James N. Mattis is a retired United States Marine Corps general who served as the Commander of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) from 2010 to 2013. He was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, January 20, 2017.
- "What keeps you awake at night?"
- "Nothing, I keep other people awake at night."
- Secretary of Defense James Mattis, May 2017, responding to a question asked by CBS journalist John Dickerson.
- Combining al Qaeda's significant fighting capabilities with a stronger focus on the administrative capabilities that might permit it to hold ground, the Islamic State copied the latter from Hezbollah's model. Basically, Islamic State is a combined al Qaeda and Lebanese Hezbollah on steroids, destabilizing the region, dissolving borders/changing the political geography in the mid-east, and hardening political positions that make mid-east peace-building more remote by the day.
- The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some assholes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, cunning, obedience and alertness, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim. It’s really a hell of a lot of fun. You’re gonna have a blast out here!
- Addressing a gathering of 200 Marines in al Asad, as quoted in the Armed Forces Journal article "Fiasco", published on August 1, 2006. 
- There is only one ‘retirement plan’ for terrorists.
- Speaking on the subject of combating insurgents. 
- Good afternoon, Marines. Thank you for your attention so late on a Friday. I know the women of Southern California are waiting for you, so I won't waste your time.
- Opening remark made by Mattis in an address of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Marines at Camp Pendleton in September 2002. As quoted by Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 163.
- 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’: Alexander 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. We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience. ‘Winging it’ and filling body bags as we sort out what works reminds us of the moral dictates and the cost of competence in our profession.
- Nov. 20, 2003, Addressing the detractors of untested Marine tactics in Iraq. 
- 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.
- Panel discussion in San Diego, California (1 February 2005) as quoted in "General: It's 'fun to shoot some people'" CNN (4 February 2005)(For a more contextualized explanation of General Mattis' remarks, see this essay by one of the Marines who served under Mattis: "Breaking the Warrior Code" The American Spectator (February 11, 2005) by John R. Guardiano
- For decades, Saddam Hussein has tortured, imprisoned, raped and murdered the Iraqi people; invaded neighboring countries without provocation; and threatened the world with weapons of mass destruction. The time has come to end his reign of terror. On your young shoulders rest the hopes of mankind. When I give you the word, together we will cross the Line of Departure, close with those forces that choose to fight, and destroy them. Our fight is not with the Iraqi people, nor is it with members of the Iraqi army who choose to surrender. While we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat all others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam’s oppression. Chemical attack, treachery, and use of the innocent as human shields can be expected, as can other unethical tactics. Take it all in stride. Be the hunter, not the hunted: never allow your unit to be caught with its guard down. Use good judgment and act in best interests of our Nation. You are part of the world’s most feared and trusted force. Engage your brain before you engage your weapon. Share your courage with each other as we enter the uncertain terrain north of the Line of Departure. Keep faith in your comrades on your left and right and Marine Air overhead. Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit. For the mission’s sake, our country’s sake, and the sake of the men who carried the Division’s colors in the 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 U.S. Marine.
- Mattis' words in a message to the 1st Marine Division in March 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War, as quoted in "Eve of Battle Speech" in The Weekly Standard (1 March 2003); also quoted in War Stories: Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003) by Oliver North, p. 53
- Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.
- One of the rules Maj. Gen. James Mattis gave his Marines to live by in Iraq, as quoted in Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006) by Thomas E. Ricks; as excerpted in Armed Forces Journal (August 2006)
- I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.
- After the invasion of Iraq -and after sending his tanks and artillery home- Mattis sent this message to the Iraqi leaders in every area his men served in, as quoted in Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006) by Thomas E. Ricks; as excerpted in Armed Forces Journal (August 2006)
- None of the widely touted new technologies and weapons systems "would have helped me in the last three years [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. But I could have used cultural training [and] language training. I could have used more products from American universities [who] understood the world does not revolve around America and [who] embrace coalitions and allies for all of the strengths that they bring us."
- Speaking at a professional conference on military transformation, urging the Pentagon to invest in efforts that would "diminish the conditions that drive people to sign up for these kinds of insurgencies." Breaking the Warrior Code (February 2005)
- 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.
- At the May 2010 JFCOM Conference Ares blog, Aviation Week (June 2010)
- PowerPoint makes us stupid.
- Referring to the ubiquitous presentation software at a brief in North Carolina in April 2010, as quoted in We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint (2010) by Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times
- Treachery has existed as long as there’s been warfare, and there’s always been a few people that you couldn’t trust.
- In response to a question during a congressional hearing about whether the U.S. should modify its Afghan strategy in response to six U.S. soldiers being killed by Afghan soldiers between Feb. 23 and March 1. As quoted in Key commanders have their say on Afghanistan (2012) by Walter Pincus, The Washington Post
First Message to the U.S. Department of Defense
Message sent from Mattis on January 20, 2017, the day he was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Defense. Release No. NR-020-17. 
- It’s good to be back and I’m grateful to serve alongside you as Secretary of Defense. Together with the Intelligence Community we are the sentinels and guardians of our nation. We need only look to you, the uniformed and civilian members of the Department and your families, to see the fundamental unity of our country. You represent an America committed to the common good; an America that is never complacent about defending its freedoms; and an America that remains a steady beacon of hope for all mankind. Every action we take will be designed to ensure our military is ready to fight today and in the future. Recognizing that no nation is secure without friends, we will work with the State Department to strengthen our alliances. Further, we are devoted to gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense, thereby earning the trust of Congress and the American people. I am confident you will do your part. I pledge to you I’ll do my best as your Secretary. MATTIS SENDS
Quotes about Mattis
- Farther down the line, in the middle of a gravelly flat near the runway's end, I approached another fighting hole, careful to come from the rear and listen for the verbal challenge. It was an assault rocket team, and there should have been two Marines awake. In the moonlight, I saw three heads silhouetted against the sky. I slid down into the hole with a rustle of cascading dirt. General Mattis leaned against a wall of sandbags, talking with a sergeant and a lance corporal. That was real leadership. No one would have questioned Mattis if he'd slept eight hours each night in a private room, to be woken each morning by an aide who ironed his uniforms and heated his MREs. But there he was, in the middle of a freezing night, out on the lines with his Marines.
- Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 118.
- General Mattis arrived a few minutes later, clearing the atmosphere like a thunderstorm on a humid afternoon. Mattis is kinetic. The troops who knew him from Afghanistan loved him, and everyone else loved him by reputation. Stars on a collar can throw a barrier between leader and led, but Mattis' rank only contributed to his hero status. Here was an officer, a general, who understood the Marines, who, in fact, was one of them. I caught Wynn's eye and leaned toward him to whisper a question: "You know what Mattis's call sign is?" He shook his head. "Chaos. How fucking cool is that?"
- Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 162-163
- General Mattis closed with a divisionwide directive: no Marine in the First Marine Division would deploy with more personal gear than was allowed to an infantry lance corporal. No cots, no coffeepots, no Game Boys, CD players, or satellite telephones. Every man would sleep on the ground, and every man would shoulder an equal portion of the daily hardship. It was a Spartan concept, quintessentially Mattis, and I liked it.
- Nathaniel Fick, One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer (2005), p. 164.
- The General is a small man in his mid-fifties who moves and speaks quickly, with a vowel-mashing speech impediment that gives him a sort of folksy charm. A bold thinker, Mattis' favorite battlefield expression is "Doctrine is the last refuge of the unimaginative." On the battlefield, his call sign is "Chaos." His plan for the Marines in Iraq would hinge on disregarding sacred tenets of American military doctrine. His goal was not to shield his Marines from Chaos, but to embrace it. No unit would embody this daring philosophy than First Recon.
- Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 10.
- In the months leading up to the war on Iraq, battles over doctrine and tactics were still raging within the military. The struggle was primarily between the more cautious "Clinton generals" in the Army, who advocated a methodical invasion with a robust force of several hundred thousand, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his acolytes, who argued for a much smaller invasion force- one that would rely on speed and mobility more than on firepower. Rumsfeld's interest in "maneuver warfare," as the doctrine that emphasizes mobility over firepower is called, predated invasion planning for Iraq. Ever since becoming Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld had been pushing for his vision of a stripped-down, more mobile military force on the Pentagon as part of a sweeping transformation plan. Mattis and the Marine Corps had been moving in that direction for nearly a decade. The Iraq campaign would showcase the Marines' role in Iraq as a rush. While the U.S. Army- all-powerful, slow-moving and cautious- planned its methodical, logistically robust movement up a broad, desert highway, Mattis prepared the Marines for an entirely different campaign. After seizing southern oil facilities within the first forty-eight hours of the war, Mattis planned to immediately send First Recon and a force of some 6,000 Marines into a violent assault through Iraq's Fertile Crescent. Their mission would be to seize the most treacherous route to Baghdad- the roughly 185-kilometer-long, canal-laced urban and agricultural corridor from Nasiriyah to Al Kut.
- Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 11.
- Saddam had viewed this route, with its almost impenetrable terrain of canals, villages, rickety bridges, hidden tar swamps and dense groves of palm trees, as his not-so-secret weapon in bogging down the Americans. Thousands of Saddam loyalists, both Iraqi regulars and foreign jihadi warriors from Syria, Egypt and Palestinian refugee camps, would hunker down in towns and ambush points along the route. They had excavated thousands of bunkers along the main roads, sown mines and propositioned tens of thousands of weapons. When Saddam famously promised to sink the American invaders into a "quagmire," he was probably thinking of the road from Nasiriyah to Al Kut. It was the worst place in Iraq to send an invading army. Mattis planned to subvert the quagmire strategy Saddam had planned there by throwing out a basic element of military doctrine: His Marines would assault through the planned route and continue moving without pausing to establish rear security. According to conventional wisdom, invading armies take great pains to secure supply lines to their rear, or they perish. In Mattis' plan, the Marines would never stop charging.
- Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War (2004), p. 11-12.