General Mattis Quotes


And Gen. Mattis didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk. He led from the front. Indeed, on at least one occasion that I know of, the General was bloodied from a firefight or improvised explosive device while out on patrol with junior, enlisted Marines one-third his age. That’s what makes Gen. Mattis such a great warrior: He truly respects and cares for his Marines.

“Guardiano,” he told me, “I don’t give a damn about the officers. If they don’t like what they’re doing, they can get on a plane and leave the Corps — go back where they came from. But I do care deeply about those 18- and 19-year-old Lance Corporals out on the frontlines.”

We’ve gathered some of his best quotes, taken from this San Diego Union-Tribune profile, unless otherwise specified.

“You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it’s going to be bad.”

via Department of Defense

Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.

“The “dream world” he alludes to is a reference to a complacent attitude — one that can cost lives if troops aren’t vigilant.”

“If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don’t take the shot. Don’t create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act.”

via Dvidshub

As a co-author of the military’s counter-insurgency manual (with David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoke about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined among a ruthless enemy.

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”

via Department of Defense

The General is confident in his abilities and that of his Marines — he led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into


Afghanistan in 2001, the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed “Operation Vigilant Resolve”, and helped to plan the later “Operation Phantom Fury.”

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”


via Department of Defense

One of his “words to live by” for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.

In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.”

via Department of Defense

Some Mattis quotes don’t come without a degree of controversy, including this one.

Said while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, he was later counseled by his boss Gen. Hagee, who said “he should have chosen his words more carefully.”

“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.”

via Department of Defense

After the initial Iraq invasion, “Chaos” (his radio callsign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the “carrot and the stick” with Iraqi tribal leaders.

“The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some bastards in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim.”

via Department of Defense

Speaking to his Marines at al Asad, he tried to motivate them to stay sharp and continue the mission.

He ended the speech, telling them in Patton-esque fashion, “I feel sorry for every son of a bitch that doesn’t get to serve with you.”

“We’ve backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.”

via Department of Defense

Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence — but always carries the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn’t work out.

“There are some people who think you have to hate them in order to shoot them. I don’t think you do. It’s just business.”

via Department of Defense

Many Marines look up to Mattis as a cult-like figure. Nevertheless, he will most likely be remembered as a consummate professional.

A Marine officer we spoke with said, “the more I learned about him, the more I saw that the things we were doing right seemed to be associated with his philosophy of command.”

“Marines don’t know how to spell the word defeat”

via Department of Defense

As a highly-educated four-star General, Mattis probably can spell it, but he wants his Marines to know that they should never let it happen.

“The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.”

via Department of Defense

He often emphasizes to his troops that they need to be problem solvers, only using firepower as a last result.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

via Dvidshub

As a top General, we can safely assume that Mattis has had to sit through his fair share of awful PowerPoint briefings.

“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony—even vicious harmony—on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”

via Department of Defense

Mattis wants educated leaders that can be both book smart and be able to get the job done.

“Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they’re so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact.”

via Dvidshub

Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.

“Treachery has existed as long as there’s been warfare, and there’s always been a few people that you couldn’t trust.”

via Dvidshub

In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.

Mattis spoke to Congress on this point after a series of green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to deal with.

“a country that armed Stalin to defeat Hitler can certainly work alongside enemies of al-Qaida to defeat al-Qaida.”

via Dvidshub

The General is a student of history and avid reader.

He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.

“Fight with a happy heart.”

via Dvidshub

Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis. In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them that “we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression.”

“You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon.”

via Dvidshub

This line from his 2003 letter to his Marines foreshadows his contribution in 2006 to counter-insurgency doctrine, which stresses battlefield discipline, and protection of the civilian populace.

“For the mission’s sake, for our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in past battles — “who fought for life and never lost their nerve” — carry out your mission and keep your honor clean. Demonstrate to the world there is “No Better Friend — No Worse Enemy” than a US Marine.”

Robert Johnson — Business Insider

Mattis uses “never lost their nerve” in his 2003 letter to his men, utilizing a line from the Marines’ Hymn.

He goes on to offer another, telling them to “keep your honor clean.” Mattis, an avid reader of history, wants his Marines to live up to the legacy of past warriors.

You’ve heard quotes from a Marine Corps icon …
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