[Paleopsych] NYT: An Early Wartime Profile Depicts a Tormented Hitler
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Science > An Early Wartime Profile Depicts a Tormented Hitler
March 31, 2005
By BENEDICT CAREY
He was a feminine boy, averse to manual work, who was "annoyingly
subservient" to superior officers as a young soldier and had
nightmares that were "very suggestive of homosexual panic." The mass
killings that he later perpetrated stemmed in part from a desperate
loathing of his own submissive weakness, and the humiliations of being
beaten by a sadistic father.
What is believed to be the first psychological profile of Hitler
commissioned by the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor to the
Central Intelligence Agency, was posted this month by Cornell
University Law Library on its Web site
declassified some years ago, the report, written in 1943, has not been
widely cited or available to the public, historians and librarians at
The library published the analysis after receiving permission from a
relative of its author, the late Dr. Henry A. Murray, a prominent
personality expert at Harvard in the middle of the last century. The
document's release was reported on Tuesday on the Fox News program
"The Big Story With John Gibson."
"For a long time, people thought there was only one psychological
profile of Hitler commissioned by the O.S.S.," said Dr. Jerrold M.
Post, a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University and
the founder of the C.I.A.'s psychological branch, referring to a
wartime report by Dr. Walter C. Langer that formed the basis of his
1972 book, "The Mind of Adolf Hitler."
Dr. Langer, a noted psychoanalyst, died in 1981. Dr. Murray was among
several psychoanalysts who had worked with him in profiling Hitler for
the O.S.S., and the Murray profile was apparently incorporated into
the later, more definitive Langer account.
It is clear that this earlier profile added to the definitive profile
of Hitler, Dr. Post said, "and very few people have known that it even
Dr. Post said he came upon a draft of the Murray profile in 2000 while
researching a book of his own, "The Psychological Assessment of
Some experts, including Dr. Post himself, are not convinced that the
report is without significant shortcomings.
The posted document is a condensed version of Dr. Murray's evaluation,
a mixture of psychoanalytic theorizing, speculation and lurid detail
about Hitler's life that could have come from a crime novel. In an
authoritative voice, Dr. Murray diagnoses in Hitler neurosis,
hysteria, paranoia, Oedipal tendencies, schizophrenia, "infinite
self-abasement" and "syphilophobia," which he describes as a fear of
contamination of the blood through contact with a woman. But the
document refers only vaguely to its sources, and presents no
scientific evidence for its findings.
"There's a whole lot of what we would now think of as psychobabble in
Murray's article," Dr. Michael Stone, a psychiatrist at Columbia
University School of Medicine, said after reviewing the profile. One
example, Dr. Stone said, is "the suggestion that as a child Hitler
witnessed his mother and father having sex, which in those days was
given great weight as a source of psychological turmoil." Such an
effect has since been discredited.
Dr. Murray did not have the benefit of genetic studies, or of more
carefully distinguished categories of mental illness established
"Almost anyone who appeared crazy was called schizophrenic back then,"
Dr. Stone said, "and people didn't make distinctions between
schizophrenia, for example, and manic depression."
In a more recent psychological profile, the neurologist and
psychiatrist Dr. Fritz Redlich argued in his 1998 book, "Hitler:
Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet," that while troubled and with
paranoid tendencies, Hitler had probably not been mentally ill. Even
during the war, many historians were very skeptical of efforts to
explain, with what they described as armchair psychoanalysis, acts of
Dr. Murray himself was a controversial figure. Having returned to
Harvard after the war, he was involved in psychological experiments in
1959-62 in which a stress test similar to one the O.S.S. had used to
assess recruits was administered to student volunteers. Among them was
the young Theodore J. Kaczynski, a precocious student at Harvard who
later became known as the Unabomber. Lawyers for Mr. Kaczynski, who
pleaded guilty in 1998 to letter bomb attacks that killed 3 people and
wounded 28 others, traced some of his emotional instability and fear
of mind control to those tests.
Still, historians say, the spirit of Hitler is alive, and infused with
morbid detail, in Dr. Murray's pages. The growing boy, a frustrated
romantic who loved painting castles and temples, and who was
enthralled with architecture, also developed "a profound admiration,
envy and emulation of his father's masculine power and a contempt for
his mother's feminine submissiveness and weakness," Dr. Murray wrote.
"Thus," the profile says, "both parents were ambivalent to him: his
father was hated and respected; his mother was loved and depreciated.
Hitler's conspicuous actions have all been in imitation of his father,
not his mother."
The assessment also includes advice for how the Allies should handle
Hitler if he was captured (secretly film him, replete with sound
track, in his cell so that the world would witness his rantings) and
what name to give him when talking to his defeated countrymen (False
Prophet or False Messiah at first; Corporal Satan or World Criminal
No. 1 later). As for how Hitler's life would play out in the absence
of capture, Dr. Murray predicted suicide.
"There is a powerful compulsion in him to sacrifice himself and all of
Germany to the revengeful annihilation of Western culture, to die,
dragging all of Europe with him into the abyss," Dr. Murray wrote.
Barring a deadly coup or insanity, Dr. Murray speculated, Hitler would
arrange to have himself killed by a German or a Jew, to complete the
myth of the hero betrayed. Or he would retreat to his bunker and, in
dramatic fashion, shoot himself.
In the spring of 1945, as far as historians can determine, that is
exactly what he did.
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