Hermann Goering on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013


The Nazi and the Shrink
I think that in the past I've tended to think of Hermann Goering as a fat, ineffective, sinisterly funny cross between Sgt. Schultz in Hogan's Heroes and the Mussolini figure (called Napaloni) in Chaplin's Great Dictator. Guys like Himmler, Heydrich, Hess, and Hitler himself, all seemed more evil than Goering. Well, I was wrong. Jack El-Hai's The Nazi and the Psychiatrist makes it pretty clear that Goering was not only evil, but also terribly effective, and sinister without being funny. So much for the Schultz-Napaloni idea.

The Allied powers had the bright idea to send a psychiatrist to Nuremberg to evaluate the prisoners. The first one was Douglas E. Kelley, and the book centers on his relationship with Goering, a relationship that may have led to Kelley's own suicide by cyanide a little more than a decade later.

You can find the facts of Goering's life in any standard reference work, so we won't deal too much with that here. Kelley is less well known, and the author devotes a fair amount of space to his biography. One point, which El-Hai gives a more positive spin to than I would, is that Kelley was a follower of General Semantics, which he incorporated into his therapeutic work.*

*The Wikipedia article referred to above says that Martin Gardner regarded General Semantics as a pseudo-science. Based on the very little that I know about it, I tend to agree with Gardner.

What came out of Kelley's work with Goering and the other Nazis was a recognition that the Nazi war criminals in many ways resembled ordinary citizens:
"They reminded him of the directors of a business, all under the leadership of the late CEO, Adolf Hitler. One clique— which included Göring and Rosenberg— he called the ‘brain group,’ the men who had shaped Nazi ideology and policy. There were also salesmen— Baldur von Schirach, Franz von Papen, Konstantin von Neurath, and Ribbentrop— who sold Hitler’s ideas to the world. Military and domestic enforcers, including Kaltenbrunner, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Erich Raeder, and Karl Dönitz, mobilized armies and weapons to enforce transactions. Finally, Third Reich, Inc., employed lawyers and bureaucrats who ‘tagged along.’ Altogether the captive Nazi leaders constituted a ‘board of directors’ of their defeated regime, a ruling group that had run a nation but frequently had little contact with one another.”*

*El-Hai, Jack (2013-09-10). The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (Kindle Locations 1191-1197). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

" One of Kelley's observations may resonate with people of a conservative/libertarian persuasion:
"They are people who exist in every country of the world. Their personality patterns are not obscure. But they are people who have peculiar drives, people who want to be in power, and you say that they don’t exist here, and I would say that I am quite certain that there are people even in America who would willingly climb over the corpses of half of the American public if they could gain control of the other half, and these are the people who today are just talking— who are utilizing the rights of democracy in anti-democratic fashion.”*

*El-Hai, Jack (2013-09-10). The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (Kindle Locations 2881-2884). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

" In the '60s it became popular among conservatives to despise Berkeley. Kelley doesn't see it as crazier than other places, but he does seem to see it as tolerating the public display of insanity more than other places:
" I don’t really think Berkeley is any crazier than any other city,” he said in a press interview, “but Berkeley has a high percentage of psychotics and lunatics wandering the streets. We find about two new ones a week.”*

*El-Hai, Jack (2013-09-10). The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (Kindle Locations 3235-3236). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

" Fans of Apple and the Mac used to complain that much of the press about the company and the computer was FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Kelley raised a similar concern in the political arena:
" More decisive in the rise of German fascism was the susceptibility of normal people to myths, propagandistic manipulation, deception, and fear.”*

*El-Hai, Jack (2013-09-10). The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (Kindle Locations 3827-3828). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.

" As the years progressed Kelley became increasingly disillusioned with the American people, and indeed people generally as regards their political and intellectual maturity. Now all of this may have been symptomatic of psychological or psycho-chemical problems such as depression, but something happened to Kelley that happens to many people in thrall to some movement, or to some quack idea. He begins by wishing good to people, and advocating for programs for their benefit. But the programs and the benefits are something that only he sees. As he is rejected he begins to despise his fellows, and he winds up believing that only he has the means of bringing people to salvation. If this project fails, as it did with Kelley, he has no choice but to lash out at his closest associates.

This cold, narcissistic feeling Kelley noticed in Goering: "The ex-Reichsmarschall displayed ruthlessness, narcissism, and a coldhearted disregard for anyone beyond his close circle of family and friends.”*

*El-Hai, Jack (2013-09-10). The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII (Kindle Locations 484-485). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition. " Unfortunately he did not notice that narcissism in his own life.

Interestingly the same phenomenon that Trotsky recognized as happening in the Communist party happened in the Fascist parties as well. Ultimately the process of substitution, in which one party presumes to speak for the whole and that ends with one person speaking for the whole played out in miniature in the life and death of Kelley.

As you read along, you may find, as I did, many parallels between some of the personalities on trial and some Americans who at present have a higher regard, but whose ambitions and traits and programmatic subversion of historic ideals matches the defendants in the dock.

Next up, a book on the first year of modernism.