This is an educational story into the science of the mind. Not any mind, though, but into the dark passageways lining the brains of Nazi guards.
After the war, the United States needed to ensure that the Nazis they had captured were mentally and psychologically fit to stand trial. As such, they built a facility to hold the Nazis, and provided them with unconventional psychiatric testing. Perhaps this fact onto itself should be studied, as its implications for the seemingly endless pursuit of a moral high ground for United States are clear as day. There is also a bittersweet lesson to be learned from this singular act: the value of protocol. The United States didn’t maneuver one iota from its medically dictated protocol vis-a-vis standing trial before a criminal court system.
As an American psychiatrist begins analyzing and assessing the Nazi inmates, he quickly learns that their narcissism and allegiance to Hitler are rooted much deeper in the psyche of the minds than once originally imagined. The inmates never hesitated to profess the legal and moral responsibility they had for executing the Jews, and on many occasions they expressed delight in their actions to the attending psychiatrist. The minds of these killers needed to be different, thought Dr. Kelley when he first arrived in Luxembourg. A few interesting quotes from Dr. Kelley in this regard:
“What made these men criminals?” “Were they born with evil tendencies?” “Did they share psychiatric disorders?” “The trial and its run-up served as fascinating laboratories for the study of group dynamics of aggression, criminal motivation, defense mechanisms of the guilty, depression, and the response of deviant personalities to the judicial process.”
The conclusion of Dr. Kelley’s analysis highlights that we may inherently be good. As he states, “These people without Hitler are not abnormal, not pervert[s], not geniuses. They were like any other aggressive, smart, ambitious, ruthless businessman, and their business happened in the setting up of a world government.”
A further important lesson comes from something outside this book. The night before Goring was to be killed, he killed himself in his cell with a cyanide pill. Goring was the brain child of a young Dr. Kelley. They became immensely close in a freakishly odd way. As Dr. Kelley aimed to peer into the mind of pure evil, he lost himself. Years later, Dr. Kelley committed suicide by using a cyanide pill as well. Philosophers and scientists have surmised that his work on Goring built an inherent connection between these two diametrically opposed worlds, one in which Dr. Kelley could not escape from for the remainder of his damaged life.