A decorated Marine Corps general said, “It’s fun to shoot some people” and poked fun at the manhood of Afghans as he described the wars U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His boss, the commandant of the Marine Corps, said Thursday that the comments reflected “the unfortunate and harsh realities of war” but that the general has been asked to watch his words in public.
Lt. Gen. James Mattis, a career infantry officer who is now in charge of developing better ways to train and equip Marines, made the comments Tuesday while speaking to a forum in San Diego.
According to an audio recording, he said, “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. … It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up front with you, I like brawling.”
He added, “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.”
His comments were met with laughter and applause from the audience. Mattis was speaking during a panel discussion hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, a spokeswoman for the general said.
Thursday, Gen. Mike Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, issued a statement saying, “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.”
Hagee also said, “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.”
Among Marines, Mattis is regarded as a fighting general and an expert in the art of warfare. Among his decorations are the Bronze Star with a combat distinguishing device and a combat action ribbon, awarded for close-quarters fighting.
He is currently the commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., and deputy commandant for combat development.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was up to Mattis to address his own comments, but he added, “All of us who are leaders have a responsibility in our words and our actions to provide the right example all the time for those who look to us for leadership.”
Pace spoke to a Pentagon press conference. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he had not read Mattis’ words and deferred to Pace.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group, called on the Pentagon to discipline Mattis for the remarks.
“We do not need generals who treat the grim business of war as a sporting event,” said the council’s executive director, Nihad Awad. “These disturbing remarks are indicative of an apparent indifference to the value of human life.”
Pace and Hagee praised the general’s service.
“His actions and those of his troops clearly show that he understands the value of proper leadership and the value of human life,” Pace said.
Hagee called him “one of this country’s bravest and most experienced military leaders.”
He said the commitment of Marines “helps to provide us the fortitude to take the lives of those who oppress others or threaten this nation’s security. This is not something we relish, yet we accept it as a reality in our profession of arms.”
Hagee said he was confident Mattis would continue to serve with distinction.
Mattis’ comments were reported by the television station KNSD in San Diego, and the audio recording was posted on its Web site www.nbcsandiego.com .
As a lieutenant colonel, Mattis led an assault battalion into Kuwait during the first war with Iraq. During the war in Afghanistan, he commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and subsequently Task Force 58, which fought in southern Afghanistan as the Taliban fell.
During the second war in Iraq, he commanded the 1st Marine Division during the invasion and also when the unit returned to Iraq for counterinsurgency operations last year.
In a letter to his troops before they redeployed to Iraq last March, Mattis warned them of “hard, dangerous work.”
“The enemy will try to manipulate you into hating all Iraqis,” he wrote. “Do not allow the enemy that victory. With strong discipline, solid faith, unwavering alertness, and undiminished chivalry to the innocent, we will carry out this mission.”
He is not the first senior military officer since the Sept. 11 attacks to stir controversy with his comments.
Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a senior military intelligence officer, was criticized for speeches he made at evangelical Christian churches. He said that America’s enemy was Satan, that God had put President Bush in the White House and that one Muslim Somali warlord was an idol-worshipper.
Boykin later issued a written statement apologizing and saying he did not mean to insult Islam.
A Pentagon investigation concluded that Boykin violated regulations by failing to make clear he was not speaking in an official capacity in the speeches beginning in January 2002.