I can’t say I agree with the politics and viewpoints of most of the people Donald Trump has proposed for his cabinet, but there is a bright spot concerning Marine General James Mattis, who is rumored to be Trump’s possible pick for the Secretary of Defense. Mattis is huge on the value of reading. He has a 6,000-book library that he brings wherever he is stationed, and in 2004 he wrote a letter about the importance of reading that became a popular viral email in the days before social media.
Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say… “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.
He listed authors and titles of a number of works that he credited with helping him save countless lives of soldiers under his command.
I do think it would be a good idea if our Secretary of Defense was someone with a good grasp of history, as well as a keen appreciation for the wisdom to be found in the writings of those who went before. At the least, if the rumors have anything behind them, Mattis’s appreciation of literature is a sign that not everyone in Trump’s government will necessarily be as ignorant as Trump appears to be.
It’s also worth noting that 6,000 ebooks would easily fit on a hard drive, and be a lot easier for a military man to truck around from place to place than the library of 6,000 physical volumes Mattis brings with him. Perhaps as Secretary of Defense, Mattis could see to it that officers get issued digital libraries of the most important historical and strategic reading, to make it easier for them to be well-read in the field?
Well, actually I expect he’ll have greater concerns than that to occupy his mind, should he be offered and accept the job, but still—there are much worse qualities for a leader than also to be a reader.
(Found via Business Insider.)
@Chris: Wow, I was planning to go with the same item this morning. Thanks! Yes, props to Mattis for caring about books. In that respect this could be one of Trump’s smarter choices (even if I’m worried about the legal issues resulting from Mattis’s not having been out of the military long enough). Dream on, but what if Mattis could persuade Trump to keep intact the IMLS budget in the interest of both smarter military recruits and a smarter workforce in general?
Actually, some military services have strict limits on what “war fighters”—their word—can carry with them. Space to store ordinary books can also store classified documents that, deliberately or inadvertently, can fall into the wrong hands. That’s particularly true with our nuclear submarines. Here is a story on that:
Besides, if you’ve read a book properly, you’ve grasped what it says and no longer need to carry it about.
And speaking of cabinet appointments, I read someone who summed up this presidential transition quite well. A second-rate (or worse) executive chooses third rate (or worse) subordinates. That explains why Obama selected first Hillary and then Kerry as Secretary of State, giving us the most disasterous foreign policy—and then some—since Carter in the late-1970s. In contrast, a first-rate executive (Trump), has no problem selecting talent. He’s the best and wants to be backed up by the best.
You can argue, pro and con, whether Carter’s Camp David agreement was good or bad. By removing Egypt from Israel’s adversaries, it has prevent another war between Israel and the Arab world. They haven’t been able to defeat Israel’s powerful military with Egypt’s huge military. They stand no chance without it.
But I was living in Israel at the time of Camp David. When I traveled about the West Bank, I asked Palestinians what they thought of it. All hated it because it did nothing about their situation. Carter negotiated, getting both sides to give up what they were willing to give up to get what they wanted. But he did nothing to use that as leverage to settle other grievances, particularly Israel’s troublesome but necessary occupation. That’s where Camp David failed. It’s why negotiations have stalled for almost forty years.
Eight years of Obama has seen absolutely nothing that can be called a foreign polcy success. When Obama took office, the Middle East was so calm, he and Hillary tried to take credit for it. Now the region is torn by civil war, resurgent radicals, Russia’s intrusions, and failed governments, with Iran busily acquiring delivery systems and air defenses before going nuclear. The somber reality is that virtually anyone Trump appoints will be better than Obama/Hillary/Kerry. Our foreign policy has been so bad under Obama, even returning to average would be a dramatic improvement.
Indeed, the only bright spot in Middle East p0litics is that the Obama administration’s utter incompetence, particularly with Iran, has meant that the more stable Arab states now work closely with Israel to fight terrorism. I strongly suspect that the head of Saudi intelligence has the head of Israel intelligence on speed dial. When he hears of a terrorist plot in Israel, he’ll call and warn and vice-versa. They are that close. Both know they can’t depend on Obama. No one with any sense does.
The Arab states, (Sunni Islam) fear a nuclear (Shite, Farsi-speaking) Iran so much, that they now see Israel, with its Iron Dome missile defense, as important for their own defense. Israel has offered offered to provide them with Iron Dome. They’ve turned it down, but know that, in a pinch, Israel could be setting up Iron Dome in their countries within a matter of a days. That’s cooperation that Obama didn’t intend, but his blundering and pandering to Iran has brought that result.
In short, there’a no grounds for debate over the foreign policy impact of Trump’s election. It simply has to be better. We’ve already seen one illustration.
Carter, in one of his many failures of nerve, broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan to please China. Since Reagan needed to keep maximum pressure on the USSR, he chose not to restore those relations. He had an excuse. No subsequent president has had that excuse, particularly since the fall of the USSR. Taiwan is a stable, prosperous democracy. China is a repressive, one-party dictatorship. We should not be shunning the former in order to please the later. Period.
And what’s China going to do, reduce its trade with us? That’d help our domestic economy and create jobs. Put heavy trade barriers on U.S. imports to China? It’s already getting away with doing that.
One of life’s interesting facts is that those who yield to bullies get bullied. That’s been the Obama administration’s relationship with China. That’s why, when Obama made a state visit there recently, the Chinese felt free not to provide Air Force One with a stairway. He had to exit by the “servant’s exit” in the tail of the plane. You can hardly more insulting than that. And like the wimp he is, Obama didn’t complain.
With Taiwan, Trump’s sending a message that he’ll not be bullied, that actions have consequencies. For eight years, Obama has had a “kick me” sign placed on our nation’s back, hence Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. In the next four years, look for a lot of genuiflecting and politeness, even from the world’s nastiest regimes. Those who stand up to bullies, don’t get bullied. Indeed, they can often be deterred from bullying others.
The same is likely to be true with those vile corporate executives who’d like to win a fat bonus for themselves by moving jobs offshore. That is why they loved the Democrats so much they gave exceptionally generously to Hillary’s billion-dollar campaign. My hunch is that Trump will blend sticks and carrots to force them to think very carefully before they off-shore jobs.
And it certainly can be done. In the 1970s, when our domestic auto industry was in trouble from Asia imports, we pressured Asian auto makers to build factories here. That’s worked out quite well. There are two huge factories within an hour’s drive of me, and many dozens of subcontracting companies supplying them stretched along the freeway between those two factories.
I didn’t vote for either candidate, but I’m starting to suspect that Trump is not quite the lesser evil I thought he was, that he might be ideal for this time and place in our history. Hillary would have done what she’s always done, looted the country to enrich herself and her rich cronies. And most of the other Republicans lack the backbone to push through policies that are much needed.
Most important of all, during the last four year or so, matters have gotten so out of hand without the U.S. serving as the “world’s policeman,” that I began to fear we were entering a new 1930s, with Iran, Russia or China taking on the role of Nazi Germany and creating the risk of a nasty regional war that could spiral out of control. I’m starting to relax a bit. The president that Bill Clinton blasted in private as an “amateur” will be gone. That amateur was so arrogant, he’s never displayed any ability to learn.
To put it in Yiddish, in a few months our sclemiel with be replaced by a mentsh.
I love Yiddish. Its words express marvelously ideas that are hard to say quite as eloquently in other languages.
–Michael W. Perry, editor of Chesterton on War and Peace: Battling the Ideas and Movement that Led to Nazism and World War II
I’ve always enjoyed reading history although I read about it, not study it. It’s not really my favorite subject but it’s certainly high on the list. I read for pleasure.
However, I do think a good sense of history is one of the more important parts of being knowledgeable. History gives us context. Understanding any topic is about being familiar with it’s intricacies and it’s context. They’re equally important.
I’m nervous about anyone Trump appoints, simply because he’s in charge. But he is in charge so that’s that. And his choices seem to be a lot wiser than I expected, at least so far.
My great grandfather snuck into this country from Romania about 115 or so years ago and now that Trump has been elected I’m worried about being deported. 🙂
As it happens, our occasional author Felix P. lives in Romania now. So at least you’d have some company!
Wonder if, in that burst of reading that Mattis has done, whether he read up on the whole Enron thing and how *that* ended? Apparently not, since Mattis is *still* on the board of Theranos. You know about Theranos, don’t you? The company that has scammed (hundreds of) millions of dollars from investors with their blood processor tech which didn’t actually work?