Mercenary: noun

  1. A professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army.
    “He had planned to seize power with the aid of a group of mercenaries.”
    Synonyms: soldier of fortune, professional soldier, hired soldier

When a samurai lost his lord and became a ronin, he often had one of two choices if he was to continue living by the sword. He could either become a bandit and sacrifice his ethics for money, robbing and murdering the innocent, or he could offer his sword to another lord in an attempt to serve again—retaining his honor and his livelihood.

Let’s talk about one of the oldest professions in the world known by a dirty little word that has always had a bad stigma attached to it: mercenary. Over the past few years, during the war in the Middle East, volunteers, freedom fighters, mercs, or whatever you want to call them, have become a hot topic. As time has worn on, they’ve become rather high profile.

This is in part due to social media and the fact that it has become easy to volunteer your services in a war zone. With this massive influx of volunteer fighters, the face of the modern mercenary is changing—possibly for the better.

In the past, a negative stigma has been attached to the term mercenary. Men who sold their swords and souls to the highest bidder. Scumbags with no morals fighting for whomever would write them a paycheck. Assassins. Now, while these types do exist and are very active in the modern world—the Chechens fighting for ISIS, for example—they are not the majority. There have always been two sides to the coin, a light to the dark.

These mercenaries for good have historically kept to the shadows. In my opinion, they do so primarily due to fear of reprisal from their governments, and perhaps partly due to the previously mentioned negative stigma and a lack of positive media attention on their exploits. However, as the frequency of media mentions increases, public opinion of those mercenaries will continue to change, and with that comes the dawn of a new age.

Pick a war zone, and a side, and you can find a foreign fighter in the ranks. They fight in the YPG, the Peshmerga, the Ukrainian military, and the Karen People’s Liberation Army. You can find them in Africa, combating Boko Haram. The French Foreign Legion arguably has thousands of foreign fighters in their ranks. These are just a few of the big ones, but just about every military force in the world has volunteer fighters in their ranks, attempting to make a difference in a world filled with conflict.

More often than not, these men are offering their services free of charge, regardless of what their reasons for fighting may be. Now, obviously this is not always the case. Mercs, even those who pick the moral high ground of a conflict, are still showing up for money. But what separates them from the image of the bloodthirsty mercenary portrayed in the media is the fact these men posses a moral compass.