Many are only now starting to become aware of Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, as his selection as Secretary of Defense (pending approval of a waiver of the National Security Act of 1947) has piqued the interest of anyone paying attention to the news. Yet Marines have been broadly aware of him for many years as Mattis served in the Marine Corps from 1969 to 2013. Indeed, Mattis has developed an almost cult like following among many Marines, particularly among those who served under him in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For years now, I have seen my Marine friends posting comments about Mattis on social media and hearing all sorts of stories about his bravado. I recall once having lunch a few years ago with an old Marine friend, Christopher LaVigne, with whom I had recently reconnected. I recall that at one point in our conversation, Chris, a big 6 foot 3-inch-tall former Marine Staff Sgt. who has worked as a trucker for the last 20 years, started talking about Mattis, and quoting him, even pulling up quotations on his smart phone to show to me. I recall thinking how if a former Marine twenty years removed from the Marine Corps saw Mattis in such affectionate terms, it suggested a lot about the impact Mattis had on the psyche of the Marine Corps more broadly, as his legend has only grown in recent years since his retirement. Continue reading →
I was just reading this selection (below) from a chapter in my dissertation. After celebrating the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps recently, then reading St. Bernard’s very positive description of the Templars, it struck me how much he might also have liked modern Marines.
“Writing around the year 1129, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most influential religious voices of the twelfth-century, found it troublesome that the knights of his era had grown to love “effeminate locks” and silk clothing decorated with silver, gold, and precious stones that were impractical for combat. Indeed, Bernard attacked the highly prized traditional masculine persona of secular knights when, regarding their flamboyant apparel, he asked, “Are these the trappings of a warrior or are they not rather the trinkets of a woman?” This was in stark contrast, Bernard noted, to the unwashed Knights Templars, who dressed simply, wore their hair dirty and short, and always maintained what was, for Bernard, the properly rugged appearance of the true warrior. In drawing such a sharp distinction between secular knights and Templars, Bernard highlighted two models of warrior masculine identity that existed at the time. Yet the differences of appearance identified by Bernard above only begin to scratch the surface of the much larger distinctions that existed between the two models in how they understood their roles as men and warriors in medieval European Christian society.”
Well, at least Bernard would have appreciated the haircuts and appearance of Marines in the field. Modern Marines would have quite a way to go before they reached the level of chastity and humility of the early Templars (that Bernard appreciated so much).