Thursday, December 30, 2010
Douglas M. Kelley was given an unusual assignment for any psychiatrist, one in which he had to balance his role as an employee of the US government and a doctor to the top Nazi war criminal in custody. He spent months interviewing and evaluating Goering, developing a detailed picture of his personality and what drove him in his personal and professional life. For 65 years, Kelley’s family had kept the papers pertaining to the Goering evaluation under wraps. Like the infamous man he treated and evaluated, Kelley bit down on a cyanide capsule in what many believe was a drunken suicidal gesture that went horribly awry. This horrifying moment ended Kelley’s short life in 1958. Undoubtedly it took great courage for his family to reopen a book that had been closed for over 50 years.
Scientific American published an article by Jack El Hai, based on a detailed examination of Dr. Kelley’s contact with Hermann Goering. Contrary to popular conceptions prevalent at the time, he found Goering to be clinically normal. El Hai described Kelley’s opinion as follows.
“He believed that Goering and his cohorts were commonplace people and that their personalities “could be duplicated in any country of the world today.” In the years before and during World War II, the opportunity to obtain power led them to embrace a chilling political philosophy. In other words, the Holocaust and the war’s other heinous crimes were the products of healthy minds.”
From Pol Pot in Cambodia to the Interahamwe in Rwanda, it is clear that genocidal impulses are alive and well in the human race. Whatever morbid fascination we may have with dictators, it is clear that countless normal people act as enablers when a society decides to euthanise its collective conscience.
The Goering psychiatric evaluation is a fascinating study of a man and the effect that working with him had on the psychiatrist who treated him. Anyone who is interested not only in the psychological drives of leaders and how they influence society at large should find the opening of the Goering psychiatric evaluation to be fascinating reading.
Scientific American article on Douglas Kelley and Hermann Goering (short version) Sphere: Related Content