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Adolf Busemann, "Barbarization and Brutalization" (1956)

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The “Gang”

To wrap up these examples, here is one case of gang activity that is currently occupying the German press:
“Essen, 18 Jan. (dpa). Essen police have shown that a total of 81 break-ins (some of which were aggravated) at food and sports stores, as well as taverns, were the doing of a gang of fourteen school boys ranging in age from nine to fourteen, who, for a six month-period up to the beginning of January, made downtown Essen and the Essen-East area unsafe. The boys were largely after cash in their break-ins. They got about 1,000 DM and also took away boxes of chocolate and cigarettes for their “own use.” However, during their crimes they caused well over 10,000 DM in damage, since they wrought havoc at the places they broke into. [ . . . ]
The leader of the gang explained to the police that he had gotten the idea of forming a gang from reading Westerns, and from bandit and crime novels. Nearly all the boys came from respectable Essen families. The parents had no clue what their offspring were up to. Most gang members will get off without punishment, since they were not yet fourteen at the time of their last crime. The parents must pay for the damage that was caused.”

Can children be like this?

But are children really capable of such misdeeds? Please! As a result of the acceleration of physical development, young people between twelve and fourteen today are no longer children. At thirteen-and-a-half, on average, they have attained full sexual and reproductive maturity (about 2 years earlier than around 1900). Today, childhood usually ends, psychologically and physiologically, at age ten to eleven, and the term “schoolchild” is today nearly synonymous with the phrase “elementary school student.” The teacher in the higher grades of the Volksschule, and this is even truer of the teacher in the lower grades of the Gymnasium, is not dealing with children, but rather with young people who are in puberty or are already fully mature (though, so far, school authorities have hardly taken note of this). In 1953, one large city in southern Germany had no fewer than 23 fifteen year-old wives and even one fourteen year-old wife. Another large German city allowed school-age mothers to bring their children to school, where the children – in substantial numbers – were looked after by a nanny in an appropriately set-up room while the young mothers were in class. Of course, these cases are “rays of light” compared to what had to be reported above, but they illustrate perfectly that we are not dealing with children in the upper grades of the Volksschule.

Another thing needs to be taken into consideration: crimes of cruelty, murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, and rape have become relatively more frequent among adults as well. Of special interest to us in this journal is the increase in child abuse by parents, and here once again the most serious cases. In particular, the beating death of one’s own child is unfortunately often punished quite leniently, especially if one compares it to the punishment that a teacher faces if he dares to inflict a few blows with the cane on the backside of a student guilty of the cruel torture of animals! Here is just one gruesome case: strange sounds emanate from a garbage can that is standing by the road ready for pickup. The can is opened. A living child is lying under ash and garbage. Its mother disposed of it in this way. The child was saved. This happened in Marburg-L, Germany.

This cursory overview is no doubt sufficient to justify the claim that (since about 1920) the inhibitions against acts of violence within our people have become alarmingly weaker, and there is no need to recall those acts in which tens of thousands participated without even being aware that they were committing outrageous crimes; not to mention the political murders in the narrower sense since 1918. It also hardly needs to be pointed out that the reckless driving on public roads is, psychologically speaking, very close to an act of cruelty and often openly assumes the character thereof. A dismantling is under way of the very inhibition that once allowed for the establishment of human civilized behavior; and without this inhibition, the peaceful coexistence of people is impossible, since respect for life and health, the fifth commandment in the catechism: “Thou shalt not kill!,” is the very first prerequisite of all human culture.

This, then, is where we stand, and the surge in youth crime is essentially merely a partial manifestation of this cultural decay and is probably also caused by the same factors behind that more comprehensive process. Whether the process in the end has biological causes or can be directly traced back to the technologization of life or whether we are dealing with the very decay of mental systems, the exhaustion of mental energy – we can leave this question open, because an immediate, urgent task lies ahead of us.

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