The Line Between Good and Evil

Dear friend,

Here is the question that lies so heavy on so many hearts:

What “radicalized” the brothers Tsarnaev?

How could these two young refugees, whom Americans welcomed with open arms, turn so viciously against us all?  What is it that turns young men into monsters?


The elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, seemed to fit our stereotypes of the Jihadist among us: friendless, failing, restless, a sudden turn to religious fervor, overseas travel. In the first few days, it was hard for the media to find any American who claimed to know and like Tamerlan.

What about Dzhokhar, the younger brother?  This 19 year old came over as a young child, grew up among us, an athlete, a good student, winner of a scholarship from Cambridge, one whose life abounded with American friends, all of whom testify he was a great guy, a normal kid, an American son.

“He’s a really nice kid. Like, honestly, one of the nicest kids I knew. He was friendly to everyone,” said University of Massachusetts sophomore Nathan Young. He described himself as good friends with Dzhokhar in a recent interview with NBC News.

19-year-old Stephen Troio played intramural soccer with Dzhokhar, he said, “I can’t stress how normal a kid he was, like extremely nice.”

Yet this normal nice American kid drops off his backpack, next to a child, and walks away knowing—no, worse hoping—the blast will kill him.  Then Dzhokhar returns to his dorm at the University of Massachusetts, works out at the gym, and parties.

How could such a normal, well-integrated kid, one of those refugees Americans pride ourselves for rescuing from totalitarian oppression, come here and then want to kill us all?

It’s horrifying because we want to believe that someone who could decide to kill innocents in cold blood must be a monster. We don’t want to believe that nice people who are well-integrated, educated Americans, can choose evil.

How, I wonder then, do we explain Dr. Kermit Gosnell?

The crimes he committed in Philadelphia defy the imagination and make the heart shudder.

The natural instinct is to avert one’s eyes.

While the Tsarnaev brothers did their best to bathe Boston in blood in broad daylight; the secret crimes of Dr. Kermit Gosnell came to light at trial in Philadelphia.

The crimes are very different—one was directed at us all, an attack on every American the two brothers could reach.

The other was committed in secret, intended to remain secret, discretely directed against the most vulnerable of us all: the newborn child of a failed abortion whom nobody loves – not even his or her mother.

One set of murders was prompted by the romance of evil, the idea that their lives could achieve significance by killing innocents—and dying covered in innocent blood—for what they imagined as a magnificent cause.

The other American grandfatherly doctor killed for greed who normalized bloodshed in the name of “choice.”

Gosnell was bored with pretending the line between good and evil is merely geographical, and bored with the pretense that the child outside the womb is to be protected.

(Bless all those pro-choicers who hold fast to this one line between abortion and infanticide, by the way, however irrational.  The right to kill, once unleashed, is hard to cabin.)

How do we explain 49-year-old Steven Massof of Pittsburgh who says he received medical training in Grenada but was never licensed to practice as a doctor in this country? He has admitted to snapping the necks of at least 100 babies born alive after late-term abortions.

How do we explain two Delaware doctors who had their licenses suspended for failing to turn Dr. Gosnell in for openly violating the law?

The grand jury report on Gosnell was extremely critical of other doctors in the Philadelphia area who failed to turn in the doctor who was killing women, as well as, babies.

“We are very troubled that almost all of the doctors who treated these women routinely failed to report a fellow physician who was so obviously endangering his patients,” they wrote in January.

Then again the Associated Press notes, the one doctor and medical examiner who did complain to state officials never had their phone calls returned. The grand jury notes that state officials failed to respond appropriately.

The politicians, beginning with pro-abortion GOP governor Tom Ridge in 1994, are complicit in that the laws requiring inspections were not enforced.  Inspections were barriers to access we were told. The junior bureaucrats acquiesced and turned a blind eye to the women dying, being injured, and suffering in a clinic that also deliberately murdered newborns.

Dr. Gosnell’s practice was extremely lucrative, reportedly pulling in a million dollars a year.  But what of his employees whom he trained to kill newborns for ten bucks an hour?

Kareema Cross worked in the clinic for four years; she testified she saw at least 10 babies born alive and then “snipped.”  “I thought they were breathing,” Kareema Cross testified Thursday, saying she saw their chests go up and down. “He would say they’re not really breathing.”

Words are magical things in this postmodern culture, in the same way that laws are only suggestions to be ignored when inconvenient.  First you redefine “life” then you redefine “breathing.”  Why not? Who are we to let reality interfere with desire?

Dr. Gosnell apparently became tired of the hypocrisy our laws promote that make a big deal about the location of the baby. Gosnell began to get hit with damages for leaving parts of the baby in the womb (putting women in emergency rooms, ruining their fertility). So he implemented the bright idea of first inducing labor and then just killing them. For a while Dr. Gosnell dutifully suctioned the brains outside the womb after snipping their necks, but eventually began to wonder why he was following the protocols for late-term abortions after the baby was outside the womb.  Instead snip the spinal cord after delivering the baby.

As I said, bless all you pro-choicers who draw the line at infanticide of newborns.  I mean that sincerely.  It is apparently not a position that makes much sense to a late-term abortionist like Gosnell who has to perform the procedure however.  He asked the question – dangerous surgery inside the womb or a few clean snips outside the womb?

How do we explain Pearl Gosnell, who worked in the clinic for years, saw what Dr. Gosnell did, and then dear reader, she married him?

Cross testified that at least twice a day, six days a week, at least two babies would be born before Dr. Gosnell ever arrived. In Gosnell’s absence,. “Dr.” Steve snipped the babies.  When present, Dr. Gosnell did it himself.

Once Cross saw a large baby delivered into a toilet; the baby struggled “swimming” to try to get out. Another clinic worker, Adrienne Moton, “snipped” that baby’s neck while the mom sat bleeding into the toilet.

In 2009, Cross testified that Linda Williams, another clinic worker, called her over to show her a newborn baby. The baby was breathing. Linda reached down and lifted the baby’s hand up, but the newborn pulled it away on its own strength. Cross said she saw the baby breathing for about 20 minutes before Williams snipped that baby’s neck.

Linda Williams doesn’t appear to know how she could have done that.  According to media reports, she appeared almost catatonic during her testimony, emotionless, taking long pauses before answering questions.

Cross was disturbed enough that she did something. She snapped pictures of the newborns and the filthy conditions and then reported Gosnell to authorities using a false name.  Bless her for that.

But she saw babies being killed in front of her eyes and she never called the police, or cradled one of those newborns in her own arms to protect him or her.  She could have walked out with a live baby.  She kept her ten bucks an hour and her position performing unauthorized medical procedures instead.

She’s a human being with some sort of a conscience, and yet she still stood by and let murder happen, how do we explain that?

The courtroom was transfixed by horrifying photos Cross snapped of Baby Boy A. While the mother lay heavily sedated on a filthy table the biggest baby Cross had seen “just came out.”

Dr. Gosnell then picked up the baby and placed him in a plastic shoe box—Baby Boy A was so big he didn’t fit in shoe box, his arms and legs were draping over the edges.  Suddenly, the baby drew in his arms and legs to fit inside the box; he assumed the “fetal” position on his own volition. Gosnell calmly carried the box over and snipped the baby’s spinal cord.

Four human lives were snuffed out by the Boston bombers; including a precious 8 year old boy.  It is horrifying.  The two men who did this were under the influence of an imported ideology that taught them killing innocents was justified.  One bomber is dead, the other is likely to pay for his crimes with his life.

Hundreds of newborn babies were killed in the Philly abortion clinic. This happened in America. These are our children, sons and daughters of America–both the ones who died, and the ones who killed.

How do we explain evil?

Evil is not foreign, it is not an outsider, and it is not outside us.  It is the temptation within each of us.

Men and women workers who would never have killed newborns on their own were placed in an environment that seemed to teach it was okay.    That’s all it took for them to participate in, or turn a blind eye to, murders performed right in front of them.

We are very good at rationalizing our crimes, at redefining them, unless we stay firmly rooted in the idea that moral truth is not our own creation, but stands apart from our desires and needs. Truth is something we discover not invent.

“The line between good and evil runs through every human heart,” wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

It’s long been one of my favorite lines.  But I hadn’t read it in context for years; he begins by recognizing his own capacity for evil—and also for good.

The idea came to him while he was imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag:

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

…. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and we could create a clean line of separation between them and us, root out the evil ones, and destroy them.

But the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.  And, therefore, we need to remind ourselves of the need for a commitment to moral principles, and to the Author of those principles.

Tamerlan was not a monster.  He was a man. He was man who chose freely to do great evil in the name of a perverted ideal – a false god.  The evil he committed was not fore-ordained.  He could have listened to the better angels of his nature.

So could Dr. and Mrs. Gosnell.  So could their employees.  So could the fellow doctors who didn’t report them.  So could the bureaucrats who followed the politicians who decided not to enforce the law.

Our forefathers remind us “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”  So too, we learned in these last horrible weeks, is the price of simple human decency.

Thank-you again for spending this time with me on the great questions facing us as a nation: life, marriage, religious liberty.



Maggie Gallagher, fellow

American Principles Project


Associated Press,  2013. “Ex-Mt. Lebanon Man Testifies He Saw 100 Infants Killed at Philly Abortion Clinic” Philadelphia Tribune-Review, (April 5, 2013).

Daily Mail, 2013. “Bomber Phones His Mother During Shoot-Out With Cops,” U.K. Daily Mail (April 21, 2013)

Daily Mail 2013. “House of Horrors Worker,” U.K. Daily Mail (April 19, 2013)

Maryclaire Dale and Associated Press,  2013. “Philadelphia ex-clinic worker offers powerful testimony, Washington Post. (April 18, 2013)

Steven Ertelt, 2013. “Kermit Gosnell Judge Drops Three Abortion-Infanticide Charges,” (April 23, 2013).

Miranda Leitsinger, 2013. “Classmates of Suspected Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Suggest ‘Brainwashing’ by Older Brother,” (April 21, 2013).

Elyse Madison, 2013. “Sentencing Day for Abortion Clinic Worker,”  March 19 2013.