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Ailing, Aging, Addicted

Ailing, Aging, Addicted: Studies of Compromised Leadership

Bert E. Park
With a Foreword by Arthur S. Link
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Ailing, Aging, Addicted
    Book Description:

    What role did drug abuse play in John F. Kennedy's White House, and how was it kept from the public? How did general anesthetics and aging affect the presidency of Ronald Reagan? Why did Winston Churchill become more egocentric, Woodrow Wilson more self- righteous, and Josef Stalin more paranoid as they aged -- and how did those qualities alter the course of history?

    Was Napoleon poisoned with arsenic or did underlying disease account for his decline at the peak of his power? Does syphilis really explain Henry VIII's midlife transformation? Was there more than messianism brewing in the brains of some zealots of the past, among them Adolf Hitler, Joan of Arc, and John Brown? Most important of all, when does one man's illness cause millions to suffer, and when is it merely a footnote to history?

    To answer such questions requires the clinical intuition of a practicing physician and the scholarly perspective of a trained historian. Bert Park, who qualifies on both counts, offers here fascinating second opinions, basing his retrospective diagnoses on a wide range of sources from medicine and history.

    Few books so graphically portray the impact on history of physiologically compromised leadership, misdiagnosis, and inappropriate medical treatment. Park not only untangles medical mysteries from the past but also offers timely suggestions for dealing with such problems in the future. As a welcome sequel to his first work,The Impact of Illness on World Leaders, this book offers scholars, physicians, and general readers an entertaining, albeit sobering, analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6165-5
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Bert Park’s new book is of singular interest and importance because it deals with the age-old problem of the impact of disease upon history, particularly upon some of the people who played a large part in making it.

    Nothing startles so much as the obvious. One obvious fact is that history is biography writ large. Another obvious fact is that history has been changed, for better or worse, by a handful of people. The unknown billions have passed through the stream of history known only to God. They have been the sinews of the human race. Leaderless, they have been...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: On Prudence and Skepticism
    (pp. 1-8)

    Can one man’s sickness make millions suffer? Have diseases of the brain in particular adversely affected the behavior of certain leaders? If so, how did that change history—and when did it signify nothing more than a footnote to the past?

    To answer such questions, historians and physicians bedded down in the unkempt lair of “pathography,” where studies of disease as it has affected famous people are conceived. Following what their critics would dismiss as unseemly one-night stands in biographical research, these odd bedfellows often face the morning-after of peer review with self-reproach—as if they have awakened in some...

  6. Part I. Sick Heads and Tall Tales

    • [Part I. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-10)

      Few things threaten biographers more than finding themselves on grounds as unfamiliar as disease and its impact on behavior. Emboldened by a fistful of what were considered irrefutable scientific data in the first half of the twentieth century (when biohistory came into vogue on the heels of psychoanalysis and the now disgraced musings of phrenology), they found it expedient to assault their subjects with such diagnoses as defective glands, syphilis, and epilepsy. After all, contemporary medical thought assured them that anyone of these conditions, untreated, could dramatically alter personality.

      Appreciative reviewers and unwary readers, encountering something both novel and intriguing,...

    • CHAPTER 1 Napoleon Bonaparte: Heads or Tails?
      (pp. 11-26)

      Can the pathographer make head or tail of Napoleon’s perplexing medical history? Despite the attempts of a myriad of imaginative specialists to reduce this Corsican upstart to little more than a walking textbook of disease, even the most skeptical investigators are willing to consider that Napoleon might have won the battle of Waterloo had he not been indisposed; for thrombosed hemorrhoids were said to have diverted the general’s attention during his final curtain call on the stage of European history.¹ In that sense, a painful tail wagged what remained of the dog days of Napoleonic France. The more cerebrally inclined...

    • CHAPTER 2 Henry VIII: Syphilitic Sovereign?
      (pp. 27-46)

      What more need be said of King Henry VIII? His popularly recounted life story reads like a soap opera: eventually falling victim to syphilis after years of debauchery, Bluff Hal spent the rest of his life captive to murderous passions that earned him the dubious distinction of being among the most violent monarchs who ever ruled England. At mid-life, we are told, both his health and his character changed for the worse, such that the royal flagon was by then more half empty than half full. Yet in retrospect one wonders whether the pathographer, with his yard of “ail” in...

    • CHAPTER 3 Fanatics and Saints: The Case for Epilepsy
      (pp. 47-72)

      If personality can be defined as “an enduring style of relating to one’s environment” as the mind perceives it,¹ then it follows that physiologic changes within the brain may profoundly affect how a person behaves. Perhaps the most enigmatic of all personalities to have had an impact on history are those mystical leaders who embraced the burning issues of the day with an eye toward molding them in their image, if not to their own benefit. Whether divinely inspired or physiologically unbalanced, such persons have run the gamut from altruistic self-sacrifice to heinous crimes carried out in God’s name.


  7. Part II. Brain Failure at the Top:: Psychology or Pathology?

    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 73-74)

      Second opinions are as valuable in rehashing history as in diagnosing disease. Accepted schools of historical thought are forever being challenged by what that profession has termed “revisionist views,” often influenced as much by the scholars’ own biases and the times in which they write as by new data. Digging up a treasure trove of documents may occur but once in a lifetime for the historian; as for the pathographer, a public figure’s medical record may remain buried under mounds of doctor-patient confidentiality. Still, as every good researcher knows, the same data may, in receptive soil, sprout different conclusions. Yet...

    • CHAPTER 4 Josef Stalin: A Premier Paranoic
      (pp. 75-94)

      Before condemning the proponents of revisionism (or impugning their motives), we would do well to acknowledge that some revisionists have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of the past. To cite but a few examples: Did the Age of Jackson truly signify the emergence of the “common man” in American politics, or was it a time in which mere deference was paid to the common man by the “uncommon men” who really ran things?¹ Was the Spanish-American War the logical culmination of our Manifest Destiny or a byproduct of imperialistic pretension?²

      Nor have the revisionists ignored the origins of the Cold...

    • CHAPTER 5 Woodrow Wilson: Paralyzed Prophet
      (pp. 95-117)

      Perhaps the lingering nightmare of the Cold War (and most assuredly the hot one that preceded it) had its origins in both irony and tragedy as early as 1920, once the United States Senate had failed to ratify the Versailles Treaty ending World War I. Ironic, because this was precisely the period when Bolshevism, intoxicated by a recent revolution that effectively removed Russia from the war, turned its back on Europe and its attention toward the motherland, intent upon consolidating its tenuous gains. And tragic, because America had just as effectively removed itself from the game of governance in world...

    • CHAPTER 6 Winston Churchill: Compromised Cold Warrior
      (pp. 118-142)

      That Wilson Churchill suffered all his life from what he called the “black dog” of depression is well known. That this may have contributed to his relatively ineffectual leadership in the postwar years is less appreciated. Moreover, we know that Churchill was in poor health during his second tenure as prime minister, from 1951 to 1955, thanks to the published memoirs of his physician, Lord Moran. Yet the real underlying causes of Churchill’s deterioration (hypertension and hardening of the arteries) and their psychophysiologic manifestations (accelerated aging) have yet to be independently analyzed in depth. Like Woodrow Wilson before him, Churchill...

  8. Part III. Drugs and Diplomacy

    • [Part III. Introduction]
      (pp. 143-144)

      Substance abuse has reached epidemic proportions during the past decade, transcending class, race, and nationality. Long before the need became apparent to publicize the problem, and unknown to virtually everyone at the time, a few national leaders indulged in drugs while in office. As prime minister of Great Britain, Anthony Eden admitted to consuming large quantities of Benzedrine during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956, and John F. Kennedy received frequent injections of amphetamines throughout his presidency. To date, the pathographer’s attention has focused on Eden’s intermittent bile duct obstruction and Kennedy’s adrenal gland insufficiency. Yet those diseases probably had...

    • CHAPTER 7 Anthony Eden: Metamorphosis of a Statesman
      (pp. 145-167)

      Winston Churchill’s role in Anthony Eden’s failure was by no means inconsequential, for theirs had become an increasingly untenable relationship as the younger man agonized over the prize his aging mentor dangled before him. Many of Churchill’s associates suspected that the prime minister enjoyed playing upon his protégé’s increasingly fragile emotions. Despite Eden’s formidable reputation as a diplomat, he had long been regarded by some as a spoiled brat. “You can have a scene with a child of great violence … and ten minutes later the whole thing is forgotten,” Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh once observed. “This is not possible with...

    • CHAPTER 8 John F. Kennedy: Doctoring the Image
      (pp. 168-186)

      Accounts of John F. Kennedy’s health both before and during his presidency traditionally fall somewhere between preserving a myth and unraveling a mystery. On the one hand, there is the indomitable JFK of political folklore, wrestling against great odds to overcome chronic back pain and a potentially fatal glandular deficiency. Like another Democratic legend who preceded him in the Oval Office, Kennedy turned his physical handicaps into assets, enough for the mythmakers to conclude that he was more than fit to bear the stress of the office.¹ On the other hand, there are those who see something sinister in the...

  9. Part IV. The Crippled Presidency

    • [Part IV. Introduction]
      (pp. 187-188)

      December 1799: The Father of His Country is dying. Scarcely able to speak as a result of severe tonsillitis, George Washington’s life hangs in the balance between choking spasms of breathlessness. The first physician to make his way through the snows enveloping Mount Vernon that morning, Dr. James Craik, hastily bleeds the former president in a vain attempt to assuage his suffering. Defying the prescribed medical practice of his time, Washington fails to respond.

      Within the day two other physicians arrive, and a heated discussion ensues over the alternatives of treatment available to them. The youngest of the three, Elisha...

    • CHAPTER 9 Precedents and Pitfalls
      (pp. 189-204)

      Though some precedents had arguably been established through the shared failure of George Washington’s doctors, Dr. James Craik’s admission of error was not among them; humility would hardly become a trademark of later presidential physicians. Nor, in a few cases, was withholding desperate operations of the sort that might have saved the life of our nation’s first president. To be sure, some were as futile as many scholars have suggested a tracheostomy would have been for Washington. Abraham Lincoln, well beyond the benefits of the surgery that a bullet fired into his brain at point-blank range had already made moot,...

    • CHAPTER 10 Resuscitating the Twenty-fifth Amendment
      (pp. 205-228)

      The Twenty-fifth Amendment has been hailed as a providential safeguard against virtually every contingency likely to be faced in future cases of presidential inability. Yet precisely where the vice-president and cabinet are to obtain the pertinent medical facts to pass judgment, should a stricken president fail to certify his or her own disability, was all but ignored by the amendment’s sponsors. They chose instead to honor the dubious precedent of depending on presidential physicians. If these doctors have occasionally misled us, it is now naively assumed that the media at least will not. We expect to be immediately and fully...

  10. Postscript—or Apologia?
    (pp. 229-231)

    Two eminent writers from distinctly different generations and cultures have made cogent observations about the discipline of history that have particular relevance to this study. The better known, the early twentieth-century Italian philosopher-historian Benedetto Croce, once remarked, in effect, that the only real history is modern history. Taken to its lowest common denominator of understanding, “If it ain’t recent, it can’t be relevant.” The other, Arno Karlen, is an American editor and writer who has used the best elements of eclecticism to elevate the relatively modern disciplines of biohistory and pathography to high art. Karlen’s work reflects his own understated...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 232-263)
  12. Index
    (pp. 264-274)