Should one kill Hitler?

Imagine at some point in the future we're able to travel back in time. Should one kill (baby) Hitler?

On the one hand, it could save tens of millions of lives in Europe, prevent the Holocaust as well as the destruction of entire European cities.

On the other, without World War II, Stalin might have felt emboldened to conquer Europe. Or a more able revanchist could have seized power in Germany and prevailed, whereas Hitler - refusing the advice of his generals - undermined his own military successes.

America could have remained isolationist, or at least not intervened in Europe. There wouldn't have been a postwar liberal world order, with security in (Western) Europe, free trade, prosperity, and without great-power war. Decolonization would probably have been slower. All of East Asia could be under Japanese rule. Fascism, eugenics and antisemitism would not have been as thoroughly discredited as they were. The State of Israel would not exist.

I would err on the side of caution. Better to stick with the devil we know than gamble on an uncertain outcome.

Would you take the chance?

Comments

  • I would rather attempt to make sure that Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini don't grow up to be fascists like they were. Of course it's always guessing, but imagine what the world could have been had the US remained isolationist and these people didn't grow to be the evildoers they were, but were still alive?

  • Killing Hitler baby probably would not have made any difference in the general scheme of things, besides committing a murder. Someone else would have risen instead. The same might be said of the Orange Man in the United States today.

  • There was a short story called History Demon, about a guy who sold his soul (literally) just to travel in time back to 1913 and to kill a certain Mr. Aster who had committed incredible atrocities. To kill him before he would become a dictator. And so he did, strangled the beast with his bare hands, and returned to his present, and opened a history book on his desk. To his utter astonishment, the book was full of new atrocities, committed by a certain Mr. Hitler - a hungry unemployed guy who had offered the time traveller his services as a porter...

  • @Ottens , if I had a chance to make a dash into the past, I wouldn't kill anybody. I'd rather have made every possible and impossible effort to prevent the Reparation Commission's disastrous decision, taken in April, 1921 (see "London payment plan"). No hyperinflation in Germany. There's one more thing I'd like to change: the Weimar Constitution. Diehard liberals that penned it were good guys of course, but not too wise. They lacked perspective, being obsessed with democracy and human rights, and they couldn't imagine someone like Hindenburg (not to mention Hitler) as their President. Two things were rotten from the start in their paper: 1) Proportional representation without any form of electoral barrier, 2) Disproportional presidential power. That's exactly what led Germany to Nazi takeover.

  • I agree with the second, but I'm a fan of proportional representation. It works in the Netherlands. It's certainly better than a two-party system.

    But political culture matters as much as the political system, and perhaps you're right on the broader point, that the architects of Weimar tried to transition Germany to a liberal democracy too fast. I honestly don't know. Sometimes you also just need to go ahead and impose something, and people will come around. Gay marriage is a good example. When it was legalized here in Spain in 2005, there wasn't majority support for it. But now there's almost no opposition anymore. Attitudes in the US have similarly shifted very fast since it was legalized nationally.

    I think the most important lesson of Weimar is that when faced with the choice of cooperating with the center-left or the far right, the center-right ought to opt for the former. It - still - too often picks the latter. Republicans making their peace with Trump is an example. Likud under Netanyahu is another. (Although it sounds like that might change?)

    Speaking as a center-right liberal, I think I have far more in common with social democrats than I do with authoritarians and populists on the far right.

    So maybe if one could travel back in time and convince Franz von Papen of that.

    Then again, we'd be back to the question: could we inadvertently make the world worse by preventing World War II?

  • edited May 22

    Well, dear @Ottens, let's go back to the question. I think we won't make things worse in general. We'll cause a number of lesser wars, mostly in Asia and Oceania, that happened in OTL anyway. We'll have a more conservative world, that's for sure. On the other hand, we won't see a lot of regimes that were a direct or indirect product of WWII.

    Without a full-scale war in Europe, weird or not, Stalin won't dare to conquer a single village.

  • edited May 22

    Regarding the ill-fated Weimar Republic. It could manage far better - and longer - without marginals in Reichstag. Electoral barrier is important (that's why it was introduced in the 1949 German Constitution and widely copied elsewhere).

    Regarding centrists seeking alliance with far right:

    1. In Germany, Social Democrats coexisted with centre-right parties for a couple of years in the Grand Coalition, but most of the time they were at swords' ends with centrists and liberals. Theoretically, they could take power through an alliance with KPD and other left, but that was a sort of "mission impossible": Communist leadership would have rather struck a deal with devil, seeing Social Democrats as their main enemy. If only KPD could overthrow their hardliner leader, Ernst Thälmann, and break away from Komintern... Instead, they ousted all moderates, and entered the '30s as a large, loud, and pretty ineffective movement.
    2. Speaking of our times, I have to point at the fundamental difference between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu. If the first one positioned himself as a Democrat for quite a long time, and had nothing to do with Republican establishment prior to 2014, the latter literally grew up inside Likud. He didn't come from outer space, and Likud elected him their chairman for the first time in 1992, almost three decades ago. He's not a marginal or outsider, he's been built-in from the start.
  • That's true. The two men are quite different, but it seems to me their parties have acted somewhat similarly in that they're more comfortable moving to, and working with, the far right than they are with the center-left. (I don't know Israeli politics as well as I know American politics, though, so maybe I'm oversimplifying?)

    Why do you think Stalin would be more cautious, rather than emboldened, if there wasn't a Second World War?

  • From 1922 till 1939 the Soviets, badly beaten by the Poles in 1920-21, didn't make a single attempt to seize neighbouring territories. All their talk about "world revolution" was no more than lip service. More than that, in the '20s, they were peacefully (!!!) forced to leave their possessions in Manchuria. To regain control over the Baltic states, or Finland, or Eastern Poland, they needed a major European turmoil. And they got it.

    Besides, they had a number of good examples right before their eyes: the Anschluß of Austria in 1938, annexation of Sudetenland by Germany and of Southern Slovakia by Hungary later that year, Italian occupation of Albania in April 1939, Klaipėda (Memel) ceded by Lithuania after a German ultimatum... Hitler, Horthy, and Mussolini were good teachers. And - if they could, why Stalin can't?

  • I'd try to take the mass murderers of history and give them better upbringings so they go into the world as decent people.

    And on a related note - I've always found those time travel stories about how killing Hitler is impossible (Bruno Lombardi has a very good story of this nature) to be so depressing, because they imply that the Holocaust is written into the laws of the universe.

  • I'm watching The Dictator’s Playbook, a PBS series with episodes about Franco, Mussolini, Saddam Hussein... It seems nearly all of these men who would go on to become brutal dictators were bullied as young boys.

  • It's what's called the 'cycle of abuse' - those who had terrible role models in their youth replicate awful behavior because it's all they ever knew.

  • Perhaps that's it. It also seems that the formerly oppressed sometimes turn into the worst oppressors. Maybe it's just a thirst for vengeance?

  • That, or a rational intention to survive at all costs, damn all others.

  • That's a clear and simple answer! 😁

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