Super Cities №53 — You Are a Magnificent Bastard

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Robert Mueller is a Magnificent Bastard, and So Are You

If he didn’t, Margolis warned, Mueller would get chewed up by the partisan and bureaucratic bickering of the capitol. Mueller, thinking back to those days in the jungles of Vietnam, fixed Margolis with an icy stare that would become all too familiar to a generation of prosecutors and FBI agents. He replied, “I don’t bruise easily.”


Fifty years before you knew his name, Robert Mueller volunteered to fight, and potentially die, in a foreign land. The Vietnam War — his war — would guide his path long after it was over.

Unlike Mueller, most of us never lose friends in combat, or get shot, or receive awards for bravery. But all of us feel the weight of the world in unique ways. Illnesses. Friendships. Marriages. Jobs. Failed startups.

When you have fought in Vietnam — or beat cancer, or lost a loved one, or immigrated to a foreign land with nothing but a dream — you can appreciate that the world happens in relative terms. The very meaning of *hard *changes.

As a member of the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines — the Magnificent Bastards — Mueller’s military experience, the good and the bad, seems to have taught him two big lessons: the importance of servant-leadership, and the importance of keeping perspective.

A product of Princeton and UVA Law, Mueller could have gone straight to the white-collar world of high finance. Instead, Mueller — now 73 — has spent decades serving the public. Reflecting on his post-war decision, Mueller said:

“I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have made it out of Vietnam. There were many — many — who did not. And perhaps because I did survive Vietnam, I have always felt compelled to contribute.”

Mueller experienced real loss at a relatively young age. Before graduating from college, Mueller’s close friend died fighting in Vietnam. What did Mueller do with that pain? In his own words:

“One would have thought that the life of a Marine, and David’s death in Vietnam, would argue strongly against following in his footsteps. But many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be,” Mueller said. “And a number of his friends, teammates, and associates joined the Marine Corps because of him, as did I. … He taught us the true meaning of leadership. One teammate can change your life. And David Hackett changed mine.”

When Mueller later ended up working at the criminal division of the Department of Justice, he was advised to proceed with caution. He didn’t want to fight unnecessary and costly battles. He didn’t want to get caught up in the partisan bloodletting on Capitol Hill.

Mueller’s response — “I don’t bruise easily” — tells the story of a man who has weathered life’s storms.

For some, Department of Justice infighting was hard. For Mueller, fighting and losing friends in Vietnam was hard. Department of Justice infighting — or his current job — could not compare. Everyone has a story that helps them keep perspective.

As we take on our slice of the world, let’s remember Mueller’s lessons — and incorporate our own — and become Magnificent Bastards.

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