A time machine and scoped rifle

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:


22 thoughts on “A time machine and scoped rifle

  1. As a purely entertaining read, there was a sci-fi short story done some years ago, called “The Murderer”. Too bad I can’t recall who wrote it. The whole story was of an interview between a LEO and an accused man. The man was accused of killing a bunch of people in widely spaced parts of the world over many years. “You have to get them early, before they’ve built up their protection, while their guard’s still down.” he said, and, “All in all I think I’ve accomplished quite a lot.”

    The man is treated, predictably, as insane. You find out only at the vary end that the accused was a time traveler who had done exactly as you describe.

  2. Since I haven’t been visited by a time traveler from the future, we can assume that time travel will never be invented. So said Stephen Hawking.

    Or to paraphrase Douglas Adams, “Time travel was, by its very nature, invented simultaneously at all periods in history.”

    Or can we assume that, since things are/were pretty mucked up, time travel, if it exists, must be fairly new? No. That makes no sense at all (see Adams’ quote above). Maybe we could assume that if time travel does exist, the few persons who can do it are either not using it or they are total assholes. Either that or there is some “manifest destiny” that doesn’t allow for great big changes in human society caused by individual influences– that our fate is more tied to our inherant behavior, rather than to individual players or deeds. That say, W.W.II would have happened with or without Hitler and Tojo. Kill those two, and just as likely the Russians would have been the instigators.

  3. I think the short story you’re talking about would be Lawrence Watt-Evans’s The Murderer. I like the (vastly historically incorrect, but still entertaining) part of the twist ending where the titular time-travelling assassin’s twelve murders make him the single most violent individual in history.

    I dunno who or what I’d want to kill. Marx would be the easiest, and the one with the greatest negative results on his record… but we’re talking tens if not hundreds of millions of dead people. Even without the obvious causality problems, there’s no telling what that change could result in. Hitler’s rule is probably the only thing that made eugenics unacceptable as part of modern culture — up until the middle of WWII, it was popular among politically normal people. Saving millions of lives if nice, but it might not be worth it if it results in taking out Hawking and even more people, just in bite-sized chunks.

    Say you do take out Marx, and that stops or just partially defangs Mao and Stalin to simple nasty fascists rather than mass-murdering and mass-starving socialists, what I’d consider a ridiculously optimistic result. Given every other country and the tendency to gallop toward socialism, and how only staunch anti-communists — who have to constantly bring up and were inspired by examples like Mao and Stalin — are effective in our timeline, and the vast negative and addictive results of socialistic influences, I honestly can’t say we’d be better off.

    It’s sad when a hundred million people might look like a reasonabl price to pay, but if that’s what it takes to keep our reality from being turned into an even more pessimistic version of Huxley’s Brave New World.

  4. I guess my point was along the lines of; Did despot A create the problem of mass blind following, or did the problem of mass blind following create despot A? Did the mushroom create the mold, or did the mold simply give rise to the mushroom?

    Kill one and ten others will be there to play the same role as fill-ins.

    It’s pure speculation of course, and you might say it’s a bit fatalist. I don’t embrace it– I just wonder.

  5. I’d prefer other ways if possible. A decent paying job that kept him busy would have shut Marx up- he was a gifted writer and reporter. Put him on as a war correspondent or PR man for Carnegie.

    Rousseau still gets bullets though, the risk is too high. THE worst, with his noble savage rap.

  6. Some of the best ‘what if?’ concepts are small changes in what was done by those at the time. Instead of a time machine, just look at an alternate and probable path in history. If Hitler, while a student in Vienna, say, had actually been able to sell some artwork and took up a life of painting, would he still have the impetus to become a motivating part of the NSDAP or would he have stayed closer to the Bohemian groups in and around Vienna? While improbable it is not impossible, and yet while there would still have been changes in Germany would they have been as dramatic and focused in that timeline as ours?

    A very real alternate history was brought to light in What If? Strategic Alternatives of WWII by Harold Deutsch and Dennis Showalter, Emperor’s Press, 1997. In particular their 1C “What if one of the foreign military attache plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the early spring of 1939 had been carried out successfully?” This recounts the plan (currently in the Imperial War Museum of London) by Colonel Frank Noel Mason-MacFarlane who proposed to assassinate Hitler on his birthday drive on 20 APR. He had secured rooms overlooking the square that the procession was to drive through and had a shot out of his bathroom window, estimated at 110 yards. Needless to say the Foreign Office called that ‘poor sportsmanship’ and would not give the green light to the venture.

    Going on at the same time was an international group looking to overthrow Hitler led by Admiral Richard Byrd. A similar idea was floated by some of the old aristocrats in the Officer Corps, looking to try and restore part of the monarchy. So these things wouldn’t require a time machine, per se, just finding an alternate history where one of these ideas went forward. Even an unsuccessful coup attempt would have deep ramifications coming in late 1938 or early 1939, and would have exposed some of the pre-war divisions in the Party and Germany and changed the political atmosphere (not necessarily for the better, mind you). An incapacitated Hitler or one that is a mere figurehead would not have the deep attraction in a visceral way, but a more romantic one, while the lower tier fought amongst themselves for dominance in a slowly dividing party.

    It is this sort of provocative historical review that is, actually, much more interesting than time machine stories, as it challenges us to review the social, political, economic and, at times, spiritual understanding of what we call history.

  7. The assumption that Naziism could have been stopped with a bullet in the head of Hitler is questionable, at best. After World War II, the civilized world fantasized that Hitler was a kind of mass hypnotist who brought an entire nation under his sway. But Hitler had no shiny “hypno-coin”, the Germans hated the Jews since at least the 12th or 13th century, and the development of fascism took place independently of him and had roots in the 19th century doctrines of communism and nationalism.

    It’s entirely possible that killing Hitler would have made things worse. Perhaps a more effective, competent, or charismatic leader could have created more trouble. Or perhaps the groundwork of fascism would have been laid in a more effective fashion, as part of a broader (and thus more acceptable) mass movement, as opposed to being tied to one individual.

    Or not. After all, Huey Long presented a kind of Southern-fried proto-fascism which died with him.

  8. Even if you grant the assumption that, through the judicious use of precognitive violence, all of the great strifes throughout history could have been prevented, it is (sadly) still not clear that it would be in the species’ long-term interest to do so. For all of the death and destruction caused by the great tyrants, and the years of oppression suffered by the victims, it is still fundamentally true that the advancement of our species comes fastest in times of peril, where the impetus of need drives the engine of change.

  9. I remember reading somewhere that towards the end the British had an opportunity to kill Hitler but passed up the chance. The feeling was that his incompetence was a plus for the Allies. All these guys are just bubbles on the river. They show which way the current is flowing, but they do not change it. If you killed Edison there would still be light bulbs.

  10. I don’t understand this obsession with killing people who at the time they should be killed haven’t done anything. Wouldn’t it be simple to adopt Hitler? Or buy his paintings? Or bribe a clerk in Bavaria to have him turned down for the German Army in WWI. (He was an Austrian—volunteer there!) I’m certain similar opportunities exist for Marx and the rest.

  11. I suspect many overlook the fact that any foreign-backed (e.g., British) attempt to assassinate Hitler in, say, 1939 likely would have sparked a major European conflict. In the wake of any attempt–successful or not–German intelligence would have immediately drawn up a short list of suspects; dare I mention that ruthless and capable Nazis like Reinhard Heydrich were also very good at connecting the dots. Added to this is that in 1939 Hitler was titular head of an internationally-recognized government–odious as it was–so a foreign-launched attempt to assassinate him would have given Germany every right under existing international law to “take appropriate measures.” Think of Hitler invading France a full year earlier than he did: with PM Neville Chamberlain still at the helm, Britain a) almost certainly wouldn’t have sent troops to the Continent (as they did in 1940) and b) the British government probably would have instead agreed to a face-saving “non-aggression pact” with Hitler, leaving him unchallenged master of Western and Central Europe.

    Contemplate this: World War I was sparked by the assassination of a relatively obscure Austrian arch-duke. Bad as that was, what might have been the result of a foreign-backed assassination attempt against the internally-popular, respected, and internationally-recognized leader of the preeminent power in Continental Europe?

  12. Larry Niven pointed out that if time travel is invented, people will go into the past and introduce changes until someone introduces a change that prevents the invention of time travel.

    An obvious corollary is that time travel will be invented at a different point in the new timeline, which will add its own time paradoxes to history until it prevents itself. Repeat ad infinitum. Therefore, all of history is nothing but a mass of time paradoxes. The purpose of history is to prevent the invention of time travel.

  13. For what it’s worth, in my opinion the most likely result of Hitler’s dying in WWI, not a necessary outcome, just the most likely of numerous alternatives, is the Communists gaining control of Germany sometime around 1930 and then by 1950, in alliance with Russia and possibly other newly communist states in Europe, going to war with the remaining free countries of the world in a conflict just as deadly and devastating as the WWII we experienced.

  14. If you killed Edison, there would still be light bulbs, but they probably would be working significantly worse: his work on perfecting the concept really jumped technology on the matter several years ahead of what would have happened otherwise. That’s not a perfect example, though. The technology behind lightbulbs was already well-understood, and had a small but strong market. The progress was only evolutionary, not revolutionary.

    If you killed Tesla or Westinghouse, on the other side, we’d probably be screwed. While we don’t think about many of Tesla’s inventions, even those few that were popularly accepted at his time really did revolutionize the electrical infrastructure of this country. Without him, we’d certainly be stuck with DC current for most of the early years, for starters, limiting electrical current to a few miles of major power plants. Those inventions of his such as remote radio control or x-ray, demonstrate that he was at least a decade, if not further, ahead of his time. We’re still rediscovering things he described way back then.

    No sane individual would claim that, without Hitler, antisemites would have never existed in Germany. But it’s hard to believe that Nazism’s particular mix of addictive nationalistic socialism and violent racism would have murdered nearly as successfully. A stronger or more practical tactician and other countries would have been more willing to stop him violently. A worse public speaker, and the endless internal enfighting would have slowed down any one ‘solution’. Hell, even a lot of other similar situations resulting in fascist groups taking the lead, like Mussolini, yet didn’t cooperate totally with genocide.

  15. Of course, there’s always the possibility that history’s already been improved as much as it can stand, and we’re currently living in the result.

    That being said, Kant still edges slightly past Rousseau to take 1st Place on my personal list of All-Time Poster Children for Retroactive Abortion,

  16. Given that you have read Rand, I’m surprised that you would get as far as knocking off Rousseau, Marx, Hegel, and Engels — instead of saving three bullets and taking out Immanuel Kant, whose epistemological corruptions made those men logically inevitable.

    Of course, if you offed Kant, a lot more than those four men and their ideas would have gone “poof”. Religion would have lost that particular savior, leaving conservatism stillborn and possibly religion itself as finished. In that scenario, the Enlightenment might not have been derailed into that horrific explosion of utter irrationality and immorality perpetuated in its name which we now know as the Left. Liberalism would still stand for the Enlightenment form of government originally so designated — the “system of natural liberty” which the Marxists later designated as “capitalism”.

    Certain ancient errors preserved and reinforced by Kant and common to both conservatism and the Left — such as the conflation of human nature and human character inherent in the shibboleth of “human nature as flawed” — might finally have been corrected, to the great benefit of human understanding.

    So be careful what you wish for; if you want to know where the real turning points of history are, yuo need to understand ideological causation — how ideas flow and how they move men and cultures. If you are one of those who point to human nature as the culprit or otherwise subscribe to any other sort of historical “inevitability”, you don’t know what is going on.

  17. Yeah, I totally forgot about Kant. Philosophy Who Needs it made that choice very clear.

    Sorry for the lack of response on this thread. I’ve been at the NRA Convention and getting no more than four hours of sleep every night since Thursday night.

    Thanks for all the comments and stopping by to visit. It was quite a rush to see the Sitemeter go 10X normal.

    I would like to draw peoples attention so some of my stuff that I am most proud of. It’s on the right side under the heading of “Thoughts On Freedom”.

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