Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't Kill Hitler

Whenever I talk about time travel with my friends, someone says that they'd like to go back and kill Hitler. "That way World War II will never happen."
Friend, meet Brick Wall. Would you like to bash your head into it or should I do it for you?
Killing Hitler would in no way stop World War II. You'r forgetting that it was a world war. We've still got Italy and England and France and Japan and Russia and so many other nations involved. Even if we could pull Germany out there would still be war. And why would erasing Hitler get rid of Germany? Someone would take his spot. With all the chaos going on in Europe they'd be dragged into the conflict as well. We would still have battles. We would still have concentration camps.
You know, Hitler gets all the blame and glory. Sure he is (mostly) accountable for killing 11 million people in concentration camps. But there were other camps around the globe. When was the last time you talked about the Lithuanians deported to Siberia, the Indonesians put in Japanese camps, and heck, the Japanese camps here in America? Granted, those weren't quite death camps, but they're not happy places either. Why do we want to kill Hitler? Why not Mussolini or the Hirohito? Or FDR? Or Winston Churchill? You could end the war, but the side you like may not win. Why not knock off Einstein? Sure, the atom bomb ended the war. But it's still a tragedy. Admit it, you don't want a happy ending. You just want your team to emerge victorious.
And who says we have to stop at dictators? If we can kill Hitler, who else can we knock off? When a serial killer shoots eleven people it's a tragedy. But that's not eleven million. Is it worth it to trade one life for eleven? For a hundred? For one?
Even if you can get a time machine and come up with a practical way to approach this, there's still the tricky business of shooting the man. He survived 42 known real life assassination attempts. Some of them by a very narrow margin. Most of them carefully calculated. How are you going to get close to the guy? He had ridiculous security as a politician. Do you want to kill him as an infant? "Sorry, Mrs. Hitler, I need to borrow your baby for a minute. Bang! You're welcome."
Say this works. Hitler is dead. Someone else is in power, and that guy shoves a few people into concentration camps, but not so many. Different people die in battle. Different people are spared. Let's say...fifteen million lives are saved. How many descendants do they have today? And what have they been doing? How many politicians lost an election to the grandson of a would-be holocaust victim? How many of them cured diseases, resulting in a million more saved lives? How many of them spread diseases and eliminated another million? How many of them designed new cars, new kitchen tools, new weapons? How many of them started new wars?
We like to think of history as a parade of politicians and generals. But it's not. Wars are won with soldiers and nurses and spies and bullet factory workers. Elections are won by voters. You want to destroy a politician? Kill their campaign manager. Kill their PR director. Kill a talk show host who had an opinion.
Any event that changes history is part coincidence and part cooperation. So if we do develop time travel sometime soon, let's not kill Hitler. Let's study history first hand. Let's save shipwreck victims and bring them to the present. Let's take pictures of our great-great-great grandparents.
Time is an infinite stream of change. One bullet wouldn't change the world nearly as much as we think it would.

No comments:

Post a Comment