A recently published work, "The Nazi and the Psychiatrist," by Jack El-Hai, recounts the experiences of an army psychiatrist, Douglas E. Kelley, who spent a great deal of time with Hermann Göering while the former Reichsmarschall was in Nuremberg prison. Kelley was fascinated by Göering and hoped to draw some useful conclusions about the nature of evil. Why do human beings act inhumanely, Kelley wondered? Interestingly, Eric Jaffe, in "A Curious Madness," addresses the Japanese side of the equation. Eric Jaffe's grandfather, Major Daniel S. Jaffe, was a United States Army psychiatrist who, among his other duties, was ordered to assess the mental state of fifty-nine year old Okawa Shumei, an intellectual, prolific author, and one of the key architects of Japan's philosophy that war against the Western powers was necessary and inevitable.
After the bloody conflict in the Pacific ended, the American occupying forces tried Okawa and his fellow defendants in what was known as "The International Military Tribunal for the Far East" or the "Tokyo Trial." Sitting in the courtroom in front of Okawa was the infamous former general and Prime Minister of Japan, Tojo Hideki. Although Okawa was the lone civilian among the twenty-eight prisoners, some allied officials "considered him the stitching that held together the entire pattern of Japanese imperialism...." In short, he was "the mind that directed the country's might." Around 3:30 in the afternoon on May 3, 1946, Okawa "extended his long arm forward with an open palm and slapped the top of Tojo Hideki's bald head." After a short recess, Okawa hit Tojo on the head once again. This and other bizarre behavior on Okawa's part prompted the Americans to order a series of psychiatric examinations to determine whether Okawa was emotionally fit to participate in his defense.
In "A Curious Madness," the author describes Okawa's unshakeable belief in Japan's divine mission to rule not just Asia, but the entire world. Okawa organized "radical activist groups" and found eager converts among students and members of the military. Eventually, powerful figures in the Japanese government came around to Okawa's way of thinking. Many Japanese were swayed by Okawa's eloquent speeches (he broadcast a twelve-part radio program that aired in Japan shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) and persuasive writings. Okawa argued that Western powers had colonized and subjugated Asian nations with impunity. Why should Eastern countries relinquish their independence to their Western counterparts?
Equally intriguing is Jaffe's discussion of the psychiatric casualties that threatened the morale and well-being of American soldiers. While in the army, Daniel helped provide effective treatment for front-line troops showing symptoms of combat fatigue. Sadly, Daniel's mother, Esther, who was mentally ill, spent much of her adult life in and out of psychiatric institutions. Daniel was a reserved and cerebral man who wrote many letters to his wife that would have been an invaluable record of his experiences as a division neuropsychiatrist. Unfortunately, he destroyed all of his correspondence as well as his medical records. Still, Eric Jaffe digs deep into the historical records that remain and conducts interviews with surviving eyewitnesses, shedding light on what motivated Japan's leaders to engage in a fight to the death against America and her allies. Furthermore, Jaffe demonstrates the ways in which a protracted and bloody war extracts a high price from overwhelmed and exhausted soldiers who risk their lives on the front lines.
"A Curious Madness" is a well-researched work based on primary and secondary sources; it includes both copious notes and a thorough index.