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War and crimes

The BBC have produced an article on the ‘crime wave’ that swept Britain during World War Two.

As you might expect, the war provided plenty of cover for criminal elements, with looting of bombed-out houses, stealing rings from the dead and so on.

But, as the article notes:

One of the reasons for the rise in crime was there were suddenly many more laws citizens could break, says Ms Gardiner.
Numerous orders were issued by the government to keep the wheels of war rolling smoothly.
For example, compulsory work orders were made and anyone failing to do their bit could end up in court.
An engine tester in Coventry was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in 1943 after taking 10 days off without permission when he got married.

And there were price controls as well, again creating new crimes.

Other orders included maximum price controls to prevent businesses from profiteering.
In 1941, in Newcastle, the Blaydon District Industrial and Provident Society was fined £290 after it sold two pounds of apples for about £11 when the maximum price was £4.

£11 for 2lbs of apples would be criminal now of course, but only because of the use of Imperial measurements, but £12.10p per kilo would be fine, rather than lead to one.

It’s a good thing the War is over and freedom prevailed….

But back to the War, the government had its quotas for production

Elsewhere a farmer near Darlington was fined more than £1,000 in 1942 after failing to grow two acres of potatoes, as ordered by the minister of agriculture.

The Northern Echo reported County Durham needed to grow 23,000 acres of potatoes that year for the war effort which “depended entirely on each individual doing his share”.

So that’s ‘The Common Good before the Individual Good‘, fighting fire with fire. At least it was only a gross input indicator, cultivate two acres, not produce X thousand lbs of potatoes, with fines for not having a good crop.

And would you believe it, a government compensation scheme was abused by an unscrupulous person!

One man in London was jailed for three years after claiming to have lost his home 19 times in a three-month period. On each occasion he had received at least £500 compensation.

My image of life during the war is one of a life of dreary, unrelenting anxiety: Will we have enough to eat? Will we be killed by bombs? Will my family survive? When will it all end? Whilst the war had to be fought and won, I cannot help wondering if the brutal conditioning of the populace helped to pave the way for the subsequent strangulation of the freedoms preserved by victory.

The article concludes:

“Human nature doesn’t change. There was a great deal of bravery, strength and fortitude shown by many people but there were also those willing to abuse the situation for their own advantage.”

Isn’t that what the Soviets called ‘speculation‘?

And from that long lesson in human nature and economics, never in the field of human conflict, has so little, been learned, by so many.

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24 comments to War and crimes

  • Paul Marks

    The more the laws the more the “crimes” – and once people get in the habit of breaking government edicts (Positivist “laws”) they sometimes go on to break the real law.

    As the Roman Tacitus put it (echoing various Greek thinkers before him).

    “The more the laws, the more corrupt the state”.

    For example….

    A glance at the growth of the Federal Register of regulations would fill Tacitus with despair at the chances of the American Res Publica.

    As it should.

  • Johnnydub

    I am close to Libertarianism in my outlook but not all the way.

    Its positions such as this that highlight my disagreement with going the whole hog.

    I personally don’t think its unreasonable that in a time of war “the common good comes before the individual good”. How else can you order soldiers into battle knowing some, maybe all, might be killed? They weren’t killing people and dumping them in mass graves as the story highlighted by the link – its ensuring that everyone does their bit.

    The example of the engine tester taking ten days off – I’m sorry but tough shit. There’s a war on and thousands of young men are dying all over the world. Don’t be a selfish twat.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Around 100,000+ people a year in the UK get criminal records for not paying the TV tax, about 10% of all criminal convictions.

  • CaptDMO

    ASTOUNDING the number of new anti-social crimes that can garner “felony” status, and all that goes with that FOR LIFE, in the US.
    But let’s chat about the WWII “White Feather Campaign”, and exactly who developed/promoted it.

  • patriarchal landmine

    sounds like the life of a man already belonged to the state, before people started using 1984 as an instruction manual.

    all I really know about american home life during ww2 was ration stamps and victory gardens. well, home life for women anyway. my grandpa actually had to go out there to the front lines. I never got to find out that he won a silver star for landing a cargo plane in a field to help evacuate wounded in the middle of a battle, until his funeral.

  • Mr Ed

    Johnnydub

    Its positions such as this that highlight my disagreement with going the whole hog.

    What position? i am not taking a position on libertarianism, I am just pointing out what happened, and contrasting it with what happened elsewhere, e.g. under the Soviets, and the Nazis. If you like what some might call the paradox of using a distant echo of the methods of totalitarianism to fight it, with the risk of becoming more like it in the process after the danger has passed.

  • John Galt III

    Rationing and WWII

    A few years ago I was watching a British movie made well after the war was over and was stunned to learn that Britain still had rationing even up to 1954.

    In the US we ended rationing in 1946 once our troops were home.

    In looking this up I found our speed limit for cars was 35 mph during the war – not to save gas but tires as the Japanese had control over the Asian rubber plantations. You got 3 to 5 gallons of gas a week. That means it would take (2) months @ 20 miles per gallon to drive from Northwest to Southeast Montana where I live.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    John, the libertarian position would be that we might have found a way to topple Hitler without war. In the book, Utopia, the Utopians try to limit human deaths by putting rewards on the heads of the leaders of their opponents- an idea that libertarians could use. Nobody has tried it, but it might work.
    Also, politicians like to call anything a War, since Wars give you the right to do anything. Do Politicians really want to end the ‘Wars’ on poverty, Drugs, and Terror? They should never be given such a wide mandate. Would the PATRIOT act have gone through without the War on Terror?

  • JohnK

    In 1941, in Newcastle, the Blaydon District Industrial and Provident Society was fined £290 after it sold two pounds of apples for about £11 when the maximum price was £4.

    Obviously no-one could have sold 2lb of apples for £11 in 1941. I can only imagine that the BBC have tried to adjust the price for inflation since then. The Blaydon scofflaws were probably selling their apples for a couple of shillings a pound, which only goes to show the way the purchasing power of a pound has been destroyed in the last 70 years.

  • I never got to find out that he won a silver star for landing a cargo plane in a field to help evacuate wounded in the middle of a battle, until his funeral.

    This says a great deal about the older generation and their almost stoical ability to just get their heads down and get on with the job in hand. In their own eyes very few of them were heroes despite the medals and accolades bestowed on them.

    Can you imagine a crash landing of an aeroplane or glider as happened during the landings at Arnhem, with bodies of your friends and comrades scattered across landing site, you pick yourself out of the wreckage wondering how you are alive, but then realise that the best you can do right now is to help the wounded all around you and some bastard general has the temerity to call you a hero and give you a medal in the nice château he’s commandeered.

    No I can understand why many of them were reluctant to show off their bits of brass and metal, because they didn’t see themselves as heroes, just survivors of war.

    My grandfather was similar, recollection of what happened in Libya during WW2 brought tears, sweating and nightmares rather than tales of heroism and derring-do.

  • Nicholas (Excentrality!) Gray

    Speaking of Wars, Libertarian International has an amusing article, reminding us that Al Gore, chief prophet of the War on Carbon, said ten years ago that unless we repented and reformed our ways, by 2016 it would be too late for the planet. I guess this means goodbye!
    Goodbye, Gore. Greenpreach needs a new mouthpiece. Any takers? You reward will be millions of gullible believers….

  • Mr Ecks

    “there were also those willing to abuse the situation for their own advantage.”

    The scum of the state being chief amongst them.

  • Alsadius

    It’s interesting reading Churchill’s WW2 books – in the back of each one he has a bunch of random correspondence he wrote during that phase of the war, and a surprising amount of it was ragging on departments that abused wartime powers to make people’s lives miserable. How much good it did, I have no idea(I mean, it’s not like Churchill was in the habit of writing things that made himself look bad), but it did make me happy when I read it regardless.

    Nicholas: Bounties on the heads of enemy leaders have been tried before. It’s actually quite common today – Hussein and Bin Laden both had gigantic($25M, I think?) bounties on their heads, and several others have as well. Nothing’s ever come of it, so far as I’m aware. I mean, imagine if someone put a $25M bounty on the head of Obama or Cameron – what do you think would happen? Would the Secret Service off their own guy for cash?

    John: It wasn’t my impression that most soldiers were as grumpy at their generals as you imply. They didn’t like war, but it was because their friends died, not because they thought the high brass was all a bunch of bell ends. And it’s not like the generals all stayed behind the lines snug at home all the time – dozens of them died to enemy action(the best data I can find, which includes only brigadiers and major-generals, is 22 dead to enemy action, 24 wounded, 6 POW, and 1 missing).

  • Tedd

    I cannot help wondering if the brutal conditioning of the populace helped to pave the way for the subsequent strangulation of the freedoms preserved by victory.

    Growing up in Canada in the decades just after the war, but in a very anglophilic family, that’s how it seemed. At the time, I didn’t question the need for rationing during the war, but it seemed odd to us over here that it was kept up for so long afterward. The war attitude, that the state could and should interfere in everyday life, persisted much longer even than the rationing. I’ve often wondered if there weren’t a sort of unconscious longing for the war years — a collective Stockholm syndrome.

  • John: It wasn’t my impression that most soldiers were as grumpy at their generals as you imply. They didn’t like war, but it was because their friends died, not because they thought the high brass was all a bunch of bell ends. And it’s not like the generals all stayed behind the lines snug at home all the time – dozens of them died to enemy action(the best data I can find, which includes only brigadiers and major-generals, is 22 dead to enemy action, 24 wounded, 6 POW, and 1 missing).

    The class barriers during WW2 were less in evidence than during WW1 (not to get into the Clarkist “Lions led by Donkeys” argument), but they still persisted and there was the feeling that those “on top” did not have to put up with the same problems and indignities as those “at the bottom”.

    Indeed attitudes like both Rommel and Montgomery who insisted on eating the same food as their troops to ensure that rations were good and to understand how far his men could go were surprising specifically because the traditional advantages of the ruling class were still mostly in evidence.

    Commissions weren’t handed out on a meritocratic basis (except perhaps those made on the battlefield for obvious reasons), but rather divided pretty closely along class lines unless you happened to be some kind of professional such as Doctor, Vet, Solicitor, etc or had been to a good university.

  • llamas

    @ Tedd – I think you have the exact-right way of it.

    The Brits did have a very serious debt problem after the war, and so I can see the purpose of some currency controls (to keep sterling capital from leaching away into the ‘dollar area’.) Fair enough.

    But much of the rationing, which extended into the mid-1950s, seems to have been motivated as much by class envy and a desire to maintain the ‘common good’ mindset so carefully nurtured during the war for as long as possible, in order to exploit it to proto-Socialist ends.

    For example, petrol rationing, which affected the middle- and upper-classes much more than the working-class, continued until 1950, although there was no shortage of petrol from within the sterling area. Petrol rationing was abolished in most of Occupied Europe almost immediately the war ended, which led to the laughable situation where Brits in Dover were rationed to 4 or 5 gallons of petrol a week, while Frenchmen 25 miles away in Calais, which had been occupied by the Germans just a few months before, could buy all the petrol they wanted, and cheaper, too. In 1947, a dock strike led to the UK civilian petrol ration being stopped entirely – I’m still not sure how they got away with that. The only explanation can be that the ‘common good’ mentality was still so strong that people would accept such actions in peacetime.

    In similar vein, the ‘egalitarian’ ‘fair-shares-for-all’ mindset was so prevalent that, even after the war was over, but while food was still rationed, if you had relatives abroad who were kind enough to send you gifts of food, they would be deducted from your UK rations. A corrupt socialist idea of ‘Fairness’ was paramount, trumping even charity and the idea of private property, long after the war was over. I still don’t know how the Labour governments made the Brits drink this kind of Kool-Aid, and for so long, too, but they did.

    llater,

    llamas

  • NickM

    Paul nails it. Moreover the more complicated the legal code (or benefits or tax or whatever…) the more exploits there are.

  • Laird

    Tedd, re your remark about an “unconscious longing for the war years”: that is entirely consistent with the observation made by Sebastian Haffner in his WW1- and Wiemar-era memoir “Defying Hitler“. He was very young when the war started and was just coming of age at its end, but his observation is strikingly similar to yours. An excerpt:

    “The last ten years [the period encompassing World War I] were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors and revolutionaries. The public sector required only competent officials, and the private sector only hardworking businessmen. There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, and everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food, and a little political boredom. Everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own tastes, and to find their own paths to happiness.

    “Now something strange happened – and with this I believe I am about to reveal one of the most fundamental political events of our time, something that was not reported in any newspaper: by and large that invitation was declined. It was not what was wanted. A whole generation was, it seemed, at a loss as to how to cope with the offer of an unfettered private life.

    “A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions, for love and hate, joy and sorrow, but also all their sensations and thrills – accompanied though they might be by poverty, hunger, death, chaos and peril. Now that these deliveries suddenly ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful, and worthwhile, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of the political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk. In the end they waited eagerly for the first disturbance, the first setback or incident, so that they could put this period of peace behind them and set out on some new collective adventure. * * * It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.”

    Alsadius (and Nicholas), actually bounties on enemy heads of state are not at all common, and in fact are specifically illegal in the US and all Western nations (probably under some UN treaty, too, but I can’t be bothered to look that up). It’s viewed as uncivilized. Yes, there was a bounty on bin Laden (and today there are probably bounties on many ISIS leaders, too), but he was a stateless actor, a rogue agent. (Frankly, I don’t remember there being one on Saddam Hussein, but if there was I’m sure it was after he had been deposed.) Leaders of recognized, “legitimate” nations are terrified of the idea of putting bounties on other heads of state because they know it would rebound directly onto them, too. But in my opinion (and I have long argued this) that is the only moral way of conducting war. It is the political leadership which leads nations to war, and it is they who should bear the cost.

    I have read More’s “Utopia” more than once, and would find it a hideous place to live, But their approach to war is the one thing (the only thing) I think they got right:

    “As soon as they declare war, they take care to have a great many schedules, that are sealed with their common seal, affixed in the most conspicuous places of their enemies’ country. This is carried secretly, and done in many places all at once. In these they promise great rewards to such as shall kill the prince, and lesser in proportion to such as shall kill any other persons who are those on whom, next to the prince himself, they cast the chief balance of the war. And they double the sum to him that, instead of killing the person so marked out, shall take him alive, and put him in their hands. They offer not only indemnity, but rewards, to such of the persons themselves that are so marked, if they will act against their countrymen. By this means those that are named in their schedules become not only distrustful of their fellow-citizens, but are jealous of one another, and are much distracted by fear and danger; for it has often fallen out that many of them, and even the prince himself, have been betrayed, by those in whom they have trusted most; for the rewards that the Utopians offer are so immeasurably great, that there is no sort of crime to which men cannot be drawn by them. They consider the risk that those run who undertake such services, and offer a recompense proportioned to the danger—not only a vast deal of gold, but great revenues in lands, that lie among other nations that are their friends, where they may go and enjoy them very securely; and they observe the promises they make of their kind most religiously. They very much approve of this way of corrupting their enemies, though it appears to others to be base and cruel; but they look on it as a wise course, to make an end of what would be otherwise a long war, without so much as hazarding one battle to decide it. They think it likewise an act of mercy and love to mankind to prevent the great slaughter of those that must otherwise be killed in the progress of the war, both on their own side and on that of their enemies, by the death of a few that are most guilty; and that in so doing they are kind even to their enemies, and pity them no less than their own people, as knowing that the greater part of them do not engage in the war of their own accord, but are driven into it by the passions of their prince.”

  • PeterT

    Paul nails it. Moreover the more complicated the legal code (or benefits or tax or whatever…) the more exploits there are.

    I can tell that you really want to vote ‘Leave’:-)

  • Tedd

    llamas:

    …if you had relatives abroad who were kind enough to send you gifts of food, they would be deducted from your UK rations.

    Just moments before I sat down to read Samizdata I was musing that some people make choices and value judgements so radically different from my own that they seem almost like a different species. That would be one example.

    Laird:

    Very interesting quote, thank you for sharing it. “They had never learned to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful, and worthwhile, how to enjoy it and make it interesting.” I wonder if there might be parallels to that, today.

  • Julie near Chicago

    llamas, your last sentence: Indeed.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ooops, not llamas. Tedd. 🙁
    Nevertheless, your last sentence: Indeed.

  • llamas

    Re – Unconscious longing for the war years. Yes, indeed.

    After WW2, several UK writers noted what many preferred not to say – that, for many people, for large parts of the time, the war had offered opportunities and pleasures that they would otherwise never have had. To be sure, there was always the chance of a horrible death, or years of suffering – but that was there no-matter-what.

    Millions of young men and women were thrown into new and exciting endeavours, whether in the combat arms or in industry and other forms of production. Many left home and were exposed to whole new worlds of social interaction. Many – especially young men – were given responsibilities and status that they would never have achieved in peacetime. In the combat arms, there were vast opportunities for advancement, based primarily on merit or technical skills, opportunities which had not existed pre-war, and which did not necessarily involve large combat risks.

    And many of these new and wonderful things were scaled back or disappeared entirely as soon as hostilities ended.

    The novelist Nevil Shute (Norway), himself an older man of quiet habits who (when WW2 broke out) was summarily inserted into a naval officer’s uniform and given charge over a whole world of fascinating technical development, wrote a novel after the war called ‘Requiem for a Wren’ (in the US, ‘The Breaking Wave’) and a novella ‘The Seafarers’ (which was only published in 2002). The first dealt with the psychosis and eventual suicide of a girl who had served in the war in an exciting and meaningful rate in the WRNS, and found the return to the norms of peacetime too hard to bear. The second recounted the similar issues of a young man of modest family who had risen to command an MTB during the war with great bravery and distinction, become a respected officer and leader of men, and then found himself in peacetime relegated to the role of an insurance clerk.

    Many young men who had braved shot and shell, and many young women who had served honorably and not without great risk themselves, found the return to peacetime, and the pinched and deprived lives to which they returned, very hard to bear indeed, and not a few of them went looking for other ways to enjoy the excitement and status that they had lately enjoyed and which had been taken from them.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Paul Marks

    Johnnydub – I am an evil warmonger and anti German fanatic and puppet of the American militarists (ask nice Dr Gabb). If something is necessary to win the “unnecessary” wars to defeat the German efforts to conquer the world, or the Communist efforts to do the same (in Korea and so on) then I am IN FAVOUR OF IT.

    However, you are just assuming (yes – assuming) that endless regulations help the war effort?

    Ludwig Von Mises (who was around at the time) argued that German “War Socialism” (the endless regulations government the latter part of World War One) UNDERMINED German War Production.

    There was no mass bombing of German cities in the First World War (as there was in the Second World War) – and there was no real LOGICAL shortage of raw materials – after all Russia has pulled out of the war in 1917 and Germany (with their ally “Lenin”) got to loot the “Treasure House of Nations” (Russian Raw Materials).

    So why did German production fail?

    No mass bombing (unlike World War II) and Russia supplying raw materials.

    So why did German production fail?

    Have another look at all the “common good comes above individual good” stuff again.

    Did it really help the War Effort?

    Or did it promote an economic mess.

    And if German War Socialism did fail (and it did fail) why copy it?