Soviet ruler Josef Stalin caused the death of some twenty million innocent people in his storied career. Some had challenged him, others had offended him and still more just simply existed. That was reason enough. He had the power, and he enjoyed using it and frankly, took pleasure in killing. He never showed any regret for his atrocities while he held sway over a good chunk of mother earth and its people. What can we say? Was he mentally ill, a category to which we assign today many malefactors?
Let’s say the great dictator assembled a group of psychiatrists to tell him what was wrong. They dutifully examined his words and deeds and came to the unanimous conclusion that he was mentally ill. Unfortunately, the psychiatrists got the remedy, not Stalin. They couldn’t even make it to a labor camp in Siberia. They couldn’t even escape the room. “I may be mentally ill,” said Stalin as he quickly disposed of them, “but you’re dead and I’m alive.” And ready to go on to greater glory and renown as arguably the most effective ruler of the 20th century.
That’s psychiatry Stalin-style. But what does it say about our world today? Is mental illness congruent with remarkable statesmanship and the ruthlessness that accompanies it? If so, we may have to reconsider the casual way we equate mental illness with crime. It can be inaccurate and misleading. Crime speaks for itself. Today’s drug cartels gained control of Mexico some years ago, yet they are as violent as ever, displaying their joy in killing fellow Mexicans and maybe planning the same fate for Americans. The only cure is getting them somehow out of the picture.
Mercy and compassion alone will not do. As long as it’s not punished, crime will spread. What happened in Mexico is a wake-up call for the U.S. Over and over mental illness is cited as the cause for the rapidly increasing crime in the inner cities where drug cartels prey on local gangs. But does sympathy for the addicted also explain the inattention of the media and the U. S. Government to the drug trade? Do they think it’s a system that needs counseling, not suppression? The same goes for violent local criminals. In a typical case Kemal Rideout casually slashed a woman to the bone on the New York City subway for no apparent reason. When he was caught about to leave town, his lawyer claimed – what else? – he was mentally ill and could not help himself. This had worked four times before when he had committed violent crimes and avoided prison. Why not try again? Others look to his example.
Oddly, while the U.S. is increasingly lenient with drug cartels and inner-city criminals, it’s issuing more threats than ever against foreign powers, large and small, with economic sanctions and military action. It’s now engaged in a proxy war with Russia that doesn’t have a clear purpose and is not going very well. It may be time to look back at an earlier great power, the Roman Republic-Empire, which had a run of close to ten centuries – impressive; we’re just getting started – that historians say became so enfeebled at home it could no longer hold off the barbarian forces that finally took it over. Could a plague of mental illness spell the end of the U.S.?