15 Unforgettable Quotes from Likely Secretary of Defense Gen. James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

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Donald Trump is eyeing Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to run the Pentagon as defense secretary. Mattis has many supporters in DC and he’s left a long line of memorable quotes in his time in service.

Mattis is legendary in the US military. His 44-year career leading Marines in battle is, to date, the most complete record of service compiled by any of Trump’s transition team. Here is a list of some of Mattis’s more memorable moments (in print, anyway).


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“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.” This may be the best advice he has to offer for the transition team.


“If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don’t take the shot. Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.” Those hoping to find a balanced hand advising the President-Elect will welcome Mattis, surely. His experience is exactly what’s missing from Trump’s own biography.


“I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f— with me, I’ll kill you all.” Yet it may be worth noting that Mattis also understands what’s at stake. In the war on terror, diplomacy has been an absolute failure. The quote above was a warning Mattis had given Iraqi military leaders, and it seemed to have worked.


“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a–holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”


He gave this harsh assessment of military character to a group of new Marines. It speaks for itself.  He ended the lecture with this admonition: “I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn’t get to serve with you. Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”


“We’ve backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.”


Again, Mattis seems willing to give anyone a chance, but he’s clear about what will happen if they betray his trust. Betraying Mattis would be, literally, epic.


While some of his quotes sound erudite and calculated, Mattis can cut loose, too.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. 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. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”


Later, after being scolded for his frank and honest portrayal of combat, Mattis apologized.  “I should have chosen his words more carefully.”

So he revised his position. “There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.” This is clearly a quote Trump understands–if only metaphorically.


Yet what Mattis is most known for is a calculated balance between intellect and ferocity. He’s been called “Mad Dog” by some, and “The Warrior Monk” by those who have a deeper understanding of his tactical mindset.


Before invading Iraq, he sent this message to his troops: “We will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression. You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”


“For the mission’s sake, for our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in past battles — ‘who fought for life and never lost their nerve’ — carry out your mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend — No Worse Enemy’ than a US Marine.”


Here are some of his other more quotable moments:

“The most important 6 inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”


“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”

“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”


“Treachery has existed as long as there’s been warfare, and there’s always been a few people that you couldn’t trust.”

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.” Which word? I assume he means failure.


“Fight with a happy heart.”

“Keep your honor clean.”