Secretary of Defense James Mattis Visits Proseminar “American Experience of Modern War Through Literature”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis visits proseminar

Secretary of Defense James Mattis with proseminar students and Professor Jacobson. [Photo Credit: Department of Defense]


November 8, 2017 by Sophia Mauro

On Thursday, November 2, SFS students in Professor Mark Jacobson’s proseminar “American Experience of Modern War Through Literature” had a special visit from current Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

I know Secretary Mattis is someone that throughout his career that has not just placed an enormous value on his own education but believes that the education of our next generations is an unparalleled responsibility of the current generation. – Professor Mark Jacobson

Professor Jacobson facilitated an in-depth discussion. [Photo Credit: Department of Defense]

The proseminar course examines the human dimensions of modern combat through nonfiction and fiction written by American authors. Students are introduced to literature and film from World War I and II, as well as the Vietnam War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A key component of the course involves analyzing war’s impact on both individuals and generations of Americans. The proseminar, an integral component of the SFS curriculum, is designed to introduce students to academic life at Georgetown. Capped at 15 students, the course ensures close working relationships with professors and enables students to explore a topic in depth.

Secretary Mattis visited the class to talk about the experiences of troops in modern conflict. Gabriela Delgado (SFS’20), a student in the class, said of the visit, “It was truly insightful to be able to ask him questions and discuss how the books we have been reading relate to the actual human experience in these situations.” Jeff Cirillo (SFS’20) described the hour and fifteen minute long conversation: “I am in awe of Secretary Mattis’s wisdom and insight. It was a privilege to share such an intimate space with one of the most important figures of our current era of international affairs, and one of the most thoughtful and distinguished public servants in the United States today.”

When you meet the Secretary of Defense, you don’t expect him to ask you to call him ‘Jim’. – Jeff Cirillo

Jacobson facilitated the discussion with the small group of students, giving students the chance to ask questions and engage in an in-depth discussion. Gabriela reflected, “Although I was nervous at first, Secretary Mattis truly went out of his way to make us all feel comfortable during his visit so that we would get the most out of this experience.”

According to Jacobson, the discussion generally focused on “the experience of combat for members of the armed services in the 20th and 21st century, within the context of the literature and films of the Second World War, Vietnam, as well as the more contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.” They discussed “Thank You For Your Service,” a film recently released about the trauma of war and adjustment of returning home. They also spoke about leadership, bonds of camaraderie, and the complexity of making moral and ethical decisions in wartime with the Secretary. Jacobson noted the Secretary’s unique perspective, “given not only his experience as a combat leader but as a student of military history and someone who now has the tremendous responsibility of ordering our young men and women into harm’s way and asking of them that they may have to give the ultimate sacrifice.”