High school sophomore Teddy Fischer turned an accidentally revealed phone number into a school newspaper interview with Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Fischer saw Mattis' phone number when it was accidentally published in the Washington Post, Mediaite reported Monday. Fischer then called Mattis to request an interview and, much to his surprise, the Pentagon chief accepted.
The interview subsequently appeared in the Islander, a student-run newspaper at Mercer Island High School in Mercer Island, Washington. A reflection on the interview was published concurrently last month.
Fischer's questions touched on a variety of topics. He started by speaking to Mattis from his perspective as a high schooler, asking what the retired general thought students should study—"I don't think you can go wrong if you maintain an avid interest in history," Mattis said—and what advice he would give to concerned teens.
"Probably the most important thing is to get involved," Mattis said. "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."
Fischer also asked Mattis questions specific to his role as secretary of defense: about what American warfare will look like for Fischer's generation, the role of diplomacy, and even how the U.S. will rebuild the Middle East once the Islamic State is defeated. Fischer also got into the details of the ongoing conflict in Syria, prompting Mattis to say that only Russia and Iran are holding up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The only reason that Assad is still in power is Russia's diplomatic veto, Iran's military power, and now Russia's military power," he said. "Without those two, the Syrian people would have run him out five years ago."
Lastly, Fischer wanted to know why Mattis opted to take his call out of the numerous ones he receives. The answer? Because he tries to help students, and because Fischer and he have something in common.
"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," he said. "You're from Washington state. I grew up in Washington state on the other side of the mountains there on the Columbia River. I just thought I'd give you a call."
Mattis also explained in the lead up to the interview that he does not necessarily distinguish between high schoolers like Fischer and the people he briefs every day.
"I speak the same to high schoolers, college grads, or congressmen," he said. "I've found high schoolers to be plenty bright."