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VIAN, BORIS. (1920–1959)

French composer and singer opposed to the war in Indochina. In February 1954, as French soldiers prepared for a violent showdown with their Vietnamese opponents during the battle of Dien Bien Phu, Vian completed the manuscript of his anti-war song, The Deserter (Le déserteur). In the famous opening line Monsieur le Président, Vian announces his decision to desert rather than to fight yet another war. He ends on an equally provocative note by telling the French president to go ahead and authorize the police to shoot him. Le déserteur was officially released on 7 May 1954, the very day Dien Bien Phu fell to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Vian insisted that it was not anti-militarist but rather “pro-civil”. The ballad nevertheless caused a scandal in official and nationalist-minded circles in France and was banned from French radio while the sale of the record was outlawed. Only with the end of the Algerian War in 1962 did Vian’s records return to music shelves in France, including Le déserteur. Although Vian had died in 1959, this song in particular would go on to become a global anti-war hit, being translated into dozens of languages. As the Vietnam War hotted up in the 1960s, the American folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary, produced a popular version of this song (in English and French). Joan Baez also included it in her anti-war repertoire. Vian’s portrayal of the socio-cultural devastation of war on people, wives, and families stood in stark contrast to the heroization of war, the army, and the Indochina War in the works of Pierre Schoendoerffer, Jean Lartéguy, and the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam. See also CINEMA; CULTURE; EXPERIENCE OF WAR; EXPERIENCE OF WAR, DIEN BIEN PHU; LOVE AND WAR; MYTH OF WAR; NOVEL; PUBLIC OPINION.