By Dean Burnett | The Guardian
In almost any science-fiction scenario involving time-travel, the default action is to kill Hitler. As terrible a human being as he was, there are many reasons why this probably isn’t a good idea
If you find yourself suddenly gaining access to a time machine, what’s the first thing you’d do? If you said “kill Adolf Hitler”, then congratulations; you’re a science-fiction character. Actually, the whole “access to a time machine” thing suggested that already, but the desire to kill Hitler clinches it. Any time-travelling sci-fi character (at least ones created by Western society) seems to want to kill Hitler, so much so that there’s a trope about how it’s impossible.
That attempting to kill Hitler has become such a common sci-fi plot device speaks volumes. What about Stalin? He was arguably worse, killing 20 million of his own people to fuel his ideology. But no, Stalin went about his business unmolested by time travellers, all of whom are busy targeting Hitler.
It’s understandable. Who wouldn’t want to prevent the holocaust? It’s probably the worst thing in history. And I only say “probably” because I don’t know all of history, and the human capacity to be awful should not be underestimated. But as noble as it seems, killing the Fuhrer via time travel is a terrible idea, for real-world reasons, not just those in fiction. So should you get hold of a time machine and make plans to kill Hitler, here are some reasons why you shouldn’t.
Could you actually kill another human being? Despite what pop culture implies, humans generally aren’t predisposed to killing each other. This isn’t an absolute, of course. Abstract thinking about homicide is relatively common, and many humans end up taking the lives of others due to complex circumstances such as brutal upbringings/environments, or possibly psychiatric illness. And of course, some people are just evil. It seems challenging to reconcile these motivations with the mentality that plans to kill Hitler as an altruistic act.
But let’s assume you are willing to kill one to save millions of others. All of history to visit, and your first port of call involves killing. Fine. Whatever. When do you kill Hitler? As a child, Hitler hadn’t done anything monstrous enough to warrant his murder, so would you be willing to take his life then? Minority Report struggled with this issue, and that was on a much smaller scale.
Maybe later, when the Reich is in place but he hadn’t committed genocide yet. But would this be too late? Once everything has been set up, would eliminating Hitler change anything? This brings us onto another reason not to do it.
Stephen Fry dealt with this superbly in his book Making History. Without spoilers, the problem is that many assume Hitler was the sole cause of the second world war and all the associated horrors. Sadly, this is a gross oversimplification. Germany in the 1930s wasn’t a utopia of basket-weaving peace lovers who were suddenly and severely corrupted by Hitler’s charismatic moustache. The political tensions and strife were all there, results of a previous world war and a great depression; Hitler was just able to capitalise on this. But if he hadn’t, say because he had been eliminated by an errant time traveller, then there’s nothing to say that nobody else would.
Problems rarely exist in isolation. Just like you can’t go in and rip out a tumour because it’s connected to the wider body which will react badly to such a blunt intrusion, elimination of the main figurehead won’t necessarily prevent events that were as much a product of the wider socio-political context.
Read the full article at: guardian.com
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