Mad Dog on the Prowl: the Blood-soaked Career of General James Mattis

CounterPunch carried a version of this piece on February 8, 2005, and with the news that retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis is being considered by President-elect Trump for a post in his administration it is advisable to reflect on the character of the man.  I’ve cut it down from its original length.

In using the description ‘knuckle-dragging buffoon’ I am of course referring directly (but far from exclusively) to the loutish Lieutenant General James Mattis, a US Marine officer who has been grossly over-promoted from latrine orderly. Recently [February 4, 2005] he disgraced his country, his uniform and the Profession of Arms by boasting that he is a brutal thug. To remind you, what he said concerning his personal military ethos was : “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 front with you. I like brawling . . . You go into Afghanistan, you’ve 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.”  These were his public words. They make me wonder what this man (I use the word loosely) might really think about in the depths of his diseased and malevolent mind.

Of course he has not suffered in the slightest for his glorification of killing. The official whitewash brush was wielded immediately after his announcement that he considers it a hell of a lot of fun to do the thing he thinks he is good at.

It was Mattis who dismissed photographic evidence of the slaughter of dozens of people by US forces at an Iraqi wedding party last year [2004]. The wedding took place in western Iraq, and Mattis denied there had been an atrocity. He said he could not understand how a wedding could take place in the desert, so he blitzed the gathering. He did not know that the desert is home to thousands of families, settled and nomadic, who have relatives and friends in villages, towns and cities, and that these people come to visit on occasions of celebration or grief. The man betrayed his appalling ignorance of the culture and customs of the country by exclaiming “Ten miles from the Syrian border and 80 miles from the nearest city and a wedding party? Don’t be naïve. Plus they had 30 males of military age with them. How many people go to the middle of the desert to have a wedding party?”.

Thousands of them throughout the year, you poor dumb cluck.

And here, from a first-hand witness, recorded by reporter Rory McCarthy, is what Mattis achieved at that wedding party:

“ ‘The bombing started at 3 a.m.,’ she said yesterday from her bed in the emergency ward at Ramadi general hospital, 60 miles west of Baghdad. ‘We went out of the house and the American soldiers started to shoot us. They were shooting low on the ground and targeting us one by one.’ She ran with her youngest child in her arms and her two young boys, Ali and Hamza, close behind. As she crossed the fields a shell exploded close to her, fracturing her legs and knocking her to the ground. She lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. ‘I left them because they were dead,’ she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell. ‘I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn’t kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me’.”    (According to the US military, all this was propaganda.)

It was General Mattis who caused the disaster, the slaughter, which he considered to be of no importance. But then we have to remember that he thinks that “It’s a helluva lot of fun to shoot some people.”

The civilized world would like to have evidence about the atrocity , but not, of course, the barbaric weirdoes who agree with Mattis that “It’s fun to shoot some people”. The sickening thing is that when he said this, during a presentation to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, he “evoked laughter and applause” in the audience, so obviously there are many more demented buffoons out there.

Can you imagine it? — “It’s fun to shoot some people” giggles an American general, and there is “laughter and applause” from his audience. Are these real people? It is difficult in this supposedly civilized era to believe that two hundred citizens of an advanced western country would laugh and clap their hands when a general declares he thinks it fun to shoot people. It happened in Nazi Germany when fascist functionaries described what they had done or would do to Jews. Now it happens in America when a government functionary describes what he has done to Afghans. None of the audience spoke out later, apart from retired Vice Admiral Edward H Martin who said “I don’t think any of us who have ever fought in wars liked to kill anybody”. He appears to have been the only human being in the whole gathering. What on earth has America come to?

Mattis, unlike the honorable Admiral Martin, relishes killing people and is apparently well-known for his activities. No doubt this is why he has been promoted well beyond his ability. When I served in Vietnam with the Australian Army there was a saying in both our armies – “Stuff up and Move up”. (This is a family journal, so I use the word ‘stuff’.) What it meant was this : the war in Vietnam was a disaster, but McNamara and all ‘The Best and the Brightest’ in Washington could not afford to reveal themselves as the incompetent boobies they were. They lost touch with reality and rewarded with promotion those who went along with their dismal self-deception that Vietnam was a winnable war.

Senior officers who were hopelessly incompetent in Vietnam were not sacked. The administration could not possibly do that, because it would be an admission of failure – not of the officer concerned (although that might be considered a fairly important factor), but of those involved in the system as a whole. The pattern is being repeated.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “On April 4 [2004], Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, whose units would carry the battle [in Falluja], summoned his commanders to a final briefing. The general, known as ‘Mad Dog Mattis’ to his men, made it clear that the Marines were now in warrior mode. ‘You know my rules for a gunfight?’ he asked a reporter outside the meeting. ‘Bring a gun, bring two guns, bring all your friends with guns’.”

After a period of chaos, Mattis began to negotiate with some Iraqis in Falluja. According to the LA Times’ report (and other sources) “He struck a deal to allow them to raise a force of local men, the Falluja Brigade, to take control of the city.”

Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters “The Fallujah brigade didn’t work; and they tried, and they’re sorry. And they’re not going to let it sit there, they’re going to do something else about it. And life will go on.” In other words, Major General Mattis had stuffed up.

Then, naturally, he moved up.  And stuffed up again.

Then Rumsfeld announced that “the matter is closed” concerning his paranoid general. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Hagee, issued a statement saying “Lt. Gen. Mattis often speaks with a great deal of candor. I have counseled him concerning his remarks and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully.” More carefully?  How can you be ‘more careful’ about saying you get a kick out of killing people?  —  Maybe : “I like shooting people, but only gently”?  Or how about : “It’s fun to kill people, providing they enjoy it”?

The 2005 piece ended:

It is the attitude of Mattis and his breed – and there are lots like him;  think of the deranged General Boykin, for example – that has drawn US forces into the disaster that Iraq has become. Their swaggering, triumphal, smack-’em-in-the-mouth approach has caused millions of Iraqis to hate American troops because from day one the Mattis-type people acted as if every Iraqi was an enemy. They weren’t then, but most of them are, now, thanks to those in the military who followed the example of the all-American Marine who just loves killing people. He is a knuckle dragging buffoon, but the dangerous thing for the world is that he is a hero to millions.


As I reflect on Mattis,  almost twelve years later,  Bloomberg has just reported that “James Mattis may have the inside track to become U.S. defense secretary after President-elect Donald Trump gave the retired U.S. Marine Corps general a big thumbs-up for a second day.”  President-elect Trump had tweeted that “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”

Some of us hoped that The Donald might calm down a bit and appoint at least a few rational people to important posts in the new administration.  But if he’s going to choose people like Mad Dog Mattis, there isn’t much hope for the world.  We should remember that on January 22 this year Trump boasted “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”  Amazingly, he was probably right, and as Mattis believes that “it’s a helluva lot of fun to shoot some people” it seems that they have a lot in common.

It’s all over, bar the shooting.

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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