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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
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.
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.
- 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 Love Aikawa'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.
- 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.
- The Villain Protagonists of Red Zone Cuba. The final third of the film is a nigh plotless series of crimes they committed after deserting.
- The Russian-soldiers-turned-looters-turned-SS-informers who provide Hannibal Lector with his controversial Freudian Excuse in Hannibal Rising.
- Actually, they were Lithuanian SS-collaborators from the start.
- 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.
- A Song of Ice and Fire pretty much opens with the execution of one of these; see the page quote. Also, Mance Rayder.
- Also averted and totally deconstructed with Septon Meribald. Wanting to live isn't a bad thing, you know.
- 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.
- 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.
- Gone with the Wind had that Union deserter who Scarlett shot in the face making it at least Older Than Radio.
- In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 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.
- In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Monster Men, the Denouement reveals that von Horn was this.
- 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.
- 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 and 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.
- One sidequest in Dragon Age 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.
- 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 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.
- From personal experience; 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. I guess 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 WW 2, 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, 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.
- Modern 'peacetime' desertion is not as serious an offense as Desertion In the Face Of The Enemy. This Troper served in the USMC from 1992 to 1997, and knew of two deserters. One was in his unit in a training command, and he was turned in by his own mother when she found out where he was a few weeks later; he ended up spending a month in the brig, busted down to E-1, and he ended up remaining a Marine. The other turned himself in after 25 years of hiding from Vietnam in Canada, where he had a wife, family, and a small business; the on watch Judge Advocate summarily sentenced him to spend the night in the Brig, a Dishonorable Discharge, and that was it.
- During the famines in the 1990s in North Korea, rogue members of the Korean People's Army supposedly wreaked havok across the countryside in search for food, going as far as waylaying civilians and other military units.