Let's Kill Hitler: Or, Why Can't Ted Kennedy Be President?

So, I've never really dabbled in alternate history as a writer, but I've read plenty of it as a reader and on the whole, I tend to find the whole concept fascinating. Shows like 'Man In The High Castle' are like catnip to me. (Even though I've stalled out somewhere in Season 2, I think- because given it's subject matter, I find it better in small doses rather than one long, large binge.) It was not surprising, however, when I found myself in an extensive discussion on Discord about the ins and outs of using time travel to kill Hitler. (I'm pretty sure I answered a similar question about this on Quora as well awhile back.

So, let's talk about the notion. Assuming time travel is real and possible, would it be advisable to go back in time and kill Hitler with the aim of preventing the whole World War II/Holocaust thing? 

No, I wouldn't. Because killing Hitler wouldn't actually solve the problem. If you really want to alter history to eliminate German militarism and imperialism, your target is much bigger and much more complicated: the German revolutions of 1848-1849. Tipping the balance the other way on one revolution in a year where most of Europe was convulsedin a variety of revolutions eliminates the possibility that this could be a one person job. So, you'd need a team. But- let's say you and your time bandits manage to do it. It might not produce a democracy as we know it in the contemporary sense, but it would, most likely, eliminate or at least ameliorate the conservative backlash that followed 1848 in our present time line.

The problem with having to change the outcome of such a large event though, is that you don't know what the repurcussions will be. Would it really avoid the conservative backlash? Would that system of secret treaties and alliances still develop and set up conditions similar to those prior to the start of the First World War? America would be different as well: many German liberals fled the failure of 1848 and emigrated to the United States where they became known as Forty-Eighters. The politics of the Upper Midwest would have been, I think, markedly different than they are now. 

So, theoretically, that's what I would do- and theoretically, if you do it right- because you might need to help a few other Revolutions along to really get the job done, you might be able to tamp down the rise of militant German imperialism and maybe create a Europe shorn of the alliance system that proved so deadly in starting the avalanche that lead to World War I.  1848, if it goes the other way could have all kinds if interesting ripple effects. What would happen to Russia? Would communism/socialism and anarchism have developed the same way? What would have happened in America over the question of slavery and the Civil War? 

Killing an individual doesn't change the historical conditions that lead them to do what they did in the first place. You've got to change the history that made their rise possible. Plus, in the case of Hitler, if time travel was possible, there'd probably be a whole department of timecops dedicated to keeping him, well, alive, because of all the people who think it'd be a good idea to go back and kill Baby Hitler with the idea of nipping this whole thing in the bud.

Now, while killing an individual might not change history the way you want it too, I don't really see the problem with promoting one. I'll be the first to note that I don't have AppleTV and thus, have not seen a single episode of For All Mankind, but let's just say that Conservatives aren't all that happy with the show right now, because not only is Ted Kennedy President, but the Equal Rights Amendment has passed and he's apparently having an affair with Mary Jo Kopechne. While that last part may be in poor taste (I think you can make a pretty good argument that it is), I find myself less bothered by the thought of Ted Kennedy being President. People tend to forgot: it was conceivable back in the day. Maybe not that likely, the way history actually shaped out, but not out of the realm of possibilities either.

Consider:For All Mankind posits an alternative history where the Russians got to the moon before we did. That assumes (at least in my mind) that the space race shook out the way it did in this timeline. JFK assassinated. LBJ takes over. The Space Race begins. Nixon is elected and then, the Russians get their first.

It's not out of the question that the Russians get there first becomes an issue in the 1972 race. It's not out of the question that Teddy gets in, wanting to win the race his brother started. and it's not out of the question that he wins in those circumstances. Having not seen the show, I don't know what other contextual clue For All Mankind may have dropped into their history- but it seems believable to me, if perhaps yearning a little too much toward liberal wish fulfillment. It may be alternate history, but if killing Hitler is a bad idea, I don't see why Ted Kennedy can't be President.


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