By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2005; Page A05
The Marine Corps commandant yesterday urged a three-star general to choose his words "more carefully," after the general told a San Diego conference this week it was "a lot of fun to shoot" the enemy.
Lt. Gen. James N. Mattis, who commanded the 1st Marine Division in the 2003 Iraq invasion, drew the subtle reprimand after making the remarks at a panel discussion Tuesday on lessons of the Iraq war. While many U.S. military commanders speak with blunt bravado about killing, Mattis's remarks sparked criticism from military ethicists for creating the impression that he relished the act.
"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. . . . It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling," he said at the forum in San Diego.
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," he added. "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."
At the Pentagon yesterday, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, also obliquely chastised Mattis. "All of us who are leaders have a responsibility in our words, in our actions, to provide the right example all the time for those who look to us for leadership," he said in response to a reporter's question. Pace added that Mattis has proven his leadership ability in recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Commandant Michael W. Hagee also praised Mattis in a written statement as "one of the country's bravest and most experienced military leaders," who led his troops "brilliantly."
"While I understand that some people may take issue with the comments made by him, I also know he intended to reflect the unfortunate and harsh realities of war," Hagee said. "Lt. Gen. Mattis often speaks with a great deal of candor. I have counseled him concerning his remarks, and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully."
The NBC affiliate in San Diego videotaped Mattis's remarks and posted a transcript on its Web site yesterday.
While some Marine officers played down Mattis's remarks as off-the-cuff and in keeping with his brusque style, military ethicists sharply criticized them for showing poor leadership.
"Clearly for an officer from any service to say that publicly is unprofessional and inappropriate and sends a terrible message" to subordinates, said Jeff McCausland, director of the Leadership in Conflict Initiative at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and a former dean of the Army War College. "Those kinds of comments can translate into horrific events like the Marine who shot the wounded Iraqi," he said, referring to a Marine who was captured on video shooting an unarmed Iraqi prisoner at close range during the campaign to recapture Fallujah last November.
Mattis, who is commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, declined an interview request yesterday. His remarks have raised eyebrows at the Pentagon before. When his troops captured an airstrip in southern Afghanistan in November 2001, he declared: "The Marines have landed, and we now own a piece of Afghanistan."
Before leading the 1st Marine Division back to Iraq in 2004, he wrote his troops a letter stating: "You, my fine young men, are going to prove the enemy wrong -- dead wrong."