wherever, would send one boy and one girl for one year to Mercer island or to Topeka, Kansas or wherever.
It wouldn’t cost that much if you had sponsoring families that would take them in. Most American families are very generous, unless they’ve lived in places where they’ve adopted kind of a selfish style. But, that’s only a few pockets of the country that really have that bad. Although they’re big pockets in terms of population, most of the country is not like that. I bet we could do that.
Where is he talking about? Name names!
Could he be talking about New York City, where the President, a notably non-generous person, comes from?
Later, Mattis gives advice on how to avoid the psychiatrist:
TEDDY: Any advice for graduating seniors?
MATTIS: I would just tell you that there’s all sorts of people that are going to give you advice and you should listen to the people you respect, but I think if you guide yourself by putting others first, by trying to serve others, whether it be in your family, in your school, in your church or synagogue or mosque or wherever you get your spiritual strength from, you can help your state, you can help your country, if you can help the larger community in the world, you won’t be lying on a psychiatrist’s couch when you’re 45-years-old wondering what you did with your life.
Go out of your way. Not everyone has to join the military, it’s not for everyone. For one thing it’s scary as all get out at times, but whether it be the Peace Corp or the Marine Corps, whether it be serving on your local school board when you’re still not even 30-years-old, by running for office and trying to get a good education for the kids in your community, just try to put others first and it will pay back in so many ways that you’d be a lot happier in life. So just look for ways to help others all the way along, Teddy, and you’ll never go far wrong if you’re always looking to do that. You won’t get all caught up in your own problems if you’re out helping others overcome theirs.
This book is an excellent size and weight. Small, portable, yet solid. It’s published by the Naval Institute Press, they who took a chance on an unknown insurance man named Tom Clancy who’d written a thriller called The Hunt For Red October.
Amazon suggested this book to me as I was browsing translations of Sun Tzu. Military history has interested me since I was a boy, maybe because 1) the stakes are so high and 2) the stories are so vivid. Metaphors and similes drawn from famous war events are powerful and stark. Consider for example Friedman’s description of the Battle of the Bulge:
… Although the Germans had caught the Allies at their culminating point, the Germans reached their own far too early. Newly created infantry units were filled with hastily trained and inexperienced conscripts. These green units could not effectively hold the territory gained by the leading panzer units. On 22 December the fog cleared and Allied air units hammered the German formations from the skies. Despite the prestaged fuel reserves, panzer units still ran out of fuel, just when they needed it to escape the Allied aerial counterattack.
Buried in there is a tactical lesson, and also an intense story about some poor children getting blown up right before Christmas.
The author was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. If I understand right, might make this book the equivalent of a book called like Writing A Hit TV Show by a staff writer. But Friedman seems like he’s gone deep on the knowledge, and there’s a quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni on the back. Good enough for me.
Alexander The Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, vice just reading – the men who have gone before us. We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience.
So goes a quote from James Mattis that opens this book. Friedman cites the example of Cortes in 1520 CE, referring to written accounts of Alexander’s battle at Gaugamela eighteen hundred years before to design his tactics against the Mexica/Aztec.
What is strategy? What is tactics? Where do they divide? Friedman summarizes Clausewitz:
Clausewitz divided warfare into tactics, actual combat between opposed military forces, and strategy, the latter being the overarching plan for using tactical engagements to achieve the ends as set forth by policy… The strategy acts as a bridge between the tactical actors (military forces) and the desired political end state of the entity those forces serve.
Much of this book is summaries of Clausewitz, really and Sun Tzu as well. How could it not be?
What I thought I remembered most of all from Clausewitz is the concept of Fingerspitzengefühl, fingertips-feel, a sensing of what’s going on, and where. But I don’t have my copy of Vom Kriege at hand, and searching for fingerspitzengefühl it seems possible the term may be of later origin. Maybe it was discussed in the introduction.
Clausewitz is very concerned with will, the imposing of one’s will on the enemy, breaking the will of the enemy. Given the time and place where Clausewitz was coming from, 1800s what’s now-Germany, I can’t help but think this idea of will was connected to other philosophers like Kant who were pondering the meanings and dimensions of will around then.
Friedman picks up on the idea of will, or what he refers to as moral cohesion. He digs in on the idea of destroying the enemy’s moral cohesion.
Clausewitz defined the destruction of an enemy as “they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight” (emphasis added). This does not mean that the enemy force must be totally destroyed. Indeed, he went on to say, “when we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must be considered. In other words, breaking the moral cohesion of the opposing force is destruction of that force as an effective unit and the true goal of tactics.
In a whole chapter on moral cohesion, Friedman quotes Marine Major Earl “Pete” Ellis speaking of how important it was to marines fighting insurgents in the Philippines to believe that the United States was acting from “purely altruistic motives.” Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is quoted as well: “In general, defeat occurs when the enemy believes he is beaten… Defeat is a psychological state.”
Friedman brings out Clausewitz’s concept of “the center of gravity,” too, and points out, in a thought-provoking way that it’s not totally clear what Clausewitz meant or understood by “gravity,” and what Clausewitz understood about physics. Clausewitz died in 1831 — have we even figured out gravity now? Clausewitz noted that the center of gravity could be a capital city, an ally, the shared interests of an alliance, particular leaders, or popular opinion. The North Vietnamese correctly located the center of gravity of the US in the Vietnam War as American political will. They destroyed our moral cohesion.
Friedman is tough on the U.S war in Iraq, which he says is “a glaring example of tactics, strategy, and policy in disarray.” We need to maintain our sense of moral cohesion. It’s slipping away from us.
We get some Boyd, too, a favorite here at HelyTimes. As a bottom line lesson on tactics, this is pretty clear and cool:
Boyd says if you move and decide faster than your enemy, you will win.
Friedman concludes by pointing out that tactics are subordinate to strategy.
The tactician employs tactics that will best serve the strategy, but he must also know when a flawed strategy cannot be achieved with reasonable tactics. Duty might still demand that he try to accomplish the mission, but he will need to inform the strategist that his aims are improbable.
Taking on a big concept like tactics and attempting to codify and create a short, comprehensible theory or unified system is a nobel mission. I found On Tactics profitable to read and full of stimulating ideas and examples.
The top story in both the Hi-Desert Star and The Desert Trail is the removal of 1,100 desert tortoises from the Marine Corps base to safer lands.
Was Defense Secretary Mattis personally briefed on the operation?
It may seem silly but the story made me feel good.
find happy homes guys.
This book is so full of compelling anecdotes, character studies, and surprising, valuable lessons of leadership that I kind of can’t believe I got to it before Malcolm Gladwell or David Brooks or somebody scavenged it for good stories.
Consider how hard it would be to get fifteen of your friends to leave for a road trip at the same time. How much coordination and communication it would take, how likely it was to get fucked up.
Now imagine trying to move 156,000 people across the English Channel, and you have to keep it a surprise, and on the other side there are 50,350 people waiting to try and kill you.
Even at a lower scale, say a brigade, a brigadier general might oversee say 4,500 people and hundreds of vehicles. Those people must be clothed, fed, housed, their medical problems attended to. Then they have to be armed, trained, given ammo. You have to find the enemy, kill them, evacuate the wounded, stay in communication, and keep a calm head as many people are trying to kill you and the situation is changing rapidly and constantly.
Being a general is a challenging job, I guess is my point.
I saw this post about Gen. Mattis, possible future Secretary of Defense, on Tom Ricks blog:
The story was so compelling that I immediately ordered Mr. Ricks’ book:
A fantastic read. Eye-opening, shocking, opinionated, compelling.
The way that Marc Norman’s book on screenwriting works as a history of Hollywood:
The Generals works as a kind of history of the US since World War II. I’d list it with 1491: New Revelations On The Americas Before Columbus as a book I think every citizen should read.
The observation that drives The Generals is this: commanding troops in combat is insanely difficult. Many generals will fail. Officers who performed well at lower ranks might completely collapse.
During World War II, generals who failed to perform were swiftly relieved of command. (Often, they were given second chances, and many stepped up).
Since World War II, swift relief of underperforming generals has not been the case. The results for American military effectiveness have been devastating. Much of this book describes catastrophe and disaster, as I guess war is even under the best of circumstances and the finest leadership.
Ricks is such a good writer, so engaging and compelling. He knows to include stuff like this:
Ricks describes the catastrophes that result from bad military leadership. How about this, in Korea?:
What kind of effect did this leadership have, in Vietnam?:
He discusses the relationship of presidents and their generals:
Here is LBJ, years later, describing his nightmares:
Ricks can be blunt:
Hard lessons the Marines had learned:
A hero in the book is O. P. Smith
who led the Marines’ reverse advance at the Chosin Resevoir, when it was so cold men’s toes were falling off from frostbite inside their boots:
The story of what they accomplished is incredible, worth a book itself. Here’s Ricks talking about the book and Smith.
A continued challenge for generals is to understand the strategic circumstances they are operating under, and the political limitations that constrain them.
Recommend this book. One of the best works of military history I’ve ever read, and a sobering reflection on leadership, strategy, and the United States.
Need this lady in my political life at this moment.
Was it worse to experience this in horrific car crash realtime on the West Coast or to go to bed and wake up to it on the East Coast?
You can take this bit from Nate Silver and find it a depressing what if or a somewhat hopeful sign of how small actions can affect significant change:
Most perceptive, insightful thing I read this whole durned election was in Cracked.com, by “David Wong,” about the rural vs. urban divide.Tyler Cowen making baffled guesses at Trump on the economy:
If there is any common theme to my predictions, it stems from Trump’s history in franchising his name and putting relatively little capital into many of his business deals. I think his natural instinct will be to look for some quick symbolic victories to satisfy supporters, and then pursue mass popularity with a lot of government benefits, debt and free-lunch thinking. I don’t think the Trump presidency will be recognizable as traditionally conservative or right-wing.
I also expect U.S. trade relations to worsen significantly, as I’ve already discussed in an online conversation with Robert Zoellick. I foresee Trump renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, mostly picking on Mexico. Mexico would end up having to pay some kind of fee, either directly or indirectly, for continuing access to the U.S. market. That way, Trump could in fact make Mexico “pay for the wall.” It is no surprise that the peso plummeted as the tide started to turn in Trump’s favor Tuesday night.
Second, it will be interesting to see how Trump gets along with the generals he has condemned as losers and Obama cronies. Being the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be one of the toughest jobs around. Second toughest: Being the legal advisor to the chairman. Imagine the exchanges:
President Trump: “That’s an order.”
General: “Sir, my JAG tells me that’s an illegal order.”
President Trump: “OK, your JAG is fired. Now find someone who will help me, not throw obstacles in my way.”
Trump also might find nettlesome the generals who say things like, “OK, if we do that, what happens after that? What’s the next step?” The Obama administration didn’t like that when General Mattis did in that in discussions of Iran, and Trump will like it even less.
Distraction, diversion, tales of sub-wall countries and the politics of dictatorships can be found in this: