The War Has Evolved and We Are Losing
It was 18 years ago today when two planes crashed through the World Trade Center towers and killed nearly 3,000 people. The traumatic scene was aired on every news outlet across the nation. It would replay in real time every Sept. 11 morning after. It was a day that would forever change us.
Those moments shocked all U.S. citizens out from their comfort zones, that safe space people believed existed inside the country’s boundaries. An attack on U.S. soil, especially to that degree, was unimaginable, until it happened. Genuine fear was seeded that day.
But what have we learned since? Have we adapted? Are we any safer now than we were then?
The country has since been in a state of endless war, sold to us as a response to that horrific attack. There is now an entire generation of young adults who have only known life during war-time. Times of peace feel like far-off folk tales — for those born after 2001, the concept of peace is about as contextual as a sci-fi novel. Equally as foreign today is any sense of privacy, which we handed over bit by bit as the trade-off for our greater security. And in all that war and all that sacrifice, what have we really achieved?
There’s no doubt that our tapped lines, monitored electronic footprints and beefed up airport security have thwarted other would-be attacks. It is an absolute truth that some of what we’ve given up has been thoughtfully used to save lives. But the wars we’ve fought and the way we continue to fight them have netted little progress for the sacrifices made, and that is not the fault of the nearly 3 million service members who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Somewhere along the line, weapons of choice changed and methods of attack evolved.
Today’s biggest threat is not a plane or an insurgent with a gun. Enemies have come to realize that the front line is no match for damage that can be done on the back end. The most feasible and effective route way to destroy our way of life is to give us the rope to hang ourselves, and we are being bested, not by artillery but by technology. In this vein, on this front, we are ill prepared and vulnerable.
Misinformation campaigns are the new war fronts and conflict zones have expanded globally. Soldiers have been replaced with hackers in living rooms and social media trolls in warehouses, the worst of which operating with the same united goal: to manipulate people into doing the enemy’s bidding.
Casualties of enhanced information warfare take many forms. The “fake news” phenomenon is not merely a nuisance — it is immeasurably destructive and can be deadly in a very literal sense. The propaganda turns communities on each other, sows doubt in facts and the press, elicits fear, incites hate, meddles with elections and upends nations. In this way, keystrokes have accomplished more than any bullet ever could.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive into different areas of the information warfare threat, looking closely at how we got here, who leads the charge and who enables, what has been destroyed and what is still at risk and how, if at all, we can can fight back.
Eighteen years ago, we learned in the harshest way that we had to protect ourselves from outside forces. Today, our enemies hide in the dark and embed themselves among us, distorting our beliefs and threatening the democracy that binds us.
The greatest threat to our existence is now the one we cannot see.