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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Whacking Hitler.

Much furor over this piece by Michael Ledeen in NRO, which argues that British soldier Henry Tandey would have made the world a much better place by shooting a wounded and effectively disarmed Hitler in a trench. The furor can be located over at Mark's.

Count me among the skeptics doubting that a merciless Tandey would necessarily have made the world a better place.

Most of us can imagine a better world. Far fewer take the time to consider our present world as a better alternative.

Yes, it could be worse. Building upon a comment by Patrick Sweeney, here are my thoughts:

"Mercy has unforeseen consequences that God alone sees."

Indeed--which is the point Ledeen is missing with his capping-the-wounded-Hitler rumination.We cannot know--and indeed, will not know this side of eternity--the consequences of Tandey shooting Hitler. It seems inevitable that the consequences would still be cascading through history, and not, contra Ledeen, necessarily for the better.

As desperately hard as that may be to believe.

British author and actor Stephen Fry wrote a book about the subject of a Hitlerless world called Making History. Eccentric, often obscene, and even more often irritatingly discursive (rather like the likeable Fry himself), the premise is this: two men--a student and a university physics professor stumble across time travel and decide to go back in time to prevent Hitler from being born.

Not being monsters, they don't want to kill anyone, so instead they hit upon the idea of lacing the well water in Hitler's parents' village with a contraceptive ten months before Hitler was due to be born, thus preventing the birth of said paperhanging SOB. When they get back to the present, they find a world locked in a cold war between America and...a Nazi Germany that dominates Eurasia.

You see, the men stopped Hitler, all right, but instead got a far craftier, more strategically-adept and even more charismatic substitute for the Austrian corporal named Rudolf Glober. Glober lulled the world to sleep with conciliatory rhetoric, developed the atomic bomb, destroyed Russia, occupied Britain and conducted a more thorough Final Solution. Oh, and America is a darker and more authoritarian place, too. Needless to say, the men desperately want to change history back...

Yes, it could be worse. And I remain mindful of a comment increasingly used by one of my favorite sci-fi writers, S.M. Stirling: "It is amazing how often mercy has practical uses."

Err on the side of practicality. Because the alternative could be far, far worse than you can ever imagine, for both yourself and others.

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