by Jack El-Hai, Wonders & Marvels contributor
As I wrote in my book The Nazi and the Psychiatrist, Douglas M. Kelley, M.D., had learned plenty about destructive heads of state by the late 1940s. A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, he had conducted psychiatric evaluations of the top German political and military leaders held for trial at Nuremberg on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity after World War II.
When he returned to the States in 1946, he spoke out against such American despots as U.S. Senator Theodore Bilbo and Congressman John E. Rankin of Mississippi and Governor Eugene Talmadge of Georgia, who tapped into veins of white supremacy and racial prejudice to manipulate constituents and attain political power.
By 1948, Kelley was convinced that the U.S. needed formal medical procedures to screen malign people from reaching political office. In an interview that year with a newspaper reporter, he argued for mandatory psychiatric evaluations of office seekers. He gave two reasons why the examinations would protect society. “There are at times grandiose characters in important governmental positions who have abnormal drives and their actions make life unbearable for other people and for society in general,” Kelley said. “If they get too much power, mental tests would uncover incipient Hitlers.”
The second reason: “Politicians are human and just as subject to mental diseases as anyone else.” Kelley added that the psychiatrists who examine political aspirants should also undergo evaluation, “as psychiatrists have the same problems as the politicians.”
Kelley knew what he was talking about. After years of emotional distress and self-imposed overwork, he committed suicide in 1958.
Bilbo, Theodore G. Take Your Choice: Segregation or Mongrelization. Dream House Publishing Company, 1946.
Post, Gerald (editor). The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders. University of Michigan Press, 2005.