Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis was one of the most popular and revered military leaders during his more than 40 years in uniform and beyond as secretary of defense from 2017 to 2018. In fact, nearly 97 percent of Marines viewed Mattis favorably, according to a 2018 Military Times poll.
Mattis, known as the “Warrior Monk” for his intense study of military history and extensive reading habits, doesn’t mince words. There is no shortage of inspiring quotes attributed to him. Here are some of the most memorable and inspiring so-called “Mattis-isms” from the former SECDEF:
“No Marine is ever alone.”
In Mattis’ book “Call Sign Chaos” that was published in 2019, he writes how the “greatest honor” for Marines is fighting alongside other Marines and sailors — and acknowledges other branches of the military feel the same sentiments towards their comrades in arms.
“No Marine is ever alone — he carries with him the spirit passed down from generations before him,” Mattis wrote. “Group spirit — that electric force field of emotion — infuses and binds warriors together.”
“I keep other people awake at night.”
Mattis didn’t let the problems of the world interfere with getting some shut eye. During an interview in 2017 with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” the retired general was asked what keeps him up at night.
“Nothing,” Mattis replied. “I keep other people awake at night.”
James Mattis enjoyed one of the most dynamic careers for a general officer since the late Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller hung up his uniform in 1955.
“If you haven’t read hundreds of books [...] you are functionally illiterate.”
Mattis has always been an avid reader and was vocal about others in uniform reading as well. In fact, he had an email go viral in response to those who were “too busy to read” back in 2003, in which he shared the significance of written word. Mattis vocalized similar sentiments in his book, “Call Sign Chaos.”
“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, learning from others who went before you, you are functionally illiterate – you can’t coach and you can’t lead,” Mattis wrote. “History lights the often dark path ahead; even if it’s a dim light, it’s better than none. If you can’t be additive as a leader, you’re just like a potted plant in the corner of a hotel lobby: you look pretty, but you’re not adding substance to the organization’s mission.”
Included on Mattis’ list of favorite books are “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, “Dereliction of Duty” by retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, “My American Journey” by Colin Powell, “Diplomacy” and “World Order” by Henry Kissinger, and “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu.
“If you f--- with me, I’ll kill you all.”
Mattis doesn’t exactly beat around the bush. He was reportedly blunt about his intentions while meeting with Iraqi military leaders in 2003, according to “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” authored by war correspondent Thomas Ricks.
“I come in peace,” Mattis said. “I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f--- with me, I’ll kill you all.”
“Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.”
Mattis, who served as the commander of the 1st Marine Division from 2002 to 2004, was responsible for leading troops into Iraq in 2003 in the initial attack and follow-on operation as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mattis penned a letter to his troops before entering Iraq, explaining that “on your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind.”
“Keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead,” Mattis wrote in the letter. “Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.”
“Carry out your mission and keep your honor clean.”
In the same letter to the 1st Marine Division, Mattis implored his troops not to tarnish their honor.
“For the mission’s sake, for our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in past battles — who fought for life and never lost their nerve — carry out your mission and keep your honor clean,” Mattis wrote.
“Demonstrate to the world there is “No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” than a U.S. Marine,” Mattis added in closing.
“The military is all about teamwork.”
The military is about working alongside one another, according to Mattis. The former SECDEF explained in “Call Sign Chaos” that U.S. history has many examples of incredible teamwork, citing the Lewis and Clark expedition that required all involved to work together in order to survive.
“The military is all about teamwork,” Mattis wrote. “Everyone enters the military at junior rank and rises according to merit. Our legacy of teamwork is rich in precedents.”
As such, Mattis said that he considered equipping his troops to win in close-quarters combat fundamental to his role as a leader.
“When you go into battle, you enter a different world,” Mattis wrote. “I set out to engrain in every grunt an aggressive spirit and confidence in winning.”