What is it with time travel and Nazis, anyway? People generally agree that anyone who develops a time machine has a moral obligation to use it to stop Hitler. We also generally accept that, for our closed-loop timeline at least, all such endeavors failed, even if future time travelers still intend to try.
(But seriously, Hitler survived how many assassination attempts? Wikipedia has an “incomplete” list of 25, so there totally could have been time travelers in that mix.)
Past Errors, Future Consequences
More nerve-wracking than the time-traveler’s requirement to take out Hitler, though, is the understood condition that any changes made to the past will likely result in an Axis victory and a world-wide totalitarian state in the future.
TVtropes.org calls it Godwin’s Law of Time Travel:
“As the amount of time-traveling you do increases, the probability of Hitler winning World War II approaches one.”
This trope fits right into the open-loop mantra, “Don’t meddle.” Time, that delicate mechanism, turns its course upon the slightest variations, and all alternate roads apparently lead to a worldwide socialist regime and swastikas on the White House. (Which is one reason I prefer the closed-loop model, truth be told.)
Why can’t it lead to a libertarian paradise for once, hmm? Probably because, in our heart of hearts, we’re all cynics. It’s human nature to lean towards the Worst Possible Outcome, and for Western society, that is Hitler’s Holocaust.
Worse Than the Worst
I’ve taken it for granted most of my life that there is nothing worse than Hitler. However, in recent years I’ve come to realize that I was wrong. For all the atrocities of WWII, the millions of people who died and the millions more who suffered, there is something worse.
It’s worse than Stalin’s Holodomor, worse than Mao’s “Three Bitter Years,” worse than Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, and all the numberless atrocities that have occurred in the history of humankind upon this earth.
It is, simply, that despite the very clear-cut lessons history teaches us through these awful events, there are still people who cling to the power-hungry ideologies that caused them.
How is this even possible? Naive as it may seem, I always assumed that Nazism died in a German bunker in 1945. It should have died there or else shortly thereafter, when images from concentration camps circulated the globe.
“This is the consequence of this system of beliefs,” those images whisper. “Do not tread this path again.”
And yet, this -ism, alongside many others with similar outcomes, rears its head in pockets around the world, as though the consequences were trivial, non-existent, or—worst of all—a necessary means to an end. It’s mind-boggling to me.
The philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Humans may not have the power to go back in time, to fix things so that we can say, “Never at all,” but we should at least hold our ground and say, “Never again.”