Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis wants Post 9/11 veterans to know their wartime service strengthens their character through what he has coined “post-traumatic growth.”
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the former Centcom commander adapted a speech he gave recently in San Francisco that is a must-read for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In it, he writes of how veterans should reject a “victimhood” mentality and ask for nothing more than a level playing field after they return home.
For whatever trauma came with service in tough circumstances, we should take what we learned—take our post-traumatic growth—and, like past generations coming home, bring our sharpened strengths to bear, bring our attitude of gratitude to bear. And, most important, we should deny cynicism a role in our view of the world.
We know that in tough times cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up simply as forms of cowardice. No matter how bad any situation, cynicism has no positive impact. Watching the news, you might notice that cynicism and victimhood often seem to go hand-in-hand, but not for veterans. People who have faced no harsh trials seem to fall into that mode, unaware of what it indicates when taking refuge from responsibility for their actions. This is an area where your example can help our society rediscover its courage and its optimism.
Well-known and especially beloved by Marines, the 64-year-old general retired from the service in 2013 after 41 years in uniform. Since then, he has been teaching at Dartmouth and Stanford University, offered testimony to Congress, and started work on a book on leadership and strategy.
“I am reminded of Gen. William Sherman’s words when bidding farewell to his army in 1865: ‘As in war you have been good soldiers, so in peace you will make good citizens,'” Mattis wrote.