In a very cheeky installment of Alter-Reviews, Eric Alterman discusses using a time machine to go back and watch a Muddy Watters show. He points out that he would first kill Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Then he would go back to Florida in 2000 and show the people how to use their voting machines.
I’m in favor of all these efforts. But the whole time machine to kill Hitler idea bugs me. And yes, I know that I have a very typical liberal view of history. I don’t just find the Great Man theory unconvincing; I find it offensive. It only remains today among conservatives who want to think that the rich and powerful really are better than everyone else—that the world would be lost without them.
I wrote my own cheeky letter to Alterman, which I figure he won’t publish, so I’ll do so here:
I know your time travel comment was meant lightly, but I wonder if you believe the whole kill Hitler thing. Other than preferences regarding time machine uses, I don’t think that individuals are all that important. For example, I think Einstein’s publications in 1905 are probably the greatest intellectual achievement in history. Yet it seems certain that all these discoveries would have been made without him, within the following ten years. So if Einstein had never lived, the world would not be that different today.
Which brings us to Hitler. I’m sure that if we killed Hitler as a child (Or gave him art lessons?), we would not have had the Holocaust as we did. But certainly we would have had something very bad. Stalin killed far more people, and I always wonder if he didn’t kill more Jews too. (And I know you want to kill them both, but I think that’s a cop out. One murder per person!) Regardless, just as there are always other brilliant men to fill the void left by careless time travelers, there are always other evil men to fill the void left by careful time travelers.
Or maybe I’m wrong. I do know this: if I had a time machine, I’d go back to the late Jurassic and get eaten by an allosaurus.
That last bit is mostly true. I guess I am truly a scientist at heart. When I daydream about time machines, I always imagine going far back in time and seeing what the earth was like. I care about the murder of millions of people, but that’s not where my mind goes. This may also have something to do with all the science fiction I’ve seen and read over the years. And there’s one thing I know: if I killed Hitler, it would change the world and that would mean I (And everyone else!) would never have been born. So that’s kind of a drag.