War, Crime and Punishment
Recently two young soldiers were convicted at Berkshire Assizes of robbery with violence. Instead of sentencing them straight away the judge gave them a choice—volunteer “unconditionally” for Korea or go to gaol. After they had a night to think it over their counsel told the judge: “They are eager to take advantage of your lordship’s leniency, and volunteer for overseas service.”
An editorial in the Daily Mirror (9th May) strongly criticised the judge’s action. The Mirror asks how the choice of the convicted men could be unconditional in such circumstances. But there are other aspects of the matter that should be brought out, and the main theme of the editorial (An Insult to the Army) is of little consequence compared to the deeper questions concerning the cause of crime and war in our present society.
The comments of the judge (Mr. Justice Hilbery) are indicative of the conventional attitude to crime. “You have been convicted of a very grave crime. When you robbed and attacked as you did each was not showing his true nature. Each of you is a better fellow than that. See active service and turn yourselves into “men of courage.”
From this it would appear that when people rob and attack others without the sanction of the law they are not showing their “true nature.” If, on the other hand, they take part in organised attack and robbery against other nations (for what else is war ?) then they are turned into “men of courage.”
The Daily Mirror believes that the men risking life in Korea are undertaking a high and honourable duty, and that it is not for courts to confuse military service with crime and punishment. In extenuation of the courts it should be pointed out that in the circumstances the confusion is pardonable. “War crime” is a name given, by the nation in a position to inflict punishment, to certain of the “military services” performed by the forces of other nations. And the military authorities themselves make it harder to see the dividing line when they treat as a criminal the conscript who is unwilling to fight by putting him in gaol.
Under the heading, “ R.A.F. is Training Burglars,” the Daily Mirror previously printed (18th March) a report of a case of two airmen who broke into a house after drinking. Their officer told the magistrates: “If you train a man 5½ days a week to break into houses and to create disturbances on airfields, it is fair to expect that he might be inclined to put his training to the test when he is in drink.” Further comment is perhaps unnecessary, except that such cases do little to dispel the confusion of organised burglary “in the national interest” with ordinary private enterprise burglary.
As a sidelight on the majesty of the law, however, it should be noted that the officer successfully pleaded that the airmen should not be gaoled, as they had good service records and the R.A.F. was short of such men. They were conditionally discharged. Possibly the magistrates considered that it would be a pity to send men who were doing such sterling work to the already overcrowded gaols when there are much more dangerous citizens at large. For example, two girls who signed “Mrs.” instead of “Miss” in a hotel register were recently sentenced to a month’s imprisonment. True, the sentences were later remitted, but that they should have been imposed in the first place shows that the law is administered in accordance with a standard of values that is more concerned with the sanctity of a property institution (legalised marriage) than with the protection of human life.
The Socialist views the problems of crime and war as inseparable from Capitalism itself. A vicious and competitive economic system breeds vicious and anti-social behaviour. A system based on a community of interests instead of on an antagonism will be conducive to co-operative behaviour and not, as at present, place obstacles in its way. Only with the establishment of such a system will wars and crime lose their purpose and hence their existence.