5 Insights We Took From This Interview With Mattis By A High School Student

Leadership
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., June 20, 2017.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith

What happens when a White House staffer gets a photo snapped with a yellow sticky note showing the cellphone number of the Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis? First, everyone freaks out, understandably. Then, people start calling that phone number — and if you’re an enterprising journalist like Terry Fischer, a sophomore at Mercer Island High School, you manage to turn the administration’s PR blunder into an excellent interview with the military’s top dog.


Fischer and Jane Gormley, the editor-in-chief for the Mercer Island High School paper, The Islander, spoke with Mattis in June for a lengthy Q&A-style; interview, in which the retired general’s characteristic frankness was on full display. Here are five insights from Mattis’ interview with a high school student:

When it comes to war, you need to have an end-state in mind.

“If you look at the wars from probably Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, dare I say Afghanistan, every time we go into a war and we don’t figure out what the political end state is, we get into wars and we don’t know how to end them,” Mattis said. “Then you’ve got a real problem.”

Obama’s and Trump’s policies in the Middle East are not ‘dramatically different approaches.’

“I was a NATO officer and then a central command officer under President Obama and he was trying to reach out to the Arab people,” Mattis said. “He unfortunately didn’t always have the best advisors or he didn’t listen to his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, so we missed some opportunities there. But I think also under the Obama administration, there was a more of an accelerated campaign against the terrorists than perhaps the Obama administration was willing to sustain. I think the two administrations are more variations on a theme than they are dramatically different approaches. "

Related: We Asked Gen Mattis About Why Civilians Don’t Understand War »

You don’t beat an ideology with force, you do it with education.

“I don’t care for ideological people. It’s like those people just want to stop thinking,” Mattis said. “I think ideologies can be countered by showing people a better education and hope for the future by learning how to get along with one another. And for all of our problems in our country, we’re probably still the best example of that in the world.”

History really, really matters.

“The human condition, the aspirations, the dreams, the problems that are associated with being social animals, not being a hermit and living alone, but having to interact with others, whether it be your local school district, your community, your state, your county, your national, your international relations, history will show you not all the answers, but it’ll tell you a lot of the questions to ask and furthermore, it will show you how other people have dealt successfully or unsuccessfully with similar type issues.”

Why did Mattis take a call with a high school student?

“Whenever I can, I try to work with students who are doing research projects,” Mattis said. “I was at Stanford University for a little over three years after I got out of the Marines before I got surprised by this request I’d come back and be the secretary of defense. So, I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes, not the same ones we made.”

WATCH NEXT:

U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch

This article originally appeared on Military.com.

Inside Forward Operating Base Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan stands a wall painted with a mural of an airman kneeling before a battlefield cross. Beneath it, a black gravestone bookended with flowers and dangling dog tags displays the names of eight U.S. airmen and an American contractor killed in a horrific insider attack at Kabul International Airport in 2011.

It's one of a number of such memorials ranging from plaques, murals and concrete T-walls scattered across Afghanistan. For the last eight years, those tributes have been proof to the families of the fallen that their loved ones have not been forgotten. But with a final U.S. pullout from Afghanistan possibly imminent, those families fear the combat-zone memorials may be lost for good.

Read More Show Less
DOD photo

After a string of high profile incidents, the commander overseeing the Navy SEALs released an all hands memo stating that the elite Naval Special Warfare community has a discipline problem, and pinned the blame on those who place loyalty to their teammates over the Navy and the nation they serve.

Read More Show Less
Ed Mahoney/Kickstarter

In June 2011 Iraq's defense minister announced that U.S. troops who had deployed to the country would receive the Iraq Commitment Medal in recognition of their service. Eight years later, millions of qualified veterans have yet to receive it.

The reason: The Iraqi government has so far failed to provide the medals to the Department of Defense for approval and distribution.

A small group of veterans hopes to change that.

Read More Show Less
F-16 Fighting Falcon (Photo: US Air Force)

For a cool $8.5 million, you could be the proud owner of a "fully functioning" F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighter jet that a South Florida company acquired from Jordan.

The combat aircraft, which can hit a top speed of 1,357 mph at 40,000 feet, isn't showroom new — it was built in 1980. But it still has a max range of 2,400 miles and an initial climb rate of 62,000 feet per minute and remains militarized, according to The Drive, an automotive website that also covers defense topics, WBDO News 96.5 reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less