General Mattis Speaks to Veterans

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From remarks at the Marines’ Memorial Club in San Francisco, April 16th, 2015:

Our country gives hope to millions around the world, and you – who knew that at one time your job was to fight well – kept that hope alive. By your service you made clear your choice about what kind of world we want for our children: The world of violent jihadist terrorists, or one defined by Abraham Lincoln when he advised us to listen to our better angels?

I searched for words to pay my respects to all of you here tonight and had to turn to others more articulate than I to convey what our service meant. Someone once said that America is like a bank: If you want to take something out, then you must be willing to put something in.

For the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – poorly explained and inconclusive wars, the first major wars since our Revolution fought without a draft forcing some men into the ranks – the question of what our service meant may loom large in your minds. You without doubt have put something into the nation’s moral bank.

Rest assured that by your service, you sent a necessary message to the world and especially to those maniacs who thought by hurting us that they could scare us.

No granite monuments, regardless of how grandly built, can take the place of your raw example of courage, when in your youth you answered your country’s call. When you looked past the hot political rhetoric. When you voluntarily left behind life’s well-lit avenues. When you signed that blank check to the American people payable with your lives. And, most important, when you made a full personal commitment even while, for over a dozen years, the country’s political leadership had difficulty defining our national level of commitment.

You built your own monument with a soldier’s faith, embracing an unlimited liability clause and showing America’s younger generation at its best when times were at their worst.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., arguably the most articulate justice in the Supreme Court’s history and himself a combat-experienced infantry officer in our awful Civil War, said: “As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”

You, my fine veterans, are privileged that you will never face a judgment of having failed to live fully. For you young patriots were more concerned in living life fully than in your own longevity, freely facing daunting odds and the random nature of death and wounds on the battlefield.

So long as you maintain that same commitment to others and that same enthusiasm for life’s challenges that you felt in yourself, your shipmates, your comrades and buddies, you will never question at age 45 on a shrink’s couch whether you have lived.

Veterans know the difference between being in a dangerous combat zone and being in close combat, seeking out and killing the enemy. Close combat is tough. Much of the rest of war is boring if hard work. Yet nothing is mentally crippling about hard work in dangerous circumstances, as shown by generations of American veterans who came thankfully home as better men and women.

Close combat, however, is an “incommunicable experience” – again quoting Holmes. Then there was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Union general, who spoke of war’s effects, distinguishing the impact of close combat from military service in general. He said that such combat is “a test of character, it makes bad men worse and good men better.”

We are masters of our character, choosing what we will stand for in this life. Veterans today have had a unique privilege, that of having seen the tenacious spirit of our lads, like those young grunts preparing for a patrol by loosely wrapping tourniquets on their limbs so they could swiftly stop their own bleeding if their legs were blown off. Yet day after day they stoically patrolled. Adversity, we are told, reveals a man to himself, and young patriots coming home from such patrols are worth more than gold, for nothing they face can ever again be that tough.

Now, most of us lost friends, the best of friends, and we learned that war’s glory lay only in them – there is no other glory in warfare. They were friends who proved their manhood at age 18, before they could legally drink a beer. They were young men and women taking responsibility for their own actions, never playing the victim card. Rather, they took responsibility for their own reaction to adversity.

This was something that we once took for granted in ourselves and in our buddies, units where teenagers naturally stood tall, and we counted on each other. Yet it is a characteristic that can seem oddly vacant in our post-military society, where victimhood often seems to be celebrated. We found in the ranks that we were all coequal, general or private, admiral or seaman. We were equally committed to the mission and to one another, a thought captured by Gen. Robert E. Lee, saying his spirit bled each time one of his men fell.

Looking back over my own service, I realize now how fortunate I was to experience all this and the many riotous excursions I had when I was privileged to march or fight beside you. And a question comes to mind: What can I do to repay our country for the privilege of learning things that only you in this room could have taught me? For today I feel sorry for those who were not there with us when trouble loomed. I sometimes wonder how to embrace those who were not with us, those who were not so fortunate to discover what we were privileged to learn when we were receiving our Masters and Ph.D.s in how to live life, and gaining the understanding and appreciation of small things that we would otherwise have never known.

How do we embrace our fellow citizens who weren’t there? America is too large at heart for divisions between us. If we became keenly aware of anything at war, it was what is printed on our coins: “E Pluribus Unum” – out of many, one.

We veterans did our patriotic duty, nothing more, certainly nothing less, and we need to “come home” like veterans of all America’s wars. Come home stronger and more compassionate, not characterized as damaged, or with disorders, or with syndromes or other disease labels. Not labeled dependent on the government even as we take the lead in care of our grievously wounded comrades and hold our Gold Star families close. We deserve nothing more than a level playing field in America, for we endured nothing more, and often less, than vets of past wars.

For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned – take our post-traumatic growth – and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.

We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.

We also learned the pleasure of exceeding expectations. We saw the power we brought when working together as a team. We learned alongside one another, in teams where admired leadership built teamwork, where free men and women could change the world.

Now having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world and having worked with others of many cultures, having worked in one of the most diverse teams on earth – that of the U.S. military – and having faced down grim circumstances without losing our sense of humor or moral balance under conditions where war’s realities scrape away civilization’s veneer, we have learned that nothing can stop our spirit unless we ignore Lincoln’s call to our better angels.

American colleges and businesses know your pedigree for commitment, reliability and loyalty. This is why so many corporations and startups aggressively recruit veterans. As San Francisco-based Uber sums it up: Veterans deliver higher value. Bellwether companies like Microsoft, Uber, Starbucks and more act on that premise.

I will close with words again borrowed from others.

From Alexander Dumas: You should be satisfied with the way you have conducted yourselves, “with no remorse for the past, confident regarding the present and full of hope for the future.” When you retire to bed you should sleep “the sleep of the brave.”

If Jackie Robinson, a sparkling ballplayer and veteran of World War II, could write his own epitaph on leadership by saying “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” then you who are fortunate to have learned so much living in the greatest country on earth while making an impact so young – you should recognize that our country needs your vigor and wisdom. It was gained at great cost to our comrades and to our Gold Star families, who need to see their sons’ spirits live on in your enthusiasm for life.

I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: “As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens.”

38 thoughts on “General Mattis Speaks to Veterans”

  1. Incredibly moving. Years after the end of the Civil War, Sherman would give aid to all of his former soldiers who frequently came to his door. General Mattis, I wish I would have met you.

  2. His remarks were given on the same day (16 April) as that bastard Dempsey was sandbagging the troops who fought in Ramadi.

  3. I wish that I had served with General Mattis. Bad days are coming, all of us “older Guys and Gals”, will be needed to defeat the Enemy. We’ll soon see just who they are.

  4. Right on David- James Mattis for President, 2016, Candidate of The yet to be formed, Veteran’s Party! No one will stick up for us like US! Let’s return America to Americans, and stop this out of control, pro Muslim Government from calling Veteran’s, Christians and Jews Terrorists for holding our Constitution and our OATH dear! If we’re to keep America safe, it’s time to get the un-vetted Muslim Brotherhood Fifth Columnist Obama ‘appointees’ OUT of OUR Government, send them to Prison, and replace them with real American Veteran Patriots. I would like to see a Constitutional Amendment that would allow only Combat Veterans to Vote and prevent any of the Welfare ‘sponges’, Illegal Aliens, and those who do not read or speak English to vote. If you aren’t a “Contributor”, have NEVER had skin in the game, you’re a damned leech. Leeches should never be allowed to Vote. Very few Democrats have ever served in the Military, other than to “check the box” for their Political Careers. Time to bring America back from the brink of destruction by this Marxist/Communist “Democrat” Party.

    1. Thanks, it came straight from the Heart SFC Dunlap. We as a Nation are in deep Kim Chee, and there are NO Ideas coming from the Royalists in either Party that aren’t self serving tripe…

  5. Yes, because combat veterans always make better political leaders. {/snark}

    No disrespect to Mr. Mattis, but I want to pound my head against a wall every time I hear someone say that.

    1. I’ll bet you don’t like Louis B. Puller much either. Jimmy Carter your type leader? Please DO pound your head. it’ll save someone else from having to do it for you.

    2. Casey Tompkins, from your “snarky” comment, I would hazard a guess that you have never even served your country, let alone been in Combat. I’ll guarantee you that a Combat Veteran makes far better choices than some Liberal POS who’s never had to be responsible for anything more than wiping their own arse. Shoe fit?

      1. Did he provide proof of his status? John Kerry would have us believe that he is a thrice wounded Vietnam “Hero”. Problem being is that HE wrote up all his own Awards! Not one of his previous Commanders would vouch for him! S*itcanned from three Commands in as many months tells me that he was/is a real waste of oxygen. Now look at him! Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century!!! I got skivvies with more balls and brains than “Swiftboat” Kerry.

      2. In my time after the Corps, I’ve met several dope smoking, nonentities who claimed they were 1. a Navy SEAL, Vietnam Veteran and 2. a Green Beret, Vietnam Veteran, 3. a Marine Scout Sniper Vietnam Veteran, and others not worth remembering. They knew neither ‘Militaryspeak’ nor any Vietnamese geography. Lotsa ‘Heroes’ out here, until you ask the proper questions. When you ask a ‘hero’ what Unit they were with, and they respond with “Th’ Army”, you have to hold back the punch you want so much to bury in their face and calmly say: I aked what Unit you were in, not what Branch of Service…That’s when you get the “Deer in the Headlights” stare of total incomprehension, and sometimes a stammering “uh, Company C! or Third Platoon”. I’m really glad they’ve finally criminalized “Stolen Valor”. I’ve lost too many friends, and watched too many die next to me, to ever accept stealing Valor for ANY reason as ‘Free Speech’.

    3. Sniperbait66, Bob Kerrey has combat credentials better than anyone here, and yet he has political leanings that align virtually identically to our current POTUS.

      Not really a fan of Chesty Puller, either, except as a leader of troops at the tactical level. Probably no finer regimental commander ever, but that doesn’t mean he should have become President.

      And finally, the services, and by extension, we veterans, exist to serve the Republic. It’s called service for a reason. It gives us no special privilege or place in the hierarchy of citizenship.

      1. It’s JOHN Kerry xbradtc, not BOB Kerry, who writes your stuff? Are you making it up as you go along? Perhaps Bob Kerry was a brave Serviceman, I wouldn’t know, never heard of him.
        John Kerry is a joke, a VERY sick joke. His “Combat Credentials are made up by HIM out of whole cloth, not once was he written up by a Senior Officer, and his wounds were all figments of an overactive imagination and a penchant for prevarication. HE wrote his own Award Citations and submitted them without any counter signature of any Senior officers.

        No one I know has ever said that General Puller should have run for President, although he would have been a damn sight better POTUS than the useless Community Organizer and idiotic Marxist Traitor we are currently suffering under. As for Kerry being President, you sound as if you’d probably LOVE that. Relax, ain’t never gonna happen Bucko.

        As for any Veteran’s place in the hierarchy of citizenship, You’re entitled to your Liberal Opinion, but I whole heartedly disagree with you. Those of us who served in Combat have had “Skin in the Game” and are in a far greater position than any worthless ‘taker’ who has NEVER given of themselves for the Republic, and just sits around denigrating those of us who have risked everything without selfish motives. Do you work in the Marxist White House? In the Iranian Muslim Sisterhood member, Valerie Jarrett’s Office? You talk like one of them. Have YOU forgotten the the POTUS works for US, and not the other way ’round? Get a grip Propaganda boy, you aren’t impressing anyone but your shadow.

        1. I’m pretty sure I meant Bob Kerrey.

          And if you haven’t heard of him, either as a SEAL, or as a US Senator, or as the President of the ultra-liberal New School, you don’t have enough book learning to opine on these issues.

          And you’ve also apparently not read much of the blog, if I come across as a liberal, or an apologist for progressives.

          Go sober up, and come back when you have something to contribute.

          1. I don’t care what YOU meant, I had mentioned JOHN Kerry, and like a retard you come out of the blue with Bob Kerry. YOU go sober up, and pull your head out of your bum.

      2. xbradtc, I just looked up Bob, Kerry. Are you on Meds? Bob Kerry and John Kerry are POLAR opposites.
        You are correct, John Kerry is as Left as this terrible POTUS is. “Birds of a feather” as they used to say. Nice obfuscation though. Try again.

          1. You can be stupid or boring. Chose one.

            I always want to hear from recent combat veterans, especially their experiences and the issues they face. But my patience for being treated with contempt on my own blog is quite limited.

            But if you want some bonafides, I’ll indulge you.
            The very first vote I ever cast was for Ronald Reagan for President of the United States, and no vote since has been as fulfilling.
            I’m a former 11B, and holder of both the Expert Infantry Badge and the Combat Infantry Badge.
            I’m moderately well known in the conservative blogosphere, and have posting privileges at a couple of respected right wing blogs.

            You, on the other hand, show up and start shitting on the living room carpet. I’m not exactly impressed.

          2. I apologize for the carpet xbradtc,an d for the ‘tude, I don’t sleep well these days because of the pain of my spinal injury. I can’t stand and don’t do pain drugs, so I just live with the pain. That makes me very ornery at times usually when I’m that way I stay off the Internet and play Call Of Duty World at War, or Wolfenstein 3D. After my second Heart attack my Doctor said to stop exerting myself.
            The first Presidential Election I was old enough to vote in was the year after I came home from Vietnam in 1967.
            ’66 isn’t my birth date or my age. I voted for Nixon in ’68, bad move! I’m Right Wing but don’t like Crooks or Nazis.
            I voted for Reagan in ’81, really good choice, it was via absentee Ballot, I was Deployed.
            I’ve read all about General Puller, Patton and others, General Puller and Audie L. Murphy are my Personal heroes, and I tend to get really nasty when Puller or Murphy are denigrated. Had my butt kicked by some pretty big SOBs a couple of times, and kicked the butts of other big SOBs. Can’t win them all.
            I did win the important one though. I lived, and that VC Sniper who tried to Zap me didn’t.
            So, begging your indulgence, I guess I’ll be boring, I think I’ve pretty much worn out Stupid for the year…

            Semper Fidelis

    4. SB66, I have no idea who you are, and I don’t really care. I will tell you though that I know a master chief that sailed on swift boats with John Kerry, and according to him, while Kerry’s politics are utter shit, he was a pretty good officer with whom to go into harm’s way.

      Master Chief says something, it’s worth paying attention to.

      You, on the other hand … I don’t know you or anything about you.

      1. Good for you Lt Rusty (btw, Lt. is the real way it’s written, or are those your initials?). I’ll go with what I’ve read about John Kerry until some mystery master Chief comes along with a Fairytale I can believe. As of right now I only have the Idiot Kerrys History and his feckless channeling of Chamberlain in his useless dealings with Iran. YOU may think this loser is a gem. I disagree. As for you, I’ve no idea who you are either. You’re entitled to your opinion. If you don’t like mine. Semper Fidelis. Be a Marine.

      2. While we’re on the subject, how long did this Mystery Chief know Kerry during his entire 90 days in Country? Which of the three units Kerry was bounced in and out of was the Chief in? Too many questions?

    5. “I would hazard a guess that you have never even served your country, let alone been in Combat.”

      Been there, done that, and I agree with c. tompkins. Only someone who has never been in the mijlitary or combat thinks that military/combat veterans don’t make bad decisions. Does that shoe fit?

    6. “S*itcanned from three Commands in as many months”

      That’s the first I’ve heard of that. Got a source?

    7. “Those of us who served in Combat have had “Skin in the Game” and are in a far greater position than any worthless ‘taker’ who has NEVER given of themsel…”

      Grow up. It’s self-important jackasses like you that give veterans a bad name. Get over yourself. You ain’t all that special.

  6. The Swine Charlie Rangel is also a Libtard “box checker” who was “in Korea”. The guy is dumber than a box of rocks, but made Captain in the Army…I’d like to see his Promotion Orders, his standing on the Board and his number when he was “selected” from the List for his second bar…

    1. ,” but made Captain in the Army”

      Not according to 30 seconds spent going to Wikipedia. A further blow to your already shaky credibility.

  7. Haha ha, ha. Ah ha ha. Brad, I knew you were a lib, living out there in Californ-I-A. If you want to come across as more conservative, I recommend a mixture of all caps, invective and diatribe rather than some sort of subtle “commentary” or whatever. And get your Johns and Bobs straight. Not like they are spelled the same or anything, even in that last name. Sheesh. I guess I’d better mention that I have 26 years in the army and three trips to Iraq to establish my bona fides. Plenty of liberals in the military, and combat vets, too. I don’t need my politicians to be veterans, just mature and generally conservative.

  8. Come by to read a Mattis story, get to find out xbrad is a lib and watch arguments over service-specific abbreviations for lieutenant (which, the last time I checked, can be 1LTC, 1ST LT, LT, or Lt, depending on who you work for). Good times.

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