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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Mattis: Study history

Learn history, Defense Secretary James Mattis said in an interview with the Mercer Island High School (Washington) Islander. He cited Thucydides and “a German guy.”

Staffers spotted Mattis’ phone number in a Washington Post photo, called and asked for an interview. He said “yes.”

How cool is that?

Teddy Fischer asks the questions — excellent questions — which he wrote with Jane Gormley. As former managing editor of Highland Park High’s Shoreline, I’m impressed.

James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, is Secretary of Defense.

TEDDY: What subject areas do you think students should be studying in high school and beyond to better prepare themselves to be politically active and aware adults?

MATTIS:  . . . I don’t think you can go wrong if you maintain an avid interest in history.

. . . The human condition, the aspirations, the dreams, the problems that are associated with being social animals . . . history will show you not all the answers, but it’ll tell you a lot of the questions to ask and furthermore, it will show you how other people have dealt successfully or unsuccessfully with similar type issues.

TEDDY: What advice would you give to a current high schooler that is scared about what they see on the news and concerned for the future of our country?

MATTIS: Probably the most important thing is to get involved. You’ll gain courage when you get involved. You’ll gain confidence, you’ll link with people, some of whom will agree with you and some won’t, and as a result, you’ll broaden your perspective. If you do that, especially if you study history, you realize that our country has been through worse and here’s how they’ve found their way through that.

TEDDY: You were quoted recently in The New Yorker as saying that what worried you most in your new position as secretary of defense was “The lack of political unity in America.” How do you believe younger generations of Americans should be working towards improving America’s political climate?MATTIS: I think the first thing is to be very slow to characterize your fellow Americans. . . . Generally speaking, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them crazy or evil.

TEDDY: Out of thousands of calls, why did you respond to this one?

MATTIS: I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River.  . . . I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes, not the same ones we made.

“There’ll be a lot of people who want to tell you what to think in this world,” Mattis concludes. “If you read a lot of history you’ll thank them for their help but you won’t be governed by what someone else has told you to think.”

The Islander also published two stories on getting and conducting the interview and Mattis’ views on the connection between education and radicalization.

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