If you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you do it?
Chris over at The Story Reading Ape has a fabulously topical infographic on time travel that seems especially relevant after my review of the the kill-Hitler time travel story in Nicholas Rossis’ Honest Fibs.
Why is time travel important now? Surprisingly, given the other teeny little issues facing American voters—the economy, climate change, terrorism, and who has what plumbing where in public bathrooms— this has become an election year issue. When The New York Times Magazine posed it to readers a few months ago, replies leaned toward offing the little tyke.
Responses among the Republican candidates’ were mixed. Jeb Bush—citing scientific evidence from that famous documentary, Back to the Future—said he’d kill Baby Hitler himself but there might be some unforeseen results. Ben Carson said he would oppose an abortion, even to save the life of the mother or in the case of incest or future death of six million Jews. He did, however, say he would be fine with going back in time to give guns to Jews. (Presumably so that well-armed little Jewish preschoolers could take out their future killer themselves. Neat!) Donald Trump, who hasn’t hesitated to propose walling off Mexico and refusing to allow Muslims into the USA, wasn’t ready to commit to Führer-infanticide.
[NOTE: We’re not sure exactly how the Democrat candidates would respond to this. I’m imagining Hillary Clinton would go into all this boring physics and math stuff to explain how there is no such thing as time travel—she’ll have a powerpoint deck, but reporters will be looking at their twitter feed when the lights go down so nobody would be exactly sure what she was talking about. And Bernie Sanders might say that he would give Baby Hitler the benefit of the doubt, at least as long as he didn’t grow up to be a banker or middle-aged woman—in which case his supporters would, of course, have to kill him.]
So I thought I’d revisit an old post I wrote on the topic.
Any Time Travel = Hitler Won
When my daughter was in high school, any debate team reference to Hitler resulted in an automatic Godwin disqualification. Back in 1990, American author and writer Mike Godwin proposed what has come to be known as Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, the longer a discussion continues, the greater likelihood that someone will invoke the specter of Hitler and/or World War II.
For those who write time travel or speculative fiction, the corollary has come to be known as Godwin’s Law of Time Travel.
The first rule of time travel is that any and all modifications made to the timeline result in Hitler winning World War II. Run over a hippy in 1968? Hitler wins.
— colonel_green, ScansDaily
Of course, there are other approaches. One theory says that time travelers actually can’t affect history. For example, let’s say you have an inventor so horrified by the millions killed during the Holocaust and WWII that he or she devotes their life to inventing a time machine. S/he goes back to kill Hitler, but is unsuccessful (this is, after all, a man who survived fifty-plus assassination attempts). Or perhaps our inventor somehow kills Hitler before his rise to power, the Holocaust never happens, and thus s/he would have no reason to invent the time machine in the first place. But if the time machine doesn’t lead to Hitler’s death, then the Holocaust does happen and the inventor creates the time machine and then…
Your head just hurts.
Other theories say that Adolf Hitler is just one man, himself barely in control of the sweep of history, and that events would have happened along the same lines no matter who rose to control in Germany. Or perhaps the results would have been even worse from our historical 20-20 hindsight— Stalin conquers Germany and keeps going, Mussolini becomes more powerful, Franco remains in power for forty years. (Oh, wait…)
Then there is the issue of how much science do you want in your science fiction? Approaches can vary:
1. Supersoft: “Apply Phlebotinum here.”2. Soft: “Sit here and set the dial to the year you want.”
3. Hard: “Let me tell you about my theory, which integrates every piece of quantum physics from Einstein to Hawking.”
4. Super Hard: “There is no such thing as time travel.”
Still confused? Sounds like you need an infographic. Luckily, Chris The Story Reading Ape has just what you need here.