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11-08-2015, 17:03


The war brought the threat, and sometimes the reality, of a sudden loosening in sexual customs. It drew millions of women out of their households and into the work force, and wrenched an even greater number of men from their homes for military service. Placing the threat of death or injury in the minds of soldiers and civilians alike, the conflict shook the existing moral order. In Britain, for example, the huge influx of women into well-paid jobs in munitions plants led to public conduct that shocked observers. Working women used their new freedom to drink in public, to dress in provocative new styles (short skirts and even trousers), and to purchase luxury goods with their newfound affluence. For many, these were unwelcome departures from the country's traditions of proper behavior. A rapid increase in the number of divorces hkewise seemed a clear sign of society's decay. In all the warring countries, the dangers faced by the fighting man made hanging on to traditional sexual morality difficult at best. Men on leave or in rest areas near the front found prostitutes readily available. Unmarried women at home found it harder to deny sexual favors to a boyfriend who might never return from his next turn in the trenches. Married women, out of loneliness or financial desperation, were tempted to ignore their obligations to their spouses. George Abel Schreiner, who observed the growing hunger in the Central Powers, watched the changes in moral behavior as well in wartime Germany and Austria. As a widely traveled war correspondent, he found signs of a sliding moral order from the cafes where combat soldiers gathered in brief leaves from the fighting front to homes where women without their husbands could no longer govern the behavior of their children. By the close of 1916, the cost of the war in manpower in Germany and Austria meant that marriageable women now outnumbered eligible men by a ratio of five to four. British observers grew alarmed about a rise in illegitimate children. The number of divorces in England and Wales increased 500 percent between the last year of peace and 1919. The increase in male drunkenness, and the new phenomenon of widespread drunkenness among women, seemed direct results of the high wages paid in the buzzing economy. Illegitimate births rose sharply in Germany, too—so much so that most areas of Germany ended the practice of indicating illegitimacy on birth certificates. With families facing the stress of a father at the front and a mother in the arms factory, juvenile delinquency escalated. Restrictions on adolescents also faded as the wartime economy offered them jobs and high wages and undermined traditional systems of apprenticeship. After two years of war, Germany saw a 50 percent rise in crime among male teenagers. It went up another 25 percent in 1917. German authorities pointed to theft as a particular concern, attributing it largely to the lack of a parent in the home. In Berlin in 1917, for example, the authorities noted that only 8 percent of teenagers working in industry were under the supervision of both parents; only 20 percent had even one parent present. They were also alarmed by "licentiousness," that is, improper sexual behavior, among female adolescents. The suggested remedy was "corrective education," probably meaning confinement in a state-run juvenile home. In Britain, the authorities likewise faced frightening changes. Children only thirteen or fourteen years old were, like their German counterparts, earning enough in the wartime economy to cause them to shake off parental supervision. A consequent concern was the jump in the level of juvenile crime, especially for children ages eleven to thirteen. Theft was the most common offense, with consignment to a reformatory or industrial school the most common remedy. Teenage girls were seen as victims of "khaki fever," an attraction to young men in uniform expressed in loitering around army bases and dispensing sexual favors. The resulting threat to social stability involved both the spread of immorality among lower-class girls who participated in this infatuation and the spread of venereal disease. Members of the middle class responded to the danger by forming groups like the Women Patrols Committee to help supervise public places where such girls congregated. These unofficial organizations sometimes got the sanction of local government and operated in conjunction with police constables.