Hitler was responsible for killing approximately 11 million people as part of his Final Solution (of which the Holocaust was a part). He is railed against as one of the most evil men in the history of the world, and rightly so. Anyone with any moral sense would agree that the world would have been a much better place had Hitler never been born. What if you had the ability to make that sentiment a reality?
Imagine for a moment that you discovered a way to travel through time, making it possible for you to ensure either that Hitler never be born, or that if born, he would not live long enough to rise to political power. Under what circumstances do you think it would be morally justified to kill to prevent the Final Solution (and for those who can’t get past the emotional problem of what it would be like to personally pull the trigger, assume that you could send someone else to perform the deed)?:
- It’s July 20, 1888, the day of Hitler’s conception. Is it morally permissible to kill his father prior to copulating with Mrs. Hitler so as to prevent Hitler’s conception?
- It’s February 20, 1889, and Mrs. Hitler is seven months pregnant with Hitler. Would it morally acceptable to kill er then?
- It’s February 20, 1889, and Mrs. Hitler is seven months pregnant with Hitler. Would it morally acceptable to shoot Mrs. Hitler in the womb in such a way that would spare her life, but ensure that it kills the unborn baby Hitler?
- It’s July 20, 1889, and Hitler is three months old. Would it be moral to kill baby Hitler?
- What if it was 1908 and Hitler is an adult? Would it be morally acceptable to kill him then, knowing what he would do in just a few more decades? (Assume that if you don’t kill him now, you’ll never have another chance to kill him once he starts his murderous rampage that leads to WWII and the Holocaust.)
Why or why not? Remember, the lives of 11 million people are on the line (not even including the millions who died in WWII trying to stop Hitler)! If you don’t kill baby Hitler or his mother, all those people will die.
And here’s a couple more alternatives to consider that assume Hitler has already risen to power and began killing innocent people. Would it be moral to kill Hitler in either of the following scenarios:
- It’s 1940, and Hitler has killed thousands of those who were infirm and elderly. Would it be morally acceptable to kill Hitler at this point?
- What if Hitler did not commit suicide, but lived to see the end of the war. Would it be morally acceptable to kill him after he had successfully killed 11 million people?
Why or why not?
I like this question because it reveals a lot about our moral theory. In some cases, it will even bring to our awareness the level of cognitive dissonance between the moral theory we subscribe to with our lips and the moral theory we subscribe to with our actions and desires. It also demonstrates how difficult it can be to separate emotion from reason in moral inquiries.