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Historical Dictionary

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DESERTION, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) never produced statistics on the number of desertions occurring in its military and administrative ranks. However, French and captured DRV documents confirm that the phenomenon existed and the numbers were high. According to Jean-Marc Le Page, French statistics for the sole sector of Bien Hoa confirm that for 1952 alone there were on average 400 to 500 desertations (ralliés) to the French Union side. For all of Indochina, during the first ten months of 1952, total desertions numbered 4,906 individuals and another 40,000 refugees. Two thirds of these desertions occurred in southern Vietnam, where the DRV’s control was weakest and the French military operations were most successful, especially after 1950. Many of these desertions consisted of common soldiers and bureaucrats trying to flee poverty, the French blockade, and famine in many DRV territories. Another motivating factor was Vietnamese Workers’ Party’s decision to communize the state and increase its control over civilians, bureaucrats, and soldiers. Deserters, the French said, included regular troops, military and political commissars, and civil servants (doctors, tax collectors, administrators, etc). The French did not count peasants or non-military or low-level administrative employees in the DRV as deserters, but rather as refugees entering the Franco-State of Vietnam zones. While it would be dangerous to extrapolate from the 1952 statistics, it is clear that even a very conservative estimate for the entire war or even the more intense 1950–54 period would produce desertions numbering in the tens of thousands, similar to those experienced by the State of Vietnam. See also COLLABORATION; CROSSOVERS; DESERTION, FRENCH UNION FORCES; DESERTION, JAPANESE.