Dr. Henry Murray began making a name for himself during World War II by working with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to train its spies to withstand the most brutal interrogation tactics they may be faced with at the hands of their Nazi enemies. In the years to come, as the OSS would give way to the CIA, Murray continued his work until finally choosing to accept a prestigious role at Harvard University as a professor of psychology. There, he met a young prodigy who had been accepted to Harvard at age sixteen, and he accepted that young man into his newest experiment – an experiment he told those participating in would involve them establishing “personal philosophies about life.”
The brilliant young student, who was named Theodore, was only seventeen years old at the onset of the study, and was told to write an essay outlining his personal philosophy on life. He was told he would then be given an opportunity to defend the fine points of his outlook against another undergraduate student. Instead, Theodore arrived with his essay and was placed in a single chair beneath flood lights and facing a one-way mirror. They attached electrodes to his chest and arms, and then permitted the “debate” to begin… but his opponent wasn’t an undergraduate student with his own philosophy to defend, he was something else:
“A law school student who had been prepped to tear into the student and to mock and ridicule their ideas and their values. To get them as angry as they possibly could,” author Alston Chase told CBS news. “After they had done this film footage… they brought the students back… and showed them the film footage. Showed them being humiliated. They were rubbing salt into the wounds…”
Theodore would remain in the experiment, along with twenty other participants, for three more years. He was the youngest to participate in the study, and was given the codename, “lawful.” Lawful would undergo repeated efforts to skew his perception of self, his values, and his philosophy on life throughout the length of the study, suffering ridicule and harassment expertly designed by the same man who once trained America’s best spies to withstand psychological torture at the hands of the Nazis. He was never made aware that the experiment actually had the aim of “psychic deconstruction” – a task performed by humiliating undergraduates and forcing them to experience severe mental and emotional stresses.
By 1962, Theodore, or Lawful, wrote in his journal that he had developed a serious aversion to technology that would eventually lead him to send a 35,000-word manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Theodore “Lawful” Kaczynski would demand that said manifesto, entitled “Industrial Society and Its Future,” be published before he would turn himself in. By then, “Lawful” had given way to his new nickname: The Unabomber.
After finishing his time at Harvard, Kaczynski would earn a PhD in Mathematics from the University of Michigan and even teach for a short time at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus, but soon thereafter he chose to move to Montana and withdraw himself almost entirely from society. He would spend the next eighteen years in relative seclusion, eventually taking to making explosives, and finally, to mailing bombs to people he perceived as enemies. Among those targeted by “Lawful” the Unabomber were, rather unsurprisingly, psychologists.
Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski, a self-proclaimed anarchist, was responsible for the deaths of three people and injuries to at least twenty-three others in a nationwide bombing campaign that primarily targeted those he felt were involved with modern technology and the negative effects he believed it had on the human race. During the investigation that led to his arrest, he earned the name “Unabomber” as a shortened form of “University & Airline Bomber.” When the FBI published his manifesto, his unique style of writing and beliefs were recognized by his brother and sister-in-law, who tipped off authorities. He’d go on to enter a plea agreement in which Kaczynski would plead guilty and receive life in prison without the possibility for parole.
It’s impossible to know what level of effect the three years of psychological conditioning Kaczynski underwent at Harvard had on the troubled man, but it stands to reason that a young man who, according to his own journals, felt isolated and alone due to his above average intellect and relative youth compared to other students at Harvard, was uniquely suited to undergo the effects of “psychic deconstruction.” No efforts were made at the conclusion of the experiment to offset the negative effect it had on the students that participated, and “Lawful” would go on to become anything but… choosing to end the lives of innocent people rather than allow his worldview, one that took shape during his tenure at Harvard, to become challenged again.
We can’t know if Kaczynski would have become a killer without the efforts of Dr. Henry Murray – but according to Nina Delgadillo, one of the ATF agents that participated in the manhunt that would bring Kaczynski to justice, the man’s intellect could have been a benefit to the world, instead of a terror.
“He’s a very smart man,” said Delgadillo, “that could have used his intelligence… to create a mathematical formula… that could solve something huge. If he could have bridled his drive into something positive versus something negative, how amazing would that have been.”
Unfortunately for those who died during Ted Kaczynski’s reign of terror, we’ll never know.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press