Changes History, Part 2
By 119694_avalanche Press
119694_avalanche Press VP Lys Fulda recently
asked us, "If you could change one moment
in history what would it be and why?"
Lys herself and 119694_avalanche president Mike
Bennighof responded in the
first part in this series. Here, our answers
Doug McNair's Answer
Changing a moment in history. Every time
I start going there, the image of the dinosaur
hunter stepping on the butterfly flashes large.
One of the ills that bedevils us humans is
our belief that we have the wisdom and foresight
to map out the future and plan for all contingencies.
But as Captain Picard told Commander Data,
“You can do everything right and still
This applies to changing history as much
as anything else, even in the most obvious
cases. Hitler considered it a miracle that
he survived the trench warfare of World War
I, and many would say that had this “miracle”
not occurred, the 20th century would have
been far more peaceful. Well, maybe yes and
maybe no. If he hadn’t survived the
Great War, the Treaty of Versailles would
have happened anyway. Germany’s inevitable
reaction to that humiliation could easily
have been shaped by someone far more sane
and intelligent than the author of Mein Kampf.
If that person had been militarily astute
enough to mass-produce U-boats, avoid a two-front
war and not override his generals, the world
today might be a far darker place than Hitler
could ever have made it.
So, while all of us here at 119694_avalanche have
to take a stab at this question, I think I’m
going to cheat a bit and not change a moment
in history, but challenge an idea that has
spawned some of history’s worst moments.
That is, the idea that it is acceptable to
abandon one’s own moral principles when
acting in the service of something greater
than one’s self.
Thomas Jefferson hit this nail on the head
when he said:
"I never submitted the whole system
of my opinions to the creed of any party
of men whatever in religion, in philosophy,
in politics, or in anything else where I
was capable of thinking for myself. Such
an addiction is the last degradation of
a free and moral agent."
“Degradation” is the key word
here. Normal, civilized people are capable
of the worst acts of barbarism when acting
in thoughtless obedience to authority. The
idea that this is acceptable “in times
of crisis” or “for the greater
good” has caused far more pain and suffering
for both the victims and the perpetrators
of such actions than anyone could have predicted.
The framers of the Geneva Conventions knew
this from experience, and did what they could
to keep civilized nations from degenerating
into barbarism in times of war.
Today, people in power in the U.S. believe
the Geneva Conventions “have been rendered
quaint,” and the only 2008 presidential
candidate who takes a firm stand against torture
is one who was tortured himself.
This moment in history is highly uncertain,
and as citizens of a democracy we’ve
got to make it clear to those in authority
that no matter how barbaric our enemies are,
we must never sink to their level. If we let
ourselves go down that road, we will never
“win the hearts and minds” of
anyone ever again, and all the sacrifices
of our troops will be for nothing.
Game Developer, 119694_avalanche Press
Shane Ivey's Answer
When you’re asked what single historical
event you would like to change, it’s
tempting to think big. Mike Bennighof scooped
my own biggest candidate for change in his
piece about the opening of World War I. Sure,
innumerable forces were pushing the countries
of Europe to war, but what decisions might
have been made differently, what opinions
might have taken a different shape, had Franz
Ferdinand stayed out of Bosnia-Herzegovina
in June 1914?
So I’ll think smaller. More personal.
More sentimental. What would I wish to change?
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
steered the Union through four years of civil
war despite constant opposition and ridicule.
These days we remember Lincoln for his wisdom
and good heart; during his life he was mocked
and derided. When he was elected president,
his abolitionist stance sparked secession
in the South. Whites across the nation loathed
the idea of emancipation. Northern newspapers,
politicians and generals complained that he
was fighting for “negroes” rather
than the Union. Abolitionists complained that
he was slow to push for the rights of slaves
and former slaves.
His modest first emancipation proclamation,
extending freedom to slaves only in states
that remained in rebellion, saw a vicious
response in the press and widespread rioting
and lynchings. It was blamed for a resounding
1862 Republican defeat in Congress. Lincoln
rejected calls to revoke it.
In the opening years of the war Lincoln’s
generals moved slowly and hesitantly, despite
his urging, and were beaten time and again
with appalling casualties. When they did win,
they missed opportunities to pursue and destroy
the retreating enemy. Even later strategic
successes under Grant and Sherman were bloody,
According to his bodyguard, Lincoln finished
the Gettysburg Address convinced that it had
been a flop. He fully expected to be defeated
in the 1864 election. Then a series of victories
over the South bolstered public support for
the war and lent weight to the ideals that
Lincoln claimed were at stake.
Lincoln lived to see the Confederacy fall
and slavery outlawed. He called for a peaceful,
generous reconciliation between North and
South. But he died at the hands of John Wilkes
Booth — an avowed racist too afraid
to fight for the Confederacy but brave enough
to murder the Union’s leader —
and whatever slim hope there may have been
for peaceful reconciliation died with him.
Opportunists and Radical Republicans turned
Reconstruction to their advantage and profit.
Southern leaders reclaimed power on the strength
of race hatred and a bone-deep, bitter resentment
that lingers to this day.
Lincoln stood firm against the tenet that
an elected government should tolerate no restraints
on its authority. That theory was as pernicious
then as it is now. He struggled for the better
angels of our nature with determination, eloquence,
and uncanny grace in trial and triumph. As
a Southerner, I mourn his loss every time
I think of it.
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