Mattis Redux: The Truth About War
The language wasn’t elegant. But we don’t need prissy military leaders. We need generals who talk straight and shoot straight, men who inspire. And I guarantee you that any real Marine or soldier would follow Gen. Mattis.
What was the media’s reaction? A B-team news crew saw a chance to grab a headline at the military’s expense (surprise, surprise). Lifting the general’s remarks out of context, the media hyenas played it as if they were shocked to learn that people die in war.
Combat veterans are supposed to be tormented souls, you understand. Those who fight our wars are supposed to return home irreparably damaged. Hollywood’s ideal of a Marine is the retired co lonel in the film “American Beauty,” who turns out to be a repressed homosexual and a murderer. Veterans are sup- posed to writhe on their beds all night, covered in sweat, unable to escape their nightmares.
War does scar some men. Most vets, though, just get on with their lives Ã¢€” scratch a veteran looking for pity and more often than not you’ll find a supply clerk who never got near a battlefield. And some who serve Ã¢€” the soldiers and Marines who win our wars Ã¢€” run to the sound of the guns, anxious to close with the enemy and kill him. They may not love war itself, but they find combat magnetic and exhilarating. They like to fight.
That’s fine in movies featuring Brad Pitt as a mythical Greek hero. But God forbid that a modern-day Marine should admit that he loves his work. Well, Marines and soldiers don’t serve full careers because they hate their jobs. In peace or war, the military experience is incredibly rich and rewarding. And sometimes dangerous. Goes with the territory. But for most of the young infantrymen in Iraq, their combat experience will remain the highpoint of their lives. Nothing afterward will be as intense or exciting. And they will never make closer friends than they did in their rifle squad.
Gen. Mattis may have been unusual in his honesty, but he certainly isn’t unusual in our history. We picture Robert E. Lee as a saintly father figure, but Lee remarked that it’s good that war is so terrible, since otherwise men would grow to love it too much. He was speaking of himself. Andy Jackson certainly loved a fight, and Stonewall Jackson never shied from one. Sherman and Grant only found themselves in war.
We lionize those who em braced war in the past, but condemn those who defend us in the present. George S. Patton was far blunter than Jim Mattis Ã¢€” but Patton lived in the days before the media was omnipresent and biased against our military.
Of course, Patton had to deal with the media in his day, too. Still, there has been a sea change in how the press and many politicians see military men. Whether it’s a reaction to Vietnam or simply the fact that so few men ever wear a uniform these days, there is a serious disconnect between our fighting men and those whom they serve.
This effect isn’t one sided, either. Too many Republican congressman are too deferential to military leaders, treating them as mythic figures. Those who’ve never served are often too impressed with the baubles of service, especially lesser combat medals. Others, though, seem repulsed that the type of men who can lead others into harm’s way are often profane and matter-of-fact about their business.