10 Jun 2009

Further funding for Crime and the British Military in the 20th Century

Clive Emsley, Professor of History at The Open University, has been awarded a Leverhulme Trust Emeritus Fellowship to allow him to continue his research project, Crime and the British Military in the 20th Century, for another two years after his retirement later this year.

Professor Emsley, co-director of the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research (ICCCR) at The Open University, says generally most crime is committed by young men, and most military personnel tend to be young men. Since the eighteenth century, the ending of wars witnessed fears that men, trained to kill and brutalised by the experience of battle, will find it difficult to return to civilian life and will continue to act violently, and hence criminally at home. Focussing primarily on the two world wars of the twentieth century, this research will explore the scale of criminality by men in the armed forces and their behaviour at the wars’ ends.

Professor Emsley explains: "The project will investigate the extent and variety of offending by soldiers, as well as the problem of soldiers returning from conflict and whether their experiences fostered subsequent criminal behaviour.

"Army provosts and those relatively few military historians that have commented on crime have tended to use the positivist assumption that offenders in uniform were simply ‘professional criminals’ that had been recruited or conscripted. The initial aim of the project is to explore the kinds of crimes committed by soldiers in wartime on both the home and the battle fronts, and the extent of this crime.”

The fear of the brutalised veteran returning home to commit violent offences has a long history. The acknowledgement of the problem of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly described in Britain as ‘shell-shock’, began during the First World War. Soldiers before civilian courts began to use the disorder as a defence before the end of the war. Nevertheless, while there has been research on the history of the concept and its gradual acceptance, there have been few attempts to explore its impact on criminal offending.

While there may have been some sympathy for men who responded violently (but not with lethal results) to wives that had been unfaithful, there was little appreciation of men that had been seriously psychologically damaged by their experiences and who, in consequence, drifted into drunkenness and violent offending.

The research will take place in London, Fareham and Brussels and the principal outcome of the project will be a book and at least one conference paper at the European Social Science History Conference in Ghent in 2010.

An assessment of the current knowledge of crime, crime prevention and deviance in Europe will be debated at CRIMPREV’s final conference at The Open University from 17-19 June 2009. Please see link (right) for further details.

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