It’s not seldom that I’ve heard the question “What illustrious figure from the past would you have a cup of tea with?”, and upon musing on it from time to time I’ve come up with several answers. Socrates, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Napoleon and many others. Yet while ruminating about whom would I encounter, what would I ask them or how would I act, had I the facility to time travel, another question struck me: ‘Whom would I kill, had I the power to go back in time?’
Gruesome as it may sound, it’s nevertheless a matter of changing the course of history within seconds guided solely by my judgement. Am I entitled to take such an extreme decision, to make such a drastic change? Assuming for a second that I am, for the sake of the exercise, I started an earnest reflection.
Perhaps most people would go for Hitler. He’s done the most evil, so he would be the perfect target, wouldn’t he? However, are you sure he’s the only one who’s done so much harm to this world so as to be heedlessly killed without second thoughts? There have been innumerable ‘villains’, the Fuhrer’s only one of the closest to us time wise. How about romans mercilessly destroying Chartage in the punic wars? How about the Novgorod Massacre in which Ivan the Terrible heartlessly tortured hundreds of thousands of people? And let us not even mention the inquisition, the Roman persecution of Christians, the witch hunts and the Islamic jihads (holy wars), theoretically in the name of religion.
After all each event and each person, even though seemingly worthless and destructive, has a definite utility for the course of history, and erasing somebody from within its pages might not have the beneficial effect we would expect. Let us pursue the Hitler example: do you honestly consider that changing the person would make the ensuing massacres cease? Do not forget that we’re talking about a period in which the economy was at an ebb, and people were ready to accept anybody who could promise their salvation. Had it not been Hitler, somebody else would have taken the matter into his own hands. Possibly not as catastrophic, but still similar episodes would have occurred.
When wiping somebody out you may get rid of the person, but the context remains. Even though it’s not as visible from a first or even a second glance, these malefactors are nothing but the result of the society of the time. So murdering one would only postpone the crimes that made you select that person. Communist leaders? They were all influenced by the same ideas that lingered among them, and the same principle applies- get rid of one, another would take his place.
Mulling over who would be the worthiest of the worthwhile prize of falling out of existence, I came to the conclusion that the answer is problematically simple: no one. Not because such a power should not be held by a mere mortal like me, but because whatever made me choose that person overlooked the fact that the respective individual is a key to our universe. Better learn from the past, to improve the future. These people made us identify our social problems, and the best we can do is work to reform them.
Should you have a different perspective, feel free to share it. I look forward to reading your opinions!