Image courtesy of Rachel Cavanaugh. Image courtesy of Rachel Cavanaugh.

By Major Matt Cavanaugh


“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge.  War endures.  As well ask men what they think of stone.  War was always here.  Before man was, war waited for him.  The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.”

                         -Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian


“Incidentally, you may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals, we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. 

Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least, if for nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation can be very fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative  features in your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”

                         -Letter from Nelson Mandela to his wife Winnie while in prison, February 1, 1975

Religion in Combat

“I am no rabbi, priest or reverend, you know this. I stand here and speak of all faiths, creeds and colors, and why not – why not?

Because in my experience in the Navy, when things were rough, nobody bothered or cared to ask: what church, synagogue?  Who cared?

Frightened to death, we stood together on the bow and said: ‘please,’ and that is the truth…’please.’  When our time is up, we will all be on the same team, so why do we need bigotry and nonsense? Let’s enjoy, while the almighty God gives us time.”

                         -Comedian Don Rickles, from 1968 recording of the end of a live performance in Las Vegas


“Dig a hole in your backyard while it is raining. Sit in the hole while the water climbs up around your ankles. Pour cold mud down your shirt collar. Sit there for 48 hours, and so there’s no danger of your dozing off, imagine that a guy is sneaking around waiting for a chance to club you on the head or set your house on fire. 

Get out of the hole, fill a suitcase full of rocks, pick it up, put a shotgun in your other hand, and walk down the muddiest road you can find. Fall flat on your face every few minutes as you imagine big meteors streaking down to sock you.

If you repeat this performance every three days for several months you may begin to understand why an infantryman gets out of breath.

But you still won’t understand how he feels when things get tough.”

                         -Stars & Stripes reporter Bill Mauldin on the Italian Campaign, WWII


“When you come on the line, you are very brave, because you know nothing about what’s happening. And it’s very easy for you to perform pseudo brave gestures and procedures, because you don’t know yet. And gradually – this is because you have a reservoir of courage, each time you get badly frightened, a little of it diminishes until you don’t have any left. And that is the worst moment.”

                         -Paul Fussell, Infantryman & Author, in the documentary The War, “FUBAR”


“When faced with a 20 year threat,

the government responds with a 15 year plan,

in a 6 year defense program,

managed by 3 year personnel,

attempting to develop a 2 year budget,

which in reality is funded by a 1 year appropriation,

(which is typically 1-6 months late),

actually formulated over a 3 day weekend,

and approved in a 1 hour decision briefing.

-George Singley, Outgoing Dept. Asst. Sec. of the Army for Research & Technology, AUSA 1995


“There’s a sociologist who spent a lot of time [in Afghanistan] who asked Americans to define what corruption is. They would say something like, ‘when you give your cousin a job.’  Then he went to Afghanistan and asked them to define corruption, they said, ‘that’s when you have a job to give and you don’t give it to your cousin.’”

                         -David Brooks, May 14, 2013 public lecture at CSIS