Long before he became secretary of defense, Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis's reputation was legendary among military personnel.

Mattis's no-nonsense attitude is perhaps best summed up in a famous line he delivered to his troops in Iraq, telling them, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

On Friday, however, Mattis made it clear that if the U.S. is compelled to use military force to solve the North Korea “problem,” it would truly be a “tragic” solution.

Justin Tallis/Getty Images

The secretary's comments came during a Pentagon press briefing on Friday, where he noted the “many different efforts underway” to come to a peaceful solution with North Korea.

Mattis added:

“We're going to continue to work the issue. If this goes to a military solution, it is going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale. So our effort is to work with the [United Nations], work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation.”

Mattis's words come after weeks of heightening tensions with North Korea, especially regarding tests of its long-range and nuclear missile capabilities — tests that, despite international warnings, continued even into Sunday:

Further complicating the situation with North Korea is the fact that the “hermit kingdom” has detained a number of American citizens, citing reasons as varied as espionage, theft, and “hostile acts against the country.”

In late April, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pleaded with the United Nations to “retake control of the situation” in North Korea:

"I urge this council to act before North Korea does. [...]

For too long, the international community has been reactive in addressing North Korea. Those days must come to an end. Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences."

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said that efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution with the country have proved to be “very difficult,” warning that “there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.”

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