Following a speech Monday to the Association of the United States Army, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the military is must “stand ready” if called upon by President Donald Trump to go to war.
The secretary was asked by the moderator what the U.S. military can do to lessen the likelihood of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. In response, the secretary—a retired Marine Corps general who saw combat himself during his career—said:
"What a great question. Let me talk about Korea for a minute because it's on all of our minds. And you know there's a reason I recommended T.R. Fehrenbach's book, that we all pull it out and read it one more time.
So, ladies and gentlemen, it is right now a diplomatically-led, economically sanction-buttressed effort to try to turn North Korea off this path.
Now, what does the future hold? Neither you nor I can say. So there's one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is, you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ, if needed.
We currently—we currently are in a diplomatically-led effort, and how many times did you see in the U.N. Security Council vote unanimously, now twice in a row, to impose stronger sanctions on North Korea? And remember, the Security Council has countries like France and Russia, China, the United States—you know who's on there—and all voted unanimously on this.
The international community has spoken, but that means the U.S. Army must stand ready. And so, if you're ready, that's your duty at this point in time. And I know the Army will always do it's duty."
The response was played up in a number of liberal mainstream media outlets as war mongering, but his reference to Fehrenbach’s book, This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History, belies that kind of sentiment. Rather, it’s more likely he’s projecting the message that the best defense is an offense no one wants to face.
Much of Mattis’ speech that preceded the question-and-answer session was dedicated to encouraging a physically stronger soldier ready to fight when called upon.