Terrorism is nothing new. It has always existed and is done to spread a message, overthrow a specific economic class or government group, or to gain control over a population. The violence, fear, and unpredictability that come with these attacks have always existed as well, but changes over why it occurs and how it is done are leading to changes around the world in how it is responded to.
Modern Terrorism Before 9/11
Throughout the early part of the 20th century, terrorists were typically ethnic groups or politically motivated individuals who used specific tactics to draw attention to their cause. Whether it was a bombing by the IRA against British control in Northern Ireland, or when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, it was generally targeted and done for a clear purpose.
How Al-Qaeda Changed Everything
The events of 9/11 announced a shift in how terrorism was conducted and why it occurred. Supposedly motivated by religion, the terrorists that planned and conducted this attack did so for a unique reason. They disliked Western culture and wanted to cause pain, death, and fear. Since that time the majority of terrorist attacks have generally had little to do with any genuine religion or for the purpose of decrying any real societal ill. Instead, the methods have been enacted to destroy existing governments and instill panic wherever possible.
The Use of Technology
Terrorist organizations have become adept at how they use technology to further the spread of their control. Radical Islam uses social media and cutting edge video production techniques to recruit followers from around the world. Cybercrimes are also common with terrorists increasingly committing them. This includes gaining control of utility companies and even floodgates through online programs. While no large crimes have been committed, it is believed to be inevitable. Of course, it is not just ISIS terrorists that hack, but foreign governments as well. The Sony private email leaks were pinned on North Korea and Chinese government hackers are believed responsible for a breach into U.S. government personnel files in 2015.
Advancements in Defense Tactics
Much of the military effort and investment the U.S. has made in recent years has been in developing technology to battle terrorists. This includes the advancement of unmanned drones to invade terrorist camps and to flush out known criminals. In addition, the government is working with experts of all types to break encryption codes in phones and online sites to identify where messages are coming from and who is receiving them. Government raids today are less likely to include only the confiscation of weaponry and more likely to include computers and mobile devices. Getting a military history online degree today shows students how not only weapons have changed, but the way they are used.
Breaking Tradition in Attacks
Despite a past history of presidents requesting support from congress before proceeding with military movements, this has recently been streamlined in most governments. The concern with how fast information can spread has created an environment where congress is often bypassed in order to allow the military to strike quickly. Strikes against Syria and Lebanon and even the attack on Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden were completed through covert operations that differed greatly from how the process is normally played. This is perhaps the changing face of war itself. The United States is hesitant to lock itself into a ground war and commit a specific number of troops when so many of the ongoing conflicts lack any direction. Instead they are seeking targeted attacks against specific groups and individuals to dissuade followers.
There is no question that terrorists have become the main enemy of the United States. However, these terrorists come from all corners of the world, perform their acts all over the world, and can be any color, ethnicity, or come from any religious group. It was much easier for the government to determine who the enemy was when they shared a single ideology like the Nazis of WWII or the Cold War Communists. Today, terror is ever changing and shaping the way wars are fought.