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Mattis: Obsolete Thinking Worse Than Obsolete Weapons

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2010 – The only thing worse than obsolete weapons in war is obsolete thinking, a top U.S. commander cautioned in remarks on revitalizing America’s military officer corps.

Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, yesterday emphasized the role education plays in enabling military officers to adapt quickly to strategic and tactical changes they encounter.

“It’s opening the aperture,” he said, describing the value afforded through education. “Once you stretch the mind open, it’s hard for it to go back to how it was before.”

Mattis delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, a policy think tank, in conjunction with a study by the center on improving the way military officers are trained, evaluated and promoted.

“The U.S. military must develop a model that trains and educates officers for the complex interactions of the current threat environment while being agile and versatile enough to adapt to a swiftly changing world beyond,” contributors John Nagl and Brian Burton wrote in the CNAS study published ahead of yesterday’s panel discussion. Mattis underscored the importance of complementing experience operating as part of a coalition on a battlefield with study of history and wars of the past.

“Through education built on an understanding of history and through experience gained on joint coalition operations, and probably commencing earlier in officers’ careers,” he said, “we can create an officer corps at ease with complex joint and coalition operations.”

Mattis stressed the need for a new “strategic reawakening” among military officers, making an apparent reference to the design in place before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

“By setting the problem first and spending a lot of time up front getting it right, you don’t invade a country, pull the statue down and say, ‘Now what do I do?’” he said, in an allusion to the iconic image of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s likeness being pulled down by a U.S. military recovery vehicle.

Focusing on the culture of the senior military officer corps, Mattis bemoaned that senior-ranking military members aren’t allowed ample time to reflect critically on important issues.

“I believe the single primary deficiency among senior U.S. officers today is the lack of opportunity for reflective thought,” he said. “We need disciplined and unregimented thinking officers who think critically when the chips are down and the veneer of civilization is rubbed off -- seeing the world for what it is, comfortable with uncertainty and life’s inherent contradictions and able to reconcile war’s grim realities with human aspirations.”

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Biographies:
Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis

Related Sites:
U.S. Joint Forces Command



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