So you’ve got your magic grandfather clock going at 141kph, and now you’re speeding back to the early 20th century to kill Adolf Hitler before he came to power. OK, let’s consider what that might entail.
Now, obviously, there is the possibility that the Novikov self-consistency principle is true; thus, when you find yourself in the past, any attempt to kill Hitler will fail for some reason. But let’s assume the principle isn’t true.
Right. Your’e in Munich as of July 1919. Hitler is about to infiltrate the Deutsch Arbeiterpartei, but you shoot him before he gets in. The DAP, lacking a speaker as influential and charismatic as Hitler, never really goes anywhere. Also, being dead, Hitler never gets a chance to write Mein Kampf, thus his ideas don’t spread and anti-Semitism remains something Jews just have to put up with.
So what happens to you? With Hitler dead, you have no reason to travel back in time and kill him, so you don’t go back in time, so he rises to power, so you do go back in time…
Well, let’s say that under time travel physics, events in the future don’t affect you in the past. In other words, you change history, but you still remember the timeline you came from. You are, after all, a mass of atoms, which retain their general configuration regardless of changes made to the timeline.
But hold on. Time travel as normally presented appears to violate the first law of thermodynamics (energy cannot be created or destroyed, just changed from one form to another). Since matter is energy, it this follows that you can’t create matter – the total amount of mass and energy in the universe must remain constant. Let’s say I go back in time at 12:00 on July 1st, 3919, and go to 12:00 on July 1st, 1919. My mass is about 100kg, so from the point of view of someone in the 1910s moving linearly through time at a rate of 1s/s, the total mass of the universe is a at 11:59 on July 1st, 1919, and suddenly increases to a + 100kg one minute later. A similar observer at 11:59 on July 1st, 3919 would observe the opposite – the total mass of the universe would suddenly decrease by 100kg.
Now, this doesn’t seem like a lot when you consider that the mass of Earth is just shy of 6 octillion kg, but even a tiny change is too much for the universe – mass and energy must be conserved. Still, this is easy enough to resolve – when I go back in time, 100kg of something else (air, for example) is simultaneously brought forward in time to balance out the universe. This preserves the first law of thermodynamics.
But let’s leave physics for a moment and consider history. Without Hitler, there would likely be no United Nations. The UN was established because the League of Nations had failed to prevent Germany from rising from the ashes of its WWI defeat and carried out the Holocaust. This proved just how ineffectual the League of Nations was, and led directly to the establishment of the UN as a more powerful entity. This, incidentally, is why the permanent members of the UN Security Council are America, Russia, China, France, and Britain: these five played the biggest role in defeating the Axis.
Speaking of the Holocaust, with no Hitler, Naziism never really becomes a thing, which means it wouldn’t have happened, thus six million Jews plus millions of gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people, Slavs, and others get to live. This would have profound implications for both the lives of Jews and the situation in the Middle East.
For Jews in general, the Holocaust and images of suffering which emerged from it brought home the message that Jews are people too, and it is wrong to hate them indiscriminately. Thus, with no Holocaust, anti-Semitism would have continued to be something they had to put up with for years longer. While it would certainly have faded away eventually as humanity gradually became less racist, it and other forms of bigotry would likely have faded more slowly than they are in the world we live in.
Now let’s consider Israel. After World War I, Britain was given a big chunk of Turkey’s former territory to oversee. In exchange for their aid against Turkey, the British government through TE Lawrence had promised the Arabs and Jews that they would have independent states after the war was over. However, due to beaurocracy, ethnic strife in the region, disputes with France, and wariness of the USSR, Britain continued to rule over this area until 1948.
The catalyst for change was, once again, the Holocaust. While the International Zionist Movement had for some time been encouraging Jews to settle in Palestine, they started emigrating there in major numbers after the Holocaust in the name of solidarity and having an official nation to stand against such tyranny. Britain’s need to turn away ships full of immigrants led to negative publicity and the UN, led by America, ordering the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine in 1947 , which led to the foundation of Israel and the formal recognition of Jordan as a sovereign state. This promptly led to clashes between Jews and Arabs, and the Arab-Israeli War the following year, during which Israel increased in size by abour 60% at the expense of Jordan and Lebanon. This in turn led to the situation we have today, where Israel illegally annexes and settles areas of Palestine and pisses off its Arab neighbours, but is allowed to do so with impunity due to the military backing of America and America’s dominance of global affairs.
If the Holocaust never occurred, however, things would have gone differently. Lack of perceived need for a Jewish state would have meant less immigration to Palestine; furthermore, there would have been less international pressure to let new immigrants in, because those movine to Palestine would not have been survivors of the worst tragedy in history – rather, they would just have been members of an ethnic minority most people looked down upon trying to move to a desert their ancestors lived in two millennia ago for rather vague and fuzzy reasons. This would have allowed Britain to manage the influx more effectively, and perhaps even one day grant sovereignty to the Arabs and Jews in the area – or perhaps they would have hung on indefinitely until someone like Gandhi arose in the Middle East to call for independence.
With no mandatory, organised persecuation of Jews going on in Germany, Einstein would likely have returned home in 1933 instead of staying in America (that is, if he still visited America in 1933 given the different circumstances). Work on nuclear weapons and nuclear power would have continued thanks to the work of Léo Szilárd, Irene and Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann, Lise Meitner, Otto Frisch, Niels Bohr, Isidor Isaac Rabi, and Willis Lamb. However, it would probably have proceeded in a slower, more piecemeal manner without such a huge, horrible war to spur development.
Italy and Japan would have attempted to expand into Africa and Asia as they did in real life. As happened in reality, Italy would have been utterly pwned and humiliated by Ethiopia. The Italian army would have been sent home packing, and while further Italian attempts to expand would certainly have taken place, Mussolini’s imcompetence would have doomed them to failure. Also, France and Britain would have opposed and attacked Italy if Italy got a bit too enthusiatic about expanding into Africa.
And then there’s Russia. In the world today, some in Russia remember him as a hero owing to the fact that he beat the Hitler. With no Nazis, Stalin would have been remembered more as a tyrant.
With no common enemy, the USSR’s relations with Britain, France, and America would worsen. Stalin would probably still have attempted to expand into eastern Europe, and this would likely have triggered a major war against Britain, France, and America, who I will henceforth refer to collectively as the Triage. A view exists that the existence of nukes prevented outright war between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries in real life due to the brilliantly-acronymed notion of Mutually Assured Destruction – if one power tried to use nukes, the other would respond in kind, resulting in everybody dying. However, I’ve already established that nuclear weapons technology lags behind its development in the real world, so no nukes, but lots of land war and regular bombing.
In fact, come to think of it, Russia’s invasions of Poland and Finland came right around the time Japan was expanding its empire in real life. Perhaps, instead of a war against Germany, the Triage would have fought a massive war against Russia (and would hopefully have been smart enough not to invade during the winter).
Japan would have invaded and conquered Manchuria and some other parts of Asia; however, as happened in reality, it would have overextended itself and also brought incurred the wrath of Britain, France, America, and Australia due to repeated attacks on their merchant navies. With Britain and France bogged down in a war against Russia, and the Austrlians presumably coming to the aid of Britain, it would fall to America and a reduced-strength Australia to take down Japan. America and Australia would have allied with China as well as rebel elements in Korea, the Philippines, and French Indochina to defeat the Japanese invaders. With America not having to send troops to Europe yet (as it has no pretext to declare war on Russia, what with Russia being Japan’s enemy), Japan would eventually be crushed beneath the overwhelming might of an America converted to war mode; I suspect this would mean Japan would be unable to grab any Russian islands before being defeated. Japan would likely be split in two, with America and China each getting half; the same thing would happen in Korea.
Since Britain and France between them control about half the planet at this stage, they would eventually have won over the bloated and inefficient Soviet Union. Now, at this point in both my imaginary sequence of events and in real life, relations between China and Russia were actually quite poor; they only grew closer together in real life due to America’s posturing that all communists were the same actually driving the two closer together.
Relations between capitalist America and communist China would soon have broken down. America has the distinct advantage here, since its economy is in good shape from wartime production coupled with good infrastructure due to not being bombed by another country. However, war is tiring, and the American people would pressurise the government to bring their troops home. China would also be in no mood for a war at this point, since it would still be recovering from its war with Japan.
China would probably try sending some aid to Russia, but it would be too little too late. Russia would eventually fall to the combined might of Britain and France, and would perhaps be carved into numerous smaller republics in order to keep it fragmented and thus prevent a Stalin-scale threat from developing. Following this, Britain and France are devastated, and their African and Asian territories take the opportunity to break away, like happened in real life, though due to different circumstances, these breakaways happen in a different order, and with different amounts of violence.
So now, the world as it stands consists of America as the main economic and military power. China is the main communist power. However, we know from real life that Mao’s leadership was less effective than Stalin’s, and there is no reason to think it would have gone differently in the Hitler-free world. Thus, America would be the only economic superpower until about Mao dies (1976 in real life), and then only if Deng Xiaoping manages to seize power and implement economic reform.
Without Hitler being associated with fascism, there would probably be less automatic objection to dictatorships. Sure, Americans would probably still say democracy was better, the word fascist would only be used to objectively desvribe a government similar to that established by Mussolini, and would not be used as an insult to a politician who espouses a position you happen ot disagree with.
Likewise, eugenics would continue to be a respectable position due to not conjuring images of Nazis or concentration camps.
Furthermore, the EU would never have been founded, leading to a very different Europe today. Among other things, Ireland would be a lot poorer.
With France and Belgium still major powers, French would have continued to be an international lingua franca alongside English.
In an earlier draft of this post, I posited that computer science and cryptography might be retarded due to the British government not needing Alan Turing to break Nazi codes. However, if Britain went to war against Russia, it’s likely that a similar situation would arise, and so Turing would still sign up at Bletchely Park to work on codebreaking. Thus, his contributions to computer science would still happen.
In such a different world, who can say what direction culture, politics, or economics might go? One thing is for sure – you and I won’t exist. With different people dying at different times, there is every chance your parents won’t meet, and even if they do, they might end up marrying other people. Even if your parents do have sex which leads to pregnancy, it will be at a different time, which means a different sperm will fuse with the egg, which means you’ll get different DNA; this, coupled with being raised in a different world, makes your parents’ children into different people. A world of different people will develop differently, and will certainly result in different political, cultural, economic, and technological developments, which over time get more and more different from the unaltered timeline.
This might mean that time travel has not yet been invented by 3919. Even if it has, you can’t go home – even if you don’t have to worry about conservation of mass, the massive changes made mean you can’t even be sure they speak the same language in the year you come from. Even if they do, since you were never born (what with the whole divergent society), you have no proof of identity or existence, no birth certificate, no passport, no social security number, no bank accounts, no work history, no records of your fingerprints, retinal scans, or DNA, no nothing. Legally, you don’t exist, and good luck trying to explain that to the people when you get back.
But never mind, you’ll just stay in 1919! The early 20th century isn’t so bad. Yeah, well, see above. Again, since you’re from the future, there is no proof of your existence, so unless you’re willing to commit identity theft, you’ll be restricted to manual labour, crime, and shady jobs. Although, if you have artistic talent and speak fluent German, you might consider investing in some cosmetic surgery in the future and, after your mission, taking on the role of Hitler…