It’s what the wizard of Oz calls himself. And he really is. There’s a couple of incarnations of him, but all of his incarnations share this trait. They are great AND terrible.
He helps people out and saves them from likely death, but he does it in a way that is less than heroic, a way that is almost cruel. And his greatness and terribleness is far less obvious that others.
In 1918 Fritz Haber received the Nobel Peace in Chemistry for the development of the Haber Process. This was a method of creating ammonia from Hydrogen and nitrogen gasses. The Haber Process is responsible for the creation of fertilizers that to this day help produce food for half of the world’s population.
But the other important thing that Fritz Haber is remembered for is his actions during the Second Battle of Ypres, where in 1914 he was personally present when chemicals that he developed where used to slaughter French troops. This was in direct contravention of the Hague Convention of 1907, which Germany (Haber’s homeland) had signed. From this we have Haber’s rule, a mathematical formula that relates gas concentration to exposure time to figure out how long is needed to produce death.
Great? Yes. This is a hard truth since as humans we place a much higher value on negative actions than positive ones, but Haber arguably saved billions in the creation of fertilizers.
Terrible? Obviously. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of men, and from all accounts was not even a little burdened by this.
What of Richard Nixon?
He served in the Navy, ended US involvement in the Vietnam War, initiated the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union, created a minimum wage, enforced the desegregation of schools, established the EPA, and sent a man to the moon.
He also covered up wiretapping of his campaign opponents when he discovered it. And was impeached when his cover up was discovered.
Great? I’d say sure. He did a lot of good for the American people.
Terrible? He violated the prime law of democracy, which is that no one is exempt from the law.
What of Edison and Tesla?
Edison was a friendly outgoing man who stole his colleagues ideas and had him ostracised from his supporters.
Tesla was an anti social obsessive who created some of the most impressive advances in electricity and engineering the world had ever seen.
In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s series, there is a philosophy called The Speaker for the Dead. This is a person who comes and learns about the recently deceased. All about him, the good, the bad, all of it. And then they eulogize, although thats not really the right word. Eulogize means to speak well. A Speaker for the Dead speaks correctly, honestly and truly about this person. As a person. NOt as good. Not as bad, but as human. Proud and illogical and full of hopes.
I sometimes think it’s important to remember that we are all humans. We are all fallible and amazing. All great and terrible. And that even though we think in terms of good and evil, there’s not really so clear a line.
I’d like to take us back to The Wizard of Oz and leave you with this song…