My friend April posed an interesting question to herself and got an interesting answer:

A study has found that if given the choice to travel back in time and kill Hitler, men are more likely to do so than women.

And I asked myself, “Self, would you kill Hitler?” And Self said, “It depends.”

Oh, Self. It’s Hitler! Explain yourself, Self.

And so Self does. I like her answer, because the likelihood of Unintended Consequences is discounted far too quickly these days, but I don’t think it’s quite enough. So let me take a stab at it.

My answer is also “It depends” and my explanation works like this:

If I get a chance to pop Hitler before he brings the Nazi Party to power (like, say, during the chaos of the Beer Hall Putsch), I’d take it. Hitler wouldn’t emerge from prison with Mein Kampf , a huge propaganda victory, and a chance to speak directly to the German people during the trial. Of course there’s a chance one of the other prominent putsch leaders, such as Ludendorff, Hess, or Göring could have risen to lead the party, none of them would have been the charismatic and powerful leader Hitler turned out to be. I doubt any of them would have led Germany as aggressively nor with the dictatorial power required to spark World War II. Kill Hitler then and the good you’d do would be considerable, with few clear unintended consequences.

Kill Hitler

On the other hand, if my chance to kill Hitler doesn’t come until after 1935 or so, there are better things I could do. For instance, I could bring evidence of the Holocaust as it was just getting started to American and British media outlets. There’s the chance that some of the outlets wouldn’t run the information, or would consider it propaganda (believe it or not, there were plenty in the United States who regarded Hitler as a rather clever community organizer type with some wonderful ideas about how to make government more progressive. Some of those people worked in the White House). Most would run the story of the Nazi’s monstrous plan with the screaming huge headlines it deserved. If I could step up the Allies’ efforts so that the war ended earlier, I’ll have saved tens of thousands of lives and Hitler will still die in disgrace and a puddle of his own panic.

Then, while I was there, I’d dish the dirt on Stalin. I’m not sure that would do as much good, given he was an ally and, believe it or not, even more beloved by the American Progressives, but I’d certainly try.

I could live with any Unintended Consequences, except that one alternate timeline in which the desperate Nazis wake the World Serpent. That, I’m sure we can all agree, would be bad.

(photo credit: xkcd. Duh!)