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August 18, 2006


"I mean: I do not, myself, understand why someone would enjoy shooting any people."


he might be a smart commander, a brilliant strategist, whatever. he is still on the record as saying this:

    "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

and that guy gets to decide if anything worth worrying about happened at Haditha. the guy who at the very least can be jovial about shooting people.

cleek: the thing of it is, what comes across from the things he wrote that Fiasco quotes is not just someone who's a good commander, but someone who is actually concerned with the morality of war, and also with command responsibility. I would expect that anyone in the armed services would have gotten a lot more used to killing people than I ever plan to. But, as I said, the really important thing for me is: do they keep that within a clear structure, which delineates when it's OK to kill people and when it is not? Or do they just let it run riot?

One of the things that struck me when reading about Mattis was not just that he seemed to have such a structure, but that he seemed to have thought a lot about the precise contours it should have. A person like that might be exactly who should be deciding about Haditha.

Still, I have this sneaking suspicion this is not going to be one of my more popular posts. But it does matter to me that if he is more complicated than he seems from the CNN story, that come across, whether or not you or I or anyone else ends up liking him.

A post like this is one of the things I really like about blogs. Thanks for the perspective. I've been putting off the Ricks book, but everything I've heard about it has been so compelling.

namely to do everything in his power to protect the troops not just from death and physical injury, but from moral injury: from doing things that they will never forgive themselves for, and that will blight them for the rest of their lives.

I believe the word Bush would use to describe someone who could be subject to such an injury is "pussy."

I knew a gentleman who was an officer on an Australian cruiser during WWII. One of the tasks given to his ship was to take Australian war heroes to England for various parades and buck-up-the-populace type events. He told me that most of the guys they were, ahem, transporting, were just about crazy, in a bad way; what we might call in this day, psychopathic (or something unpleasantly close to it).

I've been reminded of this as I've read about various efforts the Army has made to increase the proportion of men who actually fire their weapons in combat. The proportion seems to have been so low in WWI and WWII that it occurred to me that back in the day, perhaps it was those men who fired their weapons because they enjoyed having the chance to kill people.

The proportion seems to have been so low in WWI and WWII that it occurred to me that back in the day, perhaps it was those men who fired their weapons because they enjoyed having the chance to kill people.

De-humanizing the opponent works. Hence Huns, Japs, Gooks, and, presently, Hajis. I believe in Civil War the proportion who fired their weapons was relatively low, I suppose cause "Southerners" or "Yankees" doesn't work as well (there must have been something term other than southerners, I imagine).

"Or do they just let it run riot?"

A division has approximately 10,000 members.

One would assume that if they were let "run riot," that there would be at least 30,000 random murders every month.

Or at least per year.

An alternative explanation would be that perhaps they do not.

Great Post, and a thoughtful General -- despite his CNN-reported comments. Extremely crass, not in keeping with what apparently exists deeper in his character, but maybe he was being "jocular" in a locker-room sort of way for an audience who would understand that stuff.

Linked in a post on another quality blog (wish I remember which one) was a white paper, basically, about 4GW (4th generation warfare) which was produced by military scholars and addresses exactly the things Mattis was talking about. Nice to have read that a few days before this. Glad to know that at least some people in the war business are thinking that way.

About liking war: I generally think that there are lots of somewhat puzzling and not entirely good motives that human beings have, which can, however, be OK when (as I said above) carefully regulated. I think competitiveness is actually a very good example: in itself, the desire to win win win is not particularly appealing, and I've known enough people whose husbands (it generally is husbands, no doubt because of some hateful cultural whatnot) really do get upset when things go well for them -- when they get promoted, for instance -- to think: this is just not something that it's OK to have roaming around unstructured in one's psyche. (I always wonder: the husbands claim to love their wives: what do they mean by this, if "love" does not include being genuinely glad when things go right for the object of your alleged affection? I find this genuinely mysterious.) (Preemptively: most of the husbands I know do not have this hateful feature. Thank God. I am not trying to generalize.)

Anyways: competitiveness is perfectly fine when the competitive person keeps it within bounds. My Dad, for instance, is extremely competitive, but only on tennis courts and (when he was younger) basketball courts. I, having never been any good at sports, compete with myself in non-athletic ways. There are all sorts of ways to do it, but the boundaries are the key. Wanting to just crush your opponent, but only within the game, and then only by the rules, is an entirely different thing from wanting to crush other people in general.

Now: I am imagining some possible General saying what General Mattis said, and saying it in the same way a professional and highly trained athlete might say: I want to crush!!! the other team. If he was saying it in a locker room, to other athletes who knew perfectly well what the rules were, and that playing by them was fair, but that e.g. pitching at your opponent's head, or yanking their faceguard as hard as you could, was not a possible legitimate meaning of "crush", then OK. And I am imagining me, or maybe others, I don't know, as being someone who had never encountered competitive sports before, and thinks: you want to what???

It would make a huge difference if the structure and limits were understood, taken for granted in a bone-deep sort of way. And what I took the Fiasco passages to show was: they might be, in this case.

Rereading Distant Mirror this week, cause the headlines weren't depressing enough. Tuchman's knights and nobles found good reasons to fight and kill every morning in their breakfast cereal;had a strict code and morality they violated every day;and felt really guilty and scared of hell for the lootin rapin and killin they did. Sincerely.

The 14th century was neat because after the Black Death & all the peasants and bourgeious found their own opportunities;and given the chance, did a lot of looting, rapin, and killin.

Lootin and rapin and killin is what people do when the rules are suspended. People do good stuff,too, inside and outside the rules.
Not all people. But there are about as many St Francis's as there are Jeffrey Dahmers.

I ain't judging this guy, for good or ill.

And I should let the soldiers answer this rather than myself, but firing a weapon in combat or under fire is not as easy as it looks; and hating or dehumanizing the opponent is only one of the reasons it is difficult. Like, crawling into a hole during a noisy firefight being pretty natural.

Glad to see the cites to the Ricks book. But could we have a little more attention to what Mattis wrote:

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."

I can see that, actually. Can't you? (Presumably he's talking about the Taliban.) I mean, where's Andrea Dworkin when you need her?

More generally, Digby is seriously off her game here. The guy is a *soldier*. A general officer as well. He has to inspire men to do terrible things, and without dehumanizing the enemy in some respect, there is no very effective way to do that.

I guess it comes down to Mattis is a soldier, and Digby isn't. Fine. But what next? Digby, shocked that ER personnel make crass on-the-job jokes about trauma victims?

Anderson: I actually thought about saying something like that, but wondered whether this was, or alternately might seem like, one of those moments when my battered women's shelter past might be affecting my judgment.

And don't even get started on med school students and cadavers... A friend of mine who's a doctor had a long and intricate theory about which med students made horrible jokes about their cadavers and which didn't, which I have unfortunately forgotten, since it managed to be grisly and funny and deeply insightful, all at once.

"But what next? Digby, shocked that ER personnel make crass on-the-job jokes about trauma victims?"

Yeah, that's pretty much where I've always been about this stuff.

It's gasphorror stuff to those unacquainted, but part of the job for those for whom it's part of the job.

Hard to recognize from normal life.

It's gasphorror stuff to those unacquainted, but part of the job for those for whom it's part of the job.

Hard to recognize from normal life.

A large part of why my posts here tend to get a very different interpretation than the one I intended. We are living in very different worlds.

Tuchman was, incidentally, an extremely strong influence on me in my early-to-late teen years, circa age 13-20, from when I read Guns Of August around age 14 to when I sank into A Distant Mirror around age 19/20.

Great stuff. I know she's been attacked since; it was inevitable. But, still, great reads, great lessons.

"We are living in very different worlds."

I've actually written and deleted about 9 comments so far, because I feel like sh*t, and was a lot more vehment than I thought would be useful.

Lawrence Kaplan had a few very good articles in the Atlantic Monthly a couple of years ago. I am deeply sorry those people walled them off. They damaged our society by doing so. (Or, alternatively, we should all pay to get the good stuff, which is a reasonable POV, but still.)

Yeah, The Guns of August was a big influence on me at about the same age. It was astonishing that the generals entrusted with their nations' safety were so cavalier and incompetent.

A great "the people in power DON'T always know what they're doing" book. More people should read it.

--And Hilzoy, glad to hear that even a Kantian might be tempted to endorse Mattis's sentiments. I consider that an important endorsement of the Moral Law Within!


I'm curious why you would be vehement. Was my comment inadvertently insulting?

"I'm curious why you would be vehement. Was my comment inadvertently insulting?"

A "find" doesn't show a previous use of that word, so I dunno.

Um, you spelled it "vehment," Gary. A vehement spelling, indeed.

But I assumed your vehemence was about Digby's obtuse reaction, not about Andrew's comment. A good assumption, I hope?

(Write & say "vehement" 5 times

vehement, vehement, vehement, vehement, vehement

and it doesn't even look or sound like a real word any more.)

I don't think I joined in the general condemnation at the time for that remark, because I understood it; and certainly understood why killing people who had built a way of life around abusing the powerless could be, if not "fun," surely satisfying. I have a few revenge fantasies of my own, after all (which, I hasten to point out, I don't intend ever to carry out).

I know much of military training is designed to put soldiers in a head-space where they're able to fight effectively without having to think about it. Having taken self-defense classes, I understand that one, too: it's about learning the mechanics of recognizing and reacting to a threat well enough that it becomes a reflex.

(I had to fight off an intruder in my house once - many years ago, long before I took the classes. I wasted precious seconds while my brain scrambled to find a rational, unthreatening reason for there to be a guy lurking in my bathroom. Training is really, really important.)

It also seems to me that military service is a high point in peoples' lives, whether they want to admit it or not. It's a time - for most Americans, the only time - where they live in a close fellowship that requires them to be at peak condition, ready to act at peak performance, to defend one another in extremis. War is a transcendant experience where people need, and risk, everything they are and everything they have to offer. There's not much else like it. Mountain-climbing, maybe. The transcendant part doesn't have much to do with the issues the war is supposed to be about, either, SFAICT.

cleek: the thing of it is, what comes across from the things he wrote that Fiasco quotes is not just someone who's a good commander, but someone who is actually concerned with the morality of war, and also with command responsibility

i'll quote it one more time:

    It's fun to shoot some people
    ...it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them

and i'll re-state my point, one more time:
this guy, the one i quoted above, it the guy who's going to decide if the people who shot those Iraqi civilians at Haditha deserve to be tried for what they did. were those troops having "a hell of a lot of fun" ? was it a "hoot" ? were they just mixing it up in the heat of batttle, as great Manly warriors, putting the hurt on some people who deserved it ?

would you trust a judge who makes racist jokes in public to rule fairly in a discrimination case, no matter how many much you agree with his decisions on other matters ?

"I mean: I do not, myself, understand why someone would enjoy shooting any people."

There is such a thing as a "natural soldier": the kind of man who derives his greatest satisfaction from male companionship, from excitement, and from the conquering of physical and psychological obstacles. He doesn't necessarily want to kill people as such, but he will have no objections if it occurs within a moral framework that gives him a justification -- like war -- and if is the price of gaining admission to the kind of environment he craves. Whether such men are born or made, I do not know, but most of them end up in armies (and many move on again to become mercenaries, because regular army life in peacetime is too routine and boring).

- Gwynne Dyer, War

I'm with cleek. It's one thing to acknowledge the sociopathy that armies feel the need to promote, and the teaching of it that so seems to enthuse Gary Farber, it goes beyond perverse to exclaim a delight in it publicly, as the initial quotation from the good general seems to do. Me, I'll go with Hillel, Jesus and Buddha in ordering my relations with my fellow humans.

Even with training, many people in militaries do not enjoy war, killing, and being scared silly.

I am very pleased that those who do are in the military. We are, unfortunatley, a warlike species, and someone needs to do our killing for us until we figure out a way of not having wars (and this better happen soon).

Also, not everyone who might enjoy battle is the type who would engage in atrocities. This particular individual seems to have a strong core of ethics that would make clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

I would think, however, that his public comments were inastute, at least.

let's not forget that Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of fucking Rome! I don't care how 'emo' his book is about how much it sucks to be the emperor, always fighting...

just because a centurion has a conscience and can read doesn't change the fact that they sack and burn cities on command.

it's not like he resigned rather than burn Fallujah as collective punishment: he admits it himself that it was punishing the many for the few.

I'm sure Marines are jus' folks but that doesn't change what their job is... there isn't any moral dilemna. So, Mattis isn't a drooling nutjob like Gen. Boykin, he's still a stormtrooper.

the thing is, Mattis knows it's not fun to shoot people, that's just how a stormtrooper talks. digby isn't off base in noticing the smell...

geos: I really disagree. And using words like 'stormtrooper' to describe anyone who was not actually a member of the SA (or in a Star Wars movie) doesn't help your argument much.

hilzoy: using the words 'emo' or 'fucking' don't help my 'argument' for that matter either...

which part do you disagree about?

i don't think carrying around a book about the sorrows of empire makes you especially sympathetic, merely observant. just because you have a brain and can use it doesn't mean you're using it to do good and empires aren't good regardless of how coercive they are (at least according to me.)

what you don't think the US is an empire? see ancient Athens, empires don't have to look like Rome to be nasty and self-defeating in the end.

the man (mattis) has the gall to notice that raizing Fallujah was collective punishment and the best he can do is say he followed orders? hardly a good example of a noble warrior.

again, he knew it was stupid to send in a division but went along with it what does that say about his character?

the 'locker room' comments are standard Marine talk, I disagree with Digby if she thinks it's particularly outrageous: everyone in the Marines seems to talk that way; it's for effect and they know better. but as far as I can tell the standard application of the Marines is against 'native' insurgencies in places a peace-loving democracy really ought not to be (see the Phillipines) so that's really not saying anything in his favor.

frankly, i don't think there are 'serious' moral questions about war. it's immoral, go ask Jesus. but what Mattis is talking about when he urges his Marines to show 'respect' has nothing to do with the inner state of the Marine, but about the Corps strategy of counter-insurgency: he wants to win.

again, he knew it was stupid to send in a division but went along with it what does that say about his character?

it doesn't say much about his character that he knew it was stupid...

let me rephrase this:

he knew it was a war crime (collective punishment of a civilian population) to send in a division to clear out Fallujah but said he will follow orders: what does that say about his character?

I think a guy like Mattis is way more dangerous then a yahoo like Boykin.

Could you cut the profanity Geos? Because it doesn't help your argument, plus being not in accordance with the house posting rules.

"...and the teaching of it that so seems to enthuse Gary Farber,"

Oh, please.

Still being unduly irritated by the above, I'll note that I gently escort spiders outside the door, and have never harmed anything larger than a mosquito in my life. I'd be ill if I had to. (More than the current massive cold and whatnot inflicting me.)

oh, come on, Gary.

You know you're on public record saying,
"actually, it's quite fun to squash spiders. It's a hell of a hoot!"

Then there was that time you appeared on CNN saying:
"It's fun to squash some arachnids. I'll be right up there with you. I like extermination!"

So don't try to come over all touchy-feely on us now. And just give up that stuff about how you always carry around a copy of Kafka's Metamorphosis with you wherever you deploy, as though that shows any deep concern for arthropods.

Digby's updated his/her post, fwiw.

hilzoy: Opinions vary about whether or not the approach that Mattis tried to prepare for would have worked. The Marines seem to think it would have; some of the Army officers they were replacing thought they were being too optimistic. The tragedy is that we never got to find out. The Marines took over in al-Anbar, and shortly afterwards the four contractors were killed in Fallujah.

This is the version of events that has become conventional wisdom. But it leaves out a significant event, one that I've been pointing out in comment sections for two years. On March 26, almost a week before the Blackwater mercenaries were killed, Mattis' Marines engaged in a substantial firefight in Fallujah:

A US Marine was killed and several others were wounded in the flashpoint Iraqi town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a military spokesperson said.

During fighting in Fallujah, five Iraqis, including a cameraman working for ABC News were killed and seven others wounded in clashes between US troops and insurgents in Fallujah, according to hospital officials.

The surge of violence in Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim bastion west of Baghdad, raged between US insurgents [sic] and masked insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and mortars.

"Four people have been killed. They are all males and include a two-year-old child, and seven people, also males, were wounded," doctor Ahmed Shaker Kadduri told an AFP photographer.

An Iraqi cameraman working for the US television network ABC was killed on Friday by a bullet to the forehead when US troops fired in the direction of journalists during clashes in the flashpoint town of Fallujah, doctors and witnesses said.

ABC confirmed on its website that Luhaybi was "killed today while covering a firefight between US Marines and Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. The US military had no comment on the fighting and it was unknown who killed the cameraman. ABC News has asked the US military to investigate the incident."

Maybe if the cameraman been American, that inaugural firefight might have made more of an impression. The question it raised for me at the time, since I'd read advance press coverage of Gen. Mattis' proposed new approach, was how the fighting began. Were the Marines ambushed while doing a polite, cautious round of door-knocking? Or was the new approach a bunch of PR hooey?

Mattis' reaction to the desecration of the Blackwater contractors' bodies makes me think it was the former. Does Ricks shed any light on how this early firefight happened, or even mention it?

My assessment is that the hearts-and-minds approach was hopeless after mid-April 2003. It might have worked if there had been enough troops to maintain order after the Ba'ath government fell, and if the reconstruction effort had been conducted through Iraqis rather than U.S. companies, etc. etc. (Gen. Petraeus had more success around Mosul than other commands, seemingly due to more local involvement and less bull-in-china-shop behavior by his troops).

After the insurgency was an established reality, the few successes of such an approach (most recently in Tal Afar) have always proved temporary; as soon as the troops leave, blammo.

Mattis is a complex guy. I'm not going to judge him entirely on the basis of what he said in that talk, but there's also this on the debit side, after U.S. planes shot up a wedding in western Iraq, killing 40 people:

General Mattis asked: "How many people go to the middle of the desert 10 miles from the Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilisation?" Iraqis replied that the victims of the attack were holding the wedding in the village where they had lived all their lives........Contrary to earlier reports, the sheikh said, there was no celebratory gunfire. .........Sheikh Mikfil said he suspected the Americans might have been acting on false intelligence information, given by someone who wanted to increase the tension between Iraqis and Americans......If this was one of the "bad things" that "happen in wars" - to use General Mattis's phrase - more explanation is required.

That's from the Independent, and I can't find the link, but the quote from Mattis was widely covered.

This is outstanding, hilzoy. It's quite easy and occasionally convenient to pigeonhole people like Mattis. I think he's earned a little deeper examination than the cursory one, though; thanks for doing that.

I'm sorry! I previewed but didn't catch the unclosed link.

"all their lives........Contrary to earlier reports, the sheikh said, there was no celebratory gunfire. .........Sheikh"

"That's from the Independent,"

The Independent ran some wacky number of dots?

I don't belive it. Wouldn't happen. Didn't happen.

No one but an illiterate, unreliable, source does that. It's not English, and only someone who doesn't know English writes illiterately.

"I don't belive it."

Believe it, even.

"as though that shows any deep concern for arthropods."

I do have a record of covering lobsters in butter, and sucking out their insides, on the three or four occasions I've had the opportunities, I confess.

And I'll do it again, if anyone gives me the chance!

Kill, kill, kill!

"Digby's updated his/her post, fwiw."

There's a discussion. "Her," rumor has it.

Ha, ha, Gary. The dots are mine, of course, and I apologize for not editing them down to three at a time before posting, because I know how that grates on you.

I've never served in the military and the most violent situation I've ever been in was the occasional fist-fight in junior high school. I don't know how I would feel about killing people, or if I would even be able to do it. But I am certainly not going to act morally superior and sit in judgment of Gen. Mattis like some posters here.

His comments seem to be directed at the Taliban-al'Qaeda types, not the random insurgents who see themselves as defending their homeland from a foriegn invader. He seems to be talking about militant Islamists who, after all, do want to impose a way of life that is antithetical to human freedom and to civilization itself. If our soldiers take pleasure in killing them, I have no problem with it.

Time to quote Rudyard:

Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.

Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy how's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints:
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

While it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, fall be'ind,"
But it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind,
There's trouble in the wind, my boys, there's trouble in the wind,
O it's "Please to walk in front, sir," when there's trouble in the wind.


To quote someone else, in times of war, we need guys like that on the wall. We may not like it that we do, and we may feel morally superior to them, but SOMEBODY has to take out the trash.

Nell: Fiasco says that that firefight -- or at least what it calls a 36 hour series of firefights in Fallujah, of which I assume that was a part -- began when a Marine task force was hit by a bomb, three days after they took over in al Anbar.

As to whether the Marines' approach was PR: I tend to think not, unless Ricks has just completely fabricated the documents he quotes, which I assume he hasn't. It would be one thing if all we had to go on was press announcements of a kinder, gentler strategy, or people on background. But one of the reasons I decided to post on this at all was that Ricks is citing things Mattis passed out at the time and required his commanders to read (and certify in writing that their subordinates had read; for some reason, I liked that touch. The teacher in me, no doubt.) And notes from meetings held at the time, and so on.

The problem was that Fallujah blew within days of their arrival. And the second, compounding problem was that the decision about how to respond seems to have been political, not military.

the funny thing about accusing someone else of "moral superiority" is that it requires that you affect a morally superior stance yourself. irony is inevitable.

I see I had something to say about LTG Mattis' comments back when they first came to light.

ThirdGorchbro, not all of the criticism of Mattis is about his "fun to kill" comments. I take that to be professional sick humor, but even so, as someone said (maybe it was Digby--I forget), a general shouldn't be talking like some 19 year old corporal. There shouldn't be any time or place where a man in his position talks about the joy of killing. I haven't read Marcus Aurelius (saw Gladiator though), so I don't know if Stoic philosopher types roused the troops by engaging in this kind of adolescent rhetoric. Yes, the Taliban "deserved" killing more than most, but enjoyment of the process is not something a general should be encouraging.

But anyway, some of the criticism is about how Mattis went ahead and tried to take Fallujah. I have mixed feelings about this. I'd love it if the military had high-ranking people who would resign rather engage in an act of collective punishment. But realistically, how high do you rise in the military if you think like this? Usually the people who do this kind of thing (the Israeli pilots who refuse to bomb civilian targets, the US pilot who refused to drop bombs on Cambodian villages) aren't going to become generals. Someone like Mattis is probably the best one can realistically hope for. I don't feel like judging him for this--I can say what I wish people would do, but truth be told, I'm not in the military and if I were I'd probably face my own set of moral dilemmas (chiefly involving my desire to crawl in a hole and sit there until the shooting stopped).

He does sound like he understands the moral way to fight insurgencies (assuming one has the right to be in the war in the first place). Apparently there's been a division within the US military about how to fight in Iraq all along, between the sensitive types (Mattis apparently being in this camp) and the ones who just want to go in and bust heads. I hope the sensitive types are winning, but by now, whatever might have been true earlier, it's probably not American troops who are doing most of the killing in Iraq these days.

The problem was that Fallujah blew within days of their arrival.

And had functionally 'blown' long since, after late April 2003, when U.S. troops fired on demonstrations and killed 20 people. Then frequent rotations of different units, most inadequate to the task, compounded the problems.

"There shouldn't be any time or place where a man in his position talks about the joy of killing."

Including addressing a division?

We want to have a huge mass of soldiers able to kill as professionally as possible, but they shouldn't talk about it?

"But realistically, how high do you rise in the military if you think like this?"

This is where the Dan Halutz language comes in. Because he rose to chief of staff of the IDF, and said a bunch of ugly such stuff. And is condemned for it, and even I question it.

But it's quite the question.

Is tough talk to the troops something civilians can understand? Are there two kinds of talk? Should troops be advised to be pacificic? Should there be a difference between military and civilian language?

These are, in fact, damned important questions, and other than a couple of Atlantic articles a few years ago, they don't seem to get talked about much.

What would, for instance, most civilians make of the stuff American military folks in training chant/sing while jogging in training?

Military people joke about killing people because that is, y'know, a big part of what they were trained to do. Half the units in the army have unofficial mottos like "Peace is Our Profession, Mass Murder is Just a Hobby." Hell, even OW's own Andrew O. signed off a comment board quoting an old Army joke, calling it his 'personal favorite': "Join the Army. Go to interesting places. Meet interesting people. And kill them."

It's part of the culture, and if you generally reject military culture and context, then no, there is no way to get your head around someone who would say it was fun to shoot people. But I think he's basically just saying its more fun to go after (read: shoot, because that's what Marines do in combat) actual wife-beating, 9/11-causing Taliban bad guys than it is to guard food aid depots in Macedonia.

I'm not a military person, but I've known a few, family and friends, and I don't think a single one of them would be upset or even mildly surprised at Mattis' comments. But maybe they are all psychopaths, too.

"I'm not a military person, but I've known a few, family and friends, and I don't think a single one of them would be upset or even mildly surprised at Mattis' comments."

This is the entire social division.

It's totally unhealthy.

Either we should declare ourselves a pacifist society, or get to know that we spend billions training people to kill other people in a professional way, with a huge amount of equipment.

One, or the other.

Halfway doesn't work at all.

I agree with Andrew that war means fighting, and fighting means killing.

That's why war should be fought only to respond to an actual attack or absolutely imminent, unarguable threat. In that case, soldiers' motivation to fight, and kill, comes from a sense of commitment to country and survival. That's a situation rare enough (or should be)and limited enough to be compatible with our system of government and a volunteer military.

Wars of choice (wars of aggression) followed by occupation and/or counterinsurgency encourage, to start, the inflation of threat and, to keep them going, hyped-up feelings of moral righteousness among the troops. That's where 'enjoying' comes in for Gen. Mattis. That's where wars of choice are pernicious, and poison our military as well as inflicting a huge, unjustified human cost on the target country.

My objection to Mattis' remarks was exactly that he was adding this moral-righteousness gloss to the Afghan war that was supposed to be about responding to an attack and neutralizing the threat by capturing or killing those responsible.

People well above Mattis in the chain of command and the government applied the moral gloss to the war in Iraq.

If the invasion of Iraq was to "disarm" Saddam Hussein, then why was it called 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'? Marketing to the troops.

They were also encouraged to believe in a connection between Iraq and the September 11 attacks, which proved as useful in adding the glow of righteousness to counter-insurgency fighting as it did to creating the impression of an urgent threat to whip up support for the invasion to begin with.

That righteous feeling also reduces inhibitions about what happens to Iraqis, so you get very loose or loosely enforced rules of engagement, and greater likelihood of abuse of civilians and detainees.

Whipped-up righteousness is also poison to domestic politics, turning it into what we might call the war at home.

Gary, do you see the difference between training people to kill and telling them that it's fun? I expect a little better from you than this.

I didn't say psychopaths, st. The point is simple. The Marines are trained to kill. It's their job. But part of their training is to keep their skills on a very tight leash. Even in civilian life, a lot of 19 year old males don't need any encouragement in being brain-dead macho chest-pounding idiots. It's common where I live to see males of all ages driving down residential streets at double the speed limit, obviously not giving a second thought to the risks they pose to themselves or others. The last thing I want in a 19 year old Marine is the thought that "killing is fun". My impression is that most soldiers, thank God, find killing to be sickening and if some find it fun, then maybe you've got someone you'd better keep an eye on.

I'm not shocked at the language either, if by shock you mean "surprised". Hard as it might be to believe, most of us know that sick jokes are part of certain professions. I even enjoy some of the sick humor and yet I don't want a general talking the way Mattis did.

My father was in WWII and dropped bombs on ships. He never once made light of it. When he took my sister and me as children to see a WWII movie and we were joking about it, he rather firmly told us that this was completely out of place. I also recall reading Jonathan Schell's book on the US destruction of Quang Ngai province ("The Military Half", I think) and he had a section on the pilots laughing off the notion that they might be killing civilians. Obviously it was a form of denial, because they were in fact bombing civilians. I know people tell jokes to relieve stress, and it's not always indicative of anything, but at the same time, if someone starts talking about the joy of killing then I'm going to be suspicious.

Nathaniel Fick is an ex Marine officer who wrote the book " One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer ", See

His Officer training classes would begin with the officer candidates shouting " Ready. Sit. KILL!!" and included a course in " Killology".

All this was to impress and train officers to understand that war is about killing people and blowing things up.
Fick fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and later got into trouble for telling a journalist, " The good thing is that later on tonight, we get to kill people".

His book is an interesting read on how officers are trained in the US military
He is a big admirer of General Matthis.
Matthis speech is a salutary reminder that wart is about killing the enemy. We should remember that every time we get tempted on start a war, and we shouldnt be shy about saying exactly what we are doing.

All this is of course, seperate from the issue of whether we should have started THIS war. But Matthis didn't decided that. The duly elected representatives iof the Amerkican people did.

All this is of course, seperate from the issue of whether we should have started THIS war.

As my comment above shows, I think it's connected with the issue of whether we should have started this war, or why we get into any war. The war of necessity vs. war of choice (humanitarian intervention, liberation, spreading freedom and democracy) makes a huge difference.

"Gary, do you see the difference between training people to kill and telling them that it's fun?"

Y'know, I really don't. Killing is horrible, awful, terrible.

Motivating people to do it is to push them. Telling them that it's "fun" is pretty much Tuesday after Monday.

How does one train people to kill, and then instruct them to to do it, but feel bad?

This is, in fact, a huge question.

And if, in fact, you have the answer, more power to you. Let's hear it. I'm all for it. We can all learn.

I completely don't mean that sarcastically. I simply don't know how it might be done, and that's all. If it could be, it's a good idea.


The approach Mattis favored in Iraq strikes me as sensible. Trying to deny an emerging insurgency support and sympathy from the civilian population. Strikes me as eminently sane and a logical approach. It bothers me though that this approach was seen "as too optimistic" (in late 2003 ?). What the h*ll were the rest of the generals thinking and planning? Remember back then, the US forces were officially "liberating" Iraq. If even back then, most general officers weren´t thinking about "winning hearts and minds", it´s no wonder what happened later on.

I wonder if polls played any role?
I mean polls indicating that lots of American citizens and lots of American soldiers believe(d) that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11? If most Americans believed it back then, it might explain why individual soldiers and officers and units prefered the "harsh" method?

I don´t know enough of Mattis to comment on his CNN interview. The preparations for his unit indicate that the CNN quote might fail to show his true intentions.

If however the CNN interview grasps his true opinion, then he should be reminded that just following orders doesn´t protect a general from a war crimes tribunal (Nuremberg). However what frightens me even more is thinking about other generals in the US army... (A "gentle" approach too optimistic in late 2003?).

Just for clarity - he didn't make the remarks in an interview with CNN. The CNN story is just relating the remarks, which Mattis made during a panel discussion at a military/industry trade conference in San Diego "held by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Assn. and the U.S. Naval Institute and sponsored by many top U.S. defense contractors," which was taped by a local news channel. (cite).

Not sure what, if anything this means, but I'm just saying.


I can only speak for myself. I was drafted into the West German army in the early 1980s. (Volunteered for two years in fact. Needed the money for university since I was an orphan by that time.)

Back then I was 20 years old. I already visited the then German Democratic Republic (with most of my deceased mother´s family living there) and the then CSSR (a visit to Prague). Back then I concluded that I didn´t want to live in any communist Warsaw Pact country. In fact a lot of my school friends back then told me that I seemed to be a lot more "hard-line" than before my visits. :)

Would I have shot at someone attacking my country? Probably yes. Would I have enjoyed it? Probably no. Do remember family connections to the then GDR and (female :) ) friends in Prague.

Could I have repeated it? I don´t know...
In that special case I think, yes. Someone is directly attacking my country, my (surviving) family and my friends.

Its´entirely different if you order me (or todays young Germans) to attack someone else not endangering Germany.

I didn´t mention UN peace-enforcement missions so far. Some of them will make sense to parents seeing their kids deployed. Others won´t.

And I don´t know the answer to your question.

I´m saying simply that all of our countries (Europe and America) do have an army. Deploying them to defend ourselves or an ally should be a no-brainer. I´d support to deploy them to stop a genocide.
Deploy them for any other reason, I´m wary.

Simply put, don´t tell us we have do deploy our army anywhere in the world to defend "something". Likewise I do think that soldiers are more ready to defend "something" if they are convinced that it means something to their home-country.

And don´t deploy your army to Iraq telling them that they are liberating Iraq and telling them at the same time that Iraq is the region to confront Islam terrorists.
(We fight them there so we don´t have to fight them here.)

Likewise don´t hint to your army that Saddam Hussein might be involved in 9/11.

Gary: I think there are a lot of things you can train yourself to do, but not to enjoy. More or less anything that goes against something deep. -- Working at the shelter, I had to turn people away, on nothing more than my instinct. The reasons for turning them away were, basically, insanity, ongoing substance abuse that they were unwilling to give up for the duration of their stay, or violence; but in a lot of cases it was hard to judge. The consequences of mistakes were bad either way -- turn someone away wrongly and that person might end up going back to her abuser; in the worst case, she might end up dead. Let someone in who is e.g. violent or crazy or freebasing in the living room, and all the other families might go back to their abuser, etc.

You have to make the call, and you have to rely on your judgment. Moreover, you have to do it fast. On the phone. Without preparation. And without anything like adequate evidence.

I made myself do that. I was absolutely clear that it was the right thing to do. But I never enjoyed it at all, nor did coming to enjoy it seem necessary. Had I started to enjoy exercising this sort of power over people, I would have been deeply alarmed, and might well have quit my job for the sake of all concerned.

This isn't meant to be relevant to the question of Mattis, or even, really, of how military training ought to be carried out. (About which I know nothing.) Just to say: it's easy for me to see a clear distinction between training someone to do something (readily, without question) and getting them to enjoy it, or even thinking that enjoying it is a remotely OK state of affairs.

About Mattis in particular, one bit I didn't cite before was this:

"With his troops he tended to be earthier. 'The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event', he told two hundred Marines. 'That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience, and alertness you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim. ... It's really a hell of a lot of fun."

It's really a hell of a lot of fun

what's Mattis' view on prisoner abuse ?

Thanks for sharing your experience, Detlef. That's just what I was trying to get across, but you've done it much more simply and powerfully.

Hilzoy, I don't think you can train on the scale of the army and not allow them to think that (and that probably isn't the word, my Marine friends would say experience that) some parts of fighting is fun. The whole of the military is about channeling that so that soldiers kill those they are supposed to kill and not kill those they are not supposed to kill. I think that would be impossible under the strictures that Nell or Donald seem to advocate.

Cool, can we have a special army division to kill all the wife beaters in the US, should be lots of fun.

Motivating people to do it is to push them. Telling them that it's "fun" is pretty much Tuesday after Monday.

Hilzoy beat me to it, but that doesn't follow at all. In fact, a hell of a lot of motivational speeches I've heard and read -- from all walks of life, military, religious, political, personal -- involve telling someone that what they're doing is right, is necessary and is their duty to perform. [Hell, I give a "motivational speech" at the beginning of each semester, often repeated towards the end, that basically boils down to "this is going to suck and you're gonna have to gut your way through it, but the rewards will be worth it."] Transfiguring that into "fun" is rarely, IME, part of the equation once one passes beyond a certain threshhold of seriousness. It might be that one can't avoid such transfiguration in military training without blunting the point of the spear -- and I say this with full awareness of my ignorance on the subject -- but I don't see anything ineluctable about that as of now.

The one aspect of :
"There have always been people who decided that it would be a lot easier to take what someone else has produced rather than doing the hard work of producing it themselves."
that this article neglects is an army can be the ones doing the taking as a little general noted in our killing for the United Fruit Company of America.Or the genocide necessary(?) to the opening of the west.

Sebastian, what strictures do you imagine I'd be putting on military training? I expect them to know how to kill people in all sorts of ways, including the most gruesome and psychologically upsetting hand-to-hand methods if it were necessary.

I don't think it's too much to ask a general not to be telling his troops that killing is fun. This might not have an effect on most of them, but if you're speaking to several thousand young guys then it's reasonably certain a few of them are going to take it the "wrong" way. (Assuming there is a right way.)

Sebastian, I have proposed no strictures on training. My emphasis is on strictures against optional wars.

"And I should let the soldiers answer this rather than myself, but firing a weapon in combat or under fire is not as easy as it looks; ... Like, crawling into a hole during a noisy firefight being pretty natural."

Ok, I will...
Been there, done that...
Some 'studs' freeze up and some 'wimps' keep it together. I never had a problem shooting back, think about it, some asshole out there just tried to kill you! :) Makes it real easy to shoot back.
I rarely saw / heard of people 'freezing up' during a fire fight. Yes it does happen and for a dozen different reasons, but over all, the military training, taking care of your buddies and being pissed that some one just shot at you... firing a weapon in combat is not hard and Yeah, climbing to the bottom of a fox hole very rarely happened. (I will give you that hitting something in a fire fight is very hard…)

Now, After the firefight...
this is when the Chaplin and mental health professionals become busy. I, and I guess everyone, replays in their head what happened. I processed it and moved on but some guys just got 'stuck' replaying it... It was good when we (leaders / buddies) caught them in this condition, then the Chaplin or Doc could help.
I have one where the smell is stronger than the images. (near miss by a mortar)

I am lucky, I never went through an IED event. I think that sucks the worse - no way to let off that anger that someone just tried to kill you (or DID kill/wound one of your buddies). That feeling of being unable to 'control' the situation (shoot back)... I am very glad I did not have to go through that.

I have read your Blog - what the General was saying about working with Iraqis and conducting operations - yup, dead on from my experiences. Honor is important with Iraqis.

In a firefight, I would care less why my country sent me there. That is the LAST thing on my mind. 1. Staying alive, 2. Killing the bastard, fast, that's trying to kill me and my soldiers. 3. More ammo.

Now, after a patrol or a down day (ha! 1/2 day a week). We would sit around and bullshit why we where there...Sadam was a VERY bad man, and his two sons where a 1,000 times worse. They needed to die. I saw the places people where tortured at, I met the families that had relatives killed. I also believe that the Iraqi people could not do it with out our help, it was a truly professional police state, if not the best, one of the best.
(story - elementary student told teacher that father did not stand up when Sadam came on the TV to talk to the people... teacher told ISS, and father went to prison)
OK, I went to Iraq because my Commander told me to go (hey, I vote once every 4 years, but the rest of the time I pack my duffle bag, load my vehicle and move out when told to go- I am a soldier).

I understand Gen. Mattis' comment (about killing SOME people being fun) completely.

Mattis is a protector of the weak, a dying breed in this world. And nothing infuriates such a man more than someone victimizing a weaker person - the way that some people (in the example Mattis used) felt they had the right to physically abuse a woman for not wearing a veil. This is not a cultural difference - it's someone behaving immorally in absolute terms.

I have no problem whatever with Gen. Mattis' attitude. I just wish, as George III wished with "Mad" Anthony Wayne after the Battle of Montcalm, that his attitude could be communicated to all of our other generals. There are many, many worse things than being passionate about the protection of the weak and of one's own troops.

God bless you, General Mattis, wherever you are.

Couldn't have said it better myself Vance.
When it comes to killing AQ, I completely agree with Mattis. Slaughter them all.

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