(The following is from “22 cells in Nuremberg” by Douglas McGlashan Kelley, the American psychiatrist who examined key Nazi leaders in 1945 to determine their suitability to stand trial for atrocities committed by the Third Reich during the Second World War.)
… As far as the leaders go, the Hitlers and the Goerings and the Goebbels and all the rest of them were not special types. Their personality patterns indicate that, while they are not socially desirable individuals, their like could very easily be found in America…
Strong, dominant, aggressive, egocentric personalities like Goering, differing from the normal chiefly in their lack of conscience, are not rare. They can be found anywhere in the U.S. — behind big desks deciding big affairs businessmen, politicians, and racketeers.
Shrewd, smooth, conscienceless speakers and writers like Goebbels, slick, big-time salesmen like Ribbentrop, and all the financial and legalistic hangers-on can be counted among the men whose faces we know by sight.
Political rabble rousers, the Streicher and Ley types, can be encountered at any political meeting; and I am sure in our armed forces we could locate smooth, political generals or colonels who would be willing to string along with a party able to assure them rapid promotion to the top.
No, the Nazi leaders were not spectacular types, not personalities such as appear only once in a century. They simply had three quite unremarkable characteristics in common — and the opportunity to seize power. These three characteristics were: overweening ambition, low ethical standards, a strongly developed nationalism which justified anything done in the name of Germandom.
Let us look about us. Have we no ultranationalists among us who would approve any policy, however evil, so long as it could be said to be of advantage to America? Have we no men so ruthlessly eager to achieve power that they would not quite willingly climb over the corpses of our minorities if by doing so they could gain totalitarian control over the rest of us.
So much for the leaders of a potential American Nazism. What of the followers? Shocking as it may seem to some of us, we as a people greatly resemble the Germans of two decades ago. We have a very similar background of ideological concepts, and we are similarly inclined to base our thinking on emotional rather than on intellectual evaluations. And no one can deny that the basic appeals that Hitler used — demanding minority persecution, demanding development of a stronger nation, demanding that veterans take over the government, demanding government control of private business — all are present in the United States today.
It is a deeply disturbing experience to return from Nuremberg to America and find the same racial prejudices that the Nazis preached being roused here in the same words that rang through the corridors of Nuremberg Jail.
… [W]e must never forget that Hitler was elected by democratic methods in a democratic system, which we ourselves helped to set up [after World War I]. He was elected in a democratic way because of the failure of German democratic forces to prevent his election, because of the fundamental apathy and lack of interest of those forces. Such apathy and disinterest is not unknown in the United States. It has been made painfully obvious in many elections that a small minority, functioning as an active unit, can and does win elections that determine the fate of an apathetic, lethargic, nonvoting majority.
“Here then lies the method for the prevention of a totalitarian state. Our primary duty is to vote and, if we are to insure ourselves against totalitarianism, we must first of all remove all voting restrictions from our citizens. It is time to make the ballot really free, to eradicate the poll tax and other restrictions on voting.
“Second, at every election every individual citizen eligible to vote must cast his ballot. The larger the vote, the more difficult it is for a machine-guided minority to control elections.”