What is the military term for fighting the enemy without permission?

'Insubordinate conduct' is the term given to disobeying orders but this is too general as it can mean failing to carry out an order to do something.

What I'm looking for is a term that has similar connotations as 'vigilantism' but in a military context. Similar connotations meaning trying to take affairs into one's own hands - but in this case in a military context.

I thought of militancy but that word is usually used to describe people who fight against their own authority / government - not against the common enemy ......

  • 1
    Seems indistinguishable from a really good black operation.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 14 '14 at 19:53
  • 1
    @BenVoigt A black operation would be authorized, but so top secret that it would likely be disavowed officially.
    – David M
    Mar 14 '14 at 19:54
  • @David: You say it's authorized. But no one can prove it. I didn't say they are the same, I said they are indistinguishable.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 14 '14 at 19:54
  • @BenVoigt Then it would just be criminal activity. A black op has usually been authorized by someone. But, I agree black ops often use techniques of questionable legality.
    – David M
    Mar 14 '14 at 19:56
  • 2
    to go rogue is understood, but it's slangy. They don't even label what happened at My Lai; it's hard to believe they have a good label for it, though DavidM's term is certainly acceptable. Mar 14 '14 at 20:19

Unauthorized engagement (of the enemy) is the term I would use.

Fighting the enemy in military terms is frequently referred to as engaging the enemy. Without permission, it would be an unauthorized action.

Vigilantism could be applied to this sort of action, too. But, I agree that usually comes with a sense of justice attached to it.

  • Thanks David. It sounds natural to me, but is that the term used in the army? Mar 14 '14 at 20:32
  • 1
    @nicholasainsworth to my knowledge (mostly gained by reading Tom Clancy novels,) yes.
    – David M
    Mar 14 '14 at 20:48
  • 1
    +1, this is the answer the implies the least amount of judgment about the correctness, sanity, etc, of the actor.
    – NameSpace
    Mar 14 '14 at 23:44
  • 2
    For what It's worth I'm an American Soldier and this is how I understand it to be termed.
    – Ender
    Mar 15 '14 at 1:34

Going off the reservation is a common expression (despite it being politically incorrect today). It can mean to engage in disruptive activity outside normal bounds.

Originally, "going off the reservation" literally meant leaving the reservation to which one is restricted.

This article is about the phrase and its usage, including this one:

The CIA agent was not supposed to assassinate those people. When he started killing them, he went off the reservation and had to be eliminated.

Here is an article using the phrase, tying it to insubordination (but not fighting).

This Urban Dictionary definition captures it, as well (ref #2)

Going off the reservation is when certain elements such as spies or assassins either fail to complete an assignment/mission, go on an unauthorized mission, get caught and spill their guts, or go rogue. Usually resulting in the need to neutralize(kill their ass) the said element.

This introduces another term: to go rogue which means operating outside normal or desirable controls.

You can use these phrase like this:

Colonel Smith and one of his companies went off the reservation this morning, supporting the partisans in an attack on the radio station. He may have been colluding with an agent at our forward base outside the city who decided to go rogue with him.

  • 1
    Or as Colonel Lucas says of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now: "He's out there operating without any decent restraint."
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 14 '14 at 22:01
  • 1
    Beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct. (Good one, Sven!) Mar 14 '14 at 22:06
  • When you said "had to be eliminated," my first thought was he was going to be assassinated. Mar 15 '14 at 12:38
  • "This article" is some post on Billy Bob's blog. Do you refer to all blog posts as articles or just the ones you are trying to make sound like legitimate sources?
    – dfc
    Mar 15 '14 at 14:14
  • As far as I'm concerned, sources stand on their own merits based on their content. I don't use the word "article" for any purpose except for referencing the content. In this case, as I stated, the reference is to an example of usage, not to an authoritative source validating the prevalence of its usage. Mar 15 '14 at 14:48

Wildcat would be applicable to this. I think there may be a better word, but I can't think of it right now.


A particular type of this is called filibustering. A filibuster is a private citizen who goes on a military expedition in a foreign country, without his own government's authorization. Governments often make this illegal (it's obviously harmful to friendly international relations when you allow your own citizens to attack a foreign country).

The most famous filibusters were American adventurers who filibustered mainly in Latin America and the Caribbean in the mid-19th century. For example, William Walker raised a force to conquer Nicaragua and made himself President.

  • I believe you are referring to a freebooter. While filibuster derives from the same origin, I think it is now used to indicate intentional stalling of parliamentary procedures (I remember looking this up after finding it in The Romulan Way; in my native language it does still mean freebooter).
    – LSerni
    Mar 15 '14 at 11:28

Unlawful combatant - A civilian or military personnel who directly engages in armed conflict in violation of the laws of war. An individual who is involved in but not authorized to take part in hostilities.

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