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Our New Secretary of Defense

In light of President-elect Trump’s choice, subject to congressional waiver, of General James Mattis as the nation’s next Secretary of Defense, we are reprinting a July 27, 2013 post concerning Mattis’ visit to the College:

Mattis.jpgWhen I was a student, General William Westmoreland came to the College to deliver a lecture. I don’t recall his subject, but Spaulding was filled, and with Vietnam fresh in everyone’s mind — Saigon had fallen in 1975 — the Dartmouth crowd was primed for protest and even revenge. “Westy” wore a plain gray suit, but he spoke with military rigor. That was the day I learned about the armed forces’ concept of “command presence.” The crowd did its worst, but Westmoreland had faced tougher. His resolve, cool, and steely belief in himself were impressive.

I expect that Dartmouth will be in for a taste of the same when General James Mattis, the retired commander of U.S. Central Command, visits the College from September 18 through October 7. Even if the idea of the U.S. military is abhorrent to you, take time out to listen to the General. You will see an individual of a character that rarely graces our campus.

Dartmouth’s ties to Mattis are direct. Trustee Nathaniel Fick ‘99, formerly a Marine Recon officer, mentioned him repeatedly in his book about combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, “One Bullet Away”:

Mattis3.jpg

and:

Mattis4.jpg

Addendum: General Mattis — nom de guerre “Mad Dog” — has a quick wit. He is renowned in the Corps for pungent expression. My favorite line, which fits in well with some of this space’s recent themes:

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.

A few others:

“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony—even vicious harmony—on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”

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

You can read other Mattisisms here and here.

Addendum: A contrary opinion about “Westy.”

Westmoreland may have had command presence, but he was not an example of excellence in most other regards. I have many West Point graduate ancestors going back literally to its founding who commanded troops (and sometimes armies) in every major conflict. Westmoreland is a punchline in my family. He was very low in his class ranking at WP. He was not a good leader or strategist. My father, who knew him, could go on and on about his limitations. That he got to the level of command he did is an indictment of promotion practices in the army.

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