I’ve had enough of politics. So to give myself a break, I decided to watch some alien programming for fun. I am convinced that what we all need is a UFO invasion because, in true Independence Day style, a threat from space is likely the only thing that will make us all realize we are on the same team. Red vs. Blue will seem a little stupid when we have wave motion guns melting Stonehenge and Mt. Rushmore.
Still, Ancient Aliens got me thinking; I love a good mental exercise. I also love alternate history and time travel. Put the two together and see how much we really know our history. I enjoy the idea of being a time traveler and going back to just the right moment to, say, trip Gavrilo Princip at the last second before Archduke Ferdinand turned the corner… or steer the Titanic five degrees to port. Maybe I could explain if they just hit the iceberg head on, they’ll crunch the front of the ship, but won’t sink. Then again, how do I do that? Tell the captain his unsinkable ship is doomed and he has to give everyone whiplash versus drowning?
How could I tell the FBI that a couple of planes are going to hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? First, I’d be in jail for the threat, and they’d question me forever about how I knew. And frankly, off the top of my head, all I can remember is three flights from Logan airport headed to the west coast and there is a guy named Atta on one of them with a box cutter. If I didn’t have Google, that is the extent of what is in my own long-term memory. I suppose I could call in a threat of some kind of make sure no one goes into the buildings before 8 am, but that doesn’t save anyone on the planes, the buildings still collapse, and I’m in Gitmo.
Further back, if I warn someone about Pearl Harbor, again I’m probably a spy and the best we could do was have our planes already on alert. At least I remember the date on that one. (12/7/41, right?) Now I’m in an internment camp.
Maybe I could tell everyone in New Orleans that Katrina is going to wipe out half the city and they should all leave. But wait, they were told to leave before the storm hit. Again, no one would believe me.
I could hang out in the book depository in Dallas on November 23, 1963, but would I have to kill Oswald myself and go to jail for a random murder? Not like anyone would believe he was about to kill JFK.
I might have killed John Wilkes Booth before he shot Lincoln, but some doctors think Abe may have been already dying from Marfan’s disease. Again, I’m in jail.
If I felt like going back to the Middle Ages to be a miracle worker, again, I don’t know which exact date to avoid the Black Plague. Plus, I would be bringing all kinds of weird bacteria with me and would likely get sick quickly from whatever diseases have been eradicated since then. Oh, and I don’t know how to make my own penicillin, so I wouldn’t be able to cure anything anyway. For that matter, I’d be lucky to even get a job since I don’t know how to make any food from scratch. Or hunt. Or grow stuff. And would likely be burned at the stake if someone caught me doing something evil, like math.
Would I kill Hitler as a teenager? Probably; because aside from depriving the world of the Volkswagen, I think that one might be worth going to jail.
There are more subtle things I could do that wouldn’t land me in jail I suppose. I could have invested in, in order, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Netscape, Yahoo, Facebook, and Apple again.
My favorite, of course, is going back to 33 AD with a video camera and hanging out in the cemetery on the first Easter. But even that wouldn’t be without consequences. The whole premise of Christianity is faith, so if someone showed up with proof, what would we all argue about?
Practically speaking, theorists have recently pointed out that any time travel device would have to include gravity. If I travel to a different point in time, I also have to estimate where the planet will be in its rotation as well as where it will be in orbit. I could easily end up inside a volcano or floating in space on the other side of the sun. Again, too much math. Not worth the trip.
I guess I’d have to settle for something innocent. Maybe just hang out in my high school like a McFly on the wall and tell myself not to date that guy who turned out to be abusive, or not to be late for homeroom the year I lost a student council election by one vote (my own). Idiot.
How much would it change history if I had dinner with, say, Thomas Jefferson or Mark Twain; just to pick their brains a little. That’d be nice.
Can’t even say I would stop in 1957 to tell my dad to quit smoking. Where I am today is not where I would be if he had been around to tell me to make one or two different choices 20 years ago. Ironic. I also wish he were here to meet his grandson, whom I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t traveled around the world and met his father on the way, on a trip my dad would never have approved of in the first place. Paradoxes abound.
Safe to say, time travel will not be safe in my hands. Who knows? Maybe some future person already did it and steered the Titanic into the iceberg on purpose because someone on the ship would have given birth to the person who started World War III in 1977. Or maybe Bernie Madoff’s grandfather (the real target) shoved an old lady out of the way and jumped into a lifeboat.
Sounds like another good movie plot—a socially-conscious Terminator. Someone call James Cameron. Meanwhile, I’m going to go early vote just in case the aliens don’t get here soon.