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Historical Dictionary

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DESERTION, JAPANESE

It is difficult to establish the exact number of Japanese desertions in Indochina at the end of the Pacific War on 2 September 1945. A French report based on captured Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) documents and the declarations of returned Japanese deserters suggests that there were around 4,000 Japanese desertions in Tonkin and Annam north of the 16th parallel by December 1946. Not all of them joined the DRV. A maximum of 1,000 to 2,000 Japanese were effectively in the service of the DRV army and state between 1945 and 1950. There were 500–600 deserters in Vietnam below the 16th parallel at the end of 1946 and no more than 300 deserters remaining there after 1948, because of a rather successful repatriation operation led by Hiroo Saito at the head of the Service des déserteurs japonais. These Japanese deserters assisted the Vietnamese in medical, economic, military, and intelligence activities. In exchange for their services, the DRV accorded them Vietnamese citizenship, referring to them as “New Vietnamese” (Viet Nam Moi). Even five Taiwanese agricultural engineers working in the Japanese army were allowed to join the DRV (Japanese authorities had refused to repatriate them to Japan, because they were not “Japanese”). From 1950, as a new group of Asian advisors arrived in Vietnam, the communist Chinese, Japanese crossovers had to give up their positions. Some returned to French-controlled zones in order to be repatriated to Japan in the early 1950s and again in the wake of the Geneva Accords of July 1954. Between 1954 and 1960, arrangements were made with the DRV to return some 100 former imperial soldiers to Japan. According to recent Vietnamese security publications, between late October 1953 and late 1954, the DRV returned more than 100 hundred of the Japanese soldiers remaining in its ranks. However, the DRV apparently prohibited them from taking their Vietnamese families with them, something which divided families and created great hardship for Vietnamese mothers left to run their households all alone. According to one recent Vietnamese account, the “majority” of Japanese crossovers who did not return after the Geneva Accords had died in battle during the war or succumbed to disease in insalubrious areas of Vietnam without access to proper healthcare. In the 1990s, as Vietnam opened up to the world and the Cold War faded away, children born of Japanese-Vietnamese marriages could visit Japan and on some occasions renew contact with their fathers, whom they had not seen since their early childhood some four decades earlier. See also COLLABORATION; DESERTION, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM; DESERTION, FRENCH UNION; OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE IN JAPAN.