Published Date

January 1, 1946

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

It is obvious from what has been said that, when the more than 10 million men and women who have been in service are returned to civilian life, some increase in the total amount of crime is inevitable. The question is whether the increase will be out of proportion to the number of individuals demobilized. Some people suppose that soldiers who have been trained to s kill are likely to hold human life more cheaply than individuals s who have not been hardened by combat experiences. The aver-age GI who has known battle will undoubtedly have his own opinion as to the truth or falsity of that belief. Our homicide rates after the last war do not bear out the theory. Killing an enemy in warfare is quite different from killing a fellow citizen in a private dispute. Policemen for years have been trained to kill criminals, but there is no evidence to show that this in-creases their disrespect for human life in general.

A factor which is little considered, but which is likely to have a good deal of influence on the homicide rate, will be the presence, scattered all through the country, of enormous numbers of pistols, rifles, and other firearms that have been brought home as war souvenirs. Will the mere fact that these weapons are at hand turn into killings some rows that would otherwise end up as fist fights?

We have heard so much talk about psychoneurotics that most of us are more than a little leery of the word. But the fact remains that the mental and nervous strain of combat, and even of Army service, proved too much for many individuals. We must expect that some, at least, of this group will break under the burdens of civilian life more readily than they would otherwise have done.

Counterbalancing this is the undoubted fact that Army life has benefited many men. It has taught discipline to some; strengthened the self-confidence of others; trained still others in vocational skills that will help them in the battle of life. How about the GI’s you know? Do you think that most of them will be better men, or worse, for their war experiences?


What kind of world will you come home to?

But the return of servicemen and women is only one part of the problem, albeit a most important part. The other part is the kind of world to which they are coming home. Economic and social conditions will probably have more influence on the amount and kind of crime we have in the postwar world than any other single consideration.

We still face some difficult readjustments in gearing our production machine to peacetime operation and in reabsorbing into civilian life the millions of men and women now being demobilized from the armed forces. Millions more war workers, many of whom left their old homes and moved to different sections of the country, must also be fitted back into peacetime jobs.

Spokesmen for government, industry, and organized labor, have emphasized the importance of maintaining full employment, although they don’t all agree on the methods by which this goal is to be attained. But there is universal recognition that our economy cannot stand another long period of widespread unemployment.

What about the women who went out of their homes to go into war plants and other outside jobs during the war? Nobody knows for certain. If, as is generally hoped, most of them return to their homes and families, then it is probable that the crime rates for women will drop again.

Juvenile delinquents form a group that is likely to give us one of our worst postwar headaches. It is unfortunately true that, once a youth has gotten into difficulty with the law, he is more likely to get into trouble again than if he had never strayed in the first place. The increased number of juvenile delinquents during the war means that we have a larger group of potential lawbreakers now than would otherwise be the case. Young people who earned high wages during the war may find it hard to adjust themselves to lower wages, or possibly unemployment, during the reconversion period. Some of them probably formed expensive habits during the days of easy money. There is always the danger that a percentage of these will slip into crime rather than cut down on their mode of life.

Next section: What Can We Do about It?