What would you do if you were given a time machine and a scoped rifle? Or would you want a scoped rifle to go with the time machine?
In the science fiction short story The Return of William Proxmire Proxmire doesn’t want a scoped rifle–he wants a syringe full of antibiotics and he is “gunning” for Robert Heinlein. I loved this story. It articulates the fantasy of changing history via what Niven claims, perhaps rightly so, the common fantasy assassinating some horrendously evil person before they had a chance to do their evil. It put the twist on that fantasy that perhaps you could change history in remarkably good ways by doing some small act of good as well.
Barb and I have been watching The Nazis: A Warning from History. This presentation casts doubts on my fantasy of going back in time to assassinate Hitler. And it makes me a little more sympathetic to all the people I read about in Plotting Hitler’s Death: The Story of German Resistance who had the opportunity but then failed to follow through because they didn’t have all their plans in order about what to do after Hitler was dead. Some of them spent months debating what type of government (a parliament? A representative democracy? Or perhaps even install a King?) would they put in place after they had successfully killed Hitler. My frustration with them boiled down to “just kill the SOB and worry about the details later”. But perhaps it wasn’t so simple.
In the The Nazis they claim Hitler wasn’t the dictator with a finely detailed plan we, or at least I, thought he was. Hitler had the broad goals of expanding the geographical territory and economic power of the “Germanic people”. Yes, many people blamed the Jews for the poor outcome of Germany in WWI and Jews as a scapegoat were a useful tool to motivate people. But in many ways Hitler was very lazy and let his subordinates do pretty much whatever they wanted. He had obtained great power through his gift of rhetoric and ambitious people sought access to that power. These power seekers put great effort into trying to please him. Hitler didn’t command them to commit all the great atrocities. They devised and implemented them in an attempt to please him and obtain still more wealth and power. If they furthered the broad goals of more territory and power for the Germans then Hitler did not interfere and they obtained the resources to further their work.
The above is background for the questions posed in the first two sentences of this post. If you could change history with a little nudge (what is one bullet into the brain of Gefreiter Hitler during the middle of WWI in the big scheme of things?) what would that nudge be?
Books such as Because They Hate, Hatred’s Kingdom, Preachers of Hate, The Truth About Muhammad, and Infidel put Muhammad on my list. And because Barb and I just finished Genghis Khan he would get some “special attention”. Both of these butchers could perhaps be better “nudged” with something other than “a scoped rifle”.
The introduction of the principles of scientific inquire and a little schooling might have changed Muhammad into something much more compatible with civilized society. And certainly the Arabs had the talent and even a strong tendency for pursuing science instead of superstition. Could the education of the illiterate Mohammad have made the desired difference?
And what of Genghis Khan? Was the poisoning of his father by a neighboring tribe, the resulting dissolution his tribe and him being hunted and marked for death as the eldest son of the dead tribal leader the motivation for his climb to power? Could his father have been warned about the poison and the results in the following decades been much different?
But the books Free to Choose, Freedomnomics, The Big Three in Economics and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal have influenced me the most. I am inclined to go with the “scoped rifle” approach for dealing with Rousseau, Marx, Hegel, and Engels. These were brilliant men of ideas and persuasion that influenced and enabled Hitler, Stalin, and scores of other brutal dictators to kill hundreds of millions of people and enslave billions more right up through the present day. Perhaps this graphic from Kevin will make it more clear as to why these people are at the top of my list: