What are we Fighting For?

In September of 2021, I watched as the United States withdrew all troops from what was deemed a “forever war” in the country of Afghanistan. Twenty years before that, I had enlisted in the Air Force after determining that I was not ready for college. I had met my future wife and decided that it was a reasonable way to afford our new life together. I enlisted the week before September 11, 2001. Little did I know that I had signed up for 20 years of warfare.

My work in the Air Force was all direct combat support with multiple deployments into the Middle East at first, followed by a decade of remotely piloted aircraft operations. For 20 years I played an active part in the global war on terror. At the time if you asked me “what are you fighting for?” I would have given you answers ranging from “to keep the fight off of our soil” to “we are spreading freedom and democracy.” However, in my heart I know that these were mistruths.

When I retired from the Air Force in December 2021, I had given 20 years and 3 months of service. I can remember the images of cargo aircraft being hastily loaded with refugees and supplies and flown out of Kabul, Afghanistan, much like the retreat from Saigon, Vietnam years prior. Many of my peers in my unit were glad to be done with it. I just remember the government switching it off like a light switch. According to the Intercept’s OVER TWO DECADES, U.S.’S GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR HAS TAKEN NEARLY 1 MILLION LIVES AND COST $8 TRILLION  “the United States-led global war on terror killed nearly a million people and cost  approximately $8 trillion dollars.” With the stroke of a pen, the United States government led us into war, and with a stroke of a pen, they brought it all to a swift close.

I remember the friends whose lives were claimed by this war, the ones who left behind a wife and kids. The mothers and fathers whose last memory of their children would be a United States’ flag draped coffin at Andrews Air Force Base. I also remember the “collateral damage” which was left in the wake of any warfare and the civilian lives that were needlessly discarded on the road to “rolling up terrorists.” 

When the United States government hastily exited Afghanistan, I became a bitter veteran. The word that best described my attitude would be “disenfranchised”. 20 years of missions, medals, and mourning ended abruptly and without any reason other than “we’ve been there too long”. The opportunity to end my service commitment presented itself, so I decided it was best for me and my family to part ways from the military. For 20 years the allure of patriotism and the ideal of spreading freedom fueled me in the fight, but at this point, I began to question everything.

For what reason was I fighting? Five months after I departed the service (on the 24th of February 2022), Russian forces amassed on the Ukrainian border began their invasion “as tens of thousands of Russian troops try to take the Ukrainian capital and decapitate the country.” (Euronews). The prior conflict was fresh in my mind as I watched the news reels of fighter jets, bombs and artillery. Also aired were images of mothers running with their children through the war-torn streets, and politicians making commitments to “stand with Ukraine.” 

It was not long before social media became flooded with Ukrainian flags by people who have never even been within a thousand miles of the region. Celebrities praised the Ukrainian president Volodymir Zelenskyy for his steadfast leadership, and politicians promised “support and aid” to the war-ravaged area. I noticed that the same social media likenesses that were appalled by the war in Iraq, were now standing in solidarity with the United States government in the “war in Ukraine.” It seems that no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, there is a war for you.

Warfare is a way of life for the United States government. Since World War 2, the United States has been in involved in no less than 18 wars and direct combat operations. According to a chart created by Martin Kelly, there have been brief periods of “non-combat,” but even then, there is “cold” warfare, where arms are built up and stored, or placed in the hands of allied nations to wage war against our adversaries. (See appendix A) According to Patrick O. Cohors in his article, “Pax Americana”: the United States and the transformation of the 20th century’s global order “At the same time, there has been an ever more dominant tendency to link different notions of an ‘American peace’ with the rise of a new kind of American empire, eventually a ‘Cold War empire”. The author goes on to analyze the role of the United States in the rapid transformation of the world as we know it. In Richard Maybury’s book World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It affects You Today, “Political power is the legal privilege of using force on persons who have not harmed anyone. This is the privilege that sets government apart from all other institutions and it is the privilege sought by political power seekers. War is the most exciting use of political power” (209). Politicians love war. It is the ultimate form of power that a politician can exercise. It is the power to grant life or death. Politicians satisfy the lust for power through war, but what about the financial gains that warfare brings? 

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “Congress has approved more than $113 billion dollars worth of aid and military assistance to support the Ukrainian government and allied nations”. This number does not include the financial support committed in 2023. Where does this money come from, and where does it flow to? It flows directly from the national debt, for which the great grandchildren of American taxpayers may someday pay. It then flows to government contractors and United States armament manufacturers. The chart to the right (Yahoo Finance) shows the share price of one of the top government contracting companies. Lockheed Martin’s share prices have risen from less than $400, up to $500 and have averaged at over $450. The conflict in Ukraine gave a sharp boost during the first quarter of 2022. This demonstrates an over 20% gain to the shareholders of the Lockheed Martin corporation. The below chart (Marketwatch.com) shows the share price of Lockheed Martin corporation from 1985 and displays a very steady but strong incline in share price from the year 2000 to the present. When “financial aid” is committed, most Americans think of pallets of United States Federal Reserve Notes, showing up on the doorstep of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for use in waging war against Putin and the Russian armies. What the United States is sending to Ukraine are weapons from the United States munitions stores. This directly benefits defense contractors and those who have invested in them as new weapons will need to be produced to replenish the inventory. Over twenty members of congress currently hold shares in the different defense contracting companies. According to Business Insider, “At least 20 federal lawmakers or their spouses hold stock in Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, which manufacture the weapons Western allies are sending to Ukraine to fight Russian invaders”. Just this week the United States government agreed to send “cluster munitions” to Ukraine. These munitions were strictly prohibited in the global war on terror as they kill indiscriminately and leave hundreds of bomblets that could kill and injure civilians after the immediate conflict. The BBC stated that “The move has been criticized by human rights groups as the weapon has been banned by more than 100 countries.”

In February 2014, Ukraine underwent a radical change in government, as Andrei Fursov writes in his “Thirty Days That Changed the World “this was no revolution but rather a U.S.-inspired coup d’état that exploited real mass discontent.” The United States capitalized on a situation in Ukraine to stage a coup that established pro-western leadership over the nation. Naturally, the idea of a United States proxy government on the border of Russia did not sit well with Vladimir Putin. Almost immediately after the 2014 coup d’état, Crimea was invaded by Russia. Since the invasion in 2022, The Donbas region of Ukraine is presently under Russian control. What most Americans fail to do in their homework is to look past the political lines on a map and consider the cultural boundaries. 90-95 % of the Donbas region is culturally Russian and have voted to become a part of Russia. Where does that leave these people? A short answer is in Russian occupied territory and under barrage of Ukrainian forces (I would have a pro-Russian sentiment as well). If we expand the scope to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and view it in the perspective of the Russian government, they are cornered, and even a cornered rabbit will want to come out fighting. What used to be a buffer between Russia and the western world is now NATO on Russia’s doorstep. What would our own government do if the Canadian government decided to join a Russia/China alliance?

In 1990, the year after the Berlin Wall fell, Russia dominated the Soviet Union and six allied Warsaw Pact countries. Bryn Bache | CNBC

As of 2022, NATO has expanded to let in three former Soviet states and all of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

Bryn Bache | CNBC

Thinking back to those flag draped coffins honorably hoisted out of the cargo aircraft in Washington, what matters more? The flag on the coffin or the life lost by the one who is in it? We maintain an arm’s length in the conflict in Ukraine, but there are still lives lost. We are producing warheads that are landing on foreheads, and someone is making financial gains. Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961 stated “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” (National Archives). According to Politico Magazine’s Where in the World is the U.S. Military? “The United States still maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad”. Did we heed Eisenhower’s warning? How have we done over the last 60 years? 

According to Hugh Steadman in his review of Understanding the War Industry, “No neighbor in its hemisphere is capable of threatening US territory, yet it chooses to demonize and portray as a real and present danger remote Russia. (Russia has an economy the size of Italy’s and a defense budget less than 10 percent that of the United States). 

Why do we fight? With the current conflict in Ukraine and the recent memory of Afghanistan it seems that warfare has become a way of life for the United States. The costs of war are staggering in both human and financial capital. As you read this essay, please consider what the true expense of warfare (whether direct or through proxy) is. As a nation, the United States has thousands of miles of ocean keeping it from adversaries. We should weigh the costs of conflict carefully. 



Works Cited 

Bynum, Calvin Woodward and Russ. “Trump and the New Politics of Honoring War Dead.” PBS, 18 Oct. 2017, www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/trump-new-politics-honoring-war-dead. 

Cohrs, Patrick O. “‘Pax Americana’: The United States and the Transformation of the 20th 

Century’s Global Order.” Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, vol. 61, no. 2, July 2018, pp. 1–26. EBSCOhost, https://doi-org.letu.idm.oclc.org/10.1590/0034-7329201800202.

“Congress Approved $113 Billion of Aid to Ukraine in 2022.” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, www.crfb.org/blogs/congress-approved-113-billion-aid-ukraine-2022. Accessed 11 July 2023. 

Elengold, Kate Sablosky, and Jonathan D. Glater. “Qualified Sovereignty.” Washington Law 

Review, vol. 97, no. 1, Mar. 2022, pp. 155–206. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=156690204&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Gardner, Frank. “What Are Cluster Bombs and Why Is Us Sending Them to Ukraine?” BBC News, 10 July 2023, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66133527. 

Hussain, Murtaza. “Over Two Decades, U.S.’s Global War on Terror Has Taken Nearly 1 Million Lives and Cost $8 Trillion.” The Intercept, 1 Sept. 2021, theintercept.com/2021/09/01/war-on-terror-deaths-cost/. 

Kelly, Martin. “American Involvement in Wars From Colonial Times to the Present.” 

ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/american-involvement-wars-colonial-times-present-4059761.

Kemp, Ted. “Two Maps Show NATO’s Growth – and Russia’s Isolation – since 1990.” CNBC, 19 May 2022, www.cnbc.com/2022/05/19/two-maps-show-natos-growth-and-russias-growing-isolation-since-1990.html. 

Leonard, Kimberly. “20 Members of Congress Personally Invest in Top Weapons Contractors That’ll Profit from the Just-Passed $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Package.” Business Insider, www.businessinsider.com/congress-war-profiteers-stock-lockheed-martin-raytheon-investment-2022-3. Accessed 11 July 2023. 

Maybury, Rick. World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today, 1870 to 1935. Bluestocking Press, 2003. 

“President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address (1961).” National Archives and Records Administration, www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/president-dwight-d-eisenhowers-farewell-address. Accessed 11 July 2023. 

STEADMAN, HUGH. “Understanding the War Industry.” New Zealand International Review, vol. 46, no. 6, Nov. 2021, pp. 27–28. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=153512855&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“Ukraine War: A Month-by-Month Timeline of the Conflict so Far.” Euronews, www.euronews.com/2023/01/30/ukraine-war-a-month-by-month-timeline-of-the-conflict-in-2022. Accessed 11 July 2023

“Ukraine-Russia War.” Defense Priorities, www.defensepriorities.org/analysis/ukraine-russia-war. Accessed 11 July 2023. 

Vine, David. “Where in the World Is the U.S. Military?” POLITICO Magazine, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/us-military-bases-around-the-world-119321/. Accessed 11 July 2023. 

Appendix A

Chart of American Wars WWII- Present (Kelly, Martin)


World War II

Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan vs. Major Allied Powers: United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia


Korean War

United States (as part of the United Nations) and South Korea vs. North Korea and Communist China


Vietnam War

United States and South Vietnam vs. North Vietnam


Bay of Pigs Invasion

United States vs. Cuba



United States intervention


U.S. Invasion of Panama

United States vs. Panama


Persian Gulf War

United States and Coalition Forces vs. Iraq


Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina

United States as part of NATO acted as peacekeepers in former Yugoslavia


Invasion of Afghanistan

United States and Coalition Forces vs. the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to fight terrorism


Invasion of Iraq

United States and Coalition Forces vs. Iraq


War in Northwest Pakistan

United States vs. Pakistan, mainly drone attacks


Somalia and Northeastern Kenya

United States and Coalition forces vs. al-Shabaab militants


Operation Ocean Shield (Indian Ocean)

NATO allies vs. Somali pirates


Intervention in Libya

U.S. and NATO allies vs. Libya


Lord’s Resistance Army

U.S. and allies against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda


U.S.-led Intervention in Iraq

U.S. and coalition forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria


U.S.-led intervention in Syria

U.S. and coalition forces against al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Syria


Yemeni Civil War

Saudi-led coalition and U.S., France, and Kingdom against the Houthi rebels, Supreme Political Council in Yemen, and allies


U.S. intervention in Libya

U.S. and Libya against ISIS