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Don’t Fight in Another Country’s War

By Graeme Wood

26 Apr 2022 · 4 min read

Last Monday, Malcolm Nance, an MSNBC talking head and former sailor in the United States Navy, showed up on the channel by satellite from Ukraine, dressed to kill. He wielded an assault rifle and wore full-camo military dress, including a ballistic helmet, and U.S. and Ukrainian flag patches. About a month ago, he said, he decided he was “done talking.” He then talked about how he had joined Ukraine’s international legion to help the country “fight [against Russia’s] war of extermination—an existential war.” Others have traced a similar journey. Andy Milburn, a journalist and ex-Marine who stopped writing and began training Ukrainians for combat, wrote an article about how he, too, was finished writing articles about Ukraine. “It just started to seem so frivolous,” he wrote, solemnly. “I didn’t want to be an observer.”

Nance and Milburn are “foreign fighters,” people who have left home to fight in someone else’s war. (Certain scholars draw a distinction between foreign fighters, who join an insurgency against a state, and volunteers, who join a state armed force.) Some foreign fighters are motivated by idealism: Nance, for example, or most of the several thousands of men who traveled to fight for the Islamic State. Others are paid (Soldier of Fortune magazine, which ceased print publication in 2016, had a “Guns for Hire” classified section), and still others just want to fight and are not picky about the cause or the pay. I can only assume they like the smell of stale cigarettes and BO.

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