Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 3: Is a Crime Wave Coming? (1946)

If our analysis thus far has been correct, there are four main things we must do if we want to prevent a crime wave

  1. Maintain reasonably full employment and help those who will have to move to new communities to get jobs.
  2. Send young workers who are still of school age back for further education.
  3. Absorb the demobilized servicemen and women into peace-time occupations without delay.
  4. Provide adequate care and supervision for veterans suffering from battle fatigue until they can return to work. Does this seem like an adequate program to you? Can you suggest ways of improving it?

Would it help prevent a crime wave if the Army used the demobilization period for vocational and civic training of men awaiting discharge? If it continued to operate its rehabilitation centers until those who were in them at the end of hostilities are prepared to accept the responsibilities of civilian life? What do you think?


What about the long-range problem?

There is another, more fundamental aspect of the crime problem that deserves the careful consideration of every good American. Think of the enormous amount of suffering that is inflicted on innocent people, the number of homes that are broken up, the heartbreaks that are caused parents, wives, and children all by crime, even in a year which we consider normal!

Is there something we can do to attack the roots of this problem and to put into effect a permanent campaign for crime prevention?

Of course there are many scoffers who say, “You can’t change human nature,” and who dismiss plans for crime prevention as utopian. But if the facts cited earlier in this pamphlet prove anything, they certainly seem to show that the amount and nature of crime fluctuate with changing social and economic conditions and moral standards.

Most criminologists are firmly convinced that it would be possible to cut down the crime rate by attacking the conditions that breed crime, just as public health engineers cut down the disease rate by draining swamps and purifying polluted waters. Unfortunately the known crime preventives involve steps that are difficult and expensive.

Can we do anything about moral standards?

The first and perhaps the most difficult phase of the problem is to improve the existing moral standards of the community. How can we expect youngsters to grow up into law-abiding citizens, if they see their elders who get into trouble avoiding punishment by “fixing” things through politicians? Isn’t it human nature for youths to scorn the law if they see the people who are supposed to enforce the law taking bribes from racketeers?

How long would the black market have lasted if reputable citizens hadn’t been willing to pay high prices to get more than their fair share of steaks, or gasoline, or nylon stockings? Who supports the policy games and the bookmakers? Who plays the slot machines? Could these enterprises which furnish such rich pickings for the underworld possibly last without the support of the general public?

And so, you see, crime prevention is everybody’s business. The churches and the schools must do their part in training the youth of the country. Such organizations as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and the Boys’ Clubs can help a great deal, too. But basically the most important influence in shaping moral standards is the family. Parents must accept the responsibility for developing the characters of their children. How can we drive this home to the millions of fathers and mothers who are training the Americans of tomorrow? Can you suggest ways of, making parents more conscious of their duty?

How about social sanitation?

The other side of the picture is to eliminate, or at least to reduce the social and economic evils that foster crime. Here, too, we must expect to encounter great difficulties, for the remedies that are necessary would influence the daily life of every American.

If poverty and unemployment help create crime, as we have seen that they do, shouldn’t the first point on our list be the maintenance of a decent standard of living for all Americans, or at least all who are willing to work?

If the slums are the principal breeding places for habitual criminals, isn’t that a good reason for tearing down these reeking old tenements and moving their occupants into modern, clean, healthful housing? Shouldn’t we see that playgrounds, swimming pools, and gymnasiums are available to all youngsters, poor as well as rich? And shouldn’t these recreation places be properly supervised, to prevent the formation of gangs and to guide the boys and girls into beneficial activities?

Most GI’s have learned in the Army, if they didn’t know before, how to get along with other Americans whose backgrounds were very different from their own. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, blacks and whites, Northerners, Southerners, Easterners, and Westerners, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, have all served shoulder to shoulder. Can we apply this lesson in private life to racial and religious intolerance, which so often leads to resentment and violence?

How about the groups in the population who can’t look after themselves, such as the feeble-minded, the alcoholics, the mentally abnormal? Do you think that our institutions for them are adequate, or do we need more and better ones?

Can potential delinquents and criminals be discovered, studied, and their difficulties cured before they actually get into trouble? Most scientists who have studied the matter are convinced that there are such ways but they cost money.

What about our courts and jails?

When the Wickersham Commission made an exhaustive study of the crime problem in 1931 for President Hoover, one of the principal points that it made was that our whole machinery for law enforcement was badly out of date. If that was true nearly fifteen years ago, how much more true is it today? Of course some improvements have been made in the meantime, but in the main our police departments, our courts, our probation and parole departments, our reform schools, jails, and prisons operate in much the same way that they did then. Have you ever known anyone who was sent to a reform school or a penitentiary? Did his experiences there make him a better man, or a worse one?

Students of the problem contend that the greatest weakness of these institutions is the lack of professionally trained workers to run them. So far the general public has not been willing to pay the price of a good penal system which, of course, would be expensive. Would it be worth the cost if it cut down crime?

Summing up

When we see what 138 million Americans accomplished in the war by working together, haven’t we every right to be proud? Could we accomplish as much if we directed some of that enterprise and vigor and initiative and teamwork and know-tow into tackling such problems as crime prevention? Would it be worth while if we could astonish the world by our achievements along those lines just as we have already astonished it by our military deeds? What are the obstacles in the way? Have we ever really thought it was important enough to try?

What do you think?

Next section: To the Discussion Leader