“Mad Dog” Mattis: “Warriors and Citizens”: how distinct should the military be from civilian society?

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Author: James Mattis, editor
Title, Subtitle: Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military
publication date 2016
ISBN 978-0-8179-1934-4
Publication: Hoover Press, 360 pages, 11 chapters, hardcoer and Kindle, indexed, endnotes each chapter
Link: official site


President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of former Marine Corps general James Mattis (“Mad Dog”) for Secretary of Defense has drawn attention to the book which he just edited, “Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military”. Perhaps it is fitting to review this book on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

The book has essays by various contributors, including Rosa Brooks, Lindsay P. Cohn, Matthew Colford, Thimas Donnelly, Peter D. feaver, Maj. Jim Golby, Jim Hake, Tod Lindberg. MacKubin Thomas Owens, Cody Poplin, Nadia Schadlow, Kiro Schake, Alec J. Sugarman, Benjamin Wittes.

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The last essay, “Enduring a Civil-Military Connection” is co-authored witk Kori Schak, and it pretty well summarizes the basic moral paradoxes that American civilian society and leadership must face in managing its military. In some ways, the tone and even some of the arguments remind me of my own writing, particularly in Chapter2 (about the military draft during Vietnam) and Chapter 4 (about the military gay ban, into the early years of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”). Mattis is said to have read almost every book ever written, so maybe that includes mine.

Mattis insists that the civilian public understand that the military world is very different in many ways from the customary civilian society: it is responsible for winning wars against enemies who don’t play by the same rules. It needs personnel who bond together in “unit cohesion” in a warrior culture, as offensive or personally problematic as “warrior values” are to many civilians. Several of the other essays mention the early days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. One mentions that President Clinton lost the initial round in Congress (to Sam Nunn, influences by Charles Moskos) even when he controlled the House. Another essay criticizes Colin Powell and others for threatening to resign over Clinton’s plans. One essay notes well the resistance of many American campuses to allow ROTC and military recruiters, and traces the history particularly at Stanford. (It’s interesting to remember that Mark Zuckerberg was a freshman at Harvard when the ROTC controversy was all over campus; something he would have known about during the year before he started Facebook.) Mattis does not call for overturning the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” or blatantly refuse to allow women in combat, but he does suggest that the civilian leadership will need to defer more to military leadership when facing an asymmetric enemy with such horrifying values (although we can wonder if ISIS is more terrible than Nazi Germany, whom we faced before). He (as do several other contributors) discusses the cost of an all volunteer military (which, remember, President Kennedy had said in 1961 would become an “all black Army) but he does not take up the possibility of reinstating a draft nor does he take up the opposite idea of abolishing the Selective Service System. He also says that American civilians don’t grasp what it would be like to lose a war, although we did “lose” the Vietnam war, as political support failed after 1973.

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In fact, one of the reasons why the “military ban” matters (and why I re-entered the debate in 1993) is that war can affect civilians who are used to peace and separation from geo-politics. Someone who excluded from “duty” or risk-sharing due to a purported or speculative character defect may well experience loss of opportunity in other areas of life. Furthermore, cherished ideas like freedom of speech (and on social media as we know it know) can be undermined by necessary government reactions to an enemy that places ordinary civilians in the crosshairs as if they were combatants (unwilling but somehow complicit).

Along those lines, Colford and Sugarman, “Young Person’s Game: Connecting with Millennials”, suggests that ROTC or service academy graduates could serve alongside civilians in areas like the CIA or NSA (they already do), or in community activities like teaching disadvantaged youth. That’s actually an idea that is important in a retrospective early chapter of my novel draft “Angel’s Brother”.

Lindberg discusses the public reaction to some movies, especially the reaction of the Left to “American Sniper” (2015), even inovling Michael Moore, before mentioning some other movies, like “Mister Roberts”, “South Pacfiic” (the likeable Joe Cable is killed), “Catch 22”, “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Naked and the Dead”, “From Here to Eternity” (my parents’ favorite), “Mash” (with all the gore), and of course “Patton”.

Brooks notes the earlier attitudes toward the draft, that men were fungible (an idea of George Gilder in “Men and Marriage” (1986)), but young women were more vital to keeping the family or tribe going — almost feeding the “demographic winter” argument that the alt-right likes today.

Several authors note the Clausewitz belief that war, politics, and civilian society in practice are more like a continuum, with blurred boundaries.

(Posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2016, at 3:45 PM EST)

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