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"In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night's Watch. No man is more dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile."
Most people take an understandably dim view of abandoning a military post. Even works that disapprove of warfare on general principles
usually won't approve, especially if it took place "in the heat" of battle, (thus leaving more loyal soldiers hanging). So those who say Screw This, I'm Outta Here!
to a legitimate group tend to be bad people
The problem is often not just
their dishonorable abandonment. The real problem is their now-desperate situation. Desertion is usually punishable by death, so these people have no more incentive to refrain from other capital offenses, like murder, and every reason to engage
in them if they think you'll turn them in. They tend to steal what they need from the surrounding countryside. And they can't just settle down, lest they be caught. They may try to pass themselves off as War Refugees
There are a few sympathetic deserters
out there, usually having left a villain's army
which they had no choice about joining, but they are not this trope. The Dangerous Deserter is hardened, desperate, and, well, dangerous
Contrast Rebellious Rebel
. Criminals who are determined to Never Go Back To Prison
may have a similar level of dangerous desperation to them.
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Anime and Manga
- In Bleach, shinigami can't retire. Quitters are separated and watched by the 2nd division, and it's revealed that Urahara Kisuke was part of this. Mayuri Kurotsuchi was one of them.
- Although he didn't actually try to leave. They considered him potentially dangerous so they held him without charge.
- This makes one wonder what really happened to the former 3rd Division Captain, Visored Rose Otoribashi's predecessor, who supposedly retired.
- Either this trope, or his 'retirement' was a cover for him joining the King's Guard. Those are really the only two options.
- Though supplement material also lists several former captains and lieutenants as retired, so it's hard to know exactly what's going on.
- Pumpkin Scissors starts with a confrontation with a tank unit that deserted after the war ends and formed a bandit group terrorizing a small village. Later on, there are several other former soldiers who became bandits in order to survive.
- It's clear the military high command knows about and tracks a number of these units, and chooses not to go after them. Most likely because it doesn't want to admit that they or their equipment were ever any part of the military, so they can't be hunted as deserters or allowed to talk as prisoners. It's not even certain all of them did technically desert; as insane as the idea of decomissioning special forces, letting them keep weapons of mass destruction, and turning them loose within your own borders is, it's actually within the bounds of this military's thinking processes.
- In an issue of the Infinity, Inc.. comic, a Doctor Midnight (a black woman) is captured and almost raped by a group of time-tossed deserters from the Confederate Army (it is made clear that they were already deserters before they got lost in time).
- Overlord, the Big Bad of Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, was an Ax-Crazy Person of Mass Destruction working for the Decepticons, happy to stay at a lower level in the hierarchy as long as he got to slaughter as many living beings as he could. Then Megatron tried to rein him in and reserve his power for the final stage of invasions. Overlord refused, and is possibly the only Decepticon deserter who actually scares Megatron.
- Rogue Trooper will help out his former comrades in the Southern Army when it suits him, but good luck trying to arrest him for desertion.
- A Song of Ice and Fire pretty much opens with the execution of one of these; see the page quote - except that the deserter in question abandoned his post to warn the realm about the Others.
- Also, Mance Rayder.
- Also averted and totally deconstructed with Septon Meribald. Wanting to live isn't a bad thing, you know.
- A rare example who is desperate, dangerous, willing to commit crimes to stay on the run yet sympathetic is Sandor "the Hound" Clegane who deserted from the Kingsguard when a weapon triggering his major phobia was used in the battle of the Blackwater.
- In Animorphs David can be considered one of these. Granted, the team is a civilian guerrilla force and not a legitimate military unit, but they're still Earth's only defense against the Yeerks.
- Discworld's Monstrous Regiment: Borogravian deserters are an unseen, background threat- "They will not be nice people! They will be impolite!" The murder of a random elderly couple is also attributed to them.
- Interesting Times features a couple of deserters who are cowardly even by the standards of the trope, but are quite happy to cut Rincewind's head off if they're completely sure he can't fight back. Luckily (so to speak), the Lady intervenes.
- Tobias Kelp becomes one in For The Emperor. In fact, a considerable amount of tension in that story comes from the worry that, with five people on death row doing a suicide mission with the protagonist, someone will do this, because they would have to kill the main character to have any chance of getting away with it. Unfortunately for Kelp, he decides to make his move within range of a melta. After Cain orders Jurgen to kill him, the narration notes his last expression was Oh, Crap.
- The book also gives a major Red Herring in that the most obviously treasonous of the death row prisoners — the psychotic Cold Sniper who openly suggested killing Cain and splitting — never does it, even when given the prime opportunity to do so.
- In the original Starship Troopers book, the government makes no effort to catch people who desert from Basic Training. Since the military forces are all volunteers, they figure there's no point, although some people decide they can't live with the guilt and eventually turn themselves in. If they do, they're just given 50 lashes and turned loose (with no prospect of citizenship, but no worse off than if they never enlisted at all). Nevertheless, one is caught and hanged because he raped and murdered a little girl, because the Mobile Infantry takes care of their own.
- Additionally, if someone signs up for government service and has a change of heart, they can fail to show up on their departure day with no penalty, save being disqualified from government service. Also, in both book and film, a volunteer can choose to drop out at any time, file the appropriate paperwork and be back in civvies the next morning, no questions asked.
- On the other hand, "desertion in the face of the enemy" is a capital offense, as it is in many military forces today.
- Averted in The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold with Baz Jesek. He is never asked what he did or why he deserted and, despite interacting with active duty military personnel, is never forced back or faces any charges. Despite him deserting in the heat, which carries an automatic death sentence, the charges against him are eventually dismissed - probably a result of spending a decade as part of a classified ImpSec unit that pulled off a number of very high-profile operations that the Barrayaran government had no official involvement in.
- Older than Television: Gone with the Wind had that Union deserter who Scarlett shot in the face.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunts Ghosts novel Straight Silver, troopers find a Haunted House in the woods — that proves to have a deserter in it.
- In The Armour Of Contempt, a small band of deserters attempt to loot Dalin Criid's "corpse"; when they realize it's not actually a corpse yet, they try to ensure that it becomes one.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Monster Men, the Dénouement reveals that von Horn was this.
- In the first demonstration of a Lightweaver's true power, Shallan Davar transforms a band of deserters back into loyal soldiers. Some even die rescuing a civilian convoy from bandits.
- An small army of these crops up in at least of the TV version of Sharpe, made up from soldiers of all sides including Sharpe's nemesis Obadaiah Hakeswill.
- In Queen of Swords, Captain Grisham is an American deserter from from the War of 1812. However, the truly dangerous deserter is Krane, the man they tried to hang in Grisham's place.
- JAG: In the season nine episode "Shifting Sands" a Navy petty officer believed to be lost since the first Gulf War is found in Iraq, married to a Bedouin sheik. It turns out that she’s provided intelligence to Saddam’s regime through the years.
- Horatio Hornblower:
- Bunting in "The Examination for Lieutenant": When the ship is put on half rations, he becomes desperate and afraid that they will starve. He starts mutinous talk and steals food, which earns him severe flogging. He decides to desert, but he's caught, but Midshipman Hornblower gives him a chance to prove himself worthy. However, Bunting knows it still means a court-martial and very probably a death sentence, so he tries to escape whenever he can. He's the only one who tries to mutiny and desert, so he's not that dangerous to the crew. Hornblower is forced to shoot him later, and considers it a great failure that he couldn't save the man.
- In "Retribution", Randall and several men decide to desert in "Mutiny" when the situation on the ship becomes difficult: a crazy Captain, a weak 1st Lieutenant, and possible charges of mutiny for the whole crew. When Gunner Hobbs finds out they're deserting and stealing guns, he's offered to go with them, but his Undying Loyalty doesn't allow him to leave his captain. Randall clonks him unconscious, not caring whether it kills him or not, and they hurt or kill several Red Shirts on their way to sea. The deserters are later discovered dead, killed by the slave rebel army who thought they were their former Spanish masters.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, Ramza blunders straight into a group of deserters who decide that it'd be a fantastic idea to try to kill the "heretic" and turn him in for a pardon.
- In Guild Wars: Prophecies, one of the final quests in the Northern Shiverpeaks is to track down a band of deserters to retrieve the supplies they've stolen. Alas, they're not all that dangerous if you actually play through the game to that point instead of getting run through like so many seem to.
- Mount & Blade has these in spades. From a technical point of view, they are very similar to regular groups of bandits, but are often far more numerous and better equipped. They can be a Demonic Spiders style threat early in the game, but become less intimidating after the player levels up considerably and creates his party.
- In Fable III deserters from Logan's army take the place of the previous game's bandits.
- Several of the hired guns in Knights of the Old Republic, especially the sequel, were deserters from one side or the other (sometimes more than one). Most are just Punch Clock Villains, but some, especially those who were former Sith, could be downright sadistic.
- Among the examples from the second game is Atton Rand, although he does a pretty good job of hiding it for most of the game (and can be redeemed by the Exile's influence).
- One sidequest in Dragon Age: Origins involves tracking down a trio of deserters from a mercenary group known as the Blackstone Irregulars, who stole valuable materials from the mercenary company. In a twist, the mercenaries don't want to punish the deserters (though they don't care if you kill them) they just want their property returned. All three deserters attack the player immediately upon identifying who they represent, even if they're just trying to peacefully recover the supplies.
- Your party member Zevran was originally a mercenary sent to kill you, though he quickly offers to desert and join your cause instead when it's apparent he's not a match for your team. When the Crows send another member to finish his job and collect him, he may or may not rejoin them. If you've befriended him, he'll remain loyal to you and help you fight off the Crows; if not, then he'll happily desert your party as well and go back to the Crows, forcing you to kill him in self-defense (and maybe out of honor, depending on your Warden's feelings about the subject).
- A group of these appear early on in Dragon Age II, having deserted the Ferelden army and fled to Kirkwall. They attack one of the guard posts when the officer in charge agrees to contact one of Hawke's relatives inside the city, thinking that this means Hawke will be let inside ahead of them.
- You'll also fight several small bands of Tal-Vashoth, deserters from the Qunari army and way of life. Since Qunari only learn one skill or trade in their lifetime, those who have been training as soldiers since they were twelve have no way to make a living except as mercenaries and bandits, making them desperate and dangerous to most anyone.
- You can encounter a few in Fallout: New Vegas in Primm, attempting to start a protection racket and attacking you if try to turn them in. They're survivors from a outpost that was overrun by Caesar's Legion, and think the NCR will be defeated by them soon.
- At the end of the first season of Transformers Prime, Starscream tires of his treatment in the Decepticons and attempts to join the Autobots; when that doesn't work out, he declares himself neutral, making him an enemy to both sides.
- Airachnid was implied to be this when she first appeared; later she gets drafted back into the Decepticon army. After killing Breakdown and finding a nest of insecticons she can control, she's back to being this again.
- At the end of season 3, Predaking becomes this as well.
- Deserters in peacetime in the UK's RAF were ignored. When they turned up again (they usually gave themselves up to the police), they were put in military prison for 'not turning up for work' (usually only a few days extra duties), then discharged from the RAF with loss of back pay and reported to the civilian police as deserters. UK police have wide discretionary powers, depending on how the deserter has behaved while 'out'. All of this was explained exhaustively to new recruits, some of whom desert immediately. One guesses it rids the armed forces of the really unwilling ones.
- In his autobiography Lord of Misrule, Christopher Lee tells of how he guarded a group of deserters in Rhodesia during WW2, and they were tough, hardcore types as opposed to the weak, shifty characters portrayed in the movies. Lee was so nervous he kept his hand on his sidearm at all times, which ironically caused the prisoners to complain about him, as they thought Lee was a Trigger Happy nutcase just waiting for an excuse to shoot them. Given how intimidating Sir Christopher looks one can see their point.
- Unfortunately, this is often very accurate, particularly when an entire military or nation pretty much folds up and goes out of business, like what happened in Eastern Europe during the two world wars, where bands of armed deserters would sometimes wreak absolute havoc on the countryside until they either stopped or were forced to stop.
- This pretty much describes central Europe near and after the end of the 30 Years' War, with the added irony that most of the governments involved couldn't afford to pay their hired mercenaries the years of back pay they were owed; desertion became an economic necessity for the unpaid troops.
- Some of the notorious outlaws of The Wild West (such as the James-Younger Gang) were Confederate "bushwacker" guerrillas who turned to crime after The American Civil War. Also, near the end of the war, while Sherman was marching his armies through Georgia and devastating everything in his path, many Confederate deserters went on a mad rampage of their own right alongside them.
- In Albania, the simultaneous collapse of a number of pyramid schemes subsequently collapsed the government as well. Demonstrations by people who'd lost their life savings quickly turned to riots, and the government called out its troops to put these riots down. However, those troops were all related to the rioters and many of them had also been burned in the pyramid schemes, so they joined the rioters. Among other chaotic incidents in the state of total anarchy that ensued, some of these deserters actually robbed a bank with a tank.
- Also, used to happen pretty often in the late Soviet/modern Russian army until very recently. Since the deserters were armed, desperate and highly afraid of reprisals, they were inevitably pretty trigger-happy as well.
- During the famines in the 1990s in North Korea, rogue members of the Korean People's Army supposedly wreaked havoc across the countryside in search for food, going as far as waylaying civilians and other military units.
- George MacDonald Fraser tells of being detailed to escort a persistent absconder to a military prison in Northern England in 1943. He found the hardened case he was escorting, recaptured after deserting, to be pleasant and unthreatening company. But his nerve failed when he saw the prison and met a typical guard. (Mac Donald Fraser also resolved to be a good soldier for the rest of his service)