Former Secretary of Defense Gen. Jim Mattis Speaks at DBU

General Mattis
Jim Falk and General Jim Mattis

His call sign is Chaos but he is calling for civility. On Friday night, General James Mattis spoke in Dallas about his new book, the need for leadership, and the importance of civility in today’s tribal culture. According to Gen. Mattis, “We need more friendliness in this country.”

The event took place in the Pilgrim Chapel at Dallas Baptist University. Working in conjunction with the DMA Arts and Letters Live Series and the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth, the Institute for Global Engagement presented An Evening with General Mattis. With approximately 1,500 people in attendance and over 200 ROTC cadets tuning in via livestream, the program began with a special thanks to the veterans in the audience and the cadets in the field. Their training had them in Seagoville, Texas, but officials made sure the cadets had an opportunity to hear from one of America’s great soldier-scholars.

Gen. Mattis is currently traveling the country talking about his new book, Call Sign Chaos. Written with Bing West, an author and former Marine, the book highlights Mattis’ four decades of service in the Marine Corps. Chaos, Mattis' Marine Corps call sign, originated from a cheeky compliment made by his staff. It stands for “colonel has another outstanding solution.” Mattis has solutions largely because he is well-versed in history.

According to Mattis, “The most important 6 inches on the battlefield are between the ears.” The General likewise noted that “life is too short to learn everything on your own.”

Throughout his remarks, he laced references from history and quotes from great thinkers into his personal accounts from the battlefield. In his book, he writes: “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you. Any commander who claims he is ‘too busy to read’ is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.”

According to Mattis, leadership means “reaching the souls of your troops, instilling a sense of commitment and purpose in the face of challenges so severe that they cannot be put into words.” In his work, he elaborates on this concept, tracing it through areas of direct leadership, executive leadership, and strategic leadership.

A key to leadership, for Mattis, is problem solving. As he bluntly noted, “If you don’t like problems, stay out of leadership.” Another key lies in the ability to keep and maintain strong alliances with good friends. “Nations with allies thrive, and those without wither,” he comments.  “It is better to have a friend with deep flaws than an adversary with enduring hostility.”

That hostility has always been present with our enemies, but it is increasingly becoming a characteristic among our fellow citizens. But for General Mattis, there is great value in strengthening friendships with our allies and maintaining civility with our fellow citizens. He refused to comment on President Trump throughout the night, saying that he is “not going to add any more fuel on the fire.” For Mattis: “We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism need not disrupt our experiment.”

As he welcomed the crowd to the event, DBU President Dr. Adam Wright spoke about the magnitude of the evening and DBU’s mission for its students to “leave this place, University Hill, better than when they came.” Quoting Ernest Hemingway, he reminded the crowd, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

On Friday night, Chaos didn’t add any fuel to the fire, but he did put a little civility back into this great civilization.

Written by Dr. Nick Pitts

Dr. Nick Pitts is the Executive Director of the Institute for Global Engagement, a sector dedicated to addressing issues in the public square with Biblical distinctiveness, at Dallas Baptist University.

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