Tuesday, 23 February 2016

My brother Ted, the Unabomber

David Kaczynski              Sydney Morning Herald            February 13, 2016

It was a chilling, heart-breaking moment when David Kaczynski realised the true identity of the killer terrorising America by sending bombs through the post.

In the summer of 1995, my wife, Linda, put her hand on my knee as she sat me down for a serious talk. "David," she asked, "has it ever occurred to you, even as a remote possibility, that your brother might be the Unabomber?" At the time, the hunt for the so-called Unabomber was the longest-running and most expensive criminal investigation in the history of the FBI. Over 17 years, this shadowy criminal had mailed, or placed in public areas, 16 explosive devices that had claimed the lives of three people and injured dozens more.

A month after Linda approached me with her suspicion, The Washington Post published the Unabomber's manifesto. "The Industrial Revolution have been a disaster for the human race," the manifesto read. "They have destabilised society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering ...and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world."

The day came when I finally acknowledged that Linda might be right. What if my notification ultimately led to his death by execution? What would it be like to go through the rest of my life with my brother's blood on my hands? Furthermore, what would this do to my mother? She was a 79-year-old widow who had worried for years about Ted's emotional problems, isolation and estrangement from the family.

I don't remember a time when I wasn't aware that my brother was "special", a tricky word that can mean either above or below average, or completely off the scale. Ted was special because he was so intelligent. In school he skipped two grades, and he garnered a genius-level IQ score of 165.

Despite our age difference – Ted was seven-and-a-half years older – we grew up deeply bonded. He was consistently kind to me and went out of his way to offer help and encouragement. In return, he won my admiration and deep affection. I wanted to be like him. But even though I placed him on a pedestal, there was another part of me that sensed he was not completely okay. I was seven or eight when I first approached Mom with the question, "What's wrong with Teddy?" "What do you mean, David?" she said.

"I mean, he doesn't have any friends. It seems like he doesn't like people." Mom and I sat down on the couch and she told me about my brother's early life. "When Teddy was just nine months old, he had to go to the hospital because of a rash that covered his little body," she said. "In those days, hospitals wouldn't let parents stay with a sick baby. Your brother screamed in terror when I had to hand him over to the nurse. He was terribly afraid, and he thought Dad and I had abandoned him to cruel strangers.

At the time, I never questioned that the four members of our family were connected through unbreakable bonds of love. Only as I neared adolescence did I realise that Ted didn't return our parents' love. When hugged as a child, he squirmed. In adolescence, he stiffened when embraced by our mother. Unable to fathom Ted's internal physics, Dad eventually gave up, whereas Mom preferred to believe that her son's sensitive inner self was normal and loving, only hard to reach because of his hospital experience.

Ted left for Harvard when he was 16. There, he won a prize for the university's best PhD thesis in maths. He was a rising academic star. After earning his doctoral degree, he was appointed assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1969, he abruptly quit his professor's job and announced to our family that he thought technological development was threatening humanity and the environment. He was so concerned that he was determined to remove himself from industrial society and, to this end, he would attempt to live in the wilderness as primitive peoples had done for most of human history. he had sent a 78-page manifesto to The New York Times and The Washington Post with demands that it be published – or else more bombs would be mailed to unsuspecting victims.

His alienation continued with blistering letters to our parents.The gist was that he had been unhappy all his life because they had never truly loved him. He claimed they had pushed him academically to feed their own egos and that they'd never taught him appropriate social skills because they didn't care about his happiness.

In March 1996, I climbed the stairs to Mom's second-floor apartment. "Mom, have you ever read any newspaper articles about the Unabomber?" I gave her a quick summary of his course of bombings. By now I was crying, and talking faster. I decided I'd better come clean: "Mom, I'm really concerned that Ted might be involved in these bombings. I'm really scared. I've approached the FBI and shared my suspicions." After a stunned pause, she got up and came towards me. She was small – under five feet -whereas I'm over six feet tall. She reached up, put her arms around my neck, and gently pulled me down to plant a kiss on my cheek.

"I can't imagine what you've been going through," she said. Then she told me the most comforting thing imaginable. "I know you love Ted. I know you wouldn't have done this unless you felt you had to." With those words, I understood that I hadn't lost her love. I realised that the three of us – Mom, Linda, and I – would face this ordeal together.

When federal agents entered my brother's tiny cabin near Lincoln, Montana, on April 3, 1996, they discovered bomb-making parts and plans, a carbon copy of the manifesto, and – most chilling – a live bomb under his bed, wrapped and apparently ready to be mailed to someone. Two years later, Ted's trial ended with a plea bargain that spared his life while condemning him to life imprisonment without parole. The next day, Mom and I were ushered into a meeting room at the Federal Building in Sacramento, California. Sitting there was the widow of a man my brother had killed, her sister, and her late husband's sister.

They stood as we entered. Almost in unison, Mom and I said the only thing we could have under the circumstances: "We're sorry. We're so, so sorry." However deeply we felt these words, they had a hollow, helpless ring. The widow spoke first. "We may never meet again," she said. "We didn't want to miss this opportunity to speak with you and to tell you how deeply we appreciate what you did ... It must have been incredibly difficult to turn in a family member in a case like this. I can't imagine how painful it must have been."

This expression of gratitude came so unexpectedly that it left me speechless. "We also want you to know that all we ever wanted was for the violence to stop," she said. I believe this was her way of saying they hadn't wanted the death penalty for Ted. All five of us were crying. As survivors of tragedy, we had much in common.

But the mood changed dramatically when Mom started talking about Ted. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by several forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him after his arrest. She had read and learnt a great deal about the disease, and had come to understand that her son was one of the very small number of schizophrenics whose illness manifests in extreme paranoia and violence.

Now, looking into the faces of three women whose lives had been devastated by her son, she deeply needed them to appreciate that it was the illness, not Ted himself that had done this terrible thing. The widow stiffened. Instead of generating understanding, Mom's words were producing pain. What the widow seemed to hear was someone making excuses for the man who had murdered her husband. "He knew what he was doing!" she said.

The room was frozen in silence… Mom looked at the floor, her small body hunched over. After a moment, she said: "I wish he had killed me instead of your husband." The hardness in the widow's face slowly melted. She eased herself down from her chair and knelt in front of Mom, looking up into her face. The widow's eyes were once again brimming with tears. She was a mother, too. On that level, she could relate. With quiet urgency, she said, "Mrs Kaczynski, don't ever imagine that we blame you. It's not your fault. You don't deserve this burden."

Mom's early vision for her sons remains clear in my mind: it was that we would develop intelligence and compassion, and use our intelligence, guided by our compassion, to benefit humanity. This mission would allow us to live with integrity, providing us with the courage to make difficult choices. But the reality of life's journey, with its many obstacles and tests, is not so easy to formulate. In some ways Ted never stopped being his mother's son.

Unfortunately, his capacity for empathy was eroded by his strong sense of personal injury and disappointment; his hope for the world was shattered by an apocalyptic vision. Beholding this threat through the distorting lens of his own illness, his sense of integrity became tragically twisted.

I mourn the loss of an older brother I once admired, his better self lost to the rages of a mental affliction that robbed him of his insight. Although I still love him, I despise what he did. Responsibility to me means taking responsibility for one's own suffering, and finding in one's own pain the seeds of a wider compassion, not an excuse to inflict pain on others.

Edited extract from Every Last Tie: The Story of the Unabomber and His Family by David Kaczynski (Duke University Press). ttp://www.smh.com.au/good-weekend/-gmf67n.html

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