Marine Corps General James Mattis was known to his soldiers as “Mad Dog Mattis,” and has been called the “most revered Marine general in at least a generation” by the Military Times.
Soon, he’ll be known to Americans as the Secretary of Defense. Mattis is a living legend among the servicemen and women in the U.S. Military and America may soon learn how he’s earned the reputation that he enjoys among the people who served beneath him.
It’s with that thought in mind that we’ve collected some of Mattis’ most famous and memorable quotes on life, war, and soldiering.
- “I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.” – Mattis to the San Diego Union Tribune.
- “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.” – Mattis to the San Diego Union Tribune.
- You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith in your comrades on the left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.” – from a letter Mattis wrote to the 1st Marine Division, the day before they began their assault on Iraq in 2003. He is restated his point about using your head on the battlefield many times; another popular formulation was, “The most important six inches on the battlefield are between your ears.”
- “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.” — Mattis in an interview with Defense News.
- “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.” — Mattis in meeting with Iraqi leaders after invading.
- ‘Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.’ — Mattis to the Marines serving in Iraq.
- “While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression.”
- “Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.” – Mattis delivered the last two pieces of advice via letter to a Marine unit serving in Iraq.
- “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. 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. You’re gonna have a blast out here! I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn’t get to serve with you.” – Mattis drawing an important distinction between assholes and sons of bitches to a group of Marines in Iraq, as quoted by Thomas E. Ricks in his book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005.
- “Now from a distance, I look back on what the Corps taught me: to think like men of action, and to act like men of thought!” – from a speech Mattis gave when receiving the Marine Corps University Foundation’s 2014 Semper Fidelis Award.
- “I’ve had some ‘riotous excursions of the human spirit’ alongside the young Sailors and Marines and it’s time to leave the stage to the young leaders who got their rank the old-fashioned way — they earned their stripes in combat. The Corps is in good hands, and it’s been a privilege to serve with the Leathernecks. Now it’s time to go.” — Mattis in an email to the Marine Corps Times about retiring.