“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,” Mattis and West write.
He is also willing to submit himself to an institution. Somebody like Trump is anti-institutional. He thinks every organization is about himself, and every organization’s procedures and traditions should bend to his desires.
But a person with an institutional mind-set has a deep reverence for the organization he has joined and how it was built by those who came before. He understands that institutions pass down certain habits, practices and standards of excellence.
Mattis asserts that his way of doing warfare is simply the Marine way. In the Marine way, for example, “Amateur performance is anathema, and the Marines are bluntly critical of falling short. … Personal sensitivities are irrelevant.” Each mission gives him another body of knowledge, another strength, greater capacity to live execute his devotion to his country.
James Davison Hunter, who wrote, “The Death of Character,” once noted that good character does not require religious faith. “But it does require the conviction of truth made sacred, abiding as an authoritative presence within consciousness and life, reinforced by habits institutionalized within a moral community. Character, therefore, resists expedience; it defies hasty acquisition. This is undoubtedly why Søren Kierkegaard spoke of character as ‘engraved,’ deeply etched.”
In Mattis’s career you see something one saw in the great George Marshall’s career: That you need to work within a structure to be creative. Both generals were total company men, dedicated to their service, yet they were constantly trying to change its practices to keep up with the times.
Mattis barely mentions Trump in this book, and doesn’t describe what must have been one of the truly challenging tasks of his life — working under Trump without getting tainted.
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