Evil Contagion

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist“, Scientific American Mind,  by Jack El-Hai, Jan/Feb 2011

The highest ranking captive of the Nazi leadership, Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, Commander of the Luftwaffe, was evaluated at Nuremberg by Major Douglas M. Kelley, MD, from Truckee, California, Chief Psychiatrist of the U.S. Medical Corp.  He found Göring to be forthright, engaging, composed, eloquent, smart, . . . even charming.  And Göring was unapologetic and defensive.  He planned to call Britain’s Lord Halifax as a witness to testify to his [Göring’s] willingness to pursue negotiated settlements before the outbreak of war.”

With the Rorschach inkblot and psychiatric assessment, Kelley diagnosed Göring as . . .normal.  He had no sign of mental illness.  He was sane.

My conscience was named Adolf Hitler“.

Göring displayed “extreme fondness for and tenderness toward his family and friends“, such that Dr. Kelley was moved to help locate and bring to him his wife and daughter. But there were the glimpses of the narcissism and cold calculation of the charming psychopath. Göring spoke of having a close associate murdered. How could he? “Göring stopped talking and stared at me, puzzled, as if I were not quite bright. Then he shrugged his great shoulders, turned up his palms and said slowly, in simple one-syllable words: ‘But he was in my way’ “.

Göring was responsible for the ‘Hunger Plan’, the Nazi plan to starve the conquered eastern Europeans and Russians, in order to feed Germans and depopulate the lebensraum.  He made decisions on execution versus forced labor, as the war circumstances required.  It was he who ordered Heydrich to devise the Final Solution, initially framed as being about forced labor and deportation, but he had to know it was in reality about genocide.

Of course, we rearmed.  We armed Germany until we bristled.  I am only sorry we did not rearm more. Of course, I considered treaties as so much toilet paper.

When asked why he had always been Hitler’s ‘yes man’, he replied: “Please show me a ‘no-man’ in Germany who is not six feet under the ground today.”

Göring was addicted to the narcotic, paracodeine, since just before meeting Hitler in the early 1920’s. Narcotics drugs, it is known, create and enhance antisocial personality. They effectively block feelings of empathy, shame, and guilt for its users. Was Nazi evil deepened by narcotics?  Hitler’s first mentor, and important early supporter, Dietrich Eckart, was a morphine addict.

Göring managed to commit suicide with cyanide, just hours before his scheduled execution.  This was his coup, his final refusal to bow.  How did he obtain the cyanide?  We don’t know.  Dr. Kelley had abruptly left Nuremberg before the psychiatric work was completed, for reasons unclear, taking his papers with him (only recently released by his family for this article).  He became alcoholic, and on New Year’s Day, 1958, at age 45, during a domestic drinking episode, he put a cyanide capsule between his teeth, and threatened to bite down. And then suddenly he did, and he died instantly.  His son was there. He believes it was an accident.

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