Wikihistory: sf story about the revert-wars among time-travellers -- "everybody kills Hitler on their first trip"

"Wikihistory" is a delightful science fiction short story by Desmond Warzel in the form of a series of messages posted to a time-travellers' forum -- it's basically a Wikipedia edit war, where the old hands have to keep on slapping down the noobs for killing Hitler:
International Association of Time Travelers: Members' Forum Subforum: Europe – Twentieth Century – Second World War Page 263

At 14:52:28, FreedomFighter69 wrote:
Reporting my first temporal excursion since joining IATT: have just returned from 1936 Berlin, having taken the place of one of Leni Riefenstahl's cameramen and assassinated Adolf Hitler during the opening of the Olympic Games. Let a free world rejoice!

At 14:57:44, SilverFox316 wrote:
Back from 1936 Berlin; incapacitated FreedomFighter69 before he could pull his little stunt. Freedomfighter69, as you are a new member, please read IATT Bulletin 1147 regarding the killing of Hitler before your next excursion. Failure to do so may result in your expulsion per Bylaw 223.

At 18:06:59, BigChill wrote:
Take it easy on the kid, SilverFox316; everybody kills Hitler on their first trip. I did. It always gets fixed within a few minutes, what's the harm?

Link (via JWZ)


  1. I’m reminded of The Proteus Operation, by James T. Hogan. Not the best time travel story, but has some real neat ideas.

    Without giving too much away, it’s the story of one side of a war between two alternate futures, fought during World War II, to decide which one will be the real future. The points of departure all relate to different things happening with the Nazis.

  2. No, no, you simply convince Hitler to emigrate to the US after WWI and become a science fiction writer. As he dies of syphylis in the 1950’s he writes a book……oh wait, Norman Spinrad already did that…nevermind.

  3. The Iron Dream? An inspiration for H. Ronnie Cupboard. Now, The Man in the High Castle… that’s a story.

  4. Keep us informed of this guy’s future stories. I was saddened to see

    “Desmond Warzel ekes out a subsistence living teaching English in the wilds of Northwestern Pennsylvania. “Wikihistory” is his first published story.”

    at the bottom of the story.

    I also wish the paypal link on the page was for the author, not the site.

  5. what a brilliant concept- history as an editable wiki. like “primer”, only less believable, but an equally interesting approach to a time travel narrative. if our own history was something that had to be guarded and maintained by a dedicated cadre of “editors” like wikipedia, i am not sure what life in the present would be like- it seems that “normal” would be a very subjective experience as the ripples of ‘edits’ changes everything we thought we remembered. i’d be willing to bet that quite a few people would go a little nutty in a world like that.

  6. Well that depends how memory changes work. Clearly in the story the people on the forum remember alternate histories, but do the general populace? If they did, there’s no way actually changing history would work, surely.

    It seems to be a common conceit in time travel that only the people directly involved in actually travelling through time remember what things were like ‘before’ they changed it. Everyone else’s memories adjust because they never got pulled out of the time stream.

    Although in that story it’s fairly clear that the time travellers themselves are subject to some of the less pleasant interpretations of the Grandfather paradox, so they’re not entirely isolated from changes in history.

  7. I love it. This story actually made me LOL. I mean, I really laughed out loud a few times through the story.

  8. I can’t resist but plug ‘Making History’ by our good friend Stephen Fry. Great book!

    Physicist manages to do exactly that: kill Hitler (or prevent his birth actually) and then finds out that Hitler was replaced by someone that actually had a clue on how to win a long protracted war for European domination and did. Oops.

  9. How are we sure that this Isn’t an alternate reality, and Hitler wasn’t put in place as a bumbling substitute for a different, more capable leader, reducing the overall impact of a resurgent German nation. Perhaps the massive amount of pain cause to millions of people was Less than a greater evil where the Nazis didn’t lose the way, perhaps won or fought the Allies to a stalemate.

    I’m just sayin’ . . .

  10. Haha, great story! I personally don’t like most time-travel stories (a la Greg Egan – too much science, sorry, not for me), so this was very refreshing.
    (and a very nice excuse for not doing any work :D)

  11. I was once interviewed by a school newspaper. Question: “If you could meet anyone who would it be and what would you say?” Answer: “Hitler, time to do MFer!” Headline: _Teacher Would Rather Meet Hitler than Lincoln_

  12. ‘Prevent Lincoln’s Assassination’ has always been the top political act on my time travel list. But the very first item is to go back and tell myself as a young boy to buckle down and accomplish something with my life. Oh, and give him a copy of ‘Gray’s Sports Almanac 1950-2000’.

  13. Really nice work. Hated to see it end so soon, actually. And agree with previous comments about the paypal links going directly to the authors.

    Must note the “I Killed Adolf Hitler” graphic novel by the Norwegian artist known only as Jason, which is quite good (as is most all of his work).

  14. Hahahaha! Good one.

    Usually when a work is recommended on this site, I read it and say “That was OK” – short and funny might be the way to go with your recommendations!

  15. In the Looney Labs card game Chrononauts, killing Hitler (or saving him, if someone else has already killed him) is, unsurprisingly, the one Linchpin card that affects the most Ripplepoints.

  16. It reminded me of “A Sound of Thunder” By Ray Bradbury. The main character goes back in time and accidentally kills a bug (iirc) and ends up changing the future he’s from. Rather similar to going back and killing your ancestor.

    But it makes me think about the Grandfather Paradox, if you go back in time, and kill your grandfather, you were never born. And if you were never born, you couldn’t have killed your grandfather, so you would be born.

    Silly time travel loopholes :)

  17. I have a vague recollection of reading a comic in which a time traveller takes the place of one of Hitler’s aides, simply as an observer. Soon he discovers that some of the other people around the fuhrer are also time travellers. It is eventually revealed that even Hitler himself is a time traveller and that there are no people from that period there at all…

    I think it may have been in 2000AD.

  18. Can anyone remind me of the title and author of an SF novel I read some years ago?

    In the opening chapter, a newbie time traveler is dragged back to the future by his peers moments before he can assassinate the young soldier Hitler during WW1. Hitler watches this struggle to protect him, by what he believes are supernatural beings, and laughs because he takes this as proof that he is destined for greatness.

    The main storyline had nothing to do with Hitler. And the backstory involved humans from much further up the timeline whose motives and actions are largely incomprehensible to anyone else until the end.


  19. No, but I do remember Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed” which posited the violence that one does in the time stream removes that person from the main time stream …

  20. Excellent story, and just the right length. Does anyone know of a site with more Flash Fiction?

  21. Fun to play games about how altering history would affect the present. In my judgement, that’s a largely fruitless activity. How about some useful thought that can be translated into some real action, such as considering that the impulse to murder Hitler may be perpetuating this bullshit we’ve been taught that violence solves violence (Hey, the same bullshit Hitler was taught!) And all this time I thought all us geeks actually believed in evolution.

  22. #10

    I post about this a lot, I suppose, but my favourite bit of time travel theory is from Juan Posadas, who speculated that only a sophisticated communist society could come up with interstellar space/time travel, so UFOs are actually visitors from a communist planet/communist future earth. Unfortunately the idea has lost its prominence in the Posadian international [shame because it probably is its most attractive aspect]. For me, it makes more sense that some evil bugger traveled back in time to make the world what it is today.

    But to carry on with a survey of time travel lit: one of alan moores future shocks has the inventor of time travel constantly altering history, only to be convinced his machine doesn’t work, as his own time line is altered to conform to the change he effected. For me, that always made more sense then the sort of Back to the Future model: surely no one would ever know if someone went back in time, because they would already have done it, so damage already done. if i were head of a regulatory committee, i would insist time travel only be done forwards, thus temporarily at least preserving our existence.

    and re: making history, don’t forget another epic Stephen Fry project: Blackadder: back and forth.

  23. Hitler gets all the recognition, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung & Pol Pot must be very jealous.

    They just can’t get no respect around here.

  24. I have to wonder how much an effect killing Hitler or any other major historical figure would be. At some point the apparatus of the state has a momentum of it’s own. Indeed, it might be even harder than that.

    Let’s say you kill Hitler but then you find out that another just rises to take his place. And so you kill that one but yet again another takes his place again, over and over this happens. What if killing Hitler is impossible?

    Ok, so you rethink this. You go back still farther in time to the beginning of the Wiemar Republic to try to eliminate the conditions that gave rise to “Hitler” in the first place. Only there are problems.

    You soon find out that there are hundreds if not thousands of pre-Hitler events. As soon as you stomp on one it pops up in a slightly different guise elsewhere. Just as there were plenty of children brutally abused by their fathers and driven nearly psychotic so there appear to be just as many antecedents that created those child abusing monstrous fathers in the first place. To stop Hitler you’d have to kill almost every Wiemar German.

    Hmmm, killing didn’t work so you set up clinics. The goal being to treat the fathers of the proto-Hitlers. But yet again you find your efforts stymied at every turn. The psychological tools you need don’t yet exist and you can’t find enough trained workers anyway. You gradually realize you’re going to have to go back still further in time to build the schools, invent the theories and train the psychologists.

    Failure yet again. You have limited success building your schools but the Germans just don’t have the resources to devote to such a massive project of social reform. Frankly, they aren’t that interested either since they are such a militaristic society in the first place.

    Regrouping, you go back to the very beginnings of the Germans as a nation. Here you meet with general success! You are able to turn the Germans into a peaceful tribe content to live in harmony with the world. So you return to your own time and, to your horror, discover that the Germans were wiped out by a neighboring tribe who promptly took their place in history and committed virtually the same atrocities. Only the names are different this time.

    You soon realize that even if you go back yet again and turn this tribe away from a warrior future another will take it’s place. You are going to need an army of time travelers going back to the middle ages. Ok, so you try that only you’re having all kinds of problems. If you pacify one area then neighboring tribes outside your scope rush in to fill the void you’ve created. Your project is going to have to global.

    Well alright, you get the funding and send out your time travelers for the early middle ages. around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. You figure you don’t have to completely cover the globe, there is no need to take care of some tribe in New Guinea. You just need cover the same area that the Roman Empire did. Does this last strategy work?

    No. Returning to your own time exhausted you find an odd world. Names, places and dates are all different but the history is much the same. What happened? Well a small group of individuals here and there saw an opportunity to take advantage and meeting no resistance they spread quickly. Others did rise up to resist with force but that of course only lead to further violence from the others and to the inevitability of history repeating along more or less the same lines. Looking into it you see that history was profoundly influenced by local conditions. Weather, geography, natural resources, even the local fauna. The landscape itself seems to give rise to a particular outlook, a certain personality and that effects how the people of a region interact with the world.

    You run your experiment over and over but each time, although you get slightly different results, the larger picture remains the same. At this time your boss is asking for a final report. You don’t know what to do, your project is a total failure in that you were unable to usher in a better world. In order really change the world you would have to change the global climate and ecology and at the same time change human nature. There is no funding for this and so your project is shut down.

    You file your report: “The World is Perfect as it is.”

    From the abstract:

    “In our study we have shown that world cannot be dislodged from it’s current trajectory. Large scale historical events are amazingly resilient. The preconditions are too systemic and too embedded in the fabric of reality to effect any meaningful change. We expended considerable resources in our effort to bring about a better world. Thousands of researchers spend untold hours trying to change the course of history. Lives were lost, all to no avail. We therefore advise against any attempts at grandiose utopian plans for world peace. The world is what it is and cannot be altered from it’s path.

    We advise instead a series of projects helping people to accept the world as it is and to work for small but meaningful changes in their daily lives. Help them to understand that it is their reaction to the world that is the cause of their suffering. That if they wish to have a life worth living they need to examine themselves and worry less about others and pay a little more attention to their own behaviors. We understand this will be a multi-generational project of personal spiritual enlightenment but we strongly feel the results of our study show it is the only viable path towards meaningful results.”

    You publish your study and retire to a small island in the Pacific.

  25. Noen, I really enjoyed that.

    I’m probly gonna steal your idea and pitch it as a tv show about a band of time-travelling stewards – charged with preserving some future utopia – each assigned to a corner of the globe and given free reign (within budget) to traipse the timelines and quell dissedents.
    Kinda like a cross between sliders/quantum-leap/cop-shows but, ya know.. good. And it’ll have a healthy dose of bureaucracy/redtape a la Brazil.

    Now, if only I had someone to pitch it to, and a suit.

  26. “Primer” is a fantastic SF movie, using the premise of “the last edit rules”. It was shot for $7K by a young first-time fimmaker, and he might be the next Kubrick. Must see!

  27. Wouldn’t it have been better to put some spine into the British or French and stop Hitler before he invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland?

    Philbert, Making History was a great book. Scary, but great.

  28. Or, alternatively, to just experience history instead of marking your territory by changing it.

  29. Yeah, right, Antinous, like anybody could resist that!

    Come on, get real! We’re talking time travel here! If you just wanted to observe, you could send a robot camera back in time! Sheesh.


  30. Arkizzle You may run into trouble. That sounds an awful lot like Harry Turtledove’s Crosstime Traffic books.

  31. I think someone should make a new razor.

    MY razor: The most boring reality is likely the most probable reality.

    As in, it’s most probable that universes where time travel were possible were canceled about by paradox, and only those that were incapable of time travel still exist.

    Boring, but true.

  32. Moon, if he got into trouble for that, than Turtledove would catch trouble from Poul Anderson’s heirs, because the Time Patrol stories have the same premise.

    This has come up before. SF authors pillage each others’ ideas constantly. It’s part of what makes SF fun to read, seeing the links among various authors’ work.

  33. I know I can’t be the only one here whose time-traveling ambition is to rescue the Cotton Library, collect some pygmy mammoths from the California Channel Islands (Mammuthus exilis) and dwarf Mammuthus primigenius from Wrangel Island, find out what those Bronze Age Celts were doing in the Taklamakan, apply for a position on the pre-1492 Western Hemisphere survey team, and then just for fun go watch a few iterations of Glacial Lake Missoula carving out the Channeled Scablands. It’s what anyone would do.

    Noen (31), the unstoppable inertia of history has been theorized. It’s on the other end of the teeter-totter from the “great men and heroic actions” point of view. I don’t entirely favor either one. For instance, I believe the United States was bound to fight some version of the Civil War, and Europe was bound to fight some version of the Great War. On the other hand, the history of the last decade would have been very different if it had started with Ralph Nader absentmindedly falling down a deep well when no one was around to hear his cries.

    If nothing time travellers can do can change history, then we’re very likely in the same boat in our own time. Since I reject that view, I have to think that time travellers should be able to do something.

    Seyo (34), I’ll take my stand on Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time — not that I didn’t enjoy Up the Line.

    Disarticulate (41), I can’t agree with your razor. History is full of strange and entertaining episodes. Automatically believing in the boring version is as artificial as selecting for the most dramatic version.

    Avram (41), sometimes it’s pillaging, but I like it best when ideas are getting swatted around from author to author. For instance, Time Patrol and The Big Time were published within a couple of years ago.

  34. Teresa,

    I hate to be cynical [well…ok I get off on it, slightly], but I dont know how different history would have been if Big Al won the election. Purely speculative, I know, but I question how much power a US president actually has, not in a legal sense, but in terms of what is allowed by, in a broad sense, the market. Would there have been an Iraq war? Probably not right away, but a Bush would’ve done it sooner or later, surely. history tends to last quite a long time, you know.

    Anyway, needless to say I situate myself closer to the historical determinist end of the spectrum. On the topic of dictators, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stalin talked himself out of a few time traveler assassinations by arguing the point. One of the funny differences between the US and the old Soviet block was Soviet leaders applaud their own speeches: they saw themselves as the voice of history, rather then supreme arbiters of power. While I disagree with the moral implications of Noens Voltaire parody, at the end of the day, we have to accept that none of us will individually change history, and start worrying about ourselves for once.

    Anyway, thats why I nearly pissed myself the other day when Colbert started his show by applauding himself.

  35. TNH 42: If nothing time travellers can do can change history, then we’re very likely in the same boat in our own time. Since I reject that view, I have to think that time travellers should be able to do something.

    Hmm, I don’t see how that follows. I guess it would, if you take the “nothing you do matters” approach to why history can’t be changed as described upthread (the one where if you kill Hitler, you just get another Hitler), or similar concepts.

    I, however, think that it’s only logical that history can’t be changed, because the change you make to your history becomes your history. “I’m going to go back and change things so that Al Gore gets elected!” *swooosh!* “Damn, same result. Al Gore is elected. I guess history really can’t be changed!”

    See, it never made sense to me that the time travelers would be immune to the change they made, or keep their memories of the timeline they disrupted. How would that make sense?

    If you make the non-immunity assumption, then from the point of view of the time traveler (and, actually, all possible observers) history can’t be changed. Moreover the time traveler cannot change anything that would result in hir not going back in time. The Grandfather Paradox is only a special case of what I call the Success Paradox.

    This is the one that really suppresses change in history: if you go back in time to make a certain change, and you succeed, you lack the motivation to go back and make that change (since as far as you know it’s always been that way), and so don’t, and the change is never made.

    So the helplessness to change history is a direct outcome of the logic of being a time traveler in the first place. It’s not that the timeline is immutable, but that its mutability is not observable. This doesn’t apply to one’s native time. Time travelers from YOUR future may know exactly what you’ll do, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still have to make the choice…or they wouldn’t remember it they way they do. That’s not the same kind of helplessness; it’s just the old “free will v. omniscience” paradox. As long as actor and observer are separated, there’s no problem.

    This doesn’t stop you from going and retrieving lost things, or copying down that play before all copies are lost (Myrmidons is my personal fantasy)–so long as you don’t show your copy to anyone before your own time.

    I think that allows for both complete helplessness to change history, and complete freedom to change the present and influence the future.

  36. It’s quite evident that the “Many Worlds” interpretation would apply to time travel too.

    When you travel backward on your timeline and alter a significant event, you fork off a new timeline containing all the consequences of that event in its future.

    Therefore, instead of changing history you create a new one leading up to a new present.

    (But I suppose the question remains whether travelling forward again will bring you back to your original present, or to the new one you created.)

  37. The Unusual Suspect 45: There’s a great story from a few years back based on that premise; unfortunately I can’t remember the title. In it, some time travelers deflect the meteor that in our timeline wiped out the dinosaurs.* They immediately run into a group of dinosaur-descended timetravelers who have decided to find out what would have happened if the meteor had struck Earth and wiped out their ancestors!

    My point is that the “Many Worlds” theory of time travel is not necessarily free of paradox, either.

    *And don’t give me this crap about how “birds are dinosaurs.” A fig on thee, I say, a fig!

  38. #35 Moon

    Wouldn’t it have been better to put some spine into the British or French and stop Hitler before he invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland?

    Or indeed, convince America that it was “their” problem too, and get them involved long before Pearl Harbour..

  39. I saw a cartoon from the period, Moon…it had Uncle Sam and someone else at one end of a lifeboat, and John Bull and a figure representing France at the other end, along with a leak gushing water. Uncle Sam is saying “good thing the leak’s at THEIR end of the boat, or we’d be in trouble!”

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