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Dangerous Deserter

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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."
Eddard Stark, A Game of Thrones

Many people take a dim view of abandoning a military post. Even works that disapprove of warfare on general principles won't approve 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 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 also tend to be armed. 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, too.

There are sympathetic deserters out there, usually having left a villain's army which they had no choice about joining in the first place (and the degree of sympathy that they can get often depends on how willingly they went to war) but this trope is not about those people. The Dangerous Deserter is hardened, desperate, and, well, dangerous. And many if not most of them were hardened enough Sociopathic Soldiers for their part in the war and only fled once the tide started turning against them.

Most such deserters are rank-and-file soldiers or petty officers, and typically become bandits, thieves, or other thugs of limited scope after desertion. Occasionally, a higher-ranking officer may decided to go rogue as well, in which case they're likely to bring along a larger number of underlings and set themselves up as The Warlord over a likely-looking piece of land.

Contrast Rebellious Rebel. Criminals who are determined to Never Go Back To Prison may have a similar level of dangerous desperation to them. Compare and contrast From Camouflage to Criminal, where regardless of the circumstances under which someone left the military, they use their military skills in a life of crime.


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    Anime & 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.
  • In Naruto, a ninja who deserts from his village is called a "missing ninja". And all of them are highly dangerous. The vast majority of the villains are missing ninja. Some simply become bandits or keep on working as mercenaries (just doing it freelance instead of having to answer to higher-ranking ninja), while some of the most powerful ones have much loftier goals. The main villains of the series, Akatsuki, are a gang of some of the most dangerous missing ninja from multiple villages who are out to Take Over the World.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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).
  • In Lady Mechanika: The Tablet of Destinies #4, Mechanika and Winifred are captured by a deserter from the British army who now leads a gang of slavers.
  • Overlord, the Big Bad of The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, is 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 gets to slaughter as many living beings as he can. 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.
  • In an issue of the Far West French Bande Dessinée Red Dust, the Ruhmann gang has been swelled by massive desertions to battalion size. Inverted in a later issue: Snake is a deserter but also a Dirty Coward ready to sell his boss and his gang the minute things look bad.
  • The Warlord (DC): Travis Morgan's Rival Turned Evil Dan Maddox deserted from the US Army (Morgan's actions had already caused him to be discharged from the Air Force) while serving in Vietnam and defected to the Soviets.

    Comic Strips 
  • Modesty Blaise: In "Death Symbol", a squad of deserters from the Chinese Army takes over a small village and monastery in a remote valley in Tibet. Willie and Modesty have infiltrate the valley and battle the deserters to rescue the daughter of one of Willie's old friends who is being held prisoner.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Boot Camp, Logan, the sadistic head of security at Camp Serenity, is a military deserter. His employer Dr. Hail keeps him in line by threatening to tell the U.S. Army his current whereabouts.
  • In Day of the Evil Gun, Warfield and Forbes enter a deserted Mormon settlement, where they encounter a detachment of U.S. Cavalry led by "Captain" Jefferson Addis. However, all is not what it seems. It turns out that Addis, who is actually a corporal, and the rest killed the real captain so that they could trade two wagons full of weapons and ammunition to the Apaches in return for an army payroll the latter recently captured.
  • In Day of the Outlaw, Captain John Bruhn used to be a captain in the US Army who led a massacre of Mormons in in Utah. He now leads a ruthless band of outlaws; several of which used to soldier under his command.
  • The Villain Protagonists of Dead Birds are a gang of deserters from the Confederate army who stage a bloody bank hold-up to steal gold to fund their flight to Mexico.
  • The Deserter: After deserting, title character Viktor Kaleb becomes a One-Man Army waging war against the Apache. Because he is so effective, General Miles has him dragged back and offers him a pardon if he leads a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits on an off-the-books mission into Mexico to wipe out an Apache stronghold.
  • In The Gatling Gun, Pvt. Sneed and his co-conspirator desert from the US Cavalry and steal a Gatling gun, planning to sell it to the Apache renegades in exchange for a small fortune in Zuni gold.
  • The Lithuanian SS-collaborators-turned-looters who provide Hannibal Lector with his controversial Freudian Excuse in Hannibal Rising.
  • In The Horse Soldiers, a pair of Confederate deserters bushwhack Marlowe's scouts after mistaken them for sheriff deputies.
  • In The Man from Colorado, Jericho Howard and Mutton McGguire desert a few days before they were due to be discharged, and turn to banditry.
  • In Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, Shirin's village was wiped out by three deserters from the British Army who sought to obtain the treasure of the crypt for themselves.
  • Hachi from Onibaba, who narrowly escapes death as a soldier only to become a desperate bandit with nothing to lose and no honest way to make a living—despite the fact that he might be the closest thing we have to a hero in the film.
  • Jean, the protagonist of Port of Shadows, is a deserter from the French army who is on the run for an unnamed crime. He is short-tempered and prone to violence, slapping gangster wannabe Lucien Legardier when the latter starts harassing him over his bond with Nelly, and brutally murdering Nelly's godfather, Zabel, after he admits to having killed Nelly's would-be boyfriend Maurice out of jealousy over Nelly's affection for him.
  • The Villain Protagonists of Red Zone Cuba. The final third of the film is a nigh plotless series of crimes they committed after deserting.
  • Revenge of the Virgins: Curt and Jones, a pair of army deserters, attempt to muscle their way into the expedition once they hear about the gold.
  • In The Shadow of Chikara, Posey, Rafe and Dancer are a trio of deserters from the Confederate army living as mountain men and bushwhackers: robbing, raping and murdering travellers.
  • Valdez is Coming: This is how the Tanner paints the man he has killed at the start of the film: claiming he killed his commanding officer before deserting. After he is killed, Valdez finds the man's discharge papers on him; proving that Tanner was—at the very least—mistaken.

  • Andersonville: Ira Claffey encounters three "bummers" from the fringes of Sherman's march while he is trying to travel to Richmond. It turns out that fall 1864 is a bad time to be on the roads in Georgia. Ira thinks he's going to get shot but the bummers are content with stealing his wallet.
  • 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.
  • Ben Snow: In "Snow in Yucatan", Ben travels to Mexico in search of Wade Chancer, a deserter from the Rough Riders who is setting himself as a warlord with dreams of overthrowing the Mexican government.
  • Discworld
    • 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.
  • Subverted in The Eyes of The Dragon where two deserters are in line for execution, despite having only deserted to help their families survive an unusually harsh winter, then returned to their posts. Queen Sasha manages to persuade her husband to pardon them, unknowingly earning the ire of court magician Flagg, who wanted the men executed for his own political reason. This incident leads Flagg to have her murdered, disguised as death by childbirth. Flagg also happens to be another incarnation of Stephen King's recurring villain Randall Flagg.
  • 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.
  • Older Than Television: Gone with the Wind had that Union deserter who Scarlett shot in the face.
  • In Guns of the Dawn, most able-bodied men are away fighting in the war, and a gang of men who theoretically should be fighting in the war see an opportunity to prey on undefended lands well behind the front lines. Wealthier households such as the protagonist's are prime targets, especially when they contain people like the protagonist's sister, who's unwise enough to be lured a supposed romantic rendezvous by a hostage-seeking bandit.
  • The Iron Teeth web serial has a lot of these. Deserters that have turned to banditry are quite common in the North.
  • Subverted with Kris Longknife: Deserter. She's certainly a dangerous Action Girl to mess with, but she didn't desert deliberately: she was trapped on-planet past the end of her leave by an infectious disease quarantine and couldn't call home to inform headquarters because the Subspace Ansible was sabotaged.
  • Lucifer's Hammer: The former U.S. Army unit led by Sergeant Hooker. They murder their commanding officer and deserted when the comet hit; later, they turn to cannibalism due to a lack of food and form the beginnings of the New Brotherhood Army.
  • There is a band of deserters from the Malloreon army in The Malloreon. The heroes don't see them, but they do come across a farmstead with its inhabitants brutally slaughtered. Garion reflects on how similar it is to Faldor's farm, where he grew up, which fills him with Tranquil Fury. He hears them near their camp that night and goes and kills them all by himself. He never tells the others, but he does bring back the deserters' horses, and Belgarath hints he knows what happened.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Monster Men, the Dénouement reveals that von Horn was this.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The first book opens with the execution of one of these; see the page quote. There's no sign that the deserter was actually dangerous; it's just that he signed on to fight wildlings and found himself face-to-face with the Fair Folk instead. A headsman's ax probably seemed like the lesser risk.
    • Mance Rayder may well be the most dangerous deserter in the history of the Night's Watch; he abandoned his post and came back at the head of a conquering army.
    • Averted and totally deconstructed with Septon Meribald, who deserted out of sheer exhaustion and heartache and only wants to live a life of peace. However, he does warn that deserters are dangerous, and the traveler must fear them ("but he should pity them as well") in his "broken men" speech.
    • 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 is used in the battle of the Blackwater.
  • 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.note 
  • The Stormlight Archive: 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.
  • The Unknown Soldier completely averts this. While some of the officer characters are bitter about the deserters, the narrator only has sympathy for the fear and the sufferings of the soldiers. The most reasonable officer explains that those who become deserters simply were taken to the limit of what a human could be expected to withstand... and then over it. They wouldn't have been of use in battle anyway, so let them go. One of the central characters tries to become a deserter but is lost from his companions and returns back to his platoon with nothing but a joke for an excuse for his absence. The others don't hold it against him.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 Gaunt's 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.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The two men with Osha who attack Bran in "A Golden Crown" wear the black of the Night's Watch.
    • The Hound provides a rare sympathetic example after his pyrophobia gets the better of him in "Blackwater". However, the Lannisters regard him as dangerous, especially after news of his slaughter of Polliver and his goons reaches the Small Council, after which Lord Tywin puts a sufficiently large bounty on him to tempt any idiot to take a shot at the Hound.
    • Karl and his fellow mutineers fully display their sadism and depravity in "Oathkeeper" and "First of His Name".
  • 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.
  • 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 sheikh. It turns out that she's provided intelligence to Saddam's regime through the years.
  • 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.
  • Sharpe: An small army of these crops up, made up from soldiers of all sides including Sharpe's nemesis Obadaiah Hakeswill.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hells Breaks Loose, Part Two", Jake Talley is reminded by the Yellow-Eyed demon that the Army will not take him back because he is AWOL. This helps to convince Jake to join the dark side.
  • Averted in WKRP in Cincinnati (episode "Who Is Gordon Sims"): we learn that Venus Flytrap was hiding his real name because he deserted the Army. Only days before he was scheduled for honorable discharge. Carlson convinces him to turn himself in, and under the circumstances, the Army lets him off with a few days of KP.

    Tabletop Game 
  • BattleTech: Much of the Dark Caste AKA Bandit Caste of the Clans is made up of these. Not an actual caste in Clan society, it's simply the name they give to criminals. Warriors who feel that they no longer have a place may find their way there after falling victim to a rival's political machinations, injury, or simply because they've gotten old without finding a promotion or honorable death. The Clans have no tolerance for such people, so they fight extra hard because it's always win or die for them.
  • Deadlands: South o' the Border notes that deserters from the French Foreign Legion are considered especially dangerous, as the Legion does not tolerate desertion and will actively hunt them down and drag them back for a trial and execution. As a result, they know they are under a death sentence and have nothing to lose.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Space Marines and other heretics from the Imperium are a strong case of this. Knowing there can be no peaceful reintegration into the Imperium and the strong corruptive forces of Chaos have their hooks in them for life, Chaos Marines have no compunction about stooping to vile acts of murder, betrayal, slavery and so on to increase their own power and pave the road to Daemon Princehood.

    Video Games 
  • Whiskey Foxtrot from Battleborn is one. A lore challenge of his reveals that he had deserted his post in the UPR. The report states that he should be considered ARMED and DANGEROUS and ANGRY. For this, he was given a bounty of 589,000,000.00 credits. Considering that he joined Reyna and the Rogues who despite their desire for freedom tend to sometimes engage in questionable acts such as space piracy, the caution is warranted.
  • A recurring mission in Curious Expedition involves a military officer tasking you with finding a subordinate who deserted and stayed in whatever land your explorer is about to visit. Said deserter is usually a Colonel Kurtz Copy lording over the natives who you must fight against.
  • At the end of Disco Elysium, one of these turns out to be the perpetrator of the crime you've been investigating the entire game.
  • Dragon Age
    • 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 almost anyone.
      • Party member Anders deserted the Grey Wardens. His combination of Well-Intentioned Extremist attitude and Demonic Possession definitely qualify him as dangerous.
    • The third entry in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition, features the Freemen of the Dales, deserters from both sides of the Orlesian Civil War. Unfortunately, they see the Inquisition as yet another warmongering oppressor, and also end up colluding with the Venatori and Red Templars, who are two of the Inquisition's primary targeted enemy factions. The nature of the Tal-Vashoth is also deconstructed with Iron Bull if he goes Tal-Vashoth. If he does, he is unsure what he's more afraid of: becoming this trope, or discovering that he won't, and that all the Tal-Vashoth he hunted down as a member of the Ben-Hassrath were not this trope too.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has an Imperial Legion quest which tasks you with hunting down such a deserter who is still Still Wearing the Old Colors and is now in the employ of a witch as her bodyguard.
  • In Fable III deserters from Logan's army take the place of the previous game's bandits.
  • Fallout:
    • Fallout: New Vegas: After clearing out the bandits from Primm, you can encounter NCR deserters at the casino, 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.
    • Fallout 4: The raiders occupying the massive boat graveyard Libertalia are actually former Minutemen who set up shop there after the organization collapsed. Originally they had intended to carry on their mission, but pretty quickly degenerated into raiding and extortion to survive.
  • In the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, these are often the cause of the Shin-Ra Corporation's worst problems. Genesis took nearly half of SOLDIER with him when he defected and waged war on the company, Angeal left a mess behind, Zack wiped out an entire battalion of troops but for three men, and Sephiroth burned a trail across the Planet and through the company's ranks, to say the least. And those were the elites. What Cloud, a humble trooper-turned-terrorist, accomplished through the course of the game (through intent and ignorance both) led to the loss of the company's place as the de-facto world government.
  • In Final Fantasy Tactics, Ramza runs into a group of deserters on his way somewhere else. They have no interest in fighting; he has no interest in getting in their way. That is, until one of them points out that Ramza is on wanted posters all over the continent, and if they kill him and turn him in, they'll not only be forgiven for their desertion, but probably given medals and dismissed from the army. Ramza tries to talk them out of it, but is forced to kill them.
  • 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.
  • GUN: The renegade army led by Sergeant Hollister are former Confederate soldiers turned raiders and pirates, operating out of an old U.S Army fort, and wear parts of their old uniforms mixed with facepaint and tattoos.
  • 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).
  • Live A Live has O. Dio from the Wild West chapter, the brutal leader of the Crazy Bunch outlaw gang oppressing Success Town. He is supposedly the only survivor of the 7th Cavalry Regiment and deserted the Federal Army after the massacre, stealing a Gatling gun along the way. Technically true in that he is the only survivor and left the army... but as a horse, possessed by the angry, vengeful spirits of the massacred 7th Cavalry, remade in the image of a man.
  • 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.
  • Rebel Inc. has several variations on this trope:
    • A random event taking place after the National Soldiers first engages the Insurgents in combat, and said combat goes poorly, involves high desertion rates among them. You can either spend additional funds for better training and bonus pay (which stops desertions altogether, and actually increases their strength from the better training provided), threaten to make desertion an act of Treason (which always gives recruitment bonuses to the Insurgents, as deserters have nowhere else to go), or just have Coalition personnel replace the losses from desertion (which requires to have Coalition troops ready), reducing the efficiency of Coalition troops, but not causing any trouble beyond that. Thus, deserters are only dangerous if you give them no other option.
    • Then there is the Warlord, a ruthless and controversial militia leader. Periodically, his troops will complain about the military discipline required of them. They can either be given a pay bonus, be allowed to shake down civilians for "contraband" (generating corruption, and potentially turning the population hostile), or be let go... In which case they will join the Insurgents.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Green-Eyed Sniper, Sekhmet is a wanted war criminal and a deserter. Here she claims to Blitz that being fed up with a never-ending war was the main reason she went AWOL, although she also confesses to Shanti that she lied about a lot of the circumstances she recounted later.
  • The Water Phoenix King's first act is all about the consequences of fleeing troops of a dead god's empire, who usually turn to banditry and conquest as their ideology and paychecks go down the drain. The protagonist ends up killing captains who were once better than she is but are now worse than she'll ever be.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Avatar: The Last Airbender with Jeong Jeong in the aptly titled episode "The Deserter". Though an incredibly skilled and powerful Firebender, Jeong Jeong deserted the Fire Nation military after seeing the horrors of the Fire Nation's war for world domination, and in particular, his former student Zhao's lust for power.
  • 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. Megatron only lets him back in at the end of season two under the rationale that it's better to have him as an asset than an obstacle.
    • 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.

    Real Life 
  • 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 Thirty 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.
  • This also happened increasingly towards the end of the Soviet Union and on into the 1990s in the Russian army. Since the deserters were armed, desperate and highly afraid of reprisals, they were inevitably pretty trigger-happy as well. It wasn't until the 2000s that the government managed to get a handle on the situation.
  • 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. (MacDonald Fraser also resolved to be a good soldier for the rest of his service)
  • Subverted in the case of Private Eddie Slovik during WWII, who simply walked away from his army rifle company to the rear and immediately surrendered as a deserter to the first soldier he found. U.S. Army officers tried three times to convince him to return to his unit (without punishment), and all three times Slovik stated if he were put back at the front he would run away. He figured he'd be imprisoned and then dishonorably discharged. Instead, because the Allies were facing a serious German offensive and degraded morale, he was tried and executed.
  • Averted by Abraham Lincoln, who issued a blanket pardon to any Civil War deserters who returned to their proper posts within 60 days, famously saying that it was better to "err on the side of mercy" when dealing with such men.
  • During World War I, gangs of deserters known as "Green cadres" terrorised the Austro-Hungarian and Italian countryside as bandits. Some were so well equipped they had artillery.
  • Journalist and historian Charles Glass wrote Deserter: A Hidden History of the Second World War, which studies in detail the history of desertion from the American and British forcesnote . Glass covers the motivations to desert, how deserters strove to stay undetected and survive, and what happened to them when they were captured. Among other uncomfortable revelations - the Eddie Slovik case is covered in detail - there are uncomfortable truths. Britain's principal military prison for deserters in North Africa and from Italy, had it been run by the other side, would have been called a concentration camp, and those running it (had they been German) would have been tried for war crimes. Instead, senior officers and politicians covered up the scandal of men being routinely worked or starved to death and kept its existence a state secret. American prison stockades for deserters were hardly any better and in some respects even more brutal.
  • The "Wild Deserters" are an Urban Legend originating from the Great War era. Soldiers believed the no man's land was inhabited by groups of deserters from all countries banding together, hiding in abandoned trenches during the day, leaving at night to rob the dying and the dead (or raid inhabited trenches) in order to get supplies. Some versions of the urban legend even said they ate human flesh. They're no actual proof it actually happened, though believers of this myth justify the absence of proof by retorting the Allied Command got rid of the problem by gassing the no man's land once the war ended.