Opinion

Quora Question: Why Are Civilians fighting the Islamic State?

ISIS flag in Syria's Tel Abyad
An Islamic State militant group (ISIS) flag flies in the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad as it is pictured from the Turkish border town of Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, June 15, 2015. The Donald Trump administration wants U.S. allies to take more responsibility fighting ISIS. Gokhan Sahin/Getty

Quora Questions are part of a partnership between Newsweek and Quora, through which we'll be posting relevant and interesting answers from Quora contributors throughout the week. Read more about the partnership here.

Answer from Roland Bartetzko, former German Army paratrooper, Croatian Defense Council, Kosovo Liberation Army:

"What are veterans views on civilians and former veterans fighting ISIS?"

There are no civilians fighting ISIL: As soon as you pick up a rifle and you are wearing a uniform, you have become a soldier. If you are a useful one is an entirely different question.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to war without any prior training, but I met a lot of people who did so and most of them picked up the skills of the trade very fast.

Anyway, if somebody decides to risk his life for whatever reason (or no reason at all), it’s his or her decision, and I respect that.

The only thing that bothers me, and which I consider important, is the motivation of these volunteers. They came from all over the world to join the anti-ISIL coalition and as soon as a journalist sticks a microphone in their face, they start telling us in the most serious language that they came to fight ISIL to defend human rights, “because ISIL are all barbarians” and “somebody had to do something.”

I don’t buy this. During the war in Bosnia I met dozens of foreign volunteers and not one of them went to war for a humanitarian reason. One should bear in mind that at the time of the Bosnian war, the Serbian army was considered a very brutal and barbarian force, not unlike ISIL today.

Still, nobody I met there told me that they wanted to do something good for humanity. Everyone had different motives. It wasn’t easy to figure out my own reasons why I joined the Croatian armed forces and it is even more difficult to assess somebody else’s motivation, but I’ll give it a shot, anyway:

Most foreign soldiers were just bored with their lives at home and were seeking an adventure. Many had wanted to become professional soldiers at home, but got rejected for various reasons. To join a foreign army was their only possibility to realize their dream. Those who have been soldiers before were often looking for “field experience” as most NATO armies at the time were almost never deployed in conflict zones.

Others were politically motivated: They were members of far right movements in their home countries and the war in Bosnia was their “crusade.” And although the war in Bosnia was in part a religiously motivated conflict, I never met anyone who had a religious motive to join the fight. In short: The motives were mostly personal and rarely had something to do with the enemy they were fighting against.

I think that the fellows who show up on the front lines in Syria have equal motives like my comrades in Bosnia.

Surprisingly, after the war goes on for a longer time, the motivation of each individual might change or get lost completely. Many Western foreigners in Bosnia stayed only for a couple of months. Then either their thirst for adventure was squelched or they realized that the whole fighting was not just a game, but an extremely life-threatening situation. Both ways, they went back home.

The ones that stayed on were a different breed of fighters. Most of them, including myself, started to identify with the cause that their army was fighting for. If you have witnessed a number of enemy atrocities on the civilian population, you might start reevaluating your priorities and motives.

Those few soldiers, if they hadn’t been killed in battle, usually would stay until the end of the conflict.

I am not here to judge the motives of foreigners who are fighting ISIL, but I hope that each of them will figure out the true reasons why he or she ended up there, before it might be too late for them and act accordingly. I wish them all good luck!

What are veterans views on civilians and former veterans fighting ISIS? originally appeared on Quora—the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: