A friend has drawn my attention to an article, in The Independent regarding the release, in Russia of the diaries of Stalin’s doctor in which the physician states that the Soviet leader’s actions where affected by brain illness (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/brain-illness-could-have-affected-stalins-actions-secret-diaries-reveal-2271995.html). As is well known Stalin was responsible for the deaths of approximately 20 million people many of whom died in the prison camps known as Gulags. The dead included loyal members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and “Kulaks” (peasants) who suffered due to the forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculture.
The question is frequently posed as to what makes a Hitler, Stalin or Mao commit murder on an industrial scale. In the case of Stalin it appears that part of the answer lies in the fact that he was suffering from a brain illness which (in the opinion of his physician) impaired his judgement and led to him losing his sense of right and wrong. Perhaps brain illness did play a role in turning Stalin into a paranoid tyrant. If this is indeed the case then the issue of whether other dictators, for example Hitler could have been afflicted by some kind of brain illness which played a role in causing them to lose their sense of morality raises it’s head. In the case of Hitler we will never know the answer as his body was burned before the allies could examine it (although they did establish that Hitler had died by checking against his dental records).
In the case of all those (dictators or otherwise) who have commited mass murder it is also necessary to look at factors such as their upbringing and the intellectual climate prevailing during their formative years when attempting to ascertain why they acted as they did. For instance when looking at the life of Hitler one can not disregard the fact that anti-semitism was a deep rooted ideology in Germany and that the Nazis where influenced by this long-standing prejudice and, in turn exploited it for their own ends.
Incidentally I’d recommend “Hitler and Stalin, Paralel Lives” by the historian Alan Bullock which offers a fascinating insight into the similarities as regards the paths pursued by the two dictators.