Transcript

336:

Who Can You Save?
Transcript

Originally aired 07.06.2007

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

Tim Jaccard is full of stories that from anybody else would not be believable. For instance, this girl, Katie Longendyke, who had no idea she was pregnant until the day she gave birth.

Tim Jaccard

She was actually taking birth control pills during the entire pregnancy and was unaware of it. So she was in what we refer to as denial. Total denial on this pregnancy. She started having abdominal pain. She says she never felt the baby kicking ever.

Ira Glass

And then there was the 15-year-old in Staten Island who kept her entire pregnancy secret from her parents.

Tim Jaccard

And then she actually gave birth in her bedroom by herself with her mother and father sleeping at the other end of the house. She hid that pregnancy straight through. And she handed the baby off to us on the side of the building and told us to leave. And we disappeared with the baby.

Ira Glass

Tim got into the business of rescuing babies years ago. He was a medical officer in an ambulance. And he was sickened by the number of one-day-old babies that they would be called out for, babies that had been killed or left to die. In 1998, he helped write the country's first safe-haven law that allows women to deliver their babies anonymously and relinquish them without going to prison for abandoning their kids. He started a hotline that hooks women up with free prenatal care and delivery, and adoption services if they don't want to raise the baby.

And it's had an effect. In New York where he operates, he says the number of dead babies that they find in a year has dropped from 16 back when he began to 3 nowadays. That 3 still bothers him, though. That there's still some mothers he can't reach.

Tim Jaccard

She called the crisis center, got on the phone. She was ready to give birth soon. I told her that we would come and help her. And I was supposed to meet her at a Burger King. And I waited for a good two and a half hours for her.

I had the cell phone number of her. I called her on the cell phone, called her back a couple of times. And there was no answer. I told her I'm waiting for her. I'm not going to leave. You could go back, come. I'm still here. And after two and a half hours, she never called.

And two days later, there was a baby found in a dumpster right near, in that neighborhood over there. So I was just wondering whether or not-- was it this girl, or was it not this girl? We don't know. And we never will know.

So-- I just don't understand why she didn't come. Did I say something wrong? Was I too aggressive? I even asked her if she was willing to meet with a woman rather than me, with a man. She just didn't show up.

OK, you see Gabriel. Gabriel Hope, Christina Hope. We have Jonathan and Matthew, Holly Hope.

Ira Glass

And this is just rows and rows.

Tim Jaccard

And rows. We have--

Ira Glass

One, two, three, four. How many--

Tim Jaccard

84 babies buried here at this site here.

Ira Glass

At Holy Rood Cemetery, Tim has arranged for funeral plots for the babies that he has not been able to save. The strangest thing about these little grave markers is that there's just one date beside each name. The date of birth is the date of death. Whoever finds the baby chooses a first name. Hope is always given as the last name.

Tim says that he used to think about it a lot, all the kids that he couldn't save. But now he does a kind of moral calculation. He's at least able to give them a decent burial, he thinks. And news of each death gives him press, which leads to more pregnant moms coming forward to hand over their babies.

Tim Jaccard

Nicholas Hope, for instance-- we had four birth mothers call because of Nicholas Hope. He was found on top of a trash can in Hicksville Train Station. But through his death, we had four birth mothers call.

Ira Glass

Where's he?

Tim Jaccard

Nicholas Hope, right here. November 27 of last year, in winter.

Ira Glass

This math, the four babies saved for the one that was lost, it's comforting to Tim, as are the photos on a bulletin board in his office-- there's got to be 100 of those shots-- of babies that he's saved, some of them now grown into little kids, smiling at the camera.

Which brings us to today's program. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our show, Who Can You Save? Stories of people making this kind of life and death calculation. Act one of our show today, Kill One, Save Five. Act two, Rescue You, Rescue Me. Act three, The Murderer. Stay with us.

Act One. Kill One, Save Five.

Ira Glass

Act One. So how do we make these moral calculations in our lives? What is happening literally in our brains, really? Well, my favorite new show on public radio these days, a show called Radiolab, took up that question not long ago.

Radiolab is one of these shows that's still not on everywhere. And in lots of places, it's on at weird times. And lots of people haven't heard it. Chances are maybe you have never heard it. And so we asked the hosts of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, we asked them to let us excerpt some of what they said about this question. Here they are.

Robert Krulwich

Everybody knows that sometimes you feel something is right, sometimes you feel something is wrong. We want to know-- where does that feeling begin? Where does it come from? How old is it?

Jad Abumrad

Can we get started, please?

Robert Krulwich

OK, OK. I was just going on a bit.

Jad Abumrad

Why don't we start with two morality thought experiments? Are you with me?

Robert Krulwich

Begrudgingly, yes.

Jad Abumrad

This is a famous problem. It's been floating around forever. There are two parts to this problem. And you're going to have to make a choice at the end of each one.

Robert Krulwich

Each one-- what? You mean you're going to tell me a story?

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, I'm going to tell you a story. And you're going to make a choice. Part one, you ready?

Robert Krulwich

Yeah.

Jad Abumrad

All right. You're near some train tracks. Go there in your mind. There are five workers on the tracks, working. They've got their backs turned to the trolley which is coming in the distance.

Robert Krulwich

You mean they're repairing the tracks.

Jad Abumrad

They are repairing the tracks.

Robert Krulwich

This is unbeknownst to them, the trolley is approaching?

Jad Abumrad

They don't see it. You can't shout to them. And if you do nothing, here's what will happen. [FIVE PEOPLE SCREAMING AS A TRAIN HITS THEM] Five workers will die.

Robert Krulwich

Oh my God! That was a horrible experience. I don't want that to happen to them.

Jad Abumrad

No you don't. But you have a choice. You can do A, nothing. Or B, it so happens next to you is a lever. Pull the lever and the trolley will jump onto some side tracks where there is only one person working. [ONE PERSON SCREAMING AS A TRAIN HITS HIM]

Robert Krulwich

So if the trolley goes on the second track, it will kill the one guy.

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, so there's your choice. Do you kill one man by pulling a lever? Or do you kill five men by doing nothing?

Robert Krulwich

Well, I'm going to pull the lever.

Jad Abumrad

Naturally. All right. Here's part two. You're standing near some train tracks. Five guys are on the tracks, just as before. And there is the trolley coming like before.

Robert Krulwich

I hear the train coming. The same five guys are working on the track?

Jad Abumrad

Same five guys.

Robert Krulwich

Backs to the train? They can't see it?

Jad Abumrad

Yeah, yeah. Exactly. However, I'm going to make a couple of changes. Now you're standing on a foot bridge that passes over the tracks. You're looking down onto the tracks. There's no lever anywhere to be seen. Except next to you, there is a guy.

Robert Krulwich

What do you mean there's a guy?

Jad Abumrad

A large guy, large individual standing next to you on the bridge, looking down with you over the tracks. And you realize, wait, I can save those five workers if I push this man, give him a little tap. [ONE PERSON SCREAMING AS HE FALLS FROM A BRIDGE] He'll land on the tracks, and--

Robert Krulwich

He stops the train!

Jad Abumrad

Right.

Robert Krulwich

Oh man, I'm not going to do that! I'm not going to do that.

Jad Abumrad

But surely you realize that the math is the same.

Robert Krulwich

You mean I'll save four people this way?

Jad Abumrad

Yeah.

Robert Krulwich

Yeah, but this time I'm pushing the guy. Are you insane? No.

Jad Abumrad

All right, here's the thing. If you ask people these questions-- and we did, starting with the first, is it OK to kill one man to save five using a lever-- 9 out of 10 people will say--

Person On Street 1

Yes.

Person On Street 2

Yes.

Person On Street 3

Yes.

Person On Street 4

Yes.

Person On Street 5

Yeah.

Jad Abumrad

But if you ask them, is it OK to kill one man to save five by pushing the guy, 9 out of 10 people will say--

Person On Street 1

No.

Person On Street 2

No. Never.

Person On Street 3

No.

Person On Street 4

No.

Jad Abumrad

It is practically universal.

Marc Hauser

Educational level, no effect. Male versus female, no effect.

Jad Abumrad

That's Marc Hauser, Professor at Harvard. He actually posed the trolley scenarios to hundreds of thousands of people on the internet and found the same thing. Everyone agrees. But then he took it a step further and asked them why? Why is murder-- because that's what it is-- why is murder OK when you're pulling a lever, but not OK when you're pushing the guy? And what he found is that consistently, people have no clue.

Marc Hauser

People have no clue. They don't understand what drove their judgments, which were completely spontaneous and automatic and immediate. And once they appreciate the dilemma that they're now in, of lack of consistency, the whole thing basically begins to unravel.

Lady On Street

The pulling the lever to save the five, I don't know. That feels better than pushing the one to save the five. But I don't really know why. So there's a good moral quandary for you.

Robert Krulwich

And if, as we said in the beginning, having a moral sense is a unique and special human quality, then maybe we-- us two humans anyway, you and me-- should at least inquire as to why this happens. And I happened to have met somebody who has a hunch.

He's a young guy at Princeton University, wild curly hair, bit of mischief in his eye. His name is Josh Greene.

Josh Greene

Alrighty.

Robert Krulwich

And he spent the last few years trying to figure out where this inconsistency comes from.

Josh Greene

How do people make this judgment? Forget whether or not these judgments are right or wrong. Just what's going on in the brain that makes people distinguish so naturally and intuitively between these two cases, which from an actuarial point of view are very, very, very similar if not identical?

Robert Krulwich

Josh is, by the way, a philosopher and a neuroscientist. So this gives him special powers. He doesn't sort of sit back in a chair, smoke a pipe, and think, now why do you have these differences? He said, no, I would like to look inside people's heads. Because in our heads, we may find clues as to where these feelings of revulsion or acceptance come from. In our brains.

Josh Greene

So we're here in the control room. We basically just see--

Robert Krulwich

And it just so happens that in the basement of Princeton, there was this-- um, well--

Robert Krulwich

--big circular thing.

Josh Greene

Yeah, it looks kind of like an airplane engine.

Robert Krulwich

180,000-pound brain scanner. What Josh does is he invites people into this room, has them lie down on what is essentially a cot on rollers, and he rolls them into the machine. Their heads are braced so they're stuck in there.

Robert Krulwich

Have you ever done this?

Josh Greene

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Several times.

Robert Krulwich

And then he tells them stories. He tells them the same two trolley tales that you told before. And then at the very instant that they're deciding, whether I should push the lever or whether I should push the man, at that instant, the scanner snaps pictures of their brains. And what he found in those pictures was frankly a little startling. He showed us some.

Josh Greene

I'll show you some stuff. OK.

Robert Krulwich

The picture that I'm looking at is a brain looked at, I guess, from the top down?

Josh Greene

Yeah. It's the top down and sort of sliced like a deli slicer.

Robert Krulwich

And the first slide that he showed me was a human brain being asked the question, would you pull the lever? And the answer in most cases was yes.

Person On Street 6

Yeah, I'd pull the lever.

Robert Krulwich

When the brain's saying yes, you'd see little peanut-shaped spots of yellow.

Josh Greene

It's this little guy right here. And these two guys right there.

Robert Krulwich

The brain was being active in these places. And oddly enough, whenever people said yes--

Person On Street 1

Yes.

Person On Street 2

Yes.

Robert Krulwich

--to the lever question, the very same pattern lit up. Then he showed me another slide. This was a slide of a brain saying no--

Person On Street 2

No, I would not push the man.

Robert Krulwich

--I will not push the large man. And in this picture--

Robert Krulwich

This one we're looking at here, this--

--it was a totally different constellation of regions that lit up.

Robert Krulwich

--this is the no, no, no crowd?

Josh Greene

I think this is part of the no, no, no crowd.

Jad Abumrad

So when people answer yes to the lever question, there are places in their brain which glow?

Robert Krulwich

Right. But when they answer no, I will not push the man, then you get a completely different part of the brain lighting up.

Jad Abumrad

Even though the questions are basically the same?

Robert Krulwich

Mhm.

Jad Abumrad

Well, what does that mean? And what does Josh make of this?

Robert Krulwich

Well, he has a theory about this.

Josh Greene

Well, a theory not proven. But I think that this is what I think the evidence suggests.

Robert Krulwich

He suggests that the human brain doesn't hum along like one big unified system. Instead he says, maybe in your brain, in every brain, you'll find little, warring tribes, little sub-groups. One that is doing the logical counting kind of thing.

Josh Greene

You've got one part of the brain that says, huh, five lives versus one life? Wouldn't it be better to save five versus one?

Robert Krulwich

And that's the part that would glow when you answer yes, I'd pull the lever.

Man On Street 2

Yeah, I'll pull the lever.

Robert Krulwich

But there's this other part of the brain which really, really doesn't like personally killing another human being, and gets very upset at the fat man case, and shouts in effect--

Shouting Man 1

No!

Shouting Man 2

No!

Josh Greene

It understands it on that level, and says--

Shouting Man 1

No!

Shouting Man 2

No!

Josh Greene

--no, bad, don't do.

Lady On Street 1

No, I don't think I could push--

Lady On Street 2

No.

Lady On Street 3

No. Never.

Lady On Street 1

--a person.

Lady On Street 4

No.

Josh Greene

Instead of having one system that just sort of churns out the answer and bing, we have multiple systems that give different answers. And they duke it out. And hopefully, out of that competition comes morality.

Robert Krulwich

This is not a trivial discovery, that you struggle to find right and wrong depending upon what part of your brain is shouting the loudest. This is like bleachers morality.

Jad Abumrad

Do you buy this?

Robert Krulwich

Uh, you know, I just don't know. I've always kind of suspected that a sense of right and wrong is mostly stuff that you get from your mom and your dad and from experience, that it's culturally learned, for the most part. Josh is kind of a radical in this respect. He thinks it's biological, I mean deeply biological. That somehow we inherit from the deep past a sense of right and wrong that's already in our brains from the get-go, before mom and dad.

Josh Greene

Our primate ancestors, before we were full-blown humans, had intensely social lives. And so deep in our brain, we have what you might call basic primate morality. And basic primate morality doesn't understand things like tax evasion. But it does understand things like pushing your buddy off of a cliff.

Robert Krulwich

Oh, so you're thinking then that the man on the bridge-- that I'm on the bridge next to the large man, and I have hundreds of thousands of years of training in my brain that says, don't murder the large man.

Josh Greene

Right. Whereas--

Robert Krulwich

And even if I'm thinking, if I murder the large man, I'm going save five lives and only kill the one man, that there's something deeper down there that says, don't murder the large man?

Josh Greene

Right. In that case, I think it's a pretty easy case. Even though it's five versus one, in that case, people just go with what we might call the inner-chimp. But there are other--

Robert Krulwich

Inner-chimp is your unfortunate way of describing an act of deep goodness.

Josh Greene

Right, well, that's what's interesting.

Robert Krulwich

Thou shalt not-- it's the Ten Commandments, for God's-- inner-chimp!

Josh Greene

Right. Well, what's interesting is that we think of basic human morality as being handed down from on high. And it's probably better to say that it was handed up from below.

Ira Glass

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of Radiolab. That was produced by Jad and Ellen Horne. Go to their website. Download their shows for free. You will not be disappointed. radiolab.org.

Act Two. Rescue You, Rescue Me.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Rescue You, Rescue Me. Well, now we move from saving strangers from an onrushing train to saving strangers by taking a new job. There are these jobs that are up for grabs. And they're all about helping people. But the catch is-- and there is a catch-- they all come with what the official job descriptions call danger pay. Before your first day, you're trained on how to handle a gun, how to do evasive driving, including busting through roadblocks. These are US government jobs, civilian jobs, doing reconstruction in Iraq.

And the state department is having so much trouble filling these positions that in February, the head of the agency, Condoleezza Rice, told Congress that it was too hard. She was going to have to get Army Reservists to do 40% of the open jobs, 129 positions. And when a 51-year-old father of three, Randy Frescoln, signed up for one of these civilian jobs, his wife did a very simple moral calculation.

Randy Frescoln

Keep in mind, I'm a volunteer. I was not a soldier. And I did not have to go. I was a pure volunteer. And I asked my wife. She said she could not understand why someone would volunteer to go to a war zone, put their life in risk to help people we don't really care about. And that's harsh, but this is what she's saying.

Ira Glass

Well, let me ask you, what's the answer to your wife's question? Why go to Iraq?

Randy Frescoln

I just couldn't stand watching it on TV anymore from the sidelines. I come from my father, mother, brother, uncle, we're all Marines. And you think to yourself, is there something that I could contribute in a positive way?

Ira Glass

Now, if this sounds old-fashioned or grand, I should tell you that Randy Frescoln is more qualified to contribute in a positive way to the reconstruction of Iraq than most of us. In 2004, he did that same job in Afghanistan, setting up orchards and bridges and water systems and vocational training and all kinds of other stuff. Which actually is not too different from the job he does here in the States. He works for the US Department of Agriculture in Iowa, where he has set up hundreds of projects to help communities and businesses all over the state. He's the kind of guy who loves driving down the highway and spotting a biodiesel plant or wind turbines that he helped fund.

But what happened to him in Iraq changed him, made him rethink what it means to help people, to serve your country, to do good. He got there in December, 2006, lived on an army base in the Sunni triangle. And it was so violent that any time he left the base to meet with Iraqis, he had a full military escort and was told that convoys carrying his co-workers had been hit eight times.

But the biggest difference from his experience in Afghanistan was the people. Any Iraqis who talked to him risked being seen as collaborators and killed. So he didn't get close to anybody. After one meeting with local agricultural leaders, Randy's translator took him aside and told him that the Iraqis had been saying to each other, during the meeting in Arabic, just tell the Americans whatever they want to hear. Nobody seemed to see him as anything but somebody to be appeased, or somebody to demand things from, a nuisance, or the enemy.

Randy Frescoln

Is there some that you thought would kill you if they had the opportunity? Yeah. I had never encountered-- what you could say the word-- hatred than I got from some of those folks over there. It was the worst feeling in my life. You go, what a dumbass I am for jeopardizing my career, my family, to come all the way over here for this. How dumb are you?

Ira Glass

Tell me about a time when you felt that. Tell me about a time when that actually happened to you. Who were you talking to?

Randy Frescoln

Probably the University, because I had very high expectations for the University. You would think they're good people doing good things. Well, when I get there, they brought in two professors who got their PhDs in America.

Ira Glass

Oh, wow.

Randy Frescoln

And one of them had worked for USDA for three years in Wyoming.

Ira Glass

So you just felt like, OK, that's it. I'm set. We're good.

Randy Frescoln

Yeah, I looked at him and I said, you know exactly what I'm here for, what we're trying to do. And they said, yes. And then we carried on our dialogue. And I kept looking at him. And I finally said, I see something in your eyes. What is it that I don't know that you need to tell me. And I had to ask him that multiple times. And finally, they said, you need to understand. He's in charge.

Ira Glass

And he was their boss. It started to dawn on Randy that even here, even in the University, with these two Iraqis who actually seemed to understand him, even here he was not going to get anywhere. Instead of the normal things that farmers might need in a poor or economically-ravaged country, their boss asked for high-tech equipment.

Randy Frescoln

If you're trying to build capacity, if you don't have anything, the last thing you're going to ask for is advanced technology like that, right? Why would you want that? So it could be sold for cash.

Ira Glass

Oh, I see.

Randy Frescoln

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Despite all this, Randy was able to accomplish a couple things. He set up a model program that got Iraqi farmers and tribal Sheiks and the University and the government working together for the first time. But he and other people in these civilian jobs in Iraq wonder sometimes, is that level of success worth it?

Randy and other civilians are sent through Iraq on what are officially called PRTs, Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These were established two and a half years after the US invasion, with the idea that they were going to create small economic development projects. And also they were going to train local governments around Iraq to do the things that local governments do in a democracy: devise budgets, hold meetings in front of the public, set up courthouses with local judges.

But from the start, the PRTs have been plagued by a lack of planning, qualified people, money. Civilians found themselves in war zones without telephones to do their jobs, or desks. An article in the in-house magazine for State Department employees, the Foreign Service Journal, said, quote, "a common refrain from foreign service members speaking about their experience in new PRTs is that they have felt like pins on a map, sent out so officials in Washington could say they were there. They felt cut off and were given no clear instruction on their role."

Kiki Munshi

I was retired at the time. And I have to say that I was against the invasion from the very beginning. Nevertheless, we did it. And this is my country. So when a call went out for people with the kind of background I had, I thought it was perhaps a moral obligation to go and see if I could do something useful.

Ira Glass

Kiki Munshi is a veteran diplomat who ran the PRT in Diyala province, and is now back in the United States. In testimony to Congress this February, she said that in spite of the quote, "quietly heroic work of lots of people, the PRTs cannot succeed. The obstacles are too great."

The biggest problem is the obvious one, the violence. She says you can't create local democracy without the rule of law. In Diyala province, she was working with the provincial council, which is the local government. She was feeling optimistic. And then everything really fell apart when a Shiite general was assigned to run the Iraqi army in that particular area.

Kiki Munshi

--who at first seemed like a very good person. But gradually we began to see warning signs. He was transferring Sunni officers out, replacing them with Shia. And our military compiled a very complete dossier on the fact that he was running death squads against the Sunni, doing mass detentions, torture, a lot of unpleasant things that would not promote intersecterian peace.

Ira Glass

And so did that pretty much mean the end of all your projects?

Kiki Munshi

Yes. Yes, gradually the provincial council stopped meeting. They haven't had a quorum since October. The business then left. The ones who could afford it went on to Syria or to Jordan. The ones who couldn't have gone to Baghdad.

Ira Glass

The security situation around the PRTs is so tough that an audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that only four of 13 PRTs were generally able to carry out their missions, and recommended closing offices in two provinces.

Randy Frescoln

Few people are faced with the decision is it worth dying for? That's the Iraqi question.

Ira Glass

The question of whether PRTs are actually worth anybody's life became a very personal question for Randy Frescoln. Just three months into his one-year stint in Iraq, he decided to quit. I cannot say strongly enough how this shook him up.

Randy Frescoln

You know what? Even today, it still bothers me that-- even today, I go, I know I went for the right reasons. I feel incredibly good, what I accomplished. It still eats at my gut.

Ira Glass

And talk about how you made that decision.

Randy Frescoln

Well, every three months, they schedule R&Rs. You're supposed to have rest and relaxation. And for me is, when I started working on that, I called home, and I was talking about dates and that sort of thing. And my little nine-year-old girl asked me very honestly, very simply, when she found out I was going back, that I was coming home and not staying, she said, why are you going to go back to Iraq?

And for two nights, I couldn't sleep thinking about that. And it's a tough question, because it's still going through my mind. I'm still going through my mind, trying to come up with answers. But for me, the cost exceeded the benefit. And I don't know-- for me, it's not worth dying for the people that I was working with. I don't know how else to explain it. If I would have died trying to help them, none of them would have cared. And the only one that would have bore the price was my family.

Ira Glass

He had gone to Iraq saying he wanted to do his part in the war on terror. And he came back telling his 18-year-old son not to sign up.

Randy Frescoln

That's what I told him. He had both Air Force and a Navy college scholarships that he was working on. And I said, son, when Paris Hilton can get drafted, and George Bush's daughters get drafted, when everybody can get drafted and serve, and they declare war, then I'll want you in the military.

Ira Glass

And what did your son say?

Randy Frescoln

He listened. Because before I had left for Iraq, anybody who raised an opposition to the war I thought was extremely unpatriotic. Like I said, I'm about as red, white, and blue of a guy as you could possibly want, and from a military family. But I guess we need to talk in a rational manner about what's the cost benefits of us getting involved in the world.

Stephanie Miley

I, as a team leader, and my deputy team leader had to make the decision, was this mission today worth risking not just the lives of our people that work directly for us, but the lives of the soldiers that were going to be sent out in the convoy to protect them?

Ira Glass

Stephanie Miley was Randy's boss in Iraq. She set up the PRT in Tikrit. And she ran it while Randy was there. And so it's the second assignment that she volunteered for in Iraq. And when she looks at the costs and benefits of having the PRTs, she points to successes. Her PRT got the provincial council to have open meetings with the press there, and budgets that anybody can look up. They trained policemen to get proper evidence and started planning an economic development zone.

I asked her about the things that Randy said made him decide that it wasn't worth it to stay in Iraq-- that it was too hard to do much good for people. Maybe it's just too soon to do economic and political development, if any Iraqi who meets with Americans becomes a target for assassination.

Stephanie Miley

Well, we did talk at the time. And I want to say Randy made some excellent contributions to our work there. And I think the things that he put in place, we're still seeing progress on that. Not the progress we would like, but progress. I think there are a couple things to consider when we're thinking about this. Certainly the contractors who work on projects are targeted and killed, the workers intimidated, and things like that.

It's a very difficult emotional issue, frankly. Because when I first arrived in the country, I met the governor of the province, Ala'Adeen. And he said to me, you know, I want you to meet my wife. Because you two are just alike. You're professional women trying to make Iraq better. And I did have the opportunity to meet his wife several times. She was the head surgeon for the maternity ward at the teaching hospital in Tikrit, a lovely woman.

Governor was very proud of his wife and what she was doing and things like that. And I asked her how it was that she had met the governor, because he was a few years older than she. And she explained that her sister, who was also a physician-- they had gone to school together, lived together, practiced together-- had been kidnapped two years before. The governor had assisted the family, trying to find out what had happened. They thought it was a ransom issue. It turned out to be that she'd been kidnapped by terrorists and was executed. So that is how she met the governor.

We met, as I said, several times. And one thing that she really wanted me to do was to work with her on what was going on at the hospital. And so on July 10, I had the opportunity last year to go to the teaching hospital, meet with her and several others, take a tour, see the facilities, see what their needs were to work on it. On July 11, she walked into her clinic and was blown up by an IED. They were waiting for her.

It's very difficult to see something like that happen to a person who is the future of Iraq. It's very difficult to see that happen to the governor, who was understandably devastated by the loss of his wife. And it's very difficult to think that maybe because she was seen as being too close to the US presence there, that she became more of a target. It can sometimes be a very difficult position to be in, as Randy was saying, when you realize that the people you're talking to today may not be there tomorrow because they were talking to you today.

Ira Glass

Well, here's the thing I really wanted to talk to you about, is I've talked to people who have been at PRTs. And the conclusion that they've come to is that it's too soon for these to be effective, or they don't feel like they're doing enough good to justify being there themselves. And it seems like you've come to a different conclusion, that actually it's worth doing the PRTs, and it's worth trying to make this stuff happen now. And I wonder, why? Could you talk about that?

Stephanie Miley

Sure. I think it's worth doing because it is showing the Iraqi people that we are there with them in partnership. We are not abandoning them. So it's going to go in fits and starts. Some of these things happen in a strange fashion, where there's a long lag time. And then suddenly the dam breaks and things move forward.

So it's a difficult thing. I do believe that PRTs are the way forward, because I don't see the alternative. We can't have a situation where the US military is the only presence. But you just have to push forward on all of these areas at the same time.

Ira Glass

In January, President Bush proposed doubling the number of PRTs this year. And those plans are being put into effect. Currently available PRT jobs in Iraq are listed at federalgovernmentjobs.us among other sites. Coming up, strangers in the night exchanging glances-- will one of them murder the other? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

[MUSIC - "SKAVAVARS" BY BENNI HEMM HEMM]

Act Three.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. This week on our show, Who Can You Save? And we've arrived at act three of our show. Act Three, The Murderer. Well, so far, we've heard today about people deciding whether they would save babies, whether they would save people from a train, whether they would save Iraq. Brady Udall has this story about people facing a few other decisions like this.

Brady Udall

The deepest hours of a wintry Iowa night, and it sounded like somebody was knocking on our sliding glass door. I had been typing on the computer down in our basement, and I told myself that the sound had to be a raccoon or a stray dog sniffing around on the deck. Or maybe it was my wife, who was supposed to be sleeping in the bedroom with our newborn son, up to get a glass of water. But then it came again, the hollow sound of a knuckle rapping on glass.

Had we still lived in town, a visitor dropping by at 3:00 AM wouldn't have been such a surprise. In Iowa City, it wasn't all that uncommon to have a half-drunk sorority girl pop in to ask if we had any spare condoms, of for one of my fellow graduate students to come by to recite his latest confessional poem, usually titled something like "Why I Bleed." But six months ago, we had said goodbye to the cosmopolitan nightlife of Iowa City and moved out to this remote cabin on the banks of the Iowa River in an effort to simplify our lives, to get closer to the natural world, and most importantly, to discourage people from dropping by to read their poetry to us. Our nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away on the opposite side of the river.

I walked up the stairs, comforting myself with the idea that homicidal maniacs aren't generally known for having the courtesy to knock before entering the houses of their victims. I got to the top and saw who was waiting outside. On the other side of the glass was a man who bore a strong resemblance to the murderer I had been imagining. Six foot four, greasy black hair, a misaligned face pocked with acne scars. I could tell right away that this was not a person who had been blessed with a happy childhood. His clothes: long overcoat, combat boots, Judas Priest concert t-shirt were crusted with mud. And it appeared that he had spent the entire evening digging graves and now only needed the bodies to fill them with.

We looked at each other for a good long time, this man and I. Because I had been laboring all night in the freezing basement, I happened to be wearing my wife's magenta flannel-lined jogging outfit, metallic running shoes, and a novelty ski hat that looked like something you might find on the head of an elf. We were both, it was clear, deeply troubled by the sight of each other.

It's difficult to explain why I didn't do something sensible, like go for the knife drawer, or barricade myself in the bedroom and call 911. I believe it had to do with my weakened state at the time. I was in what my mother would have generously called "a funk." There had been complications with the birth of our son, which our meager insurance had failed to cover, and we were now sunk in debt. I was spent, sorry for myself, and apparently didn't have the energy or the guts to defend my home and family. So when the murderer knocked again on the glass, I slid the door open, and like somebody manning the drive-thru at Wendy's asked, "may I help you?"

The first thing he said to me was, "man, take a look at my hand." He held up his hand and I could see that his knuckles were shredded and bleeding. It looked like he'd tried to cram his fist into a blender. "I ran my car off the road," he said. "And I got so mad, I punched a tree, which I now regret."

I had no response to that, so I did the only thing I could think of, which was to invite him in. "Oh, I wouldn't want to track mud on your carpet," said the murderer. He explained that his car was stuck, and he needed some help getting it out. He made it clear that he wanted to do this without the cops or any other public authorities getting involved, and wondered if I could give him a hand.

"Man," he said, "I'm partying with this guy Peanut. Maybe you've heard of him. And then I'm driving home, minding my own [BLEEP] business, and the next thing I know, my car is sunk up to the axles in a dry lakebed. What the [BLEEP], right? It's on the other side of those trees there. Not far at all. I'll do all the pushing. All you've got to do is work the controls."

I told him I would get my coat and shoes and be right with him. I slipped into the bathroom, suddenly weak with relief. I felt I had been spared, at least for the moment, and it felt very, very good. But this guy's story about his car being stuck in a lakebed seemed suspicious. Surely it was a ruse to lure me into the woods so he and his friend Peanut could take care of me with the least amount of fuss, and then later return to plunder my house and butcher my family.

My survival instincts, which had been in remission for a few months now, began to stir. I decided I needed something to defend myself with. There were the knives in the kitchen, but they were in plain view of the deck. And my chainsaw, which I used as a makeshift weed whacker to keep the thistles down around the house, was out in the shed. For some time, I considered the plunger next to the toilet.

I ransacked the bathroom. And in a cabinet under the sink, I found a hammer my wife had once used to build bird houses. It was tiny, almost a toy, and I don't think you could've broken open a soft-boiled egg with that hammer. But unlike the plunger, I could hide it safely in the band of my wife's jogging pants. And in the event that I had to defend myself with it, at least I would be able to leave this world with a small scrap of dignity.

Once I had the hammer tucked safely away, I met the murderer out on the deck. And without further ado, he led me into the dark forest. I hadn't thought to bring a flashlight. And once we had moved away from the house, it was utterly black. I tripped over stumps, and saplings stabbed me in the eyes with their branches. He made comments like, "just past this gulley, I think," and "not too much longer," and "ow, [BLEEP], what was that," and "oh, [BLEEP] log."

After a while, I couldn't hear him anymore, and I thought I'd lost him completely. But then he was behind me, his boots crunching on the frost-crusted leaves. Now that my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I thought I could see the dark form of Peanut or some other delinquent crouching behind every other thicket or tree. I felt the hair on my arms stand up. And it came to me with a certainty. This was it. The ambush was on. I was going to die in these lonely, barren woods, wearing a woman's jogging suit and the hat of an elf.

It was around this time that the hammer slipped out of my waist band and made its way down the leg of my pants. In a panic, I hopped on one foot. And as casually as possible, tried to shake the hammer out of the cuff of my pants so it would fall unnoticed to the side of the path. I thought I might have succeeded until I heard the footfalls stop behind me. "Dropped your hammer," the murderer said.

"Oh, yes. Thank you," I said, and immediately began swatting at thickets and overhanging branches as if I had brought it along for the purpose of clearing out brush. I hacked at every bramble and dead weed in reach until we emerged from the trees. There, not 50 feet in front of us, sat a generously dented duster sunk in the mud of a barren cornfield. The murderer slapped me on the back. "God damn," he said. "You found it."

There is not much to say about the fiasco that followed. We were able to push the car out of one rut only to get it stuck in another. We'd get it moving across the furrows, wheels spinning and mud flying everywhere, our hopes on the rise, only to watch it lose traction and sink slowly back into the muck. More than once, my companion tried to give up. But I was a constant source of encouragement. I had all the energy in the world. While he sat up front, pressing wearily on the gas, I labored at the back bumper in a hailstorm of mud.

After nearly an hour, we were both so surprised at having got it up on the gravel road that we nearly let it roll into the ditch on the other side. Wearied and encased entirely in mud, we slumped against the car to get our wind back. The murderer heaved and clutched his side. "Son of a bitch," he said, "I think I activated my hernia again."

He eventually climbed into his car and in the rubbish pile on the passenger side floor located a pen and scrap of paper. With great care and concentration, he wrote something on the paper and handed it to me. In stylish, looping cursive, it said, "Donny Solomon, 377-2908, Malibu Acres Trailer Park."

"That's my name and privileged information," he said. "Very few people have access to it. You need something, you just call that number or head over to Malibu Acres and say my name. They'll know where to find me. He stood up and regarded me intently. "I mean anything. I don't care where or what it is, which side of the law it's on. You've done me a great favor here tonight."

I took off my elf hat, wiped my forehead, and patted the hood of the duster. "Just glad I could be of help," I said. Before he got back in his car, he pulled me in and hooked his arm around my shoulder in a manly half-hug. "Hey," he said in a little voice, "maybe you're queer or whatever. But that don't mean nothing to me." He drove off, sliding all over the frosty road, and I trudged home, making sure to lock the door behind me.

This is a story I used to tell all the time. I'm partial to it because, unlike most of the stories I tell, it's almost entirely true. And as stories go, it's a good one. A dark and stormy night, a stranger at the door, a little comic relief to lighten the mood, and that which brightens every heart, a happy ending. Even better, it had provided me with a prop, that mud-smeared scrap of paper with Donny Solomon's name and privileged information.

After that night in Iowa, I didn't see Donny Solomon for six years, had no communication at all with him. But that didn't prevent him from becoming a part of my life. I had told the story so often, invoked his name so many times, that I began to think of him as a friend. There were times during those six years that I came close to calling in the favor he'd promised. There are so many people in our lives who might benefit from a sound beating at the hands of an ex-con. But I kept his phone number folded in my wallet for the day when I truly needed it. Just the idea of that slip of paper was a comfort. I did not need God or the saints or any other higher power. I had Donny Solomon.

And then, in the summer of 2002, I found myself back in Iowa City, and I knew I'd have to look Donny up. I wanted him to know me as I was now, a professor, a published author, a person of some note, not that pantywaist of six years ago. Above all else, I wanted more of Donny Solomon. I don't know how else to say it. I wanted another story to tell. I wanted a bigger piece of him than the small one I already owned. I tried his number several times until a woman answered, late in the afternoon, and explained that Donny didn't live at that address anymore, that he and his wife had moved out of town to someplace called Stilton's Corner.

I followed the simple directions she had given me and ended up on a dirt road on the far south end of town. At a 90 degree turn in the road sat the yellow cinder block house she had promised. Its paint was peeling away in broad, curling flakes, and blooms of mildew had congregated like shadows along its soffits and eaves. It was early summer, and the milkweed pods along the rivers and ditches had opened and sent their cotton blowing, creating drifts along the margins of the road.

I had to kick through a mound of fluff to climb up the steps to the front door, and was about to knock when a woman pulled up in an old station wagon. She called out the window, "you the therapist?" I shook my head, and she cursed. She was a bony, narrow-hipped woman in a light blue, two-piece outfit, the kind worn by people who work in hospitals and old folks' homes. I introduced myself, explained that I was an old acquaintance of Donny Solomon's. And she told me her name was Tina, and that she was Donny's wife.

She pushed open the door and hustled me inside. I hesitated in the doorway, blinking, everything in the room a dim, massive shadow. A teenage girl rose from a couch. And there was a brief conversation and exchange of money, and the girl ducked past me without a word or glance, as if making an escape. A rough, phlegm-edged voice called out, "oh, the door. My god damn eyes."

I pulled shut the door and peered into the dim room. Its most obvious feature was an old hospital bed, occupied by a grizzled, stick figure of a man, sunk to his waist in tangled sheets. He had the heels of his hands jammed into his eye sockets, and he was moaning in a thoughtless, almost distracted way. Tina moved quickly into the small kitchen, began slapping open cabinets and pulling drawers. "Baby doll," she spoke in the exaggerated tones typically used for small children or the hard of hearing, "somebody here to see you. Speak up, and try to be nice."

Slowly, and with what seemed a great effort, the man lifted his face to look at me. From this angle, it was impossible not to notice the thin scar that started at his temple, made its way through his stiff, patchy hair, and ended in a curlicue behind his ear. He didn't speak, but his large, feverish eyes pulsed with what looked like the desire to communicate something uncommon and meaningful.

I was confused, even a little disoriented in that dark room, heavy with medicinal smells. "Is this Donny Solomon's house," I asked the old man. "Do you know if he's home?" The man opened his mouth, but couldn't seem to form it around the necessary syllables. On his second try, he said, "you are an [BLEEP] hole."

"Donny," scolded Tina, who was now standing in the kitchen entryway. "You're going to scare him away." She brought in a shot glass full of at least a dozen pills and a silver can of Coors Light. She sighed. "I guess you didn't know about his accident? I don't think I'd have recognized him either. He's changed that much. Here, baby doll, I've got your pills."

Nothing in this man's face, in his bony arms, or stiff, colorless hair recalled the oversized presence who'd shown up on my front deck six years before. Only the large, black widow tattoo on his neck, which now looked more like a nasty skin condition than anything menacing, convinced me that this was the same person. Tina sang a made-up nursery tune called "Pill Time," and began inserting the pills one by one into Donny's pursed lips.

He seemed resigned to this indignity, until she held up the can of beer to his mouth, and he jerked forward, swatting the can out of her hand and scattering the remaining pills onto the bed and carpet. "My drink," he shouted, his voice thin with an infantile petulance. "My special drink!"

"God damn you, Donny." Tina stood up, tensing her shoulders in a way that suggested she might strike him. Instead she held out her shirt, which was covered with flecks of beer foam. "Look at this," she cried, "I don't know how I stand it." She gave me a pained, apologetic look, holding out her wet hands. She told me that the only way Donny would take his pills these days was with his special drink, which they happened to be out of. She wondered if I wouldn't mind sitting with him while she ran down to the liquor store. "You two can catch up," she suggested, "talk about boy things."

On her way out the door, she let me know that Donny was subject to severe epileptic seizures, which is why he couldn't be left alone. "If something like that happens, go ahead and call 911. They'll tell you what to do." I made no move to stop her, only sat dumbly on the couch watching Donny, who spent most of his time trying to untangle his legs from the bedding.

"Can't figure this blanket out," he kept saying. He didn't seem much interested in me. And even though I knew it was pointless, I sat on the edge of his bed and asked him if he remembered how we'd first met, how he'd shown up at my door in the middle of the night. It didn't seem he was listening until I mentioned how drunk he must have been to get his car stuck so far off the main road. "I was not drunk," he spat, his voice dark with sudden menace. He pointed a wavering finger at me and told me that if I made such a claim again, he would not hesitate to break my neck.

I abandoned the bed for the couch on the other side of the room. Even though he was about as harmless as a human being could be, I took him at his word. Right away, he got fidgety, his shoulders slumping with remorse. And he asked me to come back and talk to him some more. "Be nice, man," he said, "and I'll be nice too."

We didn't have much to say to each other after that. The late afternoon sun had sunk below the tree line, and a dusty light angled through the lowered blinds. Just when I was beginning to consider the idea that Tina had run off for good, leaving me to take over as Donny's sole guardian and caretaker, her old car rattled up the drive. Somewhere between here and the liquor store, she'd put on a flowery, rayon blouse and skirt and enough musky perfume to alert us of her presence before she came through the door, clutching two paper bags full of clinking bottles.

She called me back to the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to stay for dinner. "I got some fried chicken here, and I thought we'd do a macaroni salad," she said. I claimed that I wasn't hungry, but she waved me off. "We'll get us some drinks and then we'll have dinner. You can stay the night if you want. Donny won't mind. We don't get a lot of company here since his accident."

While I was trying to sort out what she meant by "stay the night," she got some water boiling for the pasta and told me the story of Donny's accident. It was the sort of absurdly tragic tale that fills you with guilty euphoria for having been spared the obscenities and injustices of this existence. About a year and a half ago, she explained, Donny had come out of one of his stints at the county lockup a changed man. He had been touched by God while in jail, and God had told him to change his ways. He joined AA, quit selling and smoking pot, said farewell to his many low-life friends. He cut his hair and got a job at the concrete plant. He decided he had a purpose in life, which was to reconnect to his daughter, April, a teenager who he had not seen since she was in kindergarten, having lost custody of her after the divorce with his first wife.

After he'd proven his honorable intentions, Donny was allowed a few brief visits with April, a movie, a trip to the mall, and finally a full day of Christian fellowship at Silverwood Lake with the New Life Missionary Baptist Church. Donny was so nervous about being with his daughter all day around Godly, upright people that he didn't sleep the entire night before. So nervous that, as some of those Godly, upright people later claimed, he had gone back to his car throughout the day to take snorts off a hidden bottle of whiskey.

Daddy and daughter drove home that night after a long day of weenie roasts and sack races and hymns sung by the fire. And Donny, drunk, exhausted, or some combination of the two, allowed the car to drift off the road and into a deep ravine, where it rolled, ejecting both of them into a stand of pines. The wreck was not discovered until the next morning. April died sometime during the night. And her father, despite shattered legs and pelvis, a broken back, ruptured liver, and irreversible brain damage, survived.

"And that's where we are now," Tina said, giving me a wide, bright-eyed look of forced cheerfulness. "Donny out there with the mind of a 12-year-old and the ex-wife suing us for the clothes on our backs." She cackled and shook her head. "How [BLEEP] delightful." She took three jelly jars out of the freezer, poured a shot of vodka into each one, and filled them the rest of the way with cheap champagne. I accepted the drink and took a sip of it. I had never been much of a drinker, but this seemed like a reasonable time to start.

We repaired to the front room, where Tina made a big production out of feeding Donny his remaining pills. And he gulped his drink like it was Gatorade. It didn't take him long to drink himself into a stupor. And eventually Tina edged over and sat next to me, so close that our hips and knees touched. A second later, her perfume settled on us like a fog bank. I pretended to sip my drink, and she watched me, turning slowly to show me her cleavage. "Now how did you and Donny meet," she said. "I never really got that part."

I started to tell her the story. I thought it might distract her from the life she had found herself in, make her laugh a little, maybe convince her to move her knee away from mine. But I couldn't go through with it. The words crumbled in my mouth, and I made up a lie about how Donny and I used to hang out at a bar downtown. I pulled out my wallet and produced the slip of paper with Donny's information, and when she saw it, her eyes went damp. "He was proud of his penmanship," she said, putting her hand on my shoulder. "He wrote like a [BLEEP] girl."

Donny had been watching us closely the entire time. He shifted a little, made a noise in the back of his throat, "Teeny, come back," he called out weakly, barely moving his lips. "Come back over here." "Oh, baby doll," she said, and crawled onto the bed and cooed over and petted him, nuzzled his neck and kissed his stubbly head. I sat on the couch, took a few more fake sips of my drink, and decided that I couldn't stand watching them, couldn't be a part of this anymore. I asked to use the bathroom, and hurried down the narrow hall and locked the door behind me.

I sat on the carpeted toilet lid and rehearsed my exit speech. I wanted it to be compassionate and dignified, so I could make my escape cleanly, without ugliness or hurt feelings. It took me another minute to find my nerve. When I came out, I found Tina and Donny dozing against each other, both clutching empty jelly jars. I didn't have to think about it. I went straight for the door, walking with such exquisite care that I felt cushions of air under my feet.

As I passed the bed, Donny opened his eyes to look at me, which stopped me cold. And only when he gave me a little nod, the slightest dip of his head, did I reach for the doorknob and slip out into the warm evening. I hurried across the yard, stepping over the drifts of milkweed fluff. And by the time I made it to the road, I felt a hot stab of shame. Not for sneaking away like some kind of Judas, or for abandoning these people, but for not needing them any longer. Donny Solomon was useless to me now, nothing more than a sad, baffled soul. Just like me.

Ira Glass

Brady Udall in Teasdale, Utah. He's the author of the novel The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Special thanks today to Steve Keshket and Jennifer Murgey and Emily Voight who co-produced our story about Tim Jaccard. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Torey Malatia, who says he has a very good reason for showing up so late to our broadcast today.

Brady Udall

"I'm partying with this guy Peanut. Maybe you've heard of him. And the next thing I know, my car is sunk up to the axles in a dry lakebed. What the [BLEEP], right?"

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.