Now Hear This: Bandits of the Blitz
UK dwellers, there’s a great radio documentary on BBC Radio 4 (and online) next week: Bandits of the Blitz.
With Britain at war and London under siege from the Luftwaffe, everyone’s pulling together. Or are they? Whilst bombs rained down and long-suffering Brits helped each other, some people were simply helping themselves – stealing, looting, and making money on the black market.
World War II created vast opportunities for crime. Warehouses were robbed, army stores rifled and forgers kept busy providing false identity documents, ration books and clothing coupons. Looters, stealing anything of value, cleaned out blitzed houses…
Complex emergency rules left normally-law-abiding citizens facing the courts. Shopkeepers who fell foul of the tangle of red tape faced heavy fines. Even as the war ended, rationing continued, and the black market flourished.
One of the dangers of focusing on crime-conflict issues today is a natural inclination to speak of the same conflicts over and over — Afghanistan, Congo, Mexico, Colombia — conflicts that are intrastate, asymmetrical, buffeted by transnational dynamics, and fought in close proximity to civilian populations. These are important conflicts, ones that affect millions of people, and thus it is only right that they claim the lion’s share of our attention.
However, this makes it easy to forget sometimes about the extent to which crime is an inherent element of war generally — including inter-state and conventional wars. War profiteering, looting, theft — these are not new, and not confined to messy conflicts around the periphery of the developed world.
The heroic narrative of the Blitz sometimes confounds attempts to reveal human frailty, perfidy and exploitation. I’m quite interested to see what Radio 4 comes up with next week.