IN THE NEWS
[Don't ask me how I got to this particular topic. People have tried to follow my chain of thought, only to go mad in the attempt. Let's just say it has something to do with what I've been reading lately.]
One of the staples of time travel stories is a strange ethic about tampering with the past. No, we're not talking about the kind of chaotic consequences that a small change far in the past can create, as in Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder." I'm talking about when people have an opportunity to right a great wrong, and the effects are largely predictable. The classic question is, If you had a chance to kill Hitler before he unleashed Nazism on Germany, the Holocaust on Europe, and World War II on the world, would you do it? As I get older, I'm increasingly surprised that anyone hesitates at the answer: Of course you would.
Here's a simple rule of thumb: If you would applaud an action taken by someone living through a particular historical moment, you would expect someone with historical hindsight to do exactly the same thing. For example, if you think it was the right decision for the United States to attack Afghanistan in 2001, any time traveler who took Bush's place should also order the same assault on the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Everyone who reads about the famous failed assassination attempt on Hitler in 1944, a.k.a. "the von Stauffenburg plot," wishes it had succeeded. When you hear that Hitler's enemies tried to kill him on earlier occasions, you wish those had succeeded, too. Rewind further, and you wish that a lucky partisan had bombed Hitler's train as he was visiting the Eastern Front. Rewind further, and you wish that Hindenburg had send Hitler and the NSDAP packing, instead of giving the future Fuhrer the first step on the path towards Gleichschaltung. If Hitler had died in the trenches in WWI, even better.
The events of 1933 to 1945--the Nazi seizure of power and the Second World War--depended on Hitler the man, capable of wreaking havoc beyond what fascism could do as a virulent political disease. The events after 1945, the Cold War, were also Hitler's creation. Who knows, perhaps the US and USSR would have acquired nuclear weapons, had a different version of the Cold War, and ended it with a bang instead of a whimper. That seems unlikely, for at least two reasons. World War II escalated the Soviet regime's paranoia about the West, leading to the creation of its Eastern European satellite states, an aggressive foreign policy beyond its sphere of influence, and a grim determination to get nuclear weapons at any cost. By rallying the multi-ethnic empire around the regime, Operation Barbarossa also helped keep the Communist Party and Stalin in power. World War II mobilized the USSR on a level it hadn't achieved before, gave the Communists broader opportunities to liquidate their enemies, gave the Red Army battle experience it lacked (and successes it had missed during the Civil War and the clumsy conflict with Finland), and armored the regime in the prestige of having won the Great Patriotic War.
So, yes, given the chance, I'd shoot Hitler on the spot. Anyone who would have hesitated because of the unpredictability of history should stop to think about the choices they have to make each day that have an effect on the future.