University of Cambridge > > Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History > Demobilisation and Deviance: Leningrad's Second World War Veterans Brutalisation and Criminality

Demobilisation and Deviance: Leningrad's Second World War Veterans Brutalisation and Criminality

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The war on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was a brutal war of extermination, during which the Red Army’s conduct was exceptionally violent. Throughout the Twentieth Century European society has confronted the tension between soldiers as heroes and as killing-machines. Although the evidence was ambiguous it was constantly asserted that ex-servicemen were brutalised by exposure to extreme violence. This ‘brutalisation thesis’ enjoyed great popularity with sociologists, criminologists, psychiatrists and historians. Not so in the Soviet Union. As ex-servicemen returned in the summer of 1945 there were no popular or official concerns that veterans were brutalised by war. Propaganda myths stressed that veterans were quickly and successfully reintegrated into society. Based on a case study of post-war Leningrad and its periphery, this paper argues that the behaviour or Soviet veterans frequently fell short of these propaganda stereotypes. Firstly, it explores to what extent veterans were responsible for the post-war crime wave. Newly uncovered documents reveal that criminal, violent and disorderly behaviour was more common amongst Leningrad’s veterans than previously understood. Secondly, I argue that violent crime was not the result of brutalisation. Violence was caused by a combination of poverty, trauma, alcohol and the failure to reintegrate into society. Criminality and social disorder were not the same as brutalisation. Finally, I argue that the lack of fears about brutalisation can be explained by viewing late-Stalinism as an ‘extremely violent society’. Successive waves of war, revolution, civil-war, famine and political violence created different social and cultural attitudes to violence.

This talk is part of the Violence and Conflict Graduate Workshop, Faculty of History series.

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