Call Sign Chaos Book Summary - Call Sign Chaos Book explained in key points
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Call Sign Chaos summary

Jim Mattis, Bing West

Learning to Lead

4 (58 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

Call Sign Chaos is a memoir of Jim Mattis, retired US Marine Corps General and former Secretary of Defense, co-authored by Bing West. It gives an insight into his leadership philosophy and experiences in various important military and government positions.

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    Call Sign Chaos
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    Jim Mattis was a carefree youth who found a sense of purpose in the Marines. 

    In the winter of 1971, a free-spirited history graduate named Jim Mattis had a brush with death. Fresh out of college and unsure what to do next, Mattis took to the hills of Washington state for a hiking trip. He was standing on an icy ridge looking down at the Columbia River when he slipped and tumbled down a ravine. The fall could have easily killed him. Amazingly, he escaped with just a few cracked ribs. 

    Mattis had spent the last two summers training at the Marine Officer Candidates School. As he dusted himself off in that icy ravine, he recalled a Vietnam veteran at the school who had said, “We don’t get to choose when we die, but we can choose how we meet death.” This was a life-changing moment. Mattis realized he wanted to spend his career around men like that wise soldier. 

    The Marines stood for two things – duty and adventure. Both gelled with Mattis’ upbringing. Born in 1950 in Richland, Washington, he grew up around soldiers and military engineers. They had come to the area to oversee the construction of the Hanford reactors – a nuclear production complex vital to the Manhattan Project, America’s plan to build an atomic bomb during World War II. Their civic-minded patriotism and dedication deeply influenced Richland. 

    Meanwhile, Mattis’ parents encouraged their son’s sense of adventure. As a boy, he hunted rabbits in the surrounding hills with an old .22 rifle. At 13, he began hitchhiking across America’s western states. When he was home, he devoured the books in his parents’ extensive library. Hemingway was a favorite, Faulkner a close second.

    In 1968, Mattis enrolled at Central Washington State College. He was a mediocre student and spent more time partying than studying history. After one incident, a judge even ordered him to spend weekends in the local jail – a punishment for underage drinking. 

    The summer officer training program in Quantico, Virginia, provided something that university hadn’t – a sense of purpose. Led by sergeants who had just returned from Vietnam, the course pushed Mattis to his limits. But he was stubborn. When he was offered an airline ticket home, an invitation to take the easy way out, he refused. Over half the class was screened out each summer. Mattis stayed the course. As he later realized in that ravine, this was his calling. 

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    What is Call Sign Chaos about?

    Call Sign Chaos (2019) examines US foreign policy through the eyes of one of America’s most formidable strategic thinkers – General Jim Mattis. These blinks span Mattis’ entire storied career, from his youthful decision to join the Marines to his leadership of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They provide a deep and personal take on the American military.

    Best quote from Call Sign Chaos

    September 11 was fresh in our minds. We wanted to destroy Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Obliterate them, not sit on our asses.

    —Jim Mattis, Bing West
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    Who should read Call Sign Chaos?

    • History buffs 
    • Politically-inclined individuals
    • Leaders

    About the Author

    Jim Mattis is a native of the American Pacific Northwest. He has more than four decades as a Marine officer behind him. One of the most respected generals in the US, Mattis served as Commander of the US Joint Forces Command and Commander of the US Central Command. President Donald Trump appointed him as Secretary of Defense in 2017, a role he served for two years. He is now the Davies Family Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

    Bing West is a retired Marine and former Assistant Secretary of Defence who has written ten books about warfare. He is a member of the Military History Working Group at the Hoover Institution.

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