Today Secretary of Defense James Mattis addressed the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in Washington, DC. AUSA is a private association that is sort of the Army’s lobbying and public relations arm. (Full disclosure: I was a member for quite a few years and ran in the Army 10-Miler that always precedes the annual meeting. My best time was 60:03 and it ain’t bragging if you can do it.)
I’m including the entire speech below for a couple of reasons. First, I like Mattis and the Army will always be my first love. Having them both together was wonderful. If you want to see the mutual respect and affection there, just watch the introduction. Mattis served with the current Army leadership in combat, he commanded some of them in combat, and if you want to see how to handle an introduction to a speech you could do much worse than watching this.
For what follows, I’m relying on a much shorter clip:
The key theme Mattis focuses on is readiness and he uses T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War as a central focus. This Kind of War is about the US Army in Korea. It isn’t all in vogue with modern historians because of its lack of LBGTQ characters, it ignores intersectionality, it definitely isn’t woke, and it doesn’t see war as anything but what it is, which is the very dirty realization of Clausewitz’s dictum that war is merely political intercourse carried on by different means. Mattis uses this quote:
Inside the Army, Fehrenbach is most famous for his description of the cost of poor readiness in the parable that is the saga of the destruction of Task Force Smith, the first US Army unit to arrive in Korea after the North Korean invasion.
He followed this quote up by saying
We want to be so ready, and be very much aware that we fight the way we come, that everybody in the world wants to deal with SecState Tillerson and the Department of State and not with the Department of Defense and the United States Army.
(we will pause now for a short cigarette break.)
At the end there is a Q&A session and the last question is on Korea. You really need to watch the whole thing to get a flavor for what he’s saying.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday urged military leaders “to be ready” with military options for President Donald Trump to deal with North Korea should diplomacy fail — after Trump reprimanded his top brass last week for not providing him contingency plans quickly enough.
“Right now it is a diplomatically led, economic sanctions-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path,” Mattis said following a speech at the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army in Washington. “Now, what does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say, so there’s one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is we have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ if needed.”
“How many times have you seen the UN Security Council vote unanimously, now twice if a row, to impose sanctions on North Korea?” he asked. “The international community has spoken, but that means the U.S. Army must stand ready.”
During his speech Monday Mattis also referred to a history of early U.S. Army failures during the Korean War in the 1950s, T.R. Fehrenbach’s “This Kind of War.”
The book is a cult classic in some parts of officer corps – and a cautionary tale about military action on the Korean peninsula.
Fielding the question on how to avoid a new war in Korea, Mattis brought up the book again. “You know there’s a reason I recommended T.R. Fehrenbach’s book, that we all pull it out and read it one more time.”