Friday, July 8, 2016
War and Crime By Clarence Darrow 1922
War and Crime By Clarence Darrow 1922
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All natural phenomena affect the activities of man. It has been repeatedly observed that the number of crimes of assault and murder increases in the summer months and fluctuates with extreme heat or a cooler temperature. The nervous system of man is responsive to all sorts of physical and psychological influences, and criminologists take these into account in considering crime, as doctors take them into account in treating disease. Man is influenced by substantially all the things that affect other structures and by many things that do not. His nervous system is more delicate, his emotional nature more complex, and his brain permits the handling of impressions in a way not possible to lower organisms.
The effect of war has always been manifest in human conduct. Man acts largely from habit and custom; he does as others do, without reflection as to why he should do it or why others do it. War is a sudden, violent and spectacular destroyer of all established habits. In its conduct and preparation it has rules of its own which have no analogy in civil life. The battlefield is a reversion to the primitive; a reversion which man finds it easy to make, for it appeals to fundamental instincts which civilization holds in leash with great difficulty and never with entire success. War especially appeals to the young. Their desire for activity, their impatience with restraint, their love of the spectacular, their untrained emotions, all find a ready outlet in war. Even those who are too young to fight still read of it, talk of it, play at it to the exclusion of other games. War is a profound and rapid maker of mental attitudes and of complexes that are quick to develop and slow to pass away. Both the quick development and slow decay are probably due to the fact that war meets a decided response in the primitive nature of man.
Nearly all the newspapers of America are now calling attention to the increase of crime since the close of the Great War. It is a topic of pulpit and platform discussion. Wild appeals are made for convictions and extreme penalties. Governors and boards of pardon and parole are urged to refuse clemency to prisoners and are roundly condemned when they do their plain duty, even though they do it very reluctantly and tardily.
It is probably true that the close of the war has shown a large increase in criminality, especially in crimes of violence. This is true not only of America but of all European countries. In some of the most afflicted ones civil government for a time has virtually broken down. Both the great need for food and clothing and the overthrowing of conventions, customs and habits are responsible for the change. Here we perceive a notable example of the almost instantaneous disruption of established folk-ways.
For more than four years most of the western world did nothing but kill. The whole world talked of slaughter and devoted its energy to killing. Every sentiment of humanity was forgotten. Even religious ties and religious commands were ignored. The prayers to the Almighty contained requests that He help the various fighting nations to kill their enemies. Everyone was taught to hate. The leaders in the war knew that boys could not do efficient killing unless they learned to fear and hate. The most outrageous falsehoods were freely circulated by every nation about its enemies and their conduct of the war. The highest rewards were offered for new and more efficient ways to kill. Every school was turned over to hate and preparation for war, and, of course, all the churches joined in the universal craze. God would not only forgive killing but reward those who were the most expert at the game.
The newspapers carried stories of battles every day, the dead and wounded often running into the tens of thousands. None of the reports was exact. Nothing was true. Everything was wild and exaggerated. Facts were not strong enough to make an impression. Lies were deliberately circulated to help the cause.
Every tradition and habit of life was broken and broken all the time. The commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," was repealed. Property was not only ruthlessly destroyed but openly confiscated. Lying was a fine art. When this bears a harvest after the war, the public loudly clamors for hanging boys whose psychology is a direct result of long and intensive training by the leaders of the world.
One life is not worth considering in the face of the holocaust that has taken its hundreds of thousands and has been defended in the schools and churches. It is not strange that the after-war harvest of crimes should come largely from boys, often those boys who did their part on the field of battle. Whether they got the psychology from killing or reading or hearing or playing soldier or training makes no difference. Everyone who has any reasoning power knows that they got it, that it was deliberately given to them if not forced upon them, and that just as deliberately the state is killing them because they took it.
It is not alone the young who show this psychology of killing that has grown out of the war. Organized society, the public, juries, judges, pardon boards and governors, show that war has made them cruel and wanton of human life. The great number of hangings since the war is patent to all observers. In normal times juries were very loath to pronounce the death penalty. With any possible excuse they always saved life. Now they pride themselves on taking life. Even insanity does not always prevent an execution.
Numerous are the evidences of the derangements the war has created and left behind. A few years ago a prize fight would not have been permitted in more than one or two states in the Union. Now state after state is passing laws to permit prize fights to take place, and even the best society has given its sanction to this sort of sport. Whether the state should permit prize fights is not the question. The fact is, as everyone knows, that it is permitted on account of a psychology growing out of the war. We content ourselves with saying it will never do to raise our boys as molly-coddles; they must learn to fight.
It is not alone murder that can be traced directly to the war psychology. Robbery and burglary have rapidly increased, and much of this is due to the emotions of boys. The robbing of country banks has grown to be almost a pastime, and often one or more participants in these raids is a returned soldier.
What should be done to meet these new conditions? Common honesty, common sense and common humanity alike plainly show that a large part of the crimes of violence are due to the war. Will hangings and life sentences stop them? And, if so, is it right for organized society to ignore its responsibility and place it on the young men that they innoculated with the universal madness? It is expecting too much to think that there is any process by which society can be made to think and feel. Some day, however, when the war fever passes away crime will again take its normal place.
This phenomenon is not new in the world. Everyone interested has noted it before. It has followed all great wars. War means the breaking up of old habits, the destruction of many inhibitions, which in the strongest civilization are only skin deep at the best. It means the return to the primitive feelings that once ruled man.
The Napoleonic Wars left a long heritage of crime. Every nation in Europe was affected by them. Many years passed before the world grew tranquil. Our Civil War brought its harvest of crime. It was felt both North and South. It was not confined to homicide but was shown in all sorts of criminal statistics, especially crimes of violence.
I do not write as a pacifist. There is nothing in the constitution of man that makes pacifism anything but a dream. Man is largely ruled by fear and hate, and it is not possible to imagine an individual or a race that under sufficient provocation will not fight. Neither is it possible that nations will not always, from time to time, find the provocation sufficiently great. Individuals and nations can philosophize and reason and make compromises when they are calm; but let them be moved by fear and hatred, and these emotions will sweep away every other feeling. The conditions for war were ripe in 1914, and it was inevitable that America should be in it too. This should not make one wish for war nor believe in war nor close one's eyes to its horrors and results. Much less should it prevent him from trying to do his part to restore sanity to the world.
Another consequence of war which America is passing through is the spirit of super-patriotism. This is always aroused and must be aroused to carry on the war. It is potent in creating the psychology that makes men fight. Every people teaches that its own country is the best; that its laws and institutions excel those of all other lands. This spirit is taken advantage of and used by designing men. It is used to send to jail those who criticise existing things. It is used to hamper and destroy any effort to change laws and institutions. The one who criticises conditions is a disturber and a traitor. Those who profit by existing things are always intense patriots and by means of cheap appeals and trite expressions seek to stifle discussion and criticism. This war has borne a deadly harvest of restrictive legislation in America. We are no longer an asylum for political offenders. We no longer stand for freedom of speech. Old traditions and constitutional and legal guarantees have been swept aside under the hysteria which has prevailed during and since the war. These results were inevitable and will follow war as long as man is man.
All the after-effects of the World War show how completely man is ruled by forces over which he has no control. If considerable numbers of the people have been moved by war hysteria, and if a large part of crime is directly traceable to war, it seems plain that all human action could be traced to some controlling cause, if only man could be wise enough and industrious and humane enough to find the cause. It is plain that the law of cause and effect influences mental phenomena as it does physical acts, and sometime, perhaps, men will seek to avoid the effect by removing the cause.
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