Convocation sheds light on the psychology of Nazi war criminals

Renowned psychiatrist Joel E. Dimsdale ‘68 has long studied the Holocaust; his presentation asks probing questions about the nature of malice.

4 May 2018 Posted In:
Portrait of Joel E. Dimsdale, Class of 1968.
Portrait of Joel E. Dimsdale, Class of 1968.Photo:

Author, professor and renowned psychiatrist Dr. Joel Dimsdale ’68 will present Carleton’s weekly convocation on Friday, May. 11. Dimsdale’s presentation is based on his recently published book, “Anatomy of Malice: The Enigma of the Nazi War Criminals” (Yale University Press, 2016), a complex and troubling quest to make sense of the evils of Nazism. The eminent psychiatrist offers an eye-opening study of the psychology of evil based on the extensive psychological testing done on high-level Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.

Carleton convocations are held from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. on Friday mornings in the Skinner Memorial Chapel. They are also recorded and archived for online viewing.

A gripping and haunting narrative, “Anatomy of Malice” draws upon Dimsdale’s decades of experience as a psychiatrist and the dramatic advances within psychiatry, psychology, and neuroscience since the 1945 international war crimes trial in Nuremberg, Dimsdale looks anew at the findings and examines in detail four of the war criminals: Robert Ley, Hermann Göring, Julius Streicher, and Rudolf Hess. Using increasingly precise diagnostic tools, Dimsdale discovered a remarkably broad spectrum of pathology and sheds new light on the psychology of war criminals.

Lauded as “a masterful and rigorous” work, “Anatomy of Malice” seeks to explore questions of whether evildoers are monstrous psychopaths or is the capacity for wickedness inherent in every human being? What is it in the human psyche that gives rise to hatred and murderous rage? Did the war criminals’ malice stem from depraved psychopathology — or were they morally flawed, ordinary men who were creatures of their environment?

In addition to “Anatomy of Malice,” Dr. Dimsdale is the author of 500 publications. He earned his BA degree in biology from Carleton College, and his MA in sociology and MD degree from Stanford University. He obtained his psychiatric training at Massachusetts General Hospital and then completed a fellowship in psychobiology at the New England Regional Primate Center. He was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School from 1976 until 1985, when he moved to University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Dimsdale is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in the department of psychiatry at UCSD. His clinical subspecialty is consultation psychiatry and his research focuses on stress, sleep, and quality of life. He is a former career awardee of the American Heart Association, and is past-president of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the American Psychosomatic Society, and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. He is on numerous editorial boards, including editor-at-large Journal Psychosomatic Research, is editor-in-chief emeritus of Psychosomatic Medicine, and is a previous guest editor of Circulation. He has been a consultant to the President’s Commission on Mental Health, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academies of Science, NASA, and NIH. He was a member of the DSM5 taskforce and chaired the workgroup studying somatic symptom disorders.

This event is free and open to the public. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4308. The Skinner Memorial Chapel is located at First and College Streets in Northfield.