The Obvious Ethical Question

Contributed by on 26/09/09

It is the curse of a particular kind of mind that I could have set myself to the task of achieving that which was previously thought impossible, but at no time did I consider the ethical question.

You know the question I mean. It’s the question people always ask.

Finally, now, after fifteen years of research and development, and two months of being in exactly the same situation as the one I’m in now, I find myself pondering that question for the first time.

I’m in the shadow of a tree, on a hot and sunny day. A light breeze is pulling cool air off of the surface of the nearby stream, and splashing it across my skin. The sound of a conversation that I couldn’t hope to understand floats across to me from the window of the house overlooking the path overlooking the bubbling, flowing water.

I’m somewhere in the south of France, and I don’t have the slightest clue how to find out exactly where, or how, to get where I want to be going.

I don’t speak any French. I also don’t, it turns out, know nearly enough about getting around in the 1920s.

I do know that Adolf Hitler is in prison in Lansberg, not far from Munich, right now, and I know that he’s going to be there until at least November. This reason, more than any other, is why I picked now to come here… there are only so many places one can go in a prison, so in theory he should be easy to find.

But it’s only now, when I find myself an American man out of time and place, with no sense of local custom or language, and no currency, that I ask the obvious question. Just not in the obvious way.

I’m not asking whether, given the ability to go back in time to before World War 2 started, I should kill Hitler. I’m asking how I’m supposed to.

I can’t ask for help… I’ve found a couple of people here who speak a little English, but making my needs understood has proven difficult. And if I’m honest, I was never that good at communicating with other people, even before you factor in the alien nature of my situation.

I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking about temporal physics. I mean, that isn’t all I’ve done. I work out – I’m in pretty good shape – and I’ve logged a few hours on shooting ranges over the years, because I’m not stupid. I know that killing anyone isn’t easy.

And I thought I’d done my research. This wasn’t just some passionately emotional exercise – I mean, Hitler was an empirically awful man, but on a cosmic scale good and evil don’t register, and I didn’t harbour some naive idea that disposing of him would “fix” the world.

But from the point of view of a scientist preoccupied with relativity, and connectivity, Hitler’s life presented a golden oportunity: Long enough ago and important enough that making a change to the path of his life should make a measurable impact on my own time, but recently enough that historical records are prevalent, so that, for the time traveller at least, any changes made can be properly noted and referenced.

But the past seems a lot smaller when you’re in the present, and like an idiot, I have committed an immense amount of effort and hours to the question of time, and given no space at all to that of geography.

So I’m sitting here, enjoying this gorgeous day in Pre-Nazi Europe, and wondering how the hell I’ll get to Hitler, or how one fixes a broken time-machine.

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