Jul 27, 2018

The Bad Show

With all of the black-and-white moralizing in our world today, we decided to bring back an old show about the little bit of bad that's in all of us...and the little bit of really, really bad that's in some of us.  

Cruelty, violence, badness... in this episode we begin with a chilling statistic: 91% of men, and 84% of women, have fantasized about killing someone. We take a look at one particular fantasy lurking behind these numbers, and wonder what this shadow world might tell us about ourselves and our neighbors. Then, we reconsider what Stanley Milgram's famous experiment really revealed about human nature (it's both better and worse than we thought). Next, we meet a man who scrambles our notions of good and evil: chemist Fritz Haber, who won a Nobel Prize in 1918...around the same time officials in the US were calling him a war criminal. And we end with the story of a man who chased one of the most prolific serial killers in US history, then got a chance to ask him the question that had haunted him for years: why?

This episode was produced with help from Carter Hodge.

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate. 

THE LAB sticker

Unlock member-only exclusives and support the show

Exclusive Podcast Extras
Entire Podcast Archive
Listen Ad-Free
Behind-the-Scenes Content
Video Extras
Original Music & Playlists

Robert Krulwich:

Hi I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Casper. Check out the Casper or the Wave mattress providing supportive comfort for every body type. Visit casper.com/radiolab and use code radiolab and check out to get $50 towards select mattresses. Terms and conditions apply.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Audible. So, as we begin this episode of the Bad Show, check out The Blank Slate by Steven Pinkner, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind. Go to audible.com/radiolab or text Radiolab to 500500 for a free 30-day trial and a few audiobook.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Uh, wait. Yeah let's ... (laughs).

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Robert Krulwich:

All right.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Robert Krulwich:

All right.

 

Speaker 2:

You are listening-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Listening.

 

Speaker 2:

... to Radiolab.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Radiolab.

 

Speaker 2:

From ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

WNYC.

 

Speaker 3:

C.

 

Speaker 2:

C.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Speaker 3:

(laughs).

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. Here we go. Ready, Robert?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hmm yes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

God, I feel like we haven't, you and I sat together and said our names in quite some time.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, that's because you- be-because Molly's been in the chair.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Molly's been killing it-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... with the Go Nats series.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That was just for those of you haven't heard it yet, this is a kind of a rush through a- through sex reproduction.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What makes boys boys and girls girls. And the infinity of gray spaces in between.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And now that we're sort of just on the other side of that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We thought that maybe as- as we turn a corner ourselves, we should refresh. But in a us sort of way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah (laughs). I mean, you know, it's just one of those things we've been bringing back shows that we think are just vibrating still in the world.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, at a time when there are people all over our country eyeing other people all over the country and thinking, "She's bad. He's bad. You're bad. I'm good. You're bad." There's- there's a lot of-

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's a lot of black and white thinking happening right now.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. And so, we've decided that it's time to go back to something we did once upon a time when we were wondering about good and bad. We did a show called The Bad Show.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which was sort of asking these questions like, "What makes a person inherently good or bad? Is there a way to explain why some people act the way they do and others don't?"

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. Can we really know that? No one has a monopoly on bad. Um, although there's some (laughs) [crosstalk 00:02:19].

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, some people is-

 

Robert Krulwich:

... try.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah (laughs).

 

Robert Krulwich:

But we thought we would- we would play this show, uh, about a little bit of bad that is in all of us.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And the, uh, really, really bad that is in, uh, some of us.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Pat:

Hello David.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes, hello.

 

Pat:

This is Pat.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh hi Pat.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Let's begin with this story from our producer Pat Walters.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Pat, go ahead.

 

Pat:

Okay. So, I heard this one from this guy named David-

 

David Buss:

My name is David Buss.

 

Pat:

Two Ss. He's a psychology professor.

 

David Buss:

At the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Pat:

And this particular story, it comes from a book that David wrote. Um, could you just- just tell me, uh, the little story that you begin your book with?

 

David Buss:

Okay. Yes. Um, this is one of the things that's, uh, this was one of the things that's sparked my interest in the topic of murder.

 

Pat:

The whole thing happened serveral years ago.

 

David Buss:

I had a very good friend.

 

Pat:

Another professor at the University.

 

David Buss:

And I used to socialize with him and- and his wife. And one evening they were throwing a- a party. And invited me over. And so, uh, when I went to the party, the party was already in full swing when I got there. Uh, walked in and asked his wife, uh, where this friend of mine was. And, uh, she had got a disgusted look on her face and said that he was up in the bedroom. And so, I went up to the bedroom and he was, you know, in a rage.

 

Pat:

In a rage, uh, how? Like, you walked into the room, what- what do you find?

 

David Buss:

Well, he started- he started fuming that his wife had- had dissed him. And-

 

Pat:

What did she do?

 

David Buss:

Uh, she, uh, expressed disapproval about his, um, clothing choices.

 

Pat:

She made fun of his shirt or something.

 

David Buss:

But did it publicly in front of her friends, so it was kind of a ... He felt publicly humiliated.

 

Pat:

And while David's sitting in the bedroom with this friend, the guy looks up at him and he says-

 

David Buss:

"I'm going to kill her."

 

Pat:

How- how did he say it? Like quietly or?

 

David Buss:

Like, through his teeth. You know, uh, "I'm going to kill her."

 

Pat:

David had always known this guy to be pretty mild mannered.

 

David Buss:

But he is a, uh, a large, very strong man. Um, with a black belt in karate. I knew what he was capable of, so I suggested that we go out for a walk. And I basically spent the next half hour walking around with him trying to cool him off.

 

Pat:

And eventually he did.

 

David Buss:

He just calmed down.

 

Pat:

Hmm. And did you go back to the party then and continued dinner partying for a while?

 

David Buss:

Yeah, I did.

 

Pat:

And he did too?

 

David Buss:

Yes. And he did too. And then, he seemed fine when I said goodbye to him. He seemed calm. I left him, went home. And then, it was several hours later in the middle of the night that I got the call.

 

Pat:

And it was his friend.

 

David Buss:

And he says, "Can I come over and sleep on your couch? Uh, if I don't leave my house right now, I'm going to kill her." He was in this, um, uh, uh, state of fury, he said, and, um, and instead of hitting his wife, he smashed his fist into the bathroom mirror. And then, realized that he had to leave the house or he was going to do damage to her.

 

Pat:

And then, and- So, he says that and you're like, "Okay. Yes. Come over now."

 

David Buss:

Yeah. E- exactly.

 

Pat:

Meanwhile later that night, the other side of town.

 

David Buss:

His wife, um, went into hiding. Literally disappeared for six months and didn't tell anyone where she was because she was terrified that he was going to kill her.

 

Pat:

This story made us wonder is David's friend, is he unusual? Or does everybody at some point have something dark in them? Just tiptoes out, just from time to time.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. This is Radiolab and today we're going to get bad. So to speak.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We've done a good show.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is the Bad Show.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, you ask like, why do people do bad things?

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is actually mean to be bad anyways. Like, how do you tell the real baddies from the rest of us?

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's our alley.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The Bad show. [music 00:06:42].

 

Jad Abumrad:

Back to bad.

 

Pat:

Okay. Uh, so what happened to David that night with his friend got him really curious about murder and badness and all these things we're thinking about. But it wasn't until a few years later that he learned something that really put what happened that night into context. At this point, David's moved onto a new university and he's teaching an introductory psychology class.

 

David Buss:

And I devoted one class session to the topic of homicide and why people kill. And I designed a little, um, questionnaire where I simply ask the students, you know, "Have you ever thought about killing someone?" And they would circle yes or no.

 

Pat:

Then he left some space at the bottom for them to elaborate if they said yes.

 

David Buss:

And, you know, the class ended and I went back to my office. And I just sat at my desk and started reading these. I was just astonished.

 

Pat:

To find page after page of yeses. And not just yeses.

 

David Buss:

But these very vivid descriptions about-

 

Pat:

Who they would kill, where they'd do it, when.

 

David Buss:

The precise method.

 

Pat:

How many of them went into that kind of detail?

 

David Buss:

Uh, I would say 75% or 80%.

 

Pat:

Wow. Were you a little bit, like, horrified? Like, "Oh my God. My students are murderers."

 

David Buss:

I- I- I- well (laughs). I- horrified is- I was- I was pretty stunned. And so, I ex- expanded the sample where we asked about 5000 people.

 

Pat:

All over the world.

 

David Buss:

Singapore, Peru, the UK.

 

Pat:

That same question.

 

David Buss:

Have you ever thought about killing someone? And 91% of the men said yes. And 84% of the women.

 

Pat:

Said- said, "Yes, I've thought about killing someone."

 

David Buss:

Yes. If any sizeable fraction actually acted on their homicidal fantasies, the streets would be running- running red.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah. But that's just a- those are fantasies.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Some of them actually seem like-

 

David Buss:

Well, here's one.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... something more than just fantasies.

 

David Buss:

From a- a woman.

 

Pat:

Sure.

 

David Buss:

Okay. This is a 20 year old female. Uh, we ask "Who did you think about killing?" And she said, "My ex boyfriend. Um, we lived together for a couple months. He was t- very aggressive. He started calling me a whore and told me he didn't love me anymore. So, I broke up with him. Then a few months later, he started calling me, trying to get back together, but I didn't want to. He said that if I ever had a relationship with another man, he was going to send videos of us having sex to all the people in my university. The thing is that I do have a new boyfriend, but my ex boyfriend doesn't know that- that yet, and I'm terrified that he'll do what he says. Then suddenly the thought occurred to me that my life would be much happier without him in existence."

 

David Buss:

And then, she said, "I actually did this. I invited him for dinner. And as he was in the kitchen, looking stupid, peeling the carrots to make salad, I came up to him laughingly, gently, so that he wouldn't suspect anything. I thought about grabbing a knife quickly and stabbing him in the chest repeatedly until he was dead. I actually did the first thing, but he saw my intentions and ran away." Uh, when- when asked how close she came to killing him, she estimated 60%.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I don't think I've ever had a fantasy that- that anatomically specific where I would see the part of the other person that I was going to stab or plan it like that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, have you ever been blackmailed the way this woman was being blackmailed?

 

Robert Krulwich:

No. no one has ever said about a sex tape that I've ever ... you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, you don't know. It is a fair question to ask what are the conditions under which you or me or any of us could do-

 

Robert Krulwich:

I-

 

Jad Abumrad:

... awful things.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I think they have to be extreme in the extreme.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

You know how mild-mannered I am.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No. No. You know what? This actually brings us to the first topic of the hour, so let me ... Just to set it up. Robert, I'm going to give you this piece of paper here.

 

Robert Krulwich:

What is this?

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, these are some word pairs. Read these words.

 

Robert Krulwich:

These words here?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yep.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nice day.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Uh-huh.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Fat neck.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Sad face. What is this? Soft hair.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I don't know what this is.

 

Jad Abumrad:

These just word pairs.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hard-

 

Jad Abumrad:

I want you to commit them to memory.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Fat- commit them to memory? You know [crosstalk 00:10:58].

 

Jad Abumrad:

And while you're doing that, just give me your finger. I'm gonna-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Fast bird.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... connect it to this little electrode to your finger.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hard.

 

Jad Abumrad:

There you go. There.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Wait a second. Clear air.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. So give me the paper back.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Already?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Time's up. So, I'm just going to go into this other room over here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Can you hear me?

 

Robert Krulwich:

What? What?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Right. So, I'm going to talk to you over this intercom, okay?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm going to give you a test.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm not ready for this!

 

Jad Abumrad:

Pay attention.

 

Robert Krulwich:

All right.

 

Jad Abumrad:

To the best of your memory, which word was matched with nice? Was it nice day? Nice sky? Nice job? Or nice chair?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nice.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Answer please.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I don't know ... wait a second.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just push the button that corresponds to the right word. Go.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Okay. I'm choosing job?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wrong. Answer is day.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sorry, man.

 

Jad Abumrad:

285 volts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm going to give you a little, uh ... (laughing)

 

Robert Krulwich:

What did you just do?

 

Jad Abumrad:

She just burst my eardrums (laughs). God. Obviously no need to be alarmed. That was not a real shock. We were just enacting an old very famous experiment you may have heard about.

 

Experimenter:

It is May 1962.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Done by this guy.

 

Experimenter:

An experiment is being conducted in the elegant interaction laboratory at Yale University.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Stanley Milgram talking about the experiment in a film in case you've never heard of this. Probably have, but in case you haven't. Here's what he did. He recruited a bunch of subjects.

 

Experimenter:

The subjects are 40 males between the ages of 20 and 50.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just normal every day dudes.

 

Experimenter:

The subjects range in occupation from corporation presidents to good [inaudible 00:12:29] and plumbers.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he ran them through something like what you and I just did. He would have each subject sit down at a table.

 

Experimenter:

Have a seat right here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In front of this really impressive looking machine.

 

Experimenter:

This machine.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It had lots of switches on it.

 

Experimenter:

Uh, generates electric shocks. When you press one of these switches all the way down, the learner gets a shock.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In the other room, there was a guy who he called the learner who is supposed to have memorized some words. Every time that guy got the word wrong.

 

Experimenter:

Wrong.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like you just did, which happens constantly.

 

Experimenter:

The answer is neck.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The volunteer.

 

Experimenter:

300 volts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Was instructed to shock that guy.

 

Male:

Aah!

 

Jad Abumrad:

With higher and higher voltage. Now the volunteer couldn't see the guy he was shocking, but he could definitely hear him.

 

Male:

Aah!

 

Jad Abumrad:

Milgram staged the whole thing like it was some experiment about memory and punishment, but of course it wasn't about that.

 

Male:

Oh man.

 

Experimenter:

Continue please.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It's about how far would these people go. How many times would they shock that sad-

 

Male:

Ow!

 

Jad Abumrad:

... in the next room just because they're being told to.

 

Male:

Let me out of here! Let me out of here!

 

Jad Abumrad:

That guy yelling of course was an actor and the shocks weren't real, but the questions in the air at the time were very real.

 

Speaker 9:

Prosecution the attorney general.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This was a moment when human cruelty was on trial. Quite literally.

 

Speaker 10:

When I stand before you, judges of Israel, in this court to accuse Adolf Eichmann. I do not stand alone.

 

Ben Walker:

So Stanley Milgram actually begins these experiments the same year that Adolf Eichmann goes on trial for Nazi war crimes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's radio producer Ben Walker. He'll be our guide for the segment.

 

Ben Walker:

And in the trial, when the prosecutors essentially ask him, "How you came to commit genocide?" He would say over and over again.

 

Adolf Eichmann:

It was not my personal affair.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I was just following orders.

 

Adolf Eichmann:

I had to do what I was ordered.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it's this defense. This is basically what Stanley Milgram set out to test.

 

Experimenter:

285 volts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In a lab at Yale University with a bunch of regular Americans.

 

Male:

Aah!

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like, is that something that's universal?

 

Ben Walker:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Or just an Eichmann thing.

 

Ben Walker:

Yeah. He figured maybe 1% of these men would keep flicking these switches up to the highest voltage, but that's not what he found. 65%-

 

Experimenter:

Continue please.

 

Ben Walker:

... were willing-

 

Male:

Ow!

 

Ben Walker:

... to shock their fellow citizens over and over again-

 

Male:

Aah!

 

Ben Walker:

... even past when they were screaming in pain.

 

Volunteer:

Something's happened to that man there.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Even when they stopped screaming?

 

Ben Walker:

Yeah. When they were maybe dead.

 

Volunteer:

You better check in on him, sir. He won't answer. We have nothing.

 

Experimenter:

Please continue. Go on please.

 

Ben Walker:

They continued shocking their corpses. His experiment remains one of the most famous experiments of the 20th century.

 

Speaker 14:

In 1962 Stanley Milgram shocked the world with his study on obedience.

 

Ben Walker:

It is still trotted out to explain everything from hazing to war crimes.

 

Experimenter:

What is their in human nature-

 

Ben Walker:

To game behavior.

 

Experimenter:

That allows an individual to act inhumanely?

 

Ben Walker:

Genocide.

 

Experimenter:

Harshly.

 

Ben Walker:

It's like a downloadable from the internet instant defense for doing wrong, but if you look at Milgram's work closely.

 

Alex Haslam:

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Ben Walker:

Like, this guy did.

 

Alex Haslam:

Alex Haslam, professor of psychology at the University of Exeter.

 

Ben Walker:

Then a different picture will emerge.

 

Alex Haslam:

Really, that story has been told a million and one times for the last 50 years. We just got to get ov- get out of it where-

 

Ben Walker:

Now what you need to understand about Alex Haslam is that he hates it when interviewers only want to talk about the baseline study.

 

Alex Haslam:

The one that everybody knows, the so-called baseleine.

 

Ben Walker:

The 65% one.

 

Jad Abumrad:

The one we just talked about.

 

Ben Walker:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, there's more? There's more to it?

 

Alex Haslam:

Yeah. 'cause actually he studied between 20 and 40 different variants of this same paradigm.

 

Ben Walker:

Stanley Milgram took electric shock very seriously. He did this experiment a bunch of times in a bunch of different ways.

 

Alex Haslam:

Had all sorts of different things.

 

Ben Walker:

He would change where the shocker and the shockee sat.

 

Alex Haslam:

He had women participants. He had an experimenter who wasn't a scientist, but was a member of the general public.

 

Ben Walker:

And every scenario produced a different result.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Ben Walker:

Yup.

 

Alex Haslam:

Let me- let me jump just, uh, a quote in front of me. I've just got the, uh, the data from the Milgram. So, let me just get that ov- I mean-

 

Ben Walker:

So, again, the baseline study is the one where 65% of the volunteers-

 

Alex Haslam:

Go all the way.

 

Ben Walker:

Highest dose of electricity.

 

Alex Haslam:

XXX.

 

Ben Walker:

But in experiment number three, if they put the shockee in the same room with the shocker so the shocker could actually see the person as the shockee.

 

Alex Haslam:

Uh, uh, obedience drops to about 40%.

 

Ben Walker:

And then, in experiment number four, when the teacher has to hold the learner's hand down-

 

Alex Haslam:

On a plate.

 

Ben Walker:

... in order for him to feel the shocks.

 

Alex Haslam:

It drops to about 30%.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Ben Walker:

Experiment 14.

 

Alex Haslam:

If the experimenter is not a scientist, but is an ordinary man.

 

Ben Walker:

Not wearing a white coat.

 

Alex Haslam:

Obedience drops to 20%.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Really?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, how low could we go?

 

Alex Haslam:

Okay.

 

Ben Walker:

Here's another one.

 

Alex Haslam:

This [inaudible 00:17:35].

 

Ben Walker:

Experiment 17.

 

Alex Haslam:

This you and this two other participants.

 

Ben Walker:

Both actors.

 

Alex Haslam:

If those two participants refused to go on.

 

Ben Walker:

Like, saying like, "I don't want to kill a guy."

 

Alex Haslam:

Only 10% under those circumstances go on. And then, the final one.

 

Ben Walker:

Experiment 15.

 

Alex Haslam:

Of course normally just have one experimenter who's giving you these instructions.

 

Ben Walker:

But if you put two experimenters in the room and-

 

Alex Haslam:

They start disagreeing with each other. And in this one you get 0% going all the way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Zero?

 

Alex Haslam:

Zero in that condition.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You said zero?

 

Alex Haslam:

[crosstalk 00:18:04].

 

Ben Walker:

That's ab- absolute zero.

 

Alex Haslam:

Not one person.

 

Ben Walker:

No one?

 

Alex Haslam:

No.

 

Ben Walker:

Not a soul.

 

Alex Haslam:

Exactly 0%.

 

Ben Walker:

Well, all right. I'm starting to feel a little bit better about my fellow man.

 

Jad Abumrad:

One second.

 

Ben Walker:

Hey, hey, hey. Shhh. Okay.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Where is he?

 

Ben Walker:

Man, I'm in a closet.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In a closet?

 

Ben Walker:

'cause this room's echo-ey and you know there's nothing like a closet full of clothes to, like, help balance that out.

 

Robert Krulwich:

(laughs).

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's true. All right. So keep going.

 

Ben Walker:

So, you see, it's just in that one experiment that 65% of people are willing to go all the way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Ben Walker:

But in all of these other scenarios, they don't. And even when they do say yes, even when they go along with the experiment, as you can see in the film.

 

Volunteer:

Woman.

 

Ben Walker:

They struggle.

 

Experimenter:

Continue using the last switch on the board, please.

 

Volunteer:

I'm not getting no answer.

 

Experimenter:

Please continue. The next word is light.

 

Alex Haslam:

They have debates with themselves.

 

Volunteer:

Don't you think you should look in on him, please?

 

Alex Haslam:

Debates with the experimenter.

 

Experimenter:

Not once we've started the experiment.

 

Volunteer:

But what if something's happened to the man. He had an attack or something there.

 

Experimenter:

The experiment requires that we continue. Go on please.

 

Volunteer:

Don't- don't the man's health mean anything?

 

Experimenter:

Whether the learner likes it or not.

 

Volunteer:

But he might be dead in there.

 

Ben Walker:

What's interesting is that how all of these struggles, all of them, play out the same way. It's the experimenter.

 

Experimenter:

Go on please.

 

Ben Walker:

Prodding the shockers along.

 

Volunteer:

You're going to keep giving what? 450 volts every shock now?

 

Experimenter:

That's correct.

 

Ben Walker:

For me it's all about the prods.

 

Experimenter:

The next word's white.

 

Ben Walker:

This is what totally pulled me into the story. The prods. Stanley Milgram had four scripted prods that he wrote out for his experimenters for when the subjects didn't want to continue.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yup.

 

Ben Walker:

The first one was "Please go on."

 

Experimenter:

Continue please.

 

Ben Walker:

And if they didn't go on, if they resisted, the experimenter would break out prod number two. "The experiment requires that you continue."

 

Experimenter:

Well,the experiment requires that you continue.

 

Volunteer:

Well, I mean, I know that sir, but I mean, he's up to a 195 volts.

 

Ben Walker:

And if they still were resisting or struggling, they'd get prod number three.

 

Experimenter:

It's absolutely essential that you continue.

 

Ben Walker:

It's absolutely essential. It's a little bit more direct.

 

Alex Haslam:

It's a bit strong. It's not an order.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Not quite.

 

Ben Walker:

But the fourth prod.

 

Alex Haslam:

It is a, the- the critical- the critical force prod.

 

Ben Walker:

Is an absolute order. The fourth prod is.

 

Experimenter:

You have no other choice, teacher.

 

Ben Walker:

You have no other choice, teacher.

 

Alex Haslam:

You must continue.

 

Ben Walker:

That is definitely an order.

 

Alex Haslam:

Exactly.

 

Ben Walker:

But every time the experimenter pulled out the fourth prod, and this was confirmed when the experiment was redone in 2006, total disobedience.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Total disobedience?

 

Ben Walker:

Any time the experimenter said, "You must continue" the shocker would say, "Hell no, I don't."

 

Experimenter:

You have no other choice, teacher.

 

Volunteer:

I do have a choice. I'm not going to go ahead with it.

 

Experimenter:

Well, I'd have to discontinue the experimenter then.

 

Volunteer:

I'm sorry.

 

Ben Walker:

Here's another one.

 

Experimenter:

You have no other choice. You must-

 

Volunteer:

Yes, I have a choice.

 

Experimenter:

Fact is if you don't continue, uh, we're going to discontinue the experiment.

 

Volunteer:

[inaudible 00:21:03] just cut it out. After all he knows what he can stand. That's my thing and that's where I'm going to stand on it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow. So, the subject seemed willing to shock another human being, but as soon as you say it's an order.

 

Alex Haslam:

They don't do it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Huh.

 

Alex Haslam:

Now that's important. It's very important because if you ask university undergraduates what does the Milgram study show, they will invariably say something like "They show that people obey orders" okay? Well, actually the one thing that the study really doesn't show is that people obey orders. Again, it's a pretty big thing to miss. It's a pretty big thing to miss (laughs) isn't it? Really?

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, wait, if it doesn't show that people are just obeying orders-

 

Alex Haslam:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... then what does it show?

 

Alex Haslam:

Okay. I think it looks- It's like this.

 

Experimenter:

All right. Let's go into our instructions. We will begin with this test.

 

Alex Haslam:

The participants that are there in this study-

 

Experimenter:

Each pair of words.

 

Alex Haslam:

They've got a- a very plausible, very credible high status scientist at a high status scientific institution.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yale.

 

Alex Haslam:

Who's going to do this powerful piece of science.

 

Experimenter:

Direct your voice to the microphone in the room.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, they sit down in the chair thinking, "Wow. This- this is really important. I'm about to help this quest for knowledge. I really want to do a good job."

 

Alex Haslam:

Now, as we sort of know in life, lots of things that we if they're worthwhile doing, they're not always easy. And you find yourself in a situation where you've got to do something that's hard.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Like shocking an innocent stranger over and over.

 

Alex Haslam:

But if you think that's the right thing. If you think that science is worth pursuing, you say, "Okay. I'll go along with this."

 

Male:

Ow!

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, you're saying they're shocking these people because they thought it was worthwhile?

 

Alex Haslam:

Look. The participants, you know, they're not- it's not- it's not just blind obedience. "Oh, you tell me sir, yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir."

 

Volunteer:

Answer please.

 

Alex Haslam:

They're engaged with the task. They're trying to be good participants.

 

Volunteer:

Are you all right?

 

Alex Haslam:

They're trying to do the right thing. They're not doing something because they have to. They're doing it because they think they ought to. And that's all the difference in the world.

 

Experimenter:

220 volts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Suddenly I'm thinking this is actually a darker interpretation.

 

Ben Walker:

It's the original. Absolutely darker.

 

Jad Abumrad:

'cause they are doing it.

 

Ben Walker:

No question about it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

They have the agency.

 

Ben Walker:

Yup.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And they think it's right. Although, clearly on some level they know it isn't.

 

Alex Haslam:

This is sort of chilling comparison, which is a speed that Himmler gave to the SS, some SS leaders, when they were, uh, about to commit a range of atrocities. He said, "Look, this is what you're going to do is ... of course you don't want to do this. Of course nobody wants to be killing other people. We realize this is hard work, but what you are doing is for the good of Germany. And this is necessary in order to advance our noble cause."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow. So, then-

 

Ben Walker:

Hey wait! I'm almost done, guys. Give me two more minutes. Two more minutes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) So, in the Milgram case-

 

Ben Walker:

Uh-huh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

... with the ideas that people would do bad if they think it's good, it's a good noble cause. What's the noble cause in this case?

 

Ben Walker:

Science.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Science.

 

Ben Walker:

You can see this in the surveys that the men filled out after the experiments were over.

 

Jad Abumrad:

"This was exactly what was in my mind. If the experiment- if the experiment had to be successful, it had to be carried on."

 

Ben Walker:

The questionnaires they filled out are part of the Milgram archive at Yale.

 

Jad Abumrad:

"I'm willing to help in a worthwhile experiment."

 

Ben Walker:

And it's kind of surprising. A lot of them are really positive even though they've just been told that they were duped.

 

Jad Abumrad:

"Research in any field is a must, particularly in this day and age." "Do you think that more studies of this sort should be carried out?" "Definitely yes."

 

Alex Haslam:

We, as- as onlookers to this study, we have this kind of god-like, uh, sort of vision of, like, well of course what they're doing is wrong. But if looked at from another perspective, there is a sense in which you could celebrate what they're doing. You- I mean, I'm not suggesting one should, but I'm just saying there is a sense in which these people are prepared to do something that's very painful to them and to someone else because they want to promote science. Well, you know, you can see that's a good thing. You know [crosstalk 00:25:00].

 

Jad Abumrad:

God, 'cause it's like we started with this experiment that we all see as evidence of human's latent capacity of evil.

 

Alex Haslam:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And you tell us, "Actually, no. Under some circumstances we don't do the bad thing we're told to do because" here's another flip "We don't have to be told. In fact we hate being told. But we will do it on our own if we think it's good."

 

Alex Haslam:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now you're saying actually that you could read that, that very dark fact, as being actually evidence of something quite- quite noble.

 

Alex Haslam:

Well, if you dressed it up, and if you had some minor vairance in the paradigm, you could presumable, you know, make- make this up. These are- these are people who are incredibly noble. I mean, it's the fact that of course that they're administering main to a strange. That's what's horrifying about it, but imagine they were administering pain to themselves. Imagine they really were had to administer shocks to themselves or something. But if they were prepared to do that, and I suspect a lot of them would, um, then we'd say these are people who really believe in science. And isn't this a good thing that we have people in our society who are willing to make sacrifices for a greater- the greater good?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hmm. So, in the end where do you come down? Do you leave this experiment in a light mood or in a dark mood?

 

Alex Haslam:

Uh, I- I- I-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Overall.

 

Alex Haslam:

I- I- I would say in a powerful mood. We're close to some really fundamental truths about human nature. And, you know, my view about human nature is that it affords infinite potential for lightness and dark. There's lots and lots of lessons here, but one is I think, you know, when you are enjoying to do something for the greater good, maybe ask yourself the question, what is greater and what is good?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, that right there, slap some quotations around that.

 

Alex Haslam:

(laughs) yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Thanks to Ben Walker whose podcast ... He has a podcast. It's a good one. It's called Too Much Information.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes, it's awesome. Thank you Ben. And also, thank you to Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology at the University of Exeter. We'll be right back.

 

female:

Start of message.

 

Ben Walker:

Okay. Here it goes. Take one. My name's Benjamin Walker and here are some Radiolab credit.

 

Speaker 17:

Radiolab is supported in part by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation.

 

Ben Walker:

Enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

 

Speaker 17:

For information about Sloan, at www.sloan.org.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Audible. As we continue listening to the Bad Show episode on human nature, our neighbors and ourselves, check out the Blank Slate by Steven Pinker available on Audible. The Blank Slate follows one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind as he explores the idea of human nature and its moral emotional and political coverings. So, go to audible.com/radiolab or text Radiolab to 500500 for a free 30 day trial and a few audiobook.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Casper. As we continue listening to the Bad Show on human nature in our neighbors and ourselves, check out the Wave, which we mirrors the natural shape of your body, or the Casper mattress with zone support for your hips and shoulders for better alignment. You can be sure of your purchase with Casper's 100 night risk-free sleep on it trial. Right now get $50 towards select mattresses by visiting casper.com/radiolab and using Code Radiolab at checkout. Terms and conditions apply.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh okay.

 

Speaker 18:

They're going to record it okay. I mean, I'm going to record it here too.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. Three, two, one. Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab. And today, evil? Although, I don't know if that's the right word for this next thing 'cause it's sort of more complicated.

 

Robert Krulwich:

When you call someone then you're kind of done with them.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But there's a fellow. I've been thinking about him for the better part of a year as you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Robert Krulwich:

He's such a puzzle to me. I can't quite place him.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Though it's very fun to try.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And, uh, I heard about him from science writer Sam Keen. Well, let's talk about Fritz Haber. So- so first of all, could you just like, uh, when did he live and what did he look like and that kind of stuff?

 

Sam Keen:

Uh, he was doing his- his great science work right around the turn of, uh, the 20th century. So, right around 1900. Very distinctive looking man. Bald on top. Trim, nice mustache. Wore a little, um, uh, pince-nez? Is that how you say that?

 

Robert Krulwich:

I think I call it pince-nez, so I'm not sure.

 

Sam Keen:

Pince-nez, okay. One of those very tiny, old fashioned, uh, pair of glasses that would pinch on your nose. And he was someone who had very big ambitions.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just to put that into context and to bring a few other of our storytellers in.

 

Fred Kofman:

He comes from Breslau, Germany.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Fred Kofman, reporter.

 

Fred Kofman:

Which is a- a fairly small, you know, a small sort of town. And, uh, so does Clara.

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's Fritz Haber's wife. We're going to meet her later.

 

Fred Kofman:

Right. Clara comes from the same town. And they're both secularized Jews.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But this was a moment in German history, he says, when Jews had a decent amount of freedom.

 

Fred Kofman:

And this is the difference between Kaiser Wilhelm and of course Hitler's Germany.

 

Dan Charles:

Yeah. Put it in context.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Dan Charles, he's a historian.

 

Dan Charles:

His was the first generation when a young Jewish boy could truly imagine that he could just be a regular part of that society. He could do anything.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he believed it. Fast forward 10 years. Fritz Haber's a professor, small university. He's working with chemicals. It's about 1880.

 

Fred Kofman:

And he throws himself at one of the central issues facing Germany at that time.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Germany has a problem.

 

Fred Kofman:

A big problem.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It has enough what they used to call then solar energy.

 

Fred Kofman:

You know, solar energy from the sun to grow crops.

 

Robert Krulwich:

To feed about 30 million people. However, that leaves behind 20 million Germans.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You mean they're looking at 20 million people hungry?

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's where they're heading towards. I mean, you have to remember, during the- during the Crimean War in the 1850s, Europe starves. So, around the turn of the century for German scientists like Haber, this was the challenge. He is- he wants to feed- he wants to feed Germany.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And actually, this wasn't just the German thing. A lot of people were beginning to worry that with about a billion and a half people in the planet at that point, that maybe we were maxing out. That the earth couldn't support this many people.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And everyone thought, "Well, we know the solution."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. We just need a whole lot more of one simple element.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nitrogen.

 

Male:

Nitrogen.

 

Male:

Nitrogen.

 

Male:

Nitrogen.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They needed more-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Nitrogen.

 

Male:

Nitrogen.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Nitrogen is an essential part of amino acids and proteins.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And when you stick a seed, like a wheat seed in the ground.

 

Robert Krulwich:

One of the reasons it grows is because it's sucking up all the nitrogen in the soil.

 

Jad Abumrad:

To make its cell walls.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Without nitrogen you don't have life.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, of course you could find some nitrogen out in the world.

 

Fred Kofman:

Natural deposits would be like seaweed or-

 

Male:

Uh, manure was one.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You know, you could find it in cow manure or-

 

Male:

One.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Which was basically.

 

Male:

Bat poop and seagull poop.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which made that poop valuable.

 

Latif Nasser:

And actually two nations in South America went to war.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Literally over bat poop.

 

Latif Nasser:

You could say people were bat crazy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

By the way that's reporter Latif Nasser.

 

Latif Nasser:

You know, this was like oil is today. This is ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Everybody was desperate for sources, new sources of nitrogen. And to make the problem even more annoying.

 

Latif Nasser:

The most common source of nitrogen is in the air around us. Uh, it makes up four out of every five or so molecules that we breathe. So, it's very-

 

Robert Krulwich:

It's a lot!

 

Latif Nasser:

Yes. 80% of the air is nitrogen atoms.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, all the nitrogen you ever need.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Was right there.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Like, you can't throw that air onto a plant (laughing). They couldn't deploy it. They couldn't deploy it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You mean they couldn't capture it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's right. And- and part of the problem here, and although, once again, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. We'll be right back to Haber, but wait- wait. Let's just finish this. Is that- is that nitrogen is trivalent.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Trivalent.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In- in other words, nitrogen has really strong attachments to itself.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And what he means is that when nitrogen atoms are just free floating in the air, they will cling to each other. These little nitrogen atoms will fiercely hold together and it's almost impossible to pry them apart.

 

Robert Krulwich:

His calculation showed that it couldn't be done.

 

Male:

At least not with a tremendous amount of energy.

 

Jad Abumrad:

More energy than seemed, like, possible to make.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah, yeah, yes. But you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Being ambitious.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Haber starts thinking, in order to do this we need to, uh, pressure this. We need to put it under a lot of pressure.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he starts experimenting. He figures out a way to take a lot of air that's filled with these little nitrogen bonds clinging to each other and pump it to a big iron tank.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Under extreme, extreme pressure. At high temperature. And maybe forces hydrogen in the tank.

 

Male:

Get in there!

 

Robert Krulwich:

And you have a number of chemical reactions. And what happens is that you're- you're elbowing the nit- nitrogen apart from itself and then, forcing it to bond with a hydrogen in a new way.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And when nitrogen and hydrogen bond together, the thing you get-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Is ammonia.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A liquid. That is captured the nitrogen right out of the air.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You literally get a drip, drip, drip.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Of ammonia.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It is- it is arguably the most significant scientific breakthrough of them all. Bread from the air was the phrase 'cause Haber had figured out a way to take nitrogen from the air, put it into the barren ground, and grow wheat. This has allowed the world to have seven billion people. This is what's driving the world towards 10, 12, by 2050. Now, we're seeing about a 100 million tons of synthetic fertilizer produced industrially each year and that tonnages then moves into our food source. Our food source then moves into our bodies. And the rough statistics are that half of each of our bodies contains nitrogen from the Haber process.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No really?

 

Robert Krulwich:

And so, 1918 Fritz Haber gets a Nobel Prize, but this is why he's such an interesting guy. Around this same time, officials in the US government are calling him a war criminal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. Just to back up for one second.

 

Robert Krulwich:

After Haber's nitrogen discovery-

 

Jad Abumrad:

He was promoted.

 

Dan Charles:

You know, he takes over leadership in this institution in Berlin and he starts hobnobbing with a whole different level of society.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's Dan Charles again.

 

Dan Charles:

I mean, that's a pretty heady thing for, you know, a Jewish kid from Breslau to be hobnobbing with the Emperor and cabinet ministers. He's part of the club and he really, really relished it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And not just 'cause he was vain, which everyone agrees he was, but because he loves his country.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He- he loves the fatherland and he loves Germany.

 

Dan Charles:

So-

 

Jad Abumrad:

When World War I begins.

 

Dan Charles:

He signs up immediately, sends a letter volunteering for duty.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Saying, "You know, the process that I used to make food? Well, I can use that same process to make explosives because the thing that you put into the ground to grow more food is also the thing you can explode to make a bomb."

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's correct. Because it takes such energy and pressure to separate it This trivalent bond is so strong that when it comes back together, that energy that's released, it could be used for life or death.

 

Dan Charles:

In any case.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Back to World War I.

 

Dan Charles:

There's trench warfare. It gets bogged down. And Haber has an idea.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He goes straight to the German [inaudible 00:36:56] and- and he pitches this idea.

 

Dan Charles:

He says, "Well, we can drive those enemy soldiers out of trenches with gas."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Chlorine gas.

 

Latif Nasser:

"We'll basically bring it to the front and when the- when the wind is right, we'll just spray it."

 

Robert Krulwich:

But the generals were not all that convinced?

 

Latif Nasser:

No.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They just didn't like it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

A lot of them were like, "This is not how you fight a war."

 

Latif Nasser:

It's like playing dirty. Sort of unsportsmanlike.

 

Dan Charles:

But he organizes soldiers, he organizes whole gas units.

 

Latif Nasser:

And nobody even had to ask.

 

Dan Charles:

Takes command of them partially. He travels to the front.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And on April 22nd.

 

Jad Abumrad:

1915?

 

Latif Nasser:

1915.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Haber finds himself in a little town in Belgium called Yp-

 

Latif Nasser:

Y-P-R-E-S. Actually, the Americans called it Yeeps.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Whatever you call it.

 

Latif Nasser:

This was one of the bloodiest arenas on the, uh, Western front.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The Germans on one side, the French, the Canadians and the British on the other. And there behind the German lines is-

 

Latif Nasser:

Our- our friend. Our frenemy, uh, Fritz Haber.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) our frenemy.

 

Latif Nasser:

He's bald. He has a pot belly. He has these pince-nez spectacles. He's chomping on a Virginian cigar. He was always smoking his Virginian cigars. And he was wearing a fur coat-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Latif Nasser:

... in what is basically like the Baghdad of his time (laughing).

 

Jad Abumrad:

But-

 

Latif Nasser:

Nobody had done what he was about to do on the scale that he was about to do it. So, basically at 6:00 pm at April 22nd.

 

Jad Abumrad:

When the wind was just right, he says.

 

Latif Nasser:

Haber's gas troops, uh, un- unscrewed, they opened the valves on almost 6000 tanks containing a 150 tons of chlorine. That's like an adult blue whale of chlorine.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm just trying to imagine that. Is that like a- like a green cloud?

 

Latif Nasser:

Some- some people described it as a cloud, and then, others described it as this kind of 15 foot wall kind of hugging the land. And it's just sort of approaching. And it's moving at about one meter per second.

 

Jad Abumrad:

According to some accounts, as they crept across no man's land.

 

Latif Nasser:

The- the leaves would just sort of shrivel and the grass was turning to the color of metal. Birds would just fall from the air.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Within minutes the gas reached the Allied side. As soon as it did, soldiers began to convulse.

 

Latif Nasser:

They were gagging, they were choking. Hundreds of them were falling to the ground.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What is the gas doing to them exactly?

 

Latif Nasser:

I think what it's doing is, uh, if you breathe it in, it sort of irritates your lungs to the extent that they sort of fills up with fluid so quickly that you sort of drown in your own phlegm.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, they are actually drowning?

 

Latif Nasser:

Literally drowning on land.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Latif Nasser:

Yellow mucus was frothing out of their mouths. Those who could still breathe would turn blue.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is a description of hell.

 

Latif Nasser:

Yeah.

 

Dan Charles:

But Haber saw it as a wonderful success and wished- wished that the Germans had been better prepared to exploit it because he felt like they really could have made a terrific advance if they had had more confidence.

 

Latif Nasser:

And he is celebrated for it. He gets promoted to the rank of Captain.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And he goes home for a few days. A hero. But when he gets there, he has to contend with his wife.

 

Latif Nasser:

Clara Immerwahr.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Also from Breslau. Also from, uh, a Jewish family. And also a scientist.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Huh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Unusually so in those times.

 

Latif Nasser:

She was actually, uh, sort of a genius herself. She was one of the first women to earn a PhD in her country.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And shortly after his return, Clara allegedly confronts him and says, "Look, you are morally bankrupt. How could you?"

 

Latif Nasser:

Um, but Haber just kind of ignored her and-

 

Jad Abumrad:

According to legend.

 

Latif Nasser:

He actually threw a dinner party in celebration-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Of the big victory.

 

Latif Nasser:

Invited his friends over.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, we don't actually know if he threw a party.

 

Dan Charles:

Like, I consider that apocryphal.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Dan doesn't think so. But what's clear is that he saw no reason to question what he had done and that infuriated Clara.

 

Latif Nasser:

Especially because she found out he was leaving the next day to direct more gas attacks.

 

Fritz Stern:

And they probably had an argument.

 

Latif Nasser:

Yeah.

 

Fritz Stern:

Undoubtedly they had an argument.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's historian Fritz Stern who also happens to be Fritz Haber's godson.

 

Latif Nasser:

They had a quarrel.

 

Jad Abumrad:

More than that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Let's call it a fight.

 

Latif Nasser:

And later that night after the party Haber takes a bunch of sleeping pills 'cause he's asleep, um, and she takes his service revolver.

 

Fritz Stern:

Fritz Haber's pistol.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Walks outside to the garden.

 

Latif Nasser:

And pulls the trigger.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Shoots herself in the chest. And is found by her son.

 

Jad Abumrad:

By her son.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes.

 

Latif Nasser:

Aged.

 

Robert Krulwich:

13 I think.

 

Latif Nasser:

Uh, and he finds her actually still alive with her life running out of her.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Uh, Haber ... it's unknown what happened for the rest of that evening, but it is a well-documented fact that the very next morning.

 

Jad Abumrad:

On schedule.

 

Latif Nasser:

He goes back to the- to the front.

 

Jad Abumrad:

To the eastern front.

 

Fritz Stern:

Leaving a son, a- a- alone with his dead mother.

 

Robert Krulwich:

That's-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Cold, huh?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Heartless.

 

Fritz Stern:

It was a [inaudible 00:42:08].

 

Jad Abumrad:

Did he run away? Was it duty?

 

Latif Nasser:

The son eventually after he immigrates to America kills himself.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, you know, around this point, I just don't want to have anything to do with this guy. This is, uh, I just want to take a shower. Walk- walk away.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. Yeah, me too. You know, on the other hand, I mean, if you look at the grand calculus, people he's he-helped or fed versus people he's killed, I mean, he's got fed billions of people, I don't know that you could entirely call him bad. I might even tilt towards saying he's a little good to be honest.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You wouldn't though. Would you really? Would you really think that this guy's a good guy?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Honestly, yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

You know, just because of a mathematical summing up.

 

Jad Abumrad:

We're talking billions of people.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He's standing there on the front pushing the gas into the lungs of other human beings. Now, admittedly it's a war, but still. Then he goes and, you know, and celebrates that. And then, walks away from his child and his wife dead in the garden and says-

 

Jad Abumrad:

I think-

 

Robert Krulwich:

... "More of that please."

 

Jad Abumrad:

Well, there's something distasteful about the fact that he was too into it, but I do think on some level you have to divorce the man from his deeds. And you got to ask is the world better with him or without him? I think you got to answer it with him, right?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Huh. Well-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Should we keep going with the story?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So, Sam what happened to this guy after World War I?

 

Sam Keen:

He actually was very humiliated, uh, that Germany had lost. And especially humiliated over the fact that they had to pay enormous war reparations to other countries. So, he decided he was going to invent a process to pay for these reparations by himself and what he decided to do is go into the ocean, into seawater, which contains, um, uh, some very small levels of gold. But, you know, over the entire ocean there's a lot of gold dissolved into the sea.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And he spent five years in a futile effort to distill gold from the ocean's waters.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Sounds insane. On the other hand, if anyone could do it-

 

Male:

He was trying to repeat this masterstroke.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Needless to say.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He fails.

 

Male:

It was actually a crushing blow for- for him.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And then, things really take a turn.

 

Male:

1933 comes. And Hitler takes over. And one of the first acts that the Nazis do is to basically issue an order that says there shall be no Jews in the civil service.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Now, Haber was Jewish, but because he had served in World War I-

 

Sam Keen:

He technically would be exempt.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But 75% of the people who worked for him at the institute, they were Jewish.

 

Sam Keen:

And they would have to be dismissed.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he decides to take a stand.

 

Sam Keen:

And says, "This is intolerable. I'm going to resign."

 

Robert Krulwich:

He says that he's gonna- He's always been hiring people based on how smart they are and not who their grandparents were.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he sends a letter to the Ministry of Education resigning and he leaves Germany, telling a friend he felt like he lost his homeland.

 

Sam Keen:

And then, he starts this period of roaming. He eventually goes to England.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But in a famous incident, one of England's leading scientists refuses to shake his hand.

 

Sam Keen:

And he is basically homeless at this point. You know, he's a man adrift.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Meanwhile.

 

Sam Keen:

His health is failing in 1934. He takes a trip to Switzerland to a sanatorium.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But before he can get there.

 

Sam Keen:

His heart fails and, uh, he dies.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Now there's a footnote to this that is very strange. Um, I got a little, uh, I- my- this is my dorsal hair stood up when I read the end of this.

 

Sam Keen:

Right. So, during World War I Haber's institute had developed a formulation of, um, insect killing gas called zyklon.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Zyklon A.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Which was originally just a pesticide.

 

Male:

And once again, another nitrogen compound.

 

Male:

It was developed in his institute. He knew about it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

In fact, his chemist had given this particular pesticide a smell. It was- it was a warning smell so that people didn't inadvertently breathe it in and get sick.

 

Sam Keen:

But after the Nazis take over.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is after he died.

 

Sam Keen:

They reached back to the shelf and they find this Zyklon stuff. And they ask for it to be reformulated to take out the warning smell. And it becomes Zyklon B, the killing gas of the concentration camps.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Did members of Haber's family die in the concentration camp?

 

Sam Keen:

Yeah. Members of his extended family did. Certainly friends of his did.

 

Fritz Stern:

There's something deeply, deeply wounding, stressing, upsetting a thought that he had anything to do with Zyklon B, but he did. The use of it, he couldn't have imagined.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, how do you feel about him now because I don't know I can't help but feel bad for the guy? Despite the chlorine gas. Like, he didn't intend for that to happen. He could have never imagined that.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No. But- but there's part of me that says, you know, here's a guy who just wanted to do everything better than had ever been done before. Whether it was feeding or killing or-

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he does.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And he does. But he does it with a kind of, uh, amoral athleticism. You know, he does it without humility, without- without a lot of doubt. And, you know, it's a craft, but it's a craft with consequences. And to approach it with kind of crazy joy, I don't know. I would rather have scientists who carry doubt with them as they proceed. I-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, I agree with that. Maybe it's all about doubt in the end. Thanks to all our great storytellers. Dan Charles, Sam Keen, Latif Nasser, Fred Koffman and Fritz Stern. You can find out more information about all those guys on our website. Radiolab.org.

 

Josh:

Hi, my name's Josh and I'm calling from Harlem, New York. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org. Thanks.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This is Radiolab and today we're talking about ...

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, we're trying to think about what goes on in the mind of a bad person.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

What makes a bad person so bad that he's different from the rest of us?

 

Jad Abumrad:

We didn't really come into any kind of agreement with the Haber thing.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah, I don't think we quite [crosstalk 00:49:32].

 

Jad Abumrad:

But you know, we ended up walking this question around to different people.

 

James Shapiro:

[inaudible 00:49:36] bad people in Shakespeare.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And oddly enough, we came- got a really interesting take on the true nature of badness from this guy.

 

James Shapiro:

James Shapiro, professor of English at Columbia University.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And he said, "To start, you want to know about bad? I'll give you bad."

 

Robert Krulwich:

In Titus Andronicus, there's a character by the name of-

 

James Shapiro:

Aaron the Moor.

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's a moment in the play when Aaron gets up on stage, looks at the audience and says, "Let me just tell you the kinds of things I've been up to recently."

 

James Shapiro:

"Set deadly enmity between two friends make poor men's cattle break their necks, set fire on barns and haystacks in the night, and bid the owners quench, you quench with their tears. Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves and set them upright at their dear friend's door."

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh!

 

James Shapiro:

"Even- even when their sorrows almost were forgot. And on their skins, as on the bark of trees, have with my knife carved in Roman letters, 'Let not your sorrow die, though I am dead.'"

 

Robert Krulwich:

Whoa. So, he's bad.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. So, here's the interesting thing. According to James, he's not the baddest in Shakespeare or in life because ultimately the play offers up a reason for his nastiness.

 

James Shapiro:

The reason why he's telling all this stuff is because he has cut a deal. They will spare his son if he fesses up and- and tells them what they need to know. So, there's a way in which it touch a spark of humanity.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Just a little glimmer. And he says that's what people wanted. They wanted someone who was really thrillingly bad, but in the end, was, uh, redeemed a bit.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

This wasn't just a theater thing.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No 'cause if you couldn't afford a ticket for a play, you'd seen all the plays, in the 1500s you could always go to a public hanging.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You'd go.

 

James Shapiro:

For much the same reasons. In those days if you're a convicted male felon, you are, you know, strung up by- You're not allowed to hang till you die. You're cut down before then.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Warning. This next part's a little graphic.

 

James Shapiro:

Then the executioner castrates you, cuts you open, and takes out your internal organs, and then, separates your head, which is put on a post.

 

Robert Krulwich:

But even with all that gore and horribleness, there was often a moment that people waited for. In a way we wait for it still. Even now.

 

James Shapiro:

We want what Elizabethans got at the scaffold, which was a confession. But the guy is cut to shreds, he's allowed to confess. You know, "I- I- I Harley, you know, regret the fact that I killed a young maiden or defamed the king" or whatever it is. The expectation is somebody is made to make his peace with his maker before he dies. That's what you do.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And that's what Shakespeare did in all his plays. He would give all his baddies at least one moment where they could be understood.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Except this one time.

 

Male:

So will I turn her virtue into pitch.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Iago. He is a soldier. He works for a general. The general's name is Othello. They're supposedly chums, but General Othello has no idea that Iago-

 

Male:

I hate-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hates him.

 

Male:

... the Moor.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he plans to destroy Othello. We don't exactly know why. There are hints of reasons. Like, maybe he thinks Othello is sleeping with his wife, we're not sure. But the weird thing is that he decides not just to take down Othello, but everybody.

 

Male:

I know what he did.

 

Male:

What? What? What?

 

Male:

Lie.

 

Robert Krulwich:

He stirs up hatred between friends, between lovers. He even schemes against his own wife.

 

James Shapiro:

This is just somebody who's performing brain surgery without anesthesia on other people. Uh, he's a master plotter.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And as for why.

 

James Shapiro:

Maybe Othello was sleeping with Amelia.

 

Jad Abumrad:

But as the play goes on, you begin to think that maybe that's just another lie.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Eventually Iago convinces Othello that his wife has been disloyal, which hasn't. And then, Othello goes and kills his own wife, smothering her with a pillow.

 

James Shapiro:

This is just a tsunami of evil that passes through the play.

 

Male:

Desdemona's dead. Desdemona's dead.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And at the very end of the play when everyone finds out what Iago's done, Othello asks him, "Why? Why did you do this?" And- and Iago?

 

Robert Krulwich:

He refuses what we fully expect and what everybody on stage at that moment fully expects from him. You know, what does he say? Um, "Demand me nothing. What you know-"

 

Male:

You know.

 

Robert Krulwich:

"From this time forth, I never will speak a word." I'm not saying a word. I'm not going to give you what you want. I'm not going to give you- I'm- I'm not going to help restore the sense that there is a moral order to the world and a moral norm. What you know you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

If this is the singular moment in Shakespeare where he gives you un-understandably evil man. No motives. No reason. Any idea what the hell he was intending?

 

Robert Krulwich:

What you know you know (laughs).

 

Male:

The mystery.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Meaning, I mean, what- what- any idea what was in his mind? Was he trying to make a commentary or something? Was he grappling with something? Do we know?

 

James Shapiro:

What you know you know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Damn it (laughing).

 

James Shapiro:

The good Iago who makes you want to shower the minute you leave the theater 'cause you are sullied by him.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Thank you to James Shapiro whose most recent book is called Contested Will.

 

Jad Abumrad:

You know what? You know unless-

 

Robert Krulwich:

He's- he has you there.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah, well (laughing). You know, I'm left thinking though is if you could somehow ... I mean, that was makebelieve, but if you could somehow get a real Iago in the room and subject that person to questioning, and really get him to sort of fess up as to why they did it, would that make a difference?

 

Robert Krulwich:

We should say that this next section of the program has some references which are extremely graphic and not to everybody's tastes. We have kids in the- in the room. Maybe this is the time they tell them to go brush their teeth or something.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

It comes to us from our reporter, Aaron Scott.

 

Aaron Scott:

[inaudible 00:56:12].

 

Jeff Jensen:

Nice to meet you.

 

Aaron Scott:

Nice to meet you.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All right. So, who is- who is this guy right here?

 

Aaron Scott:

This is Jeff Jensen and he's a reporter in LA. He wrote this graphic novel that I read about one of the most prolific serial killers in US history.

 

Jeff Jensen:

Gary Leon Ridgeway.

 

Aaron Scott:

The Green River killer.

 

Jeff Jensen:

The first victims of the Green River killer were found in the summer of 1982.

 

Male:

The Green River murders terrorized Seattle in the 1980s.

 

Male:

In Seattle today a man called the Green River killer-

 

Aaron Scott:

Ridgeway murdered at least 49 women.

 

female:

The so-called Green River Killer-

 

Aaron Scott:

But it's suspected that it could be upwards of 75.

 

Jeff Jensen:

Making him the most prolific serial killer in American history.

 

Jad Abumrad:

All the victims were prostitutes.

 

Aaron Scott:

He buried them or left their bodies in these little clumps in the woods.

 

Male:

The killer seems to have placed the bodies as if they were mannequins.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And, um, in January of 1984, the Green River task force was formed. And my father was recruited to the task force.

 

Aaron Scott:

So, Jeff wrote this book because his father, Tom Jensen, was one of the lead detectives tracking Gary Ridgeway. He ultimately spent 17 years searching for this man.

 

Jeff Jensen:

In December of 2001, my father and his colleagues, uh, made the arrest.

 

Male:

DNA testing matched him to the crime.

 

Jeff Jensen:

They arrest Gary Le- Leon Ridgeway. And on June 13th, 2003, Gary was secretly taken out of his jail cell and brought to this sort of very nondescript concrete ugly office building and, um, over the next six months from June to early December.

 

Aaron Scott:

It was Tom's job to get Gary to open up.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And give up the few details that they really needed to link him certifiably to all his crimes.

 

Det. John N:

Today's date is, uh, June 17th. Year 2003. The time now is 08:36 hours.

 

Aaron Scott:

So, every day they would bring him into this conference room.

 

Det. John N:

This is a continuation of an interview with Gary Leon Ridgeway.

 

Aaron Scott:

And interrogate him.

 

Tom Jensen:

Now, why don't you just- what do you remember since we last talked in this interview?

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Uh, I got those [inaudible 00:58:16] I mostly, um ... [inaudible 00:58:19] that, uh, I remember picking her up at, um ...

 

Jad Abumrad:

It immediately became apparent that there was going to be difficulties.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

No, I don't know.

 

Jad Abumrad:

He would deny things. He would obscure. He would dance around things.

 

Jeff Jensen:

He didn't really want to cop to everything that he did.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

I got to tell you, um, I'm not totally comfortable that you are providing all the information about-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Especially when it came to one particular fact.

 

Jeff Jensen:

What my father and his colleagues know is that something was done to these bodies. Many of them after they were murdered.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Does he- is he saying what I think he's saying?

 

Jeff Jensen:

Yeah. Necrophilia. Gary is dancing around this topic. Gary had denied this to his own lawyers. So, my father and the other interviewer in that room that morning, Detective John Natson, they start using a line of, uh, uh, a tact of, uh, uh, of interviewing him that was very-

 

Tom Jensen:

It's okay. It's okay if you did it.

 

Jeff Jensen:

... stunningly shockingly empathetic.

 

Tom Jensen:

Nothing to be ashamed of. Thousands of people have done it before you. You're not the first one.

 

Jeff Jensen:

You know, you're not the first person that's ever done this.

 

Tom Jensen:

You're not going to be the last one.

 

Jeff Jensen:

You won't be the last.

 

Tom Jensen:

That's one of the things that we- that we need to know.

 

Jeff Jensen:

My father's trying to, like, reach out to him.

 

Tom Jensen:

Okay? I- I know it was more than [inaudible 00:59:44].

 

Jeff Jensen:

It's okay to admit this. You need to admit this.

 

Tom Jensen:

Okay? It's all right. We've got to know now. That's one of the things we have to know and that's why it's okay to let out.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And he does.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

I mean, yes, I did lie about that. [inaudible 01:00:01] is I- I went back one time before [inaudible 01:00:05] that I, uh, like I said, I got to get it out. Can't keep holding it all in.

 

Tom Jensen:

No. [inaudible 01:00:15].

 

Jeff Jensen:

This was a major breakthrough.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So, he ends up admitting it. In graphic detail.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And it gets even more disturbing for my father as the conversation suddenly pivots to another victim.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Uh, the one that was real close to me.

 

Jeff Jensen:

By the name of Carol Christensen.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

And Christensen, I dated her several times bef- three times- two times before.

 

Jeff Jensen:

He brings her up as an example of a- of a woman that he actually had strong feelings for.

 

Tom Jensen:

You liked this- you liked this girl?

 

Gary Ridgeway:

I liked her. She was good to- she was good to me.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And as it happens, my father has very vivid memories of investigating the Carol Christensen murder. Speaking with Carol's mom, Carol's little daughter.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

I killed her. She was a- I knew she had a daughter in the last [crosstalk 01:01:03].

 

Jeff Jensen:

And so, Gary starts going through this narrative of what he did to Carol.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

The- the last time she- she was in a hurry.

 

Jeff Jensen:

She, like, was allegedly in a rush.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

And she didn't, uh ...

 

Jeff Jensen:

And, like, it kind of, like, hurt his feelings.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Wasn't satisfied [inaudible 01:01:21] maybe mad 'cause she was very much in a hurry. She had something else on her mind. And I- I killed her.

 

Tom Jensen:

How did you kill her?

 

Gary Ridgeway:

I choked her.

 

Tom Jensen:

With?

 

Gary Ridgeway:

With my arm. And the way I killed her, I cared for her because I dated her for [inaudible 01:01:43].

 

Jeff Jensen:

Up until that point, Gary refused to say that "From the minute I picked these women up I wanted to kill them." He claimed they were in the middle of a sex act, he would get distracted, something would happen. He just kind of went crazy. He had snapped. And almost like blaming the victims. And my father wasn't buying it.

 

Tom Jensen:

Let's back up. Let's just back up.

 

Jeff Jensen:

The fact that he kept on doing it over and over and over again was like, "Come on."

 

Tom Jensen:

You went through this a lot of times before and she's already told you she's in a hurry.

 

Jeff Jensen:

"You knew what was going to happen."

 

Tom Jensen:

And you've done this how many times before. 10s, 10, 15, 20 times. You know what's going to happen if she [inaudible 01:02:25]. And you like her. You're telling this [inaudible 01:02:30].

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Yes.

 

Tom Jensen:

Yet you go into this [inaudible 01:02:33] knowing full well that it could end up in her death.

 

Jeff Jensen:

And Gary just says.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Yes.

 

Jeff Jensen:

That is true. "When I picked them up I was going to kill them." Finally, acknowledging, yeah, that's true. There's a pause and my father just says.

 

Tom Jensen:

Why?

 

Jeff Jensen:

Why?

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Um.

 

Jeff Jensen:

Why did you do this?

 

Tom Jensen:

Why did you need to kill?

 

Jeff Jensen:

And that was a question that had haunted my father for decades.

 

Tom Jensen:

Why?

 

Jeff Jensen:

In that why, in that one simple why that he asked Gary, there was a lot of questions he was asking. Why did you inflict on this suffering on them, on us? Why did you take these women off the streets and wanted to destroy them?

 

Tom Jensen:

Why?

 

Jeff Jensen:

Why? And the answer is unsatisfying.

 

Gary Ridgeway:

Yes, I did mean to kill. But I needed to kill her because of that.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait what?

 

Aaron Scott:

I just needed to kill because of that. And then, he just trails off.

 

Jad Abumrad:

"I need to kill because of that." That's it?

 

Jeff Jensen:

You know, "I just want to kill her. I just needed to kill her." In that moment, my father, he stands up and he says.

 

Tom Jensen:

You've touched me, Gary.

 

Jeff Jensen:

"You've touched me, Gary."

 

Tom Jensen:

You've touched me. I'm going to take a break.

 

Det. John N:

Okay. We're going off tape now. It's 9:24 hours on June 17th, year 2003.

 

Jeff Jensen:

He walked out of the room and just started weeping.

 

Aaron Scott:

They spent the next six months interrogating him. They brought in psychiatrists and forensic psychologists to try to get an answer. Gary said, "I needed to kill them," they go, "Why?" And he says, "Because of the rage." And "Well, why the rage?" And "Because women have stepped on me all my life." "Well, why can't you deal with it in a normal way?" Each answer just begs another why. And even though in the end they got him to confess to these 49 murders, they never really get any closer to an answer than this first why.

 

Jeff Jensen:

That afternoon, he gets in his car, goes home, he finds my mom on the deck, sits down next to her. She says, "What happened today?" My dad said, "I don't want to talk about it." And to this day they have not talked about that day. And he hasn't talked about it with anyone until I interviewed him for the book.

 

Aaron Scott:

And, um, why is it so important do you think to understand the why behind such an evil act?

 

Jeff Jensen:

Well, the thing that haunts me about the why question that I'm reminded of one of the oldest stories in the Bible, which is the story of Job. The story of Job is that one day God and Satan were having a conversation. And they're saying, "Have you checked out Job? You know, I'm really proud of Job. He believes in me and he trusts me and so much. He has such great faith in me." And Satan's like, "Well, I- I bet I can change his mind." And so, Satan basically systematically destroys Job's life, takes away his wife, his children, all his material possessions. What follows is this ongoing conversation between Job and his friends about why does this happen? Why does God allow this to happen? Only then does God speak up and kind of say, like, "You're gonna question me?" Like, you know, "Who are you?"

 

Jeff Jensen:

My point is sometimes when we ask the why in the face of profound evil I kind of wonder if what we're doing is that we're daring God to show himself. And I think what we want out of the why is meaning, meaning to life to reveal itself in a way that restores order and give us hope that all of this isn't just meaningless chaos.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Jeff Jensen's book is the Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. It's a graphic or an illustrated novel.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks also to reporter Aaron Scott for that story.

 

Robert Krulwich:

This is Radiolab.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening.

 

Lauren:

Hi, this is Lauren from Winnipeg. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keith is our director of sound design. Maria Matasar-Padilla is our managing director. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Maggie Bartholomew, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Ethel Hepti, Tracy Hunt, Matt Kielty, the lovely Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nassar, Malissa O'Donnell, Adrian Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Carter Hodge, and Lisa Yeger. Our fact checker's Michelle Harris because facts matter.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Casper. Check out the Casper or the Wave mattress with a support system that mirrors your body shape. Get $50 towards select mattresses by visiting casper.com/radiolab and using code radiolab at checkout. Terms and conditions apply.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi, I'm Robert Krulwich. Radiolab is supported by Audible. Check out the Blank Slate, a book by Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind. Go to audible.com/radiolab or text Radiolab to 500500 for a free 30-day trial and a free audiobook. 

 

Copyright © 2019 New York Public Radio. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use at www.wnyc.org for further information.

New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.