How has the "war on terror" differed from other American wars in this century? How has the "war on terror" differed from other American wars in this century?

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Historically (and also taking care not to ignore the long history of terrorism), the concept of “war” has involved a series of battles between nation-states or, in the cases of ancient Greece and Rome, city-states. With regard to city-states, think in terms of Athens versus Sparta. When discussing nation-states, the history of warfare is hopelessly long. Modern history includes wars involving Germany, France, Russia, Great Britain, the United States, and so on. Germany, Japan and Italy waged war against France, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union during World War II, the greatest and most destructive conflagration in human history. The United States fought in both world wars, fought against North Korea, which was supported by the Soviet Union and China, and fought North Vietnam, which was similarly supported by the Soviet Union and China. The United States has also waged war against governments of nation-states in Grenada, Panama, and Iraq.

The point here is that traditional notions of war involved nations fighting nations. (For the purposes of this discussion, we will ignore civil conflicts, such as the American Civil War and the Spanish and Russian Civil Wars.) When the Cold War ended following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Americans involved in discussions of national security began to focus less on traditional notions of war and more on what have been labeled as “low-intensity conflicts” and “asymmetric warfare.” What this meant was that threats to the United States were expected to originate less from animosities between nation-states and more from nontraditional actors, such as guerrilla insurgencies and terrorism. The tragic events of September 11, 2001, provided far more focus on the threat from terrorism than many had imagined possible. In this instance, there was no easily identifiable political entity defined by recognized borders and a central government. Instead, the war on terrorism was ill-defined. Terrorists could occupy small portions of land, or they could occupy no land. They had organized leaderships, but those leaders lived in hiding or existed within the protection of nation-states, as when West European terrorist organizations like the German Red Army Faction enjoyed the patronage of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations in Eastern and Central Europe.

Terrorism is a phenomenon that defies easy categorization. Motivations vary, as do the size of terrorist organizations and the training and sources of support they enjoy. The US “Global War on Terror” has been waged against Islamist organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as other smaller and weaker organizations. Al-Qaeda was interested in eliminating all vestiges of Western influence throughout the Islamic Ummah (community), with short-term emphasis on the cradle of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula. ISIS adopted a more fundamentalist approach, which was similar to Afghanistan’s Taliban, in which the goal was to return to a form of Islam such as is said to have existed in the seventh century. These conflicts differ greatly from great power conflicts over territory, such as in instances in which powers squabbled over regions in Africa and Asia rich in natural resources or when powers struggled for locations that provided access to strategically important avenues like oceans, a major consideration for landlocked countries eager for access to major ports.

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The War on Terror is different from conventional wars in a number of ways. First off, unlike the wars of the twentieth century, the War on Terror is not against the government of another nation. It did not start with a formal declaration of war, and it will not end with the signing of a peace treaty. In fact, it is unclear how it will end, if it ever does. The enemy does not wear uniforms. There is no defined battlefield and rules of engagement.

All this means that the country has struggled to define what exactly the War on Terror is. The War on Terror has not led to mass mobilizations in the exact way WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam have. The American fighting force remains volunteer-based and no draft has been instituted. Unlike the world wars, the economy has not been refocused entirely on the war effort. Americans, for the most part, are still going about their daily lives as normal.

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The War on Terror is different because we are not fighting one specific country, with a specific homeland and governmenr. Instead, we are trying to root out terrorist cells. These cells can be either in our country or hiding in countries that support their ideology, which is essentially to destroy America. The events of 9/11 have shown they can accomplish something, but the actual threat is hard to quantify.
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The war on terror lacks an easily identifiable or locatable enemy, unlike World Wars I and II and Korea. Identifying the enemy was somewhat difficult in Vietnam. It was not difficult at all in the first Gulf war, nor was it especially difficult (at least at first) during the invasion of Iraq. The war on terror is especially challenging because terrorists could be anywhere, including within the U. S. itself.

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I wonder if you are referring to wars in the 20th century, given that the US has not been involved in any wars in the 21st that have not been connected to the war on terror.  If so, the major difference is that the war on terror is in no way a traditional war with military objectives.  In addition, it is not a war that really even has one country or area as a battlefield.  In that way, it is more like the Cold War in that it is being conducted in many different ways and in many different places.

The war on terror does include some things that look more like other wars.  Afghanistan and Iraq resemble the Vietnam War in some ways.  However, much more of the war on terror consists of intelligence work as American agencies look for individual terrorists and try to disrupt the actions of terrorist networks.  This looks much more like the Cold War competition between communist and Western spy agencies.

In these ways, the war on terror is less of a regular war like WWII and more of a seemingly unending conflict like the Cold War.

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