We're in the midst of a culture war. Charlie Hebdo is on the front lines.

The literal "front lines" of war, which once described the trenches of the Marne in World War I or the beaches of Normandy in World War II, have long since shifted. The jungles of Vietnam, our involvement in Bosnia and Kosovo, the northern thrust from Kuwait to Baghdad in the first Gulf War — all redefined the notion of what it meant to be on the front lines.

The rise of terrorism, and an emboldened fundamentalist Islamic movement, have since shifted those front lines to two towers in downtown Manhattan, to a subway in London and now through the secured offices of a satirical newspaper in Paris.

The very concept of war — battlefields, combatants, rules of engagement — lacks any of the mild clarity it once had.


"These kind of attacks can happen anywhere in the world," President Obama said in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, an attack that killed 10 journalists and two police officers. 

"The one thing that I'm very confident about is the values that we share with French people — a belief, a universal belief in freedom of expression, is something that can't be silenced because of the senseless violence of the few," Obama said.

Freedom of expression, and the expectation that expression is protected, isn't unique to Western culture, but the West has certainly carried the guidon of free speech through the years. It's this zealousness with which we defend our speech that has put us at war with Islamic jihadist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This culture war is a guerrilla war, against foes who hide in the shadows, don't wear uniforms and might even hold our passports. The war these jihadist groups are waging is designed to make us all combatants. Terrorism is not simply about senseless murder. It's about fear, about undermining values. Charlie Hebdo wasn't physically the strongest, but they were one of the strongest representations of our value system.

The messages these jihadist groups have sent in their elaborate recruiting videos and propaganda is to take the fight to Western shores. If you are a Westerner interested in joining their jihad, stay home and terrorize your own neighborhoods.

We're all exposed. We're all in the fight. The murderers who attacked Charlie Hebdo targeted a satirical periodical. Cartoonists. The Islamic militant movement has reshaped the battlefield from one of gun versus gun to one of gun versus values.

In the fight to protect one of the values we hold dearest, an organization like Charlie Hebdo is on the front lines. And while the adage purports that the pen is mightier than the sword, last Wednesday that would have only been true if Charlie Hebdo's offices had been surrounded by a brigade from the French military.

The paradox of free speech is that the more provocative it is, perhaps the more offensive it is, the greater the resolve to defend it must be. The work that jumped off the pages of Charlie Hebdo was often offensive. It was offensive to Muslims, to Christians and to politicians, to name just a few demographics. It often lacked taste.

Article 11 of France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, like our own First Amendment, protects free speech. Its importance, however, its resonant value, is not to protect inoffensive speech. It's to protect offensive speech.

Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, said shortly after the newspaper's offices were firebombed in 2011 that, "I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than live on my knees."

Gen. Patton could not have delivered a more passionate, or resolute, message.

Spatola is a West Point graduate and former captain in the U.S. Army. He currently serves as a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports and SiriusXM radio.