Then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, speaks to the media in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2004. Mattis popularized the phrase 'No better friend, no worse enemy,' a paraphrase from the Roman dictator Sulla, to describe U.S. Marines. (John Moore/The Associated Press)
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Retired Gen. James N. “Chaos” Mattis’s straight talk and battlefield toughness turned him into a Marine Corps icon.
Now the beloved four-star is sharing his hard-won insights into leadership and strategy with future generations of warfighters.
Mattis, who retired from the Marine Corps last spring, is collaborating on the book with best-selling military author Bing West. The project is still in its early stages, West told Marine Corps Times.
West, a Marine veteran himself and a former assistant secretary of defense, has written books that have appeared on the commandant’s reading list and New York Times best-seller list. He said the project with Mattis emerged out of a longterm friendship between the two.
“The process is that we see each other and spend time together,” he said. “We use recording devices and then have the audio typed up and transcribed.”
Then he and Mattis look over the transcriptions and discuss how they want to shape the content, he said.
West is no stranger to collaborative projects; he worked with Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer, a veteran Marine sergeant, to publish “Into the Fire,” Meyer’s account of the Battle of Ganjgal, in 2012. In 2004, West published “The March Up,” a collaborative work with retired Marine Maj. Gen. Ray L. Smith about the 1st Marine Division’s 2003 assault on Baghdad.
Mattis, a former head of U.S. Central Command, became a legend in the ranks for his straightforward, unvarnished leadership style, as well as his regard for his Marines. One story, possibly apocryphal, has it that as a one-star general, Mattis volunteered to take a Christmas duty watch so that a younger officer could spend the holiday with his family.
During a meeting with Iraqi military officers in 2003, Mattis famously said, “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.”
Since his retirement in March 2013, Mattis has completed a residence at Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. He is now serving as a visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in California.
Reached through the Hoover Institution, Mattis confirmed that a book is in the works but declined to offer many details.
“We’ll see if we can write a book that’s interesting to folks and perhaps a little helpful to them,” he said.■