The film students who made the above mock ad which shows a C-Class Mercedes-Benz deliberately running over Adolph Hitler as a boy — thereby satirically touting the car’s supposed ability to “detect dangers before they come up” — really got the folks at Daimler stirred up. They made the students go way overboard in labeling the video as “unauthorized,” and probably helped it go viral.
The ad supposedly asks this question:
If you were a car, and you could travel back in time and kill Hitler when he was a boy, would you do it?
Well, if you were a Volkswagen, the answer would probably be no, since you’d be murdering your own father, and you’d probably cease to exist. A C-Class Mercedes-Benz, however, would suffer no such temporal paradox, and that’s the vehicle of young Adolf’s destruction in this well-made though extremely odd commercial parody, created as a thesis by some German film students…
That report said the students “wanted to explore the morality of technology by asking what would happen if machines had souls.” And indeed, that’s one of the odd things about the piece — the car seems to have traveled back in time and deliberately killed Hitler, not a human driver.
But set all the weirdness aside, and let’s answer the moral question raised: If a car, or a driver, or any entity, could go back in time and kill the boy Hitler, should he, she or it do so.
Just to get the conversation going, I’m going to say “no.” If you could change history by going back in time — a point sci-fi authorities might differ on — then is killing this boy the best way to prevent what subsequently happened? For this to be a moral act, you’d have to be sure that it would work. And it would do nothing to stop the First World War from happening. It would do nothing to correct the mismanagement of the peace. It wouldn’t prevent the Weimar Republic from failing. It wouldn’t prevent the street brawls between competing groups of extremist thugs, although maybe some group other than the Nazis would have come out on top. In short, it would not change the conditions that not only shaped Hitler, but which enabled him to rise to power. How do you know that someone else, something else, just as bad would not arise?
I’m afraid there’s no substitute for waiting until a guy turns out bad before going after him. Bret Stephens over at the WSJ says what we need to do now is kill Bashar Assad and everyone close to him — because of what he’s done in using chemical weapons. And weirdly, he’s sort of echoing this mock ad by saying we should also kill “everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power.” Might that include his 11-year-old son? I hope not, but I sort of gather that it would…