Wartime is often a period of scarcity and uncertainty among citizens, but have you ever wondered about the crime rates while the soldiers are away fighting for your freedoms? The data is limited, but there are interesting patterns to note about crime rates at home and abroad during the major world wars.
Wartime crimes include refusal to register for the draft and dealing in the black market for food, gas and other commodities. These were the most common types of wartime crimes that occurred during American history, but other types of crime generally decreased. Of course, wartime crime rates always decreased when the fighting was over.
It has been found that most violent crimes are committed by young men between the ages of 18 and 35, which are also the age ranges that leave to fight a war, so violent crimes during World War I and World War II tended to decrease during 1914-1918 and 1940-1945 in the United States. Read on to learn more about specific crimes committed during these years abroad:
World War I
Between August and October in 1914, the Germans executed 5,521 civilians in Belgium and 906 in France. Ten or more were killed in each of more than 120 of these incidents. Most of these victims were men who were military age, but there were some women and children and other civilians used as human shields.
Rape was also rampant during WWI, but there are no statistics maintained for these claims.
World War II
During WWII, more than 8 million men served in the Army. The Selective Service began drafting men in September 1940, and the War Department announced in 1945 that 33,519 men were serving time handed down by martial courts and they had executed 102 men.
In Britain, violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, and theft rose from 303,711 in 1939 to 478,394 in 1945. Looting during the war in Europe was rampant. In just one day in 1940, 20 looting cases were scheduled for hearing at the Old Bailey, London’s main criminal court. During the London Blitz, which lasted for four months, 4,584 looting cases were logged before the end of 1940.
The blackout period in England was also ideal for serial killers to flourish. Gordon Cummins is known for mutilating and murdering young women. He killed four known victims between 1941 and 1942, and was known as ‘the Blackout Ripper.’ He was eventually hanged for his crimes.
Another man, Harry Dobkin, thought he could get away with killing his wife during the air raids and hiding her body among the wreckage. Her remains were discovered a year later and it was determined her hyoid bone was fractured from strangulation, but authorities wonder how many murderers tried the same thing to get rid of bodies of their victims.
Wartime rations of food, clothing, and petrol also opened the doors for scammers to exploit the public. In 1944, a gang stole 14,000 ration books and sold them on the black market for profit. Another forging case involved clothing coupons, and profits were in the millions by today’s measure for these black market operations.
Gang activity also increased during WWII in Britain, as the local police forces were weakened. One local gang in London carried out a string of robberies successfully in jewelry stores. The Maltese Messina gang profited from over 1.5 million soldiers looking for a good time with their band of prostitutes known as the ‘Piccadilly Commandos.’
Post-War Crime Rates
Post-war, violent crime rates began to rise again. In England and Wales, murder and assault rates increased from 13 per 100,000 in 1950 to 144.3 per 100,000 in 1975. In the U.S., violent crimes rose from 160.9 to 610.8 per 100,000 between 1960 and 1997. Scholars speculate this could be due to the return of the men in the age range of common violent offenders.
Major Crime During Other Wars
The Korean War is best known for the No Gun Ri Massacre, a mass killing by U.S. soldiers that claimed the lives of an untold number of South Korean refugees. There were at least 163 dead or missing victims and 55 wounded during the attacks that lasted from July 26-29 in 1950. Based on accounts from survivors, it is estimated the total number of victims was actually closer to 300 to 500.
During the Vietnam War, the My Lai Massacre claimed the lives of 347 to 504 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians, and many of them were women and children. 26 U.S. soldiers were charged with the rapes and assaults that occurred there, but only one was actually convicted. He was released after only serving three years.