Retired Gen. James Mattis joins the Dickey Center

by Heather Szilagyi | 7/25/13 10:00pm

Retired Gen. James Mattis will join the College this fall as a Class of 1950 senior foreign affairs fellow at the Dickey Center for International Understanding. Mattis will deliver public lectures, meet with student organizations, participate in panel discussions and work with postdoctoral scholars at the Dickey Center from Sept. 18 to Oct. 7.

In March, Mattis stepped down from his role as commander of the U.S. Central Command, where he directed military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. He commanded the first conventional ground forces that invaded southern Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and led the Marine invasion of Iraq and counterinsurgency operations that followed.

Former counterterrorism advisor and current Dickey Center director Daniel Benjamin, who has previously worked with Mattis, helped arrange his visit to Dartmouth.

Ryan West '14, a former sergeant and reconnaissance Marine, praised Mattis' "legendary reputation in the Marine Corps" and called him a "strategic genius."

West said the military community at Dartmouth is small, but that Mattis will serve as a resource for all undergraduates regardless of background.

Jake Rascoff '15 said he learned about Mattis in "Generation Kill," a book chronicling the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He said Mattis' visit is an honor for the College and a testament to Benjamin's status that will bolster the Dickey Center's reputation.

Mattis is known for speaking his mind, a personality trait that former active duty Marine Chris Mortensen '15 called "refreshing."

"There's no room for political correctness when you're on the front lines," Mortensen said.

Rascoff said Mattis' tone will be a welcome change from common campus dialogue.

"He's notorious for being outspoken, he doesn't mince words," he said. "That should be interesting considering the climate of political correctness on campus."

Mortensen, who heard Mattis speak at the U.S. Central Command in Bahrain, said he hopes the general will bridge the gap between the studious and retrospective lens of academia and that of military operations on the front line.

"He provides a kind of counter-narrative to a lot of the strategic and diplomatic level thinking that Dartmouth teaches," he said. "He also has a lot of credibility just from experience that gives his words extra weight, as compared to a lot of the academic voices."

Benjamin said Mattis has strong views on the situation in the Persian Gulf and American dealings with Iran and will be able to share this expertise with students.

Rascoff said the Dartmouth community will benefit from unconventional interactions with Mattis during his fellowship, including intimate conversations.

"If perhaps General Mattis had a debate with a professor that would be interesting," he said. "I think the professor wouldn't fare well."

A 41-year career as Marine commander and general of U.S. forces testifies to Mattis' toughness.

"I hesitate to say he's a take no prisoners' kind of guy, but he's very forward, very aggressive," West said.

Mortensen said Mattis has a pragmatic mindset and avoids the unrealistic nature of politics.

"He's the kind of guy that hopes for the best but plans for the worst," he said.

Benjamin called Mattis "one of the most interesting thinkers in the military over the last few decades." The four-star general is known for insisting that his officers "do some serious reading" to accompany their training and for emphasizing military history.

"He's an extraordinarily scholarly and thoughtful commander," Benjamin said.

Mattis will also be a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

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