Nicholas Pierce HeadshotBy 

We are at war.

We forget that we are at war. When someone talks about “first world problems,” or “first world privileges,” the ability to put a war on the national backburner is definitely one of them.

Our enemies never forget they are at war. For them, this conflict is existential. There will be no parades, no Veterans Administration or G.I. Bill. They will win, or they will die. And they won’t win, the fearsome might of the United States military will see to that.

The attack on a Navy and Marine Reserve recruitment station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was an act of war.

It was not terrorism.

Was it terrifying? Certainly. War is terrifying. Was it tragic? No doubt. War is tragic. Was it terrorism? No.

Muhammad Yousef Abdulaziz killed Marines, three of whom had served abroad.

He did not shoot up a church, school, or movie theater–he attacked a military target. There was premeditation in his action, intent. He attacked a recruitment station, no different in purpose than the recruiters and training camps we regularly destroy in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Although the authorities are still investigating, it is clear his was a political act.

Some will argue that an unfair comparison. Abdulaziz betrayed his U.S. citizenship, wore no uniform, and struck an unsuspecting foe far behind the lines of battle.

That would be compelling, but it’s wrong. We operate a fleet of unmanned drones, piloted from the United States and employed in combat abroad.

Our drones kill. Often vicious people, often innocents.

Consider Abulaziz a less sophisticated drone.

I don’t write this in defense of him. As someone who has served, albeit never overseas, I am glad he is dead–I regret only that he took four of my countrymen with him.

But that is the cost of war. It is a two way street. You cannot engage an enemy and expect him to do all of the dying. We, correctly, lionize men and women in uniform. Joining the military is not like joining the Rotary Club, there’s an understanding of inherent danger.

We must apply the same standard to our foes that we do to ourselves, and to call Abdulaziz’s actions terrorism throws our own tactics into question.

War is not a gentlemanly affair. To dismiss Abdulaziz as some sort of archetypical jihadist robs us of an important lesson; war has consequences.

We’re good at ignoring the consequences of war, you can ask any veteran who has wrestled with the VA–he or she will tell you all about civilian apathy.

But the attack on Chattanooga should be an alarm.

We are in a moment of national mourning, but this moment should also be one of renewed awareness.

We should be questioning our role in this war, and in the world. We should wake up to the fact that men and women are dying for a cause we have yet to clearly define, in a conflict without clear objective.

14 years into the war on terror, the longest war in American history, with close to 7,000 dead U.S. soldiers and–conservatively–over 200,000 dead foreign civilians, it should not take an attack on American soil to jar us into asking these questions.

For these Marines not to have died in vain, we must give the context which claimed their lives our full attention.

We cannot create a desert and call it peace, and we cannot fight for eternity. We must dedicate ourselves to making an end, one that meets our standards of justice.