The Warrior Monk General and his Traveling Library of 6000 books


Renaissance Man:
a modern scholar who is in a position to acquire more than superficial knowledge about many different interests…

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General Mattis attends the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing

In a time when e-books, especially the Kindle and its applications, are threatening the long-term future of physical books, here’s an amazing fact about a renaissance man in a most unexpected job.  Marine Corps General James Mattis, the “Warrior Monk General,” has been nominated to replace General David Petraeus, who is now in Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO’s top military officer.

Here is a pretty amazing fact about this General, from Morning Edition’s (NPR profile) from this morning, July 27, 2010 (listen to the segment here; read the transcript here):

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says Mattis has the judgment and intellect to do the job. Mattis is known to carry books of Roman philosophy with him on every combat mission, and he’s got a personal library of 6,000 books that he insists on taking with him from post to post.
But beyond the books and bravado is a general who can connect with his troops.

6000 books!  Which he takes with him from post to post.  This is a man who knows what he read, he knows where he read it, and he finds these books to be part of his indispensable tool kit.  He has to have them handy.  I think I understand this mindset.

Here’s a little more about him, from the Christian Science Monitor article, Gen. James Mattis: Petraeus’s new boss boasts a salty mouth, keen mind:

Dubbed the “warrior monk,” Mattis is single, is a student of history, and is a Marine to his core. Taken out of context, his comments might seem to be precisely the opposite of America’s more nuanced counterinsurgency goals – protect civilians, use force with discretion.
But Mattis left behind a motto with the marines he led in Iraq’s Anbar Province: “First, do no harm.”
He is, in many ways, the model of what he wants his soldiers and marines to become: fierce when provoked and unblinking in the face of war’s savagery, but determined to make intelligence and forbearance as great a measure of valor as violence.
In Iraq, according to a report in Slate.com, Mattis talked to his troops about fellow marines who cleared the road for an Iraqi funeral procession and even removed their helmets as a sign of respect – willingly making themselves vulnerable. To Mattis, who studied counterinsurgencies from Algeria to Lawrence of Arabia before deploying to Iraq, warfare is about risk, and the risks inherent in counterinsurgencies are as much about not fighting in order to win over the local population as fighting to kill enemies.

I am not naïve – keeping his 6,000 books handy does not guarantee wisdom.  In fact, he has made pretty controversial moves (mistakes/missteps) over the last few years. But there is something comforting and hopeful about a warrior who reads so widely and treasures the wisdom so greatly.

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