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The lasting effect of the First World War on CRIME IN SCOTLAND

Re-assessing the link between war-service and crime in the post-1918 period, Cameron McKay demonstrates that many Scottish veterans had difficulty readjusting to civilian life, leading to a rise in both petty and serious criminality
The impact of military service made it difficult for many veterans to return to everyday life and the demands of family and employers

For many the relationship between war and crime is a simple one. Crime drops during wartime due to the removal of young men, the group most likely to commit crime, and then rises again following demobilisation when hostilities end. It also assumed that post-war societies experience a lasting rise in crime due to the economically and socially disruptive effects of war. In 1926 Thorsten Sellin, arguably the leading pioneer of scientific criminology, published a statistical analysis that suggested that violent crime had risen significantly in Europe since the end of the First World War. Sellin’s analysis then seemed to vindicate the conventional wisdom on crime and war. Yet while the murder rates of France, Germany and Italy saw significant rises, England and Wales broke the trend of established criminological thought and experienced only a brief rise in crime. Although in 1919 there were 123 murders known to the police, in 1921, by which point most men had been demobilised, there were only 90. Apart from the war years, this was the lowest number of murders since 1910.

This statistical trend seemed to confirm the belief that the British were an exceptionally ordered and peaceful people, especially when compared to their former allies and enemies on the European continent.

There is much debate on the causes of post-war violence, and it would be an exaggeration to conclude that increasing violent crime in Scotland was solely due to the First World War

This phenomenon has been well documented by Jon Lawrence who notes that despite the violent excesses committed by British forces in Ireland and India, placidity and a respect for the rule of law were believed to be uniquely British traits. However this particular form of British exceptionalism ignores Scotland’s own experience of post-war crime.

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About History Scotland

After the Great War: Rebuilding a nation Five great reasons to read History Scotland this month * New research on what life was like between the World Wars * Exploring the link between crime and military service * Special report on underwater archaeology at the German High Seas fleet scuttle site in Orkney * The women registrars who broke into an all-male profession * A new study of the controverial marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter Louise BONUS DIGITAL-ONLY CONTENT: Video report on a forgotten treasure trove of Victorian photos Exhibition preview: Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs Video: living history food & drink experience