This thought popped into my head the other day. It’s a bit of a silly question, but one that is interesting to think about nonetheless.
Would you, if given the opportunity, go back in time and kill baby Hitler?
The gut response for most people would of course be “YES”. Hitler was responsible for kicking off World War 2, the most destructive human conflict of all time in terms of damage and death, and the Holocaust, which was one of the largest and certainly most well known of all the 21st century genocides. Yes, on the surface it seems like this would be an easy decision to make. Killing one evil baby to save millions of people surely would be worth it.
The correct way to look at this problem is not by questioning or trying to extrapolate how the events succeeding baby Hitler’s death would have unfolded, because the variables over such a large time-frame are so near approaching infinite that it is impossible to even predict what would have happened. It would be wiser to attempt to look at the net gain or net loss for humanity that his death would bring. The problem: We have no way of knowing if the world would be better off without Hitler in it.
How would history have been different had he not been there to lead Germany? What if you did go back in time, snatch baby Hitler from his crib in Austria, and toss him into the nearest alpine river? How would history have turned out? No WWII? No Holocaust? It’s possible that life today would be much better without him.
The problem is, it’s also equally possible that far far worse could have happened. Imagine if Germany chooses a weaker leader than Hitler. Perhaps Russia capitalizes on that and extends the iron curtain to the border of France. Maybe the United States, lacking a wartime boom in production, recovers even more slowly from the Great Depression and never becomes a true world superpower. There are infinite possibilities, some worse, some better, and some close to the same.
There is no doubt that history would have been much different if Hitler had never risen to power. But no one will never know if we would be better or worse off because of it. At the risk of sounding ridiculous and callous, maybe we look back from the year 2400 and realize that the Holocaust set off a series of events that led to a unified world government or world peace. Is this likely, probably not. Does this excuse the perpetrators of the Holocaust from criticism, disgust, and shame? Absolutely not. But there is no way to predict what kind of effects our actions will have on history until much further down the road. This is why history is so interesting to me: Every single event in history has led us down the road to exactly where we are today. It’s fun to speculate and predict what the future will hold, but ultimately it’s out of our control.
So no. I wouldn’t risk going back to kill baby Hitler. The world is in a relatively good place right now (despite the news headlines), and I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that, even if it meant ridding the world of Hitler.
Let me know what you think… Would you kill baby Hitler?