Continuing a discussion of reparations, with several long digressions…
Kill or cure?
WeirdDave at Ace of Spades proposed an open thread based on the idea that you have obtained the keys to a time machine and you have both a 50 caliber rifle and Dr. McCoy’s medkit. The question is, whom would you kill or cure in American history? European history is excluded because, well, Hitler is obvious.
I have to say that reading the comments at Ace of Spades is an acquired taste. They tend to wander off into tangents, and many of the regulars know each other and engage in in-jokes. One of those is that the regulars are referred to as “morons” and “moronettes”. It’s understandable if someone reading my blog would not want to read those comments.
In any case, the commenters suggested various people that they would kill or cure; a lot of them would kill Woodrow Wilson, for instance. Interestingly, no one suggested just sitting down with an historical figure and explaining the future to them so they would (with luck) make better decisions. I suppose that’s because the challenge is “kill or cure”; “educate” is not one of the options.
The thing is, only one person noted that he would not take any action prior to his own birth, which is the very first thing that I would say.
For instance, suppose you saved Lincoln or killed Booth in the expectation that Lincoln would run Reconstruction better, changing the whole dynamic of the post-war South. That might, in the best case, produce much better race relations today — which would be nice, but those race relations would be among people who are not us.
The people who are living today were born to people who lived in a history where Lincoln was assassinated. Reconstruction and its aftermath caused some people to move North who otherwise might not have; some people to move South who otherwise might not have; some people to meet, or not meet; some people to die untimely, or not; and so on, and so on. Bad race relations mean that some people who might have become friends, who might even have married, did not and so the children who might have existed did not and their descendants do not either.
And we can point to others in history as well. Suppose a time traveller killed Woodrow Wilson before he became President. World War I would have been different — maybe a lot, maybe a little, but different. So some young men who came home in our history would not have come home — and so none of the descendants of their children born after the War would now exist. Conversely some who didn’t come home would, and so their descendants might exist, but not the descendants of those people their sweethearts married instead when they didn’t come home.
Without Wilson, would the reparations (there’s that word again) imposed on Germany have been more, or less, onerous? Would the leaders of many nations have behaved differently? Would the First Great Depression have happened? Would it have been less bad, or worse? How many people who travelled to escape the worst effects would not have travelled, or how many more would have done so? Whom would they have met and married that they did not in our history? What children would they have had that they did not, or not have that they actually did?
Would World War II have happened earlier? Later? Not at all? Would someone other than Hitler have led Germany? Would Germany have won? And, once again, how many who died as a direct result of World War II would instead have lived, and how many who lived would instead have died?
As with the much smaller tragedies in my mother’s family, if these immense tragedies had been averted or altered in any way, we who were born after them would not be here. Yes, those alternate histories that might have been could be much better than our own — but they are not ours and never, ever could have been.
To be continued…