A post in which you can talk about Gen. Mattis


Bryan Caskey complains via email, “We gonna talk foreign policy and military stuff on your blog about Mattis, or what?”

Alright, alright, already! Here’s a post about that. And here’s a story about Mattis.

Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on this nomination, but here are some thoughts:

  • With a complete ignoramus as commander in chief, it’s more important than ever that there be competent Cabinet members, who can keep the ship of state on some kind of rational course, at least when the White House leaves them alone to do so. This is particularly true on the national security team. And Trump’s decision to make Gen. Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn his national security adviser already has us in the hole on that score.
  • Mattis would seem to fit that bill. He’s a guy whose resume demonstrates that he would fully understand the missions of the Defense Department and act accordingly.
  • Then there’s the problem that Congress would have to grant an exemption that it has not granted until it did so for George C. Marshall. The law they’d have to waive arises from concerns about maintaining civilian control of the military. As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, fearing a real-life “Seven Days in May.” The Constitution sets the president as commander in chief, and that would seem sufficient. Well, it would under normal circumstances. Having a SecDef who is a recent general and is able to think rings around the president on military matters and foreign affairs could be a cause of concern on the fussy point of civilian control — but I personally would sleep better if I knew Mattis was calling the shots rather than the president-elect.
  • Mattis is far less trusting of Iran than President Obama. I think that is probably a healthy thing, but as Bryan would say, and this post is after all for Bryan, your mileage may vary.
  • I think it’s a very good thing that he has differed in the past from Trump on the idea of our allies getting a “free ride” on the back of U.S. power. He argued with a similar comment from President Obama once.
  • My guys John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board, which makes me like him better. Graham finds him “an outstanding choice,” and McCain says “He is without a doubt of one of finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”

Your thoughts?

51 thoughts on “A post in which you can talk about Gen. Mattis

  1. Claus

    You asked for thoughts.

    ” complete ignoramus as commander in chief” – Do we have 4 or 8 years of these types of comments coming from you? How about acting like an adult and not a child and face the fact that Trump will be your President… that’d be a good start. Brad, this is past the point of getting old in a hurry.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      So stop reading it, if it bothers you.

      I don’t intend to stop telling the truth.

      When this guy stumbles into doing the right thing, I will applaud and even praise him. When he does the wrong thing, which I expect him to do often, I will criticize.

      And it seems HIGHLY unlikely that he will do enough right things to persuade me that he is anything other than the most ignorant, unfit individual to hold this highest of offices in our history.

      If he DOES manage to change my mind, everyone on this blog will know. And you’ll be able to see it coming, because it will take a LOT of praiseworthy actions on his part — actions that were obviously to his credit rather than someone else’s — to get to that point.

      In the meantime, take comfort from the fact that I changed the word “jackass” to “ignoramus,” in the interest of accuracy. It occurred to me that he is not TECHNICALLY a donkey. But “ignoramus” is a very matter-of-fact description of what he is. This is a guy who demonstrates his cluelessness daily, and has been doing so since he first stumbled into the arena of public policy, about which he knows practically nothing…

      1. Claus

        Brad, you may want to correct yourself and say that you’re reporting your idea of the truth. It’s interesting that you rarely if ever criticized Obama, in your opinion he must be the ideal person for President. Or was it because you were afraid of being called a racist because he was black (well half-black)?

        I’d say that the guy you’re caling an “ignoramus” is a whole lot smarter than you are. You don’t become that successful out of pure luck. Case in point, according to you the only way Trump can do the right thing is if he “stumbles into doing the right thing”.

        Your opinion of the man is just that, your opinion. You’re upset that Trump doesn’t fit your mold of the ideal politician. Your idea appears to be someone who is a career politician who likely has never held a real job. Go ahead and wake up bitter every morning, soon you’ll be viewed as another person on this blog who has lost all credibility.

          1. Claus

            Sure, as soon as Brad stops putting his negative twist on every breath the next President of the US takes. He can’t call him by his title or his name, he feels the need to resort to name calling. If some attempts to call the current or former President by a derogatory name on this blog it’s not posted, but there appears to be no such rule for the incoming

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              You’re right that I don’t call President Obama an ignoramus. You know why? Because he’s not one.

              Occasionally, he’ll make a dumb move. Like making Susan Rice his national security adviser, or drawing a red line for Assad and doing nothing when he crosses it. But everybody does that from time to time, however smart they may be.

              I am right now far more concerned about the course of my country, and of the world, than I’ve ever been in my more than six decades on this planet. It’s not just Trump — he’s just a glaring, ugly sign of it. Who came in SECOND in the GOP primaries? The only guy who gave him any kind of a run for his money as worst candidate ever — Ted Cruz.

              How can I blame Trump when the real problem is that millions of people VOTED for him? I actually almost feel sorry for him, because he truly had zero reason to expect that he’d actually end up in this position.

              The country’s really, really in trouble.

              And the rest of the world, too. As Charles Krauthammer wrote today, “After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is over.” The promise of 1991, with the Soviet Union finally collapsing and the U.S. leading a broad coalition against Saddam in Kuwait, is behind us.

              The United States is pulling back, and the bad guys just can’t wait to flow into the vacuum. In fact, they HAVEN’T been waiting — in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the South China Sea.

              He sums it up this way, blaming BOTH Obama and Trump:

              Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon. Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us — undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

              I need to write a separate post about his column…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yep, and you know what this blog is about? My opinion, leavened by the views of the folks who come here to join the discussion.

          And if you think the problem with Trump is that he’s just not quite “ideal,” you are a few light years off the mark.

          It’s more like ones and zeroes. There is fit, and there is unfit. And Trump is easily the most unfit person to be elected to this office. Our nation was just dragged down to where it is less than it was, because before now, no one like him ever even came close to holding our highest office.

          The big issue — the stand back and look at the big-picture issue — is whether our nation will recover from this, or are we in a downward spiral that will completely betray all the efforts of the Americans who went before.

          Did we, for instance, just see the acceleration of the arrival of the Chinese Century, because of this gross undermining of respect for America?

          Or will someone far better emerge in the next election? And can we wait that long?

          1. Claus

            Yeah, well whatever, we’ll see in a year where this country is. You’re automatically expecting the worst to happen, I’m expecting for the the best to happen. And by “best” I mean better than the current status quo. I bet the Carrier deal he negotiated in Indiana this week really chaps you in all the wrong places.

            What will you do if Trump accomplishes 10% of what he says he’ll do. What if he does get companies to stay in the US vs. going overseas or to Mexico? Will you still be upset with him being elected? Our current President was just going to let the company do what they company set out to do. $7 million to keep 700 jobs in the country for 10 years is nothing. Jobs that average $30/hr.

        2. Bill

          ”the guy you’re caling an ‘ignoramus’ is a whole lot smarter than you are. You don’t become that successful out of pure luck.”

          Yep, that statement reveals a lot about the Trump voter’s view of human intelligence and human value:
          “He made a whole buncha money, so he’s smarter’n you!”

          And it goes hand-in-hand with the dumb notion that government should be run like a business. It shouldn’t. Government doesn’t have the same role in society as private enterprise. Simply put, not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value turns a profit.

          1. Claus

            So you are fine with money losing programs. Why are we even keeping track of the national deficit if money plays no factor? There is too much waste in government period, social programs being one of the biggest.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Thanks for the post. I had something about Mattis over at my blog, but I’ll be the the first to admit that comments on my blog are somewhere between slim and none, and I’m interested to see what the commentariat has to say.

    I think Mattis is a great pick for SECDEF. I am presuming that Congress isn’t going to be recalcitrant about the waiver.

    Mostly, I like this pick because Mattis isn’t going to be a go-along get-along guy with Trump. Mattis has always been someone who speaks his mind even if the analysis isn’t pretty. He’s a guy who tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

    For example, he’s already turned Trump around on the issue of waterboarding telling Trump “I’ve never found it to be useful,” and “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers, and I’ll do better.” Accordingly, Mattis is a guy who will tell Trump his view when he thinks Trump is coming at something the wrong way, and he has enough street-cred (or gravitas, if you prefer) for Trump to really (hopefully) listen to him.

    In addition to being a butt-kicking Marine for over forty years, Mattis is also a guy who’s very, very smart. He’s a realist who’s very well-read on military history, and he knows the value of alliances. He’s probably already told Trump that it is foolish to back away from NATO and Japan and our other allies around the world. He’s well-known and well-respected in the middle east by our allies and would be a voice of assurance in this regard.

    Yeah, he’s not a big believer in Iran becoming friendly. It probably has a bit to do with Iran being the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the middle east.

    As a bonus, he’ll be a force for stopping the social engineering that the military is forced to undergo during certain administrations, and instead, he’ll be a force for getting the military focused on its job of killing people and breaking things. For me, that will annoy all the right people.

    So, in summary he’s a guy that brings knowledge tempered by real-world experience, will give POTUS hard truths, and will be a reassuring presence for our allies abroad.

    There’s nothing I don’t like about this pick.

    1. Doug Ross

      “he’ll be a force for getting the military focused on its job of killing people and breaking things.”

      My concern is that someone with that mentality will get restless if there’s too much peace going on. When you have that big hammer in your toolbox, you start looking for nails.

      It’s too bad we don’t have a Secretary of Peace to provide an alternative view to the President.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    Here are some quotes from Mattis through the years. Keep in mind, his audience with these quotes are to his Marines. Here are the Hi-Fidelity style top 5.

    1. “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.”

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

    3. “The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

    4. “You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”

    5. “The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot.”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Engage your brain before you engage your weapon?” You sure this guy is a gyrene?

      Seriously, No. 1 endears me to him. Perhaps my greatest peeve of the post-Cold War era is the notion, so popular in certain political circles and among media types who perpetuate it without challenging it, that packing up and going home equals “ending the war”…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        You think the Presidential secret service detail was a bit concerned about Mattis having “a plan to kill everyone you meet” when he first met with Trump at Trump Tower?

  4. Doug Ross

    “As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, ”

    I don’t think there’s many like that. It’s not the uniform, it’s the mission. Those in uniform are just following orders. I don’t look down on any serviceman. I do hold people like George Bush and Dick Cheney in utter contempt though for putting servicemen’s lives at risk cavalierly. They were chickenhawks.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Mattis has been called lots of things, but “chickenhawk” is not one of them. If you want a SECDEF who really understands the cost of war, it’s hard to come up with someone better.

      Speaking of names for Mattis, it seems that every news story is focusing on his nickname of “Mad Dog”. His other nickname is “Warrior Monk”.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, I think there are a LOT of people like that. They used to be more obvious about the fact that anything having to do with the military — pretty much all of which they were pleased to label as “militarism” — gave them the heebie-jeebies. The revulsion was palpable.

      But by the time of the Gulf War in 1991, they had learned to express concern for the soldier while hating the mission.

      Over time, this translated into a new stance: Insisting upon seeing people in uniform as victims. If they are sent to fight, the post-Vietnam pacifist now weeps for the soldier as well as for anyone he kills on the battlefield. The former “baby-killers” are not objects of pity.

      Which is at least closer to the truth, in one sense. I’ve always believed the hardest thing we ask soldiers to do is to kill for their country, not to die for it.

      But I’d prefer to see a sincere appreciation for the necessary and honorable role that the military plays in our society, and the pride that our uniformed personnel rightly take in fulfilling their mission…

  5. Bryan Caskey

    Word on the street is that Mattis is looking to quadruple the Marine Corps budget for acquiring new equipment to…slightly more than a million dollars.

    The same source, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said that Mattis is “looking forward” to working with the lesser services but is thrilled to be working with Marines again.


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Marines have always made do. They didn’t get Garands in WWII until after Guadalcanal, having to make do with rifles older than they were, packed in cosmoline since the previous war.

      He needs to push to rebuild the Navy fourfold (I’m thinking something along the lines of the Great Spanish Armament), and I’m sure the admirals will see that the Marines are taken care of…

  6. Bryan Caskey

    The other great thing about Mattis – he wasn’t pushing to get this job. He was happy in his retirement. I think that when he retired back in 2013, he truly expected to be done with his public service.

    I mean, if anyone’s earned his retirement, Mattis has. Just like Dick Winters left the Army after WWII and led a private life, I think Mattis was looking forward to some peace and quiet. Accordingly, Mattis isn’t going to be thinking “what do I need to do to keep this job” or “what do I need to do to move up a rung on the ladder”.

    I think Mattis is serving his country out of a sense of duty. He could be out fly-fishing in Oregon right now if he wanted to, reading books, and just enjoying some peace.

    I like the idea of someone who isn’t jockeying for position. By contrast, Guiliani seems to be absolutely doing everything except skywriting that he wants to be Secretary of State.

    I don’t mind folks who serve in office out of a sense of duty, but office seekers are the worst.

  7. bud

    Yet another super hawk. Probably doesn’t much matter. I’m pretty numb to all the the plutocrats and war monger. God help us.

  8. Bill

    It’s not clear that an excellent surgeon makes a fine hospital administrator – or choose whatever other similar analogy you want to use. Whether it’s Mattis, Flynn or whoever, it’s not clear that skills in a particular area of military practice translate to the wider fields of practice the SECDEF operates in.

    Just as if not more importantly, the appointment of a career military man to a civilian position in a military organization may only further encourage the trend toward the military turning into a separate caste within the larger society it’s meant to serve. That would not be a good development.

    1. Claus

      So do you suggest we appoint more lawyers to these positions? Because that’s who ends up with the majority of them.

  9. Bill

    It involves the problem of a ”civil-military divide” – the formation of an insular society with its own legal code, language and customs touched on in this part of an extended op-ed from yesterday’s WaPost:

    “And there is a societal dimension of civil-military relations that may suffer by the appointment of retired military leaders to high office. The share of veterans in society is in decline, a result of a smaller military, the lack of conscription and a growing population. Concerns abound about the civil-military divide, and how the military should relate to society when a shrinking percentage of Americans serve in uniform or have a personal connection to those who do. Senior military leaders have spent their entire adult lives inside the bubble of the force — living in America’s most exclusive gated communities, in an insular society that has its own legal code, language and customs. Our military is both a part of America and apart from America. Generals and admirals emerging from this environment may be stellar leaders and military professionals, but they make unlikely ambassadors to bridge the civil-military divide.”

    I’m also drawing on comments to me by persons who have worked in the military training system, who said that many of the officers they have interacted with think of themselves as fundamentally distinct from and even superior to the civilian population.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, let’s certainly hope they are, based on what I see around me out in the civilian world.

      As for this: “Generals and admirals emerging from this environment may be stellar leaders and military professionals, but they make unlikely ambassadors to bridge the civil-military divide.”

      Why is that? Seems to me that they’re equally likely as civilians. I mean, you have this supposed divide. Why would people on ONE side of it be more likely to be able to bridge it than people on the OTHER side of it? Unless you think it’s the civilians who are “superior…”

      1. Bill

        Yeah, I appreciate that you hold military in extremely high regard, practically fetishizing it. Maybe that’s why you missed the point. The reason why generals might not be the best folks for bridging the civil-military divide is because they spend a goodly portion of their careers deep in the bubble that makes up the military side of the civil-military divide, living largely apart from the rest of us, with subordinates to tend to their every need and the perks that come with rank. It can produce to a dynamic of entitlement – and not just at the level of general officers.

        Meanwhile, what can civilians do to help bridge the divide? Simple: inform themselves (which involves more than watching The Hurt Locker or American Sniper) – so they’re not so left flailing helplessly about, reduced to waving flags and reciting “Thank you for your service.” Maybe start by reading veteran Phil Klay’s essay on the citizen-soldier:


        and then follow that up by reading his collection of short stories, Redeployment.

        But what overcoming the divide definitely doesn’t involve is unthinking adulation. Plus, it’s not up to civilians alone to overcome it.

    2. Bryan Caskey

      “living in America’s most exclusive gated communities”? I lived on Ft. Jackson for a while while my dad was stationed there. Trust me, it’s not an exclusive gated community.

      In regards to the civil-military divide, I think a lot of that falls to civilians to educate themselves about the military. They might then understand why the military has its own legal code, language, and customs. These things are there for a reason, and problems come up when a civilian in a position of authority comes across something in the military they don’t understand – and so they simply say “Let’s change this” without any understanding of why it’s there to begin with.

      It’s Chesterton’s Fence:

      In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, that one struck me, too: “living in America’s most exclusive gated communities.”

        It’s not exactly Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It’s pretty Spartan, especially if you grew up in the Navy (the Navy spends its money on ships; the Army and Air Force, being land-based, always had nicer bases).

        If it still existed (and Google Maps’ satellite view tells me it doesn’t), I’d love to give you a tour of the apartment we lived in in a ramshackle, converted WWII barracks in New Orleans. That whole base, largely abandoned at that point, was so low-rent, urban-decay that it sort of outdid the surrounding city (or technically, the city across the river, since we were in Algiers). Very blues-y. My buddies and I had great adventures exploring the abandoned buildings when I was 11 and 12.

        It’s funny because I had this sense of having a VERY rich life at that time. It was my Dad’s first duty station after we had spent two-and-a-half years (our longest stretch anywhere) in the Third World, in Ecuador, and I was just overwhelmed (in a good way) at the cultural and material richness that washed over me like a tsunami, back in the U.S.A. I was as happy as Scrooge McDuck, diving into his money bin.

        I vaguely remember my mother finding our accommodations less than ideal, but I thought everything about living there was awesome…

        1. Bill

          On those ”gated communities“:

          If you followed the link in the article, you’d see that it’s not talking about living better than the rest, it’s talking about living separate from the rest. The piece at the link (co-written by someone with experience in these things, namely a retired Lt. General) refers to the self-contained parallel world that exists inside a military base, separate and distinct from the civilian world around it. Among other things, it says:

          “Inside, troops and their families live and work on massive military bases, separated geographically, socially and economically from the society they serve. Outside, Americans live and work, largely unaware of the service and sacrifice of the 2.4 million active and reserve troops. Discussions of the civil-military divide often blame civilians. But the military’s self-imposed isolation doesn’t encourage civilian understanding, and it makes it difficult for veterans and their families to navigate the outside world.

          The U.S. military’s domestic bases are the nation’s most exclusive gated communities. There’s restricted access, of course, and visitors are usually asked to provide multiple forms of ID and to submit to a car search before entering. Through the gates, there’s a remarkably self-contained world. Roughly a third of military families live on bases, with many more living just outside the wire in military enclaves. About 100,000 military children attend on-base schools. Military families shop at discounted grocery and department stores, see dedicated doctors and pharmacists, leave their children in military-subsidized child care, and play in base sports leagues. Many bases have their own golf courses, gyms and gas stations. Some have their own cemeteries, too.”


          1. Bryan Caskey

            Yeah, I read that article. My reaction is essentially ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because that’s not news to me. I was one of the kids that lived on post, shopped at the commissary, was in child care there, and played on the Ft. Jackson soccer team. I’ll see if I can go scare up that picture somewhere.

            The “exclusivity” idea still cracks me up. If anyone would like the “privilege” of living on post, the army has lots of job openings and is hiring. It’s not “exclusive”. Anyone can sign up. They’ll even give you a free haircut. 🙂

            1. Bill

              Check your Webster’s — or whatever you got. It’s not exclusive in the sense of “swanky,” he’s talking about exclusive in the sense of insular.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Bill, I was a military dependent for 21 years, and I never had that physically separate experience. Again, this is probably partly because my Dad was Navy, and the Navy wasn’t big on creating those self-contained communities that the Army and Air Force have.

            I never, for instance, attended a base school. The only time I lived on a base that HAD a school was at MacDill AFB in Tampa, when my Dad was attached to the joint command that later became Central Command. It was just an elementary school, and my brother attended it, but I rode the bus with the other base kids to Robinson High School off-base.

            That experience in the Air Force world was the closest I came to being in a self-contained space. My main recreation was golf and bowling, and the golf course and bowling alley were on base. In fact, my first job was as a groundskeeper on the golf course. But I also bowled in a citywide all-star league, and we competed all over Tampa. I also played senior little league off-base (although our team was a MacDill team), and was a wrestler on the high school team. We used to go to a lot of MLB games during spring training, mostly the Reds and the Cardinals.

            Oh, and there was a “Teen Club” on base where there were pool tables and such and we had regular dances with local garage bands playing. I hung out there some. And yeah, most, but not all, of my friends were Air Force kids. Actually, that was my first experience with the class differences of officer and enlisted. Some of my friends’ dads were NCOs, and one of them told me once that I wouldn’t understand something because I was “an officer’s kid.” I was shocked, and more shocked to find my other NCO-kid friends agreed. I had not realized we had that barrier between us.

            But that was it — those two years in Tampa. The only other time I lived on base for any significant amount of time were at that almost-defunct Navy base in New Orleans, and in Millington, Tenn. — and I was in college then, and didn’t spend much time there.

            So I really don’t think I led a very insular existence. I was FAR more isolated from American civilian life when I was in Ecuador for two-and-a-half years.

            If there’s a barrier, a separation, I think it’s more of a psychological one. We’re brought up differently — with the moving around — and with a different value system. Even after all these years as an adult, always working in the private sector (although being a newspaperman doesn’t really feeling like it, since you’re walled off from the business side), the idea of devoting one’s life to going out and making money is still kind of alien to me. I feel like one’s endeavors should be more mission- and service-oriented. I don’t think I’ll ever shake that, and I don’t want to…

            I’ll close with a couple of quotes from John McCain’s book, Faith of Our Fathers: A Family Memoir. The first having to do with the moving around:

            As soon as I had begun to settle into a school, my father would be reassigned, and I would find myself again a stranger in new surroundings forced to establish myself quickly in another social order…

            And the other having to do with the sense of higher purpose, with regard to our fathers’ absences (more a factor in the Navy than in other services):

            You are taught to consider their absence not as a deprivation, but as an honor. By your father’s calling, you are born into an exclusive, noble tradition. Its standards require your father to dutifully serve a cause greater than his self-interest, and everyone around you… drafts you to the cause as well. Your father’s life is marked by brave and uncomplaining sacrifice. You are asked only to bear the inconveniences caused by his absence with a little of the same stoic acceptance….

            1. Bill

              Well, all I can say to all that is: This ain’t about you. You can brush the notion of a civil-military divide aside as if it’s something I’m just making up, or blame it all on those inferior civilians. But that don’t necessarily make it so.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I didn’t say you made it up. And I acknowledged the psychological separation.

                I’ve always found separate communities within communities interesting. I remember learning in college how in the middle ages, and even into modern times, the Church and universities held special status as sanctuaries, and, in the case of the church, had separate ecclesiastical courts — just as the military has its separate system of justice today….

                I was fascinated to learn, when visiting Oxford, that those walls around the colleges served a serious defensive purpose, since town-gown tensions sometimes led to open violence…

          3. Dave Crockett

            OK, I was a military brat (Marine Corps) for the first 11 years of my life as the son of a full bird colonel. Most of that time was either in Quantico, VA, or in London, England. The former was pretty insular. My entertainment, sports activity, etc. as a pre-teen was entirely limited to the base. Wrapping around two tours in Quantico was nearly three years in London. We lived in Golders Green, actually, but I attended the American School in London and even shared a first-grader desk with the late Humphrey Bogart’s daughter, Leslie, for a few months. While we didn’t live on base, the ASL experience was pretty insular, too, and aside from my ASL chums, my only other friends were almost exclusively offspring of military folks stationed in London.

            All this is a long lead-up to the fact that when Dad retired in 1964 and we moved to Durham, NC, attending Hillandale Elementary was one helluva culture shock for me. I learned of the “N” word in conversation along with a host of other terms and experiences I’d never encountered until leaving the sheltered world I’d known as a military brat. In retrospect, the contrast was both healthy and educational for me…but it took me a while to come to grips with the new world I’d been thrust into.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Now there’s a shared experience.

              I was pretty sheltered from racism, since the military took its meritocracy seriously and was integrated six years before I was born.

              I first heard the “n-word” from distant relatives during visits home to South Carolina, and that was in my late teens. Actually, I think it was ONE distant relative, a second cousin. I heard reports that his grandmother, a great-aunt of mine, used similar language, but I never heard it personally.

              Hearing that from him was a shock.

              But the greatest shock was when I first heard it used by a Navy brat. This was when I was in college, and my parents were stationed at the Naval Air Station in Millington, TN. Apparently there was a lot of racial tension at the local high school, and this civilian social pathology had had more effect on this girl than the military culture did. I didn’t know her, she was just this kid on the base who was quite a bit younger than I, and I just happened to be standing talking to a mutual acquaintance when I heard her say it.

              I was really, deeply shocked that someone with such a similar upbringing to mine could talk like that.

              Oh, and before you ask whether I challenged her or my second cousin — no, I didn’t do things like that when I was a kid. Confronted with extreme behavior, I used to go into observer mode, watching and listening in horrified fascination. It’s like I was waiting to see what other outrageous things the person might say or do.

              I think I was already anticipating being a journalist, and liked to be a fly on the wall and try to figure people out when they were being themselves.

              It wasn’t until I made the switch to editorial many years later that I started lecturing people about what they should say and think…

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I just thought of someone else I knew growing up who used the “n-word.” But that’s an interesting, involved story that I’ll save to tell another time.

                It’s a VERY delicate story that probably cannot be told effectively without actually using the word. So I’ll have to give it a lot of thought.

                I once told it to my good friend Warren Bolton, and it turned out to be an awkward experience for both of us…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  The point of the story is that the person in question actually was a decent sort with his heart in the right place. He just grew up (more than 100 years ago) talking like that.

                  Which is a tricky story to tell, as you can see…

                2. Mark Stewart

                  My father served in the Pacific Fleet in the late fifties and early sixties.

                  The wardroom stewards were Filipino; years of indentured servitude in exchange for citizenship. He was from Chicago, and was shocked at the tone most of the Southern born officers (and a few others) would take – whether talking among themselves or when addressing a steward. He felt like he was immersed in slavery’s slipstream. Around Pearl Harbor it was held in check, but once sailing westward he found it dispiriting to say the least.

                  So while the military may have been on the leading edge of integration, it wasn’t all a swell place to be. The few black sailors aboard were still cooks, laundrymen and boilermen from my looking through his cruise books.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    No, it’s not like all of a sudden minorities were commanding ships starting in 1947 — or even in mainstreamed jobs.

                    I’m glad you mentioned the stewards, because I almost did so above, and neglected to. In the 1960s and into the 70s (which is as far as my experience went), wardroom stewards were mainly Filipino in the Pacific Fleet, and black in the Atlantic.

                    Since I was a kid, I tend to see the exceptions and think of them as the rule.

                    For instance, in Tampa the general that my Dad reported to at Strike Command was black. So that seemed normal to me; I thought it was par for the course. While I may not have done so consciously, I suppose I assumed that since I knew a black general, everyone else did.

                    What was NOT ordinary about it was that he was an outstanding individual, and famous for it. He was Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. — you know, the guy who first became famous as commanding officer of the Tuskegee Airmen. His father was the first black general in the Army, and he was the first in the Air Force.

                    So, you know, unusual.

                    But I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew him as Gen. Davis who lived down the street, and the fact that he was black was incidental.

                    I mentioned working at the golf course at MacDill. One day, I was assigned to clean Gen. Davis’ clubs. I remember thinking (either at the time or later; I’m not sure — you know how memories can play tricks) how cool that was — the white kid cleaning the black general’s clubs. I congratulated myself on living in such times. I really thought at that time in my life that class differences based on race were a thing of the past, opportunity was completely equal, and that race just wasn’t going to be a thing, a source of friction in society, going forward.

                    It turns out that my experience was unusual, and misleading…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I suppose my experience cleaning the general’s clubs almost 50 years ago is one of many things that makes me think it slightly absurd when I’m lectured about needing to acknowledge my white privilege.

                      But I’m actually conscious of my perceptual biases. For instance, I’m conscious that the officer’s kid isn’t as aware of the distance between him and his friends as the NCO’s kids are. Of course, to me, there WAS no difference. I didn’t think of them as sergeant’s kids; I thought of them as my friends, as people I had a lot in common with.

                      And just as I can bristle at the privilege thing today, I sort of resented my friends for being conscious of such a thing, and laying it on me as though I was lording it over them or something. I wasn’t even AWARE of the supposed difference until they erected it before me. And to this day I think it unjust of them — putting me in a separate category that I had nothing to do with. My FATHER was the officer; their FATHERS were NCOs. I didn’t see what that had to do with US. We hadn’t earned ANY sort of rank; we were just kids, and friends…

  10. Bryan Caskey

    On the civil-military divide and Mattis, Bob Gates said:

    “I think some of the people that he’s talking to for senior jobs, I find very encouraging. They’re very solid people,” Gates said. “And I would ordinarily have some concerns about civilian military relationships and civilian control and so on but not with Jim Mattis. Jim has a deep sense of history, he’s got a great strategic mind and folks in uniform love him. I think he would be a great choice.

    But while Gates said he had the “highest regard” for all three potential picks, he said having two military officials in the Cabinet would be “too much military influence in the decision-making process.”

    “I think all three of them are amazing, terrific people but… I think it would be awkward to have military officers both secretary of state and secretary of defense,” Gates said.

    Bobby Gates would be a great pick for SECSTATE, for whatever my opinion is worth. It’s double hearsay, but I heard that David Ignatius of the Washington Post apparently said that Mattis and Gates as SECDEF and SECSTATE would be like having Mantle and Maris.

  11. Bill

    Other concerns voiced about Mattis nomination as SECDEF:

    „…the last general to serve as defense secretary, Gen. George Marshall, was a staff officer. It was his experience as Army Chief of Staff during World War II that qualified him to be secretary of defense, after serving as secretary of state. Mattis’ record as a combat commander is unsurpassed, but he has never shown much interest in the staff assignments. […]The point is not that Mattis is unqualified. Rather, the point is that he hates this s–t.”


    And this on the danger of politicizing the military:


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