Open Thread

As I was lying awake last night trying to go to sleep, I started to think about the post yesterday in which I suggested some things I might do if I had a time machine. Now obviously, on a small scale, there are some things I would definitely change (Bush and the war come to mind), but if you have a time machine, wouldn’t you want to focus on some bigger stuff? Yesterday my thoughts were about Hitler and the Alexandria Library, but what else could you go back in time and change and it would make a huge deal of difference. A cure for the black death? Change the outcome of the battle of Kosovo Polje?

I remember a book that I read a few years back with hypothetical history if different battles had ended differently. Regardless, if you could go back and change something, what would it be?

215 replies
  1. 1
    morzer says:

    Black Death, not black plague, surely. Otherwise Hamsher is going to erupt with joy and tweet about your racist and homophobic day…

  2. 2
    General Stuck says:

    Just take me back to the sixties when getting nekkid was nothing more than an extended handshake. The weed wasn’t bad either. Let someone else save the world.

  3. 3
    Christian Sieber says:

    I would stop the Catholic Church from becoming intertwined with the Roman Empire and over a millenium of European government during the Middle Ages.

  4. 4
    cleek says:

    screw history.

    i’d go back to last Saturday and buy a winning Powerball ticket.

    and then my wife and i would never have to spend another day working.

    and just so you know, this button won’t help

  5. 5
    Xecky Gilchrist says:

    I’d go back and prevent the invention of time travel. No end of trouble to that shit!

    ETA: then the winning powerball ticket thing like cleek said.

  6. 6
    mclaren says:

    Why sweat the small stuff? Go for the gusto. First lungfish tries to crawl out of the water onto land a few hundred million years ago, bash it with a rock.

    Among the cognoscenti who observe the antics of the murderous primates who currently think they run the planet, it’s becoming clear that when the first fish wriggled up out of the sea onto the land, this was a very bad move.

  7. 7
    JCT says:

    Cool Ray Bradbury story re: untoward effects of time travel — one of my favorites as a kid…

  8. 8
    sherifffruitfly says:

    I would be less crazy with the love of my life that broke up with me a jillion years ago.

  9. 9
    morzer says:

    @cleek:

    I’d go back to last Friday and buy the winning ticket before you did…. *grin*

    No lottery tickets were harmed in the making of this post.

  10. 10
    WyldPirate says:

    smother Baby Jesus in the manger…..have Paul of Tarsus die of thirst in the desert. Have the Jews die of thirst in the desert while on their little walk.

  11. 11
    Barb (formerly gex) says:

    I think that I would have worked harder during the Clinton Administration to show what the GOP was really about. I wasn’t politically active or aware at the time (early twenties, a voter, but not super involved). It seems like that would have been the time to help prevent the clusterfuck of the W. admin. Maybe not. I’d sure like to try though.

  12. 12
    Loneoak says:

    These counterfactual questions stump me. Even if I could go back in time, I’d have no idea how to assassinate Hitler, save the library at Alexandria, or prevent the Black Death. If you tried to talk about fleas and germs in the Dark Ages, you would get burned for being a witch. It’s not as if time travel is the only condition preventing me from accomplishing these things …

  13. 13
    gizmo says:

    I’d go back and turn Adam into a woman, so it would have been Eve and her gal friend cavorting in the Garden of Eden. That would mean that straight people would be regarded as perverts today,

  14. 14
    pablo says:

    I’d greet John Wilkes Booth at the entrance to Ford’s Theater with a ballpeen hammer, and an ice pick.

  15. 15
    4tehlulz says:

    I’d dress like Jesus and tell Paul that the Pharisees had it right.

  16. 16
    4tehlulz says:

    @pablo: So you did Trotsky then. Motherfucker!

  17. 17
    General Stuck says:

    @mclaren:

    Why sweat the small stuff? Go for the gusto. First lungfish tries to crawl out of the water onto land a few hundred million years ago, bash it with a rock.

    LOL, never thought I would say that to you.

  18. 18
    WyldPirate says:

    @General Stuck:

    The weed wasn’t bad either. Let someone else save the world.

    The weed of the 60s doesn’t hold a candle to today’s ganja.

    Selective breeding is an amazing thing. I’ve smoked and grown both. No comparison. Most of the 60s herb wouldn’t even be decent Mexican brick weed today.

    Don’t get me wrong, the genetics were there in the 60s, but they hadn’t been teased out and refined like today.

  19. 19
    Paul in KY says:

    @pablo: I like yours :-)

  20. 20
    geg6 says:

    @Christian Sieber:

    Me likey.

    @WyldPirate:

    Me likey this, too.

    @4tehlulz:

    Me likey this, too. Also.

    I’d add that I’d go back and kill King Ronnie, Tricky Dick, the entire Kristol clan, and anyone who was or ever will be related to a Bush either in the womb or in the cradle. I don’t care what it would take me to do it, I’d gladly do it.

  21. 21
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    I’d steer Rupert Murdoch into something other than media.

    By any means necessary.

  22. 22
    The Dangerman says:

    Not too far back; send me to the 1800’s and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. I’d be an advocate of following the path of Electricity over Petroleum (disregarding for a moment how all that electricity would be produced, but, hell, it’s a time machine, so I get to make shit up) by convincing them that over reliance on Petroleum would lead to Ecological Catastrophe, the size of World War II (but for the need for Philippine petroleum, Japan could given a shit about the US and Pearl Harbor, same with Germany and the Oil fields in the Caucuses and Africa), and a Middle Eastern problem that has defied solution for generations.

    Now, if I recall correctly, there WAS a historic decision about using AC or DC; AC allowed for big motherfucking plants and DC would have to be decentralized production. If we WERE more decentralized now, we would likely now be using fuel cells powered by natural gas (which we have in abundance) for electrifying our country (see a company called … Bloom, I think, or google Fuel Cell and Gas). Supplemented by local wind and solar, of course.

    Of course, if I did go back and state those claims, I would have been branded a heretic and hanged.

  23. 23
    MikeJ says:

    “Boil water before you drink it. Wash your hands before you deliver babies, or really before you do just about anything. ”

    Tell that to enough people that some of them try it.

  24. 24
    General Stuck says:

    @WyldPirate: Since I quit smoking reefer 25 years ago, I am not up on current events in that department, though I have heard this is true. But for 20 bucks an ounce, it wasn’t all that bad back in the day.

  25. 25
    ChrisS says:

    Stake a claim to Manna-hata in about 1609.

  26. 26
    kdaug says:

    I would go back and remove the goddamned bing ad that redirects me to the bottom of the fucking page every time I reload.

  27. 27
    Citizen_X says:

    I’d go back to the Cretaceous, and step on a butterfly. This would ensure the glorious victory of Sarah Palin in the 2012 election.

  28. 28
    joel hanes says:

    1920, Tampico IL
    Throw the young Ronald Wilson Reagan under a train.

  29. 29
    Brachiator says:

    I remember a book that I read a few years back with hypothetical history if different battles had ended differently. Regardless, if you could go back and change something, what would it be?

    I wouldn’t change anything. Didn’t you ever see that Twilight Zone episode where the guy tried to prevent Lincoln’s assassination and found that while you could nudge small things, you couldn’t change the big things.

    Mr. Peter Corrigan, lately returned from a place “back there”, a journey into time with highly questionable results, proving on one hand that the threads of history are woven tightly and the skein of events cannot be undone, but on the other hand, there are small fragments of tapestry that can be altered. Tonight’s thesis to be taken as you will, in the Twilight Zone.

    Also, too, The Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever” and the Outer Limits episode “Controlled Experiment” where preventing a murder is shown to produce disastrous consequences later.

    Oddly enough, we were talking about related issues this morning and, rather than change time, if it were possible I would like to be able to go back in time and hang out with Ben Franklin.

  30. 30
    sal says:

    Nothing. Change the past and you’re condemning x numbers of people born since to never being born. Also, who knows how history would develop from then on. Might be far worse.

  31. 31
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @The Dangerman: DC would have required a lot of large plants all over the place, which would have just meant more stuff in the air. AC’s as good as you get with remote power generation.

    As for curing the black plague, it created the first middle class. We’d still be doing serfdom without it, and probably under the Catholic Church.

    Sorry to sound like an episode of the Twilight Zone.

  32. 32
    Violet says:

    I’d be nicer to some people I wasn’t nice enough to the first time around.

  33. 33
    different church-lady says:

    Reminds me very much of a Franken/Colter exchange from a few years back. Summary:

    — They ask the panel what historical figure they’d like to have been.

    — Coulter answers “FDR”, so that she could never have done the new deal.

    — Franken trumps her by saying (paraphrase), “I’d like to have been Hitler.” (nervous laughter) “No think about it… you want to have never done the New Deal. I’d like to never have done the Holocaust… Auschwitz…”

  34. 34
    DonkeyKong says:

    Go back in time, grab the dense material of the universe several hours before the Big Bang. Transport it to Glenn Beck’s dressing room and hide it in his pants just before he went onstage for the Restore Honor Rally.

  35. 35
    Suck It Up! says:

    Can we change our sex and race? I’m not going back in time with this skin color and “parts”.

  36. 36
    different church-lady says:

    @DonkeyKong: You mean grab it from between his ears?

  37. 37
    The Dangerman says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    DC would have required a lot of large plants all over the place, which would have just meant more stuff in the air. AC’s as good as you get with remote power generation.

    True on both counts; I’m just thinking that decentralized DC (and there would, indeed, be lots and lots of plants) would also allow for things like not worrying about terrorists taking out a large part of the grid. Indeed, it may have led to decentralized “everything”, leading to making a less friendly terrorist target altogether.

  38. 38
    Greenhouse Guy says:

    I’d go back and recognize the symptoms of my mother’s brain tumor earlier. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t say it emphatically enough to my family. She died two years ago and I knew shit was wrong over three years ago. Fuck. I’m still pissed about it.

    ETA I just found the ring she gave me today… I lost it two months ago and was pissed. Thank DOG I found it.

  39. 39
    celticdragonchick says:

    Easy.

    Without a doubt, I would change the battle plan of Boudicca against the Roman commander Suetonius. I would go with a night attack through the trees on the Roman flanks, and I would make sure the baggage column was well out of the way to leave an avenue of retreat open. Engaging Romans on their own terms was always a bad idea, and Celtic & Germanic forces did best when ambushing Romans and forcing them to fight in restricted quarters where they could not form ranks.

    I have no idea if the atrocities committed by the Celts at Londinium as alleged by Tacitus are true or not (Roman women impaled on spits in retribution for Roman rapes of Celtic women), but I would try to put a stop that as well, obviously.

    The Romans really did deserve this revolt by Boudicca and the Iceni, and I would like to have seen it succeed.

  40. 40
    scav says:

    whew, they’re going to be a crowd of us back here at this bus-stop in the space-time continuum. I’m just going to kick Paul of Tarsus hard. Don’t know if it will change anything but it will feel good.

  41. 41
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Suck It Up!:

    Can we change our sex and race? I’m not going back in time with this skin color and “parts”.

    I was just going for counter historical musing, personally.

    There are things I would like to have changed about myself prior to birth, but that is a bit outside of what I think John proposed here.

  42. 42
    Tom Hilton says:

    I would give General Sherman thermonuclear weapons.

  43. 43
    daryljfontaine says:

    Doping the food of a young Rush Hudson Limbaugh III with a monster load of Augmentin in the weeks prior to his Selective Service medical review.

    D

  44. 44
    jimmything2681 says:

    John, are you trying to turn the blog into turtledove fan-fic?

  45. 45
    burnspbesq says:

    I’d waste Henry VIII and Martin Luther. Then you bigots could suck on another millennium of Catholic control of everything.

  46. 46
    kdaug says:

    @Suck It Up!: Oh, hell no. If that’s the case, then I’m going back as a horse named Incitatus and hanging out in Caligula’s court. Fun times.

  47. 47
    dj spellchecka says:

    i’d try to head off syd barrett’s “lost weekend”, reschedule otis redding’s plane trip, catch sandy denny when she tripped near the top of the steps and raid nick drake’s medicine cabinet of all but one of his anti-antidepressants….for starters

  48. 48
    WaterGirl says:

    @Greenhouse Guy: That’s a tough one. I’m so sorry.

  49. 49
    rob! says:

    I’d go back to June 1938 and buy every copy of Action Comics #1 I could get my hands on.

    Then I’d take short trips forward in time, and sell one copy every five years or so, investing that money in different accounts, leaving me in 2010 with several large pots of money without devaluing the book by flooding the market with copies.

    Also too, this works with Detective Comics #27.

  50. 50
    WyldPirate says:

    @General Stuck:

    Shoot, Stuck, you should take the habit up again!

    Twenty wasn’t bad, i agree. Too often, though, you got 7 g of seeds and 7 g of stems for your money. The rip-off artists are still alive and thriving now, too. Sorry assed short-baggers and spray bottle wizards mostly.

    The high quality stuff in my area goes for $80-120 a 1/4 oz retail. With inflation and given the fact that that 1/4 oz will easily exceed the potency of an OZ commercial from the time, it works out about the same.

    I got some old hippy buds of mine who get all apoplectic about the price now. They’ll by the nasty old moldy Mexican dirt weed for $60 an OZ instead of the good stuff.

    Still hard to touch the Thai stick coming back with the troopies from Vietnam back then, though.

  51. 51
    Bobby Bobo says:

    Somehow prevent William F. Buckley from hiring David Brooks.

    Yeah, its a little thing but sometimes enjoying the little things is what makes life worth living.

  52. 52
    Michael says:

    The increased breeding of bigger, better, meaner, leaner and hungrier lions for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries in the region of the Mediterranian Sea.

  53. 53
    rob! says:

    Oh, and I’d also take a side trip and feed baby Sarah Palin to a hungry wolf.

  54. 54
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Tom Hilton:

    The Army of the Potomac with a brigade of M-1Abrams and a bunch of Apache gunships…

    So much for Cold Harbor.

  55. 55
    suzanne says:

    If I could go back in time, I would find the mom of the tool that invented hackysack and teach his mother about effective methods of birth control.

  56. 56
    maye says:

    @celticdragonchick: To what long term purpose? So the Romans would leave sooner?

  57. 57
    The Main Gauche of Mild Reason says:

    John, I was profoundly disappointed that your post in response to Jane did not include the phrase “Jane Hamshers of the Left”.

  58. 58
    Michael says:

    @WyldPirate:

    smother Baby Jesus in the manger…..have Paul of Tarsus die of thirst in the desert. Have the Jews die of thirst in the desert while on their little walk.

    …whisper “does she really think you’re stupid enough to believe that shit?” to Joseph before handing him a large rock.

  59. 59

    I would invent those little spinner things people have at parties.

    I love those things!

  60. 60
    scav says:

    hey, wait, speaking of butterflies, any graphic designers care to take a quick trip back to FL and do some ballot redesign?

  61. 61
    John Bird says:

    Can I take other people back with me?

    Because I don’t really know if I’m smart enough to handle that job without a team. That’s where these people always seem to go wrong in these paradox tales, by creating little hardboiled-novel type scenarios where they screw up fatally because they lack perspective.

  62. 62
    Suck It Up! says:

    @celticdragonchick:

    @kdaug:

    then I’ll just go back and get a winning lottery ticket.

  63. 63
    celticdragonchick says:

    @suzanne:

    It doesn’t work that way. Annoying games like hackysack fit into the space time continuum like puzzle pieces or niches in an ecosystem. Do away with one part and it is immediately filled by something else that accomplishes the same thing.

  64. 64
    Suck It Up! says:

    @John Bird:

    are you planning on leaving them there?

  65. 65
    beltane says:

    @Christian Sieber: Yes. If Constantine had not been made emperor, it is not certain that Christianity would have become the state religion of the Roman Empire and the nations that developed in its wake.

  66. 66
    artem1s says:

    I love thinking about opening up the use of a time machine to all the CSA reenactor assholes who would promptly try to go back and try to win Gettysburg. then I would smash the thing to smithereens.

  67. 67
    celticdragonchick says:

    @maye:

    To what long term purpose? So the Romans would leave sooner?

    Maybe just because I like seeing those arrogant sonsabitches getting their asses beat by the locals. Especially Celts.

  68. 68
    New Yorker says:

    So I finally figured out that there is an advantage to having obnoxious Yankee fan friends and relatives. You can poke them and make them freak out by calmly explaining how massively overrated Derek Jeter is and listing any number of players who were, are, or project to be better than him.

    I’ve been having a back-and-forth about this on Facebook where I show that Evan Longoria’s first 3 seasons were head and shoulders above Jeter’s.

  69. 69
    john b says:

    i’d persuade a few hundred more voters to vote in florida in 2000. or maybe just make some selective challenges to ballots to be used.

  70. 70
  71. 71
    Loneoak says:

    @Suck It Up!:

    Have you read Octavia Bulter’s novel Kindred? It’s about exactly that scenario.

  72. 72
    LT says:

    Give a set of wagon wheel to the Aztecs about 1200.

  73. 73
    WyldPirate says:

    @Michael:

    …whisper “does she really think you’re stupid enough to believe that shit?” to Joseph before handing him a large rock.

    that’s high quality, perverse humor, Michael. My compliments.

  74. 74
    gbear says:

    Excuse me for being selfish about this, but given a chance I would go take back about 452 things I said.

    There are also about 47 times that I could have quit pretending to myself and others that I wasn’t, you know, queer. I still kick myself for letting a couple of those chances pass by.

  75. 75
    celticdragonchick says:

    @beltane:

    Yes. If Constantine had not been made emperor, it is not certain that Christianity would have become the state religion of the Roman Empire and the nations that developed in its wake.

    Christianity was already becoming the dominant religion in many parts of the Empire by that point, and Constantine was using it for his purposes. Getting rid of one guy in that respect simply won’t stop a massive long term social movement.

  76. 76
    jake the snake says:

    @Brachiator

    I

    wouldn’t change anything. Didn’t you ever see that Twilight Zone episode where the guy tried to prevent Lincoln’s assassination and found that while you could nudge small things, you couldn’t change the big things.

    Haven’t seen it, but sounds like a variation of Alfred Bester’s “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed.”

    http://everything2.com/title/T.....d+Mohammed

  77. 77
    cmorenc says:

    I’d go back to fall 2000, and:
    a) deliver 10,000 more votes to Al Gore in Florida;
    b) refrain Al Gore from that *sigh* in his 1st debate with Bush, where Gore simply couldn’t hide that he’d lost is patience over the brainless bullshit uttering from Bush’s mouth – which probably lost him the votes of 20,000+ seniors in Florida, accomplishing the same end result.

  78. 78
    Vince CA says:

    It’s a little bit too much on the side of Fantasy/Sci-fi that i don’t like. Harry Turtledove gave wurlitzers to the Confederacy in “The Guns of the South” and that changed the tide of war.

    Maybe this is a pretty stupid question, but HOW would you change history? Turtledove changed it using modern technology applied to a more primitive society. That’s f-ing cheating in the worst way.

    Would you murder baby Hitler in his crib? That’s infanticide. Would you stand by with buckets while religious zealots attempted to burn down the Library of Alexandria? That’s impractical.

    There’s a lot of things that could have come out better, but they didn’t, and I argue that even with a time machine and paradox-closing math, we’re not going to be able to accomplish a lot.

  79. 79
    suzanne says:

    I’m torn about whether or not I would have ever married my ex-husband. Dude’s a tool and my life would certainly be easier without him. However, our spawn is all kinds of awesome and will be the first woman president if she doesn’t get arrested plotting to burn down the 2024 RNC first.

  80. 80
    celticdragonchick says:

    @LT:

    Give a set of wagon wheel to the Aztecs about 1200.

    They would be better off with oxen. They would get around to the wheel on their own in a couple of years or so.

  81. 81
    maye says:

    @celticdragonchick: yes, but then the locals all turned on each other – something they were always good at. Plus that little island was always going to be invaded and occupied by everybody and his brother.

  82. 82
    Bruce (formerly Steve S.) says:

    what else could you go back in time and change and it would make a huge deal of difference

    I would go back and prevent the Chilean mine collapse because I’m really sick to death of all Chilean miners all the fucking time on every fucking channel.

  83. 83
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    Like John, I’d do something to make sure the Library at Alexandria would have survived intact to this day.

    Then I would have let the South secede.

  84. 84
    Martin says:

    I’d find a way to have my parents relocated to Switzerland before I was born.

    I don’t want to kill anyone, I just want to be liberated from GlennBeckotopia. I’d be pissed off enough reading about it from afar.

  85. 85
    Suck It Up! says:

    @Loneoak:

    No I haven’t. Thanks. I added it to my Amazon wish list.

  86. 86
    Turgidson says:

    I’d go back to the Cubs/Marlins series in 2003 and make sure Steve F’in Bartman never arrives at Wrigley Field.

    Granted, Alex Gonzalez might have booted a grounder on the next play anyway. And it’s the Cubs, so they would have found a way to blow it regardless, but I would at least like to find out how, if not for the headphoned one.

    See, I would go back and change something important. Unlike you clowns with your historically significant chains of events and such.

  87. 87
    Vince CA says:

    @celticdragonchick: I’m not convinced of this. Xtianity was popular among certain masses, but it was a minor religion for poor people. If Constantine hadn’t converted and elevated it to a religion for the aristocracy, it might have stayed a minor poor people’s religion. Who knows? It’s like asking what if Justinian hadn’t died after less than five years as Emperor. Could he have revived paganism given another two decades of solid rule? Who knows.

  88. 88
    Tractarian says:

    Hey, John Cole:

    More foul-mouthed rants and fewer ponderous rhetorical questions, please.

  89. 89
    maye says:

    @Martin: You know, the Swiss outlawed mosques. And half their church steeples look like mosques.

  90. 90
    Erikthe Red says:

    I’d go back about a year and a half and show the Dems what to expect from Corporate America’s Useful Idiots the Tea Partiers when they start holding town hall meetings. I’d also show them what ads to expect from the healthcare industry.

    Maybe it still wouldn’t help, but I’d try it anyway.

  91. 91
    soonergrunt says:

    @4tehlulz:

    So you did Trotsky then. Motherfucker!

    Poly Sci WIN!

  92. 92
    stuckinred says:

    Supporting the French in Indochina.

  93. 93
    Rheinhard says:

    Oooh this is one of my favorite questions!

    I favor the approach of making the smallest possible change that would have the largest possible impact. Trying to make enough changes to the culture and way of life all across Europe to stop the spread of the Black Death would be a HUGE change. Well-intentioned, certainly, but very difficult if not impossible to actually accomplish.

    The small change I’d make?

    Convince Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia not to smoke.

    Frederick (the Anglicized name) was a well-intentioned liberal reformer who wanted to make a unified Germany more like England, with a constitutional monarchy with a strong Parliament. He was an excellent soldier and military commander, but disliked war and was against a lot of Bismarck’s “gunboat diplomacy”. From the link,

    Frederick believed a country should not act against the popular opinion of its inhabitants. He had a long history of liberalism, and had discussed his ideas and intentions with Victoria and others before his reign. Admiring Prince Albert … and the British parliamentary system, Frederick and his wife planned to rule as consorts and liberalize Germany through the appointment of more liberal ministers. They intended to severely limit the office of Chancellor, and reorganize Germany to include many elements of British liberalism. Many historians… consider that Frederick’s early death put an end to the development of liberalism within the German empire. They believe that, given a longer reign and better health, Frederick might indeed have transformed Germany into a more liberal democratic country, and prevented its militaristic path toward war.

    Unfortunately he developed cancer of the larynx and died very shortly after his father, Kaiser Wilhelm I, which left the German monarchy in the hands of Frederick’s son, Wilhelm II (and we all know how well that turned out!)

    Now, maybe he might have gotten that cancer anyway, but most cases I’ve heard of with throat cancer tend to be from smoking, and Frederick did smoke a pipe pretty heavily. Imagine going to back to when he was very young and slipping some acrid stinky compound into his pipe tobacco to make it really unpleasant, so that he decides he doesn’t like it and doesn’t take up the habit…

    He lives on, ruling Germany making it the leading social democracy in Europe. He doesn’t make the stupid political blunders of his son, which could either prevent WW1 altogether, or at least make more sensible alliances so that Germany did not end up fighting Russia and England at the same time. Without the crushing loss of WW1 and the harsh terms of the Versailles treaty, no postwar Weimar chaos, which means no rise of radical far-right demagogues like Hitler. Which means no WW2. Also, since Lenin was shipped back to Russia by the Germans toward the end of WW1 to facilitate the overthrow of Russia so that the Germans could pull their troops out of the Eastern front and put them in France, Frederick’s survival would also probably mean no Bolshevik revolution (or at least it would have played very differently), which would mean no rise of Stalin, no mass starvation of millions of Soviet peasants, and no cold war.

    How many tens of millions of lives might be saved, how much blood might not be spilled, simply by making this one guy dislike tobacco?

  94. 94
    Tony J says:

    Depends on what you can take back with you.

    Given a few books and a really massive boom-stick, I’d go back to northeastern Africa sometime after 70,000 BCE and ‘convince’ those early Cro-Magnons casually winding their way out of the savannah towards Eurasia’s wide-open spaces to listen to my theories on farming and irrigation, mining and smelting, reading and writing, herding and storing. And I’d tell them about how you can use the resources around you in other ways, to build things that do the work for you, so you can spend time doing something more productive than just surviving day to day, like thinking, and inventing porn.

    I’d teach them lots of things, and eventually die in a nice neo-classical stately home built by a grateful populace on the shores of the Mediterranean, secure in the knowledge that I also mentioned resource-management and the perils of overreliance on fossil-fuel energy sources, and a whole lot of other things that maybe they’ll find out for themselves along the way.

    But I’d need the books, because all that important shit is hard to remember. And the boom-stick, how else would I make anyone stop and listen?

  95. 95
    Morbo says:

    @freelancer:

    I’d use it to go back 40 minutes ago and punch you in the fucking for posting this stupid question.

    Hey, I think you left out a.

  96. 96
    fraught says:

    I’d go back and tase the guy who first had the idea of bringing human beings to this country from Africa and selling them as if they were objects that other people could own. If the original idea hadn’t happened then the whole thing wouldn’t have become the great American curse that even now is infecting the way we think of ourselves in relation to our fellow citizens and which it sometimes seems we will never be rid of.

  97. 97
    Francis says:

    Teach the ancient Greeks about the scientific method.

  98. 98
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @Vince CA:

    Would you stand by with buckets while religious zealots attempted to burn down the Library of Alexandria? That’s impractical.

    Hardly. If I went back in time to prevent that, I’d make sure I went back with sufficient modern firearms to mow every one of them down, repeatedly, for several hundred years if need be.

    Since there are 4 distinct possibilities for the Library’s loss, I’d simply make sure I was there to mow down everybody each time.

  99. 99
    maye says:

    Accept Adolph Hitler into art school.

  100. 100
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @freelancer:

    You owe me a new keyboard. The spittake of Diet Mtn Dew will be impossible to get out.

    And my medical bills for the laughter-induced hernia you just caused.

    My lawyers will be calling your lawyers.

  101. 101
    RickDFL says:

    I would go back to 1805 and make sure Aaron Burr did not remove the Motion to Call the Previous Question from the Senate rules. Without that you eliminate the Senate fillibuster and make a better America.

  102. 102
    AlanDean says:

    @Violet: “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” That’s all I’d do.
    Ooh La La.

  103. 103
    celticdragonchick says:

    @maye:

    yes, but then the locals all turned on each other – something they were always good at. Plus that little island was always going to be invaded and occupied by everybody and his brother

    .

    I dunno. The Angles and Saxons really didn’t come around until after a mass casualty event from plague had depopulated a lot of the midlands, and the Danelaw area was never really firm as those things go. Viking control in Ireland only extended within eyesite of Dublin, and the Irish manged to do away with that within a couple of generations.

    I really think the only really firm case for conquest and control after the Romans is William the Bastard at Hastings in 1066…and there has been no successful mass invasion from foreign armies since then.

  104. 104
    Thunderlizard says:

    Killing Wilhelm II would probably have done a LOT of good, actually. The man was an idiot who is pretty much solely responsible for the bloody catastrophe of World War I.

    On the other hand, I am REALLY nervous about making any geopolitical changes prior to ~1945. Changing ANYTHING about the world then risk Armageddon.

    Example: If Germany was more successful in Barbarossa, broken the Red Army, and remained largely territorially intact through 1944/45, sure there’d’ve been no Iron Curtain, but much of central Europe would be an irradiated wasteland today.

  105. 105
    Stooleo says:

    Mortgage/foreclosure mess is going to be worse that you think. h/t K. Drum.

    Maybe you go back in time and stop Clinton from trashing the Glass Steagall act.

  106. 106
    BDeevDad says:

    Are you talking about the book What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

    I found the book tough to get through in parts.

  107. 107
    maye says:

    In 1948, create the state of Israel on land in Wyoming.

  108. 108
    Brachiator says:

    @celticdragonchick:

    They would be better off with oxen. They would get around to the wheel on their own in a couple of years or so.

    I think many of the peoples of the Americas had the wheel, but they didn’t use them for transportation. And I think that one of the arguments of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was that there were not as large a variety of animals that could be domesticated as in the Old World.

    So, let’s say you introduce horses into the New World around 500 BCE and see what fun ensues later on.

  109. 109
    Sapheriel says:

    prevent the dark ages. who knows where science would be now?

  110. 110
    joel hanes says:

    @John Bird:

    Can I take other people back with me?

    You are allowed one assistant, a boy named Sherman.

  111. 111
    Suck It Up! says:

    @fraught:

    maybe it would be best to give the Africans guns?

  112. 112
    different church-lady says:

    @Stooleo:

    Maybe you go back in time and stop Clinton Gramm from trashing the Glass Steagall act.

    Fixed.

  113. 113
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Vince CA:

    I’m not convinced of this. Xtianity was popular among certain masses, but it was a minor religion for poor people. If Constantine hadn’t converted and elevated it to a religion for the aristocracy, it might have stayed a minor poor people’s religion. Who knows? It’s like asking what if Justinian hadn’t died after less than five years as Emperor. Could he have revived paganism given another two decades of solid rule? Who knows.

    Yeah, the are a lot of imponderables there and I am not prepared to stake an argument with any force. I have heard from some sources that Constantine was riding a popular wave and nothing more, and that paganism was already on the way out. I simply do not have enough personal knowledge of first hand resources to say anything on my own.

  114. 114
    SpotWeld says:

    Was this the book? What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been

    As for time travel.
    I’d probably first travel back in time to a point where banks were pretty stable. 1700s Europe probably. And drop a good amount of money in a nice safe long term about.
    Jump ahed to now and writhdraw a huge chunk of it, convert to negotable assets. Diamonds probably.
    Go back again, now to the 1950 and start investing in communication. Specifically anything involving the devlivery of television to remote areas. Skip ahead to the 1970, the same, but with early portable telephone technology.

    One more jump to the mid 1980s. Laught at people buying junk bonds and invest heavily in cable. Start competing network with Fox. Leverage against patents bought in the 50s and 70s. Also invest heavily in the internet.

    Create left wing media empire.

  115. 115

    @Greenhouse Guy:

    My sympathy on the loss of your mother.

    I found it took about 4 years for me to accept the death of my mother. I’ve talked about this with other folks and we have all agreed on the figure of 4 years.

    It takes as long as it takes. And those flashbacks can be very painful.

  116. 116
    The Dangerman says:

    So, for my first attempt, I went for the big change answer. Now, I’d travel to have 2 selfish questions answered:

    1) Did Earhardt crash on Nikomarauro (sp?)? A lot of evidence points to yes, but no smoking gun.

    2) Was the Kennedy assassination (either, if you want, but I am referring to Dallas) a conspiracy or was it just a lone nut? Depending on the day and the sobriety, I can go either way on this one.

  117. 117
    maye says:

    @celticdragonchick: I mis-used the terms invaded and occupied. I simply meant the people who moved in and stayed, e.g., Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings, etc.

    Have you been to the Hastings area? The audio tour of the battlefield (at Battle) is awesome.

  118. 118
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Brachiator:

    I think many of the peoples of the Americas had the wheel, but they didn’t use them for transportation. And I think that one of the arguments of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was that there were not as large a variety of animals that could be domesticated as in the Old World.

    Exactly. I was thinking precisely of Diamond’s argument from Guns, Germs and Steel when I wrote that.

    The only large work animal available for domestication in the New World was the Llama, and they could not survive the trip from South to North America because of jungle tropical disease problems, so their use was highly restricted.

  119. 119
    JCT says:

    @suzanne: Great kids trump so-so marriages on all levels.

  120. 120
    dan says:

    I would have married Lisa.

  121. 121
    soonergrunt says:

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage:

    Then I would have let the South secede.

    Whereas I would’ve executed every Confederate government minister or functionary higher than a clerk and every Commissioned Officer of the CSA.
    One of the biggest mistakes this country ever made was allowing them to believe that there was anything remotely noble about what they did.

  122. 122
    BDeevDad says:

    @maye: Would that make Dick Cheney the alternative to Yasser Arafat?

  123. 123
    dan says:

    @JCT: What if you also have so-so kids?

  124. 124
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @soonergrunt:

    Whereas I would’ve executed every Confederate government minister or functionary higher than a clerk and every Commissioned Officer of the CSA.
    One of the biggest mistakes this country ever made was allowing them to believe that there was anything remotely noble about what they did.

    Or that. I’m flexible.

  125. 125
    celticdragonchick says:

    @maye:

    I would really love to see it. My spouse and I are rabid history fans. (We were glued to the tv every friday night this summer when Pillars of The Earth came on)

    Anyways, she (my spouse) is a 29th removed direct grand daughter of Edward the Longshanks and directly descended from William as well.

  126. 126
    lol says:

    My favorite time travel scenarios are the ones where people make very small indirect changes.

    There was a Doctor Who novel where a group was making changes by doing things like simply standing in the middle of a crowd, throwing a snowball and, of course, releasing a butterfly.

    There was an arc in Booster Gold where a group of villains planned to get rid of Superman by killing the doctor that delivered Jonathon Kent so that he and Martha never discover Superman as a baby. As a result, he gets found by the Luthor family instead and years later, Lex kills his alien step-brother.

    Realistically, just visiting a past era is going to make changes, even if they’re not apparent until years later.

    Of course, history might be unchangeable – whatever you do might be exactly what happened and you’re powerless to change anything and possibly might be responsible for it happening to begin with.

    Or it might be like what happens in Primer and just become a confusing mess.

  127. 127
    celticdragonchick says:

    Back later. Spanish homework to do before class tonight.

  128. 128
    comrade scott's agenda of rage says:

    @Vince CA:

    It’s like asking what if Justinian hadn’t died after less than five years as Emperor.

    That would have been Julian who the christians called The Apostate for obvious reasons. Justinian was the Byzantine emporer who ruled for almost 40 years and he was a huge sponsor of The Church, one such sponsorship resulting in the Hagia Sophia.

    Doubtful even a long reign by Julian would have turned back the clock in that regard.

  129. 129
    maye says:

    @BDeevDad: I’d have put Dick Cheney on blood thinners in high school, to prevent the brain damage that subsequently occurred with is cardiac condition.

  130. 130
    Garrigus Carraig says:

    Without the Black Death, how does Europe make its way out of feudalism, and how does the middle class arise?

    And Kosovo Polje? Really? Why? Don’t the Turks just come back & beat those peasants the following year? Was the Yugoslav war any worse than any of the other wars in that region over the centuries?

    I guess I would do something about St Paul. Strangle him in his cradle or something.

  131. 131
    DonkeyKong says:

    On a more serious note, I’d stop Sirhan Sirhan from entering the Ambassador Hotel and shooting Robert Kennedy. He was murdered two years before I was born and of all the individuals that could have shaped history, shaped how we saw ourselves as Americans, I grieve his loss to this day.

    I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil. –
    Robert Kennedy.

    Who talks like that anymore?

    I’m tearing up writing this for christ’s sake.

  132. 132
    Barb (formerly gex) says:

    @celticdragonchick: Sounds like someone reads Jared Diamond too!

  133. 133
    Eric F says:

    Lee Atwater, Dick Cheney, the Koch brothers, James Earl Ray…ah man, so many targets, so little time.

    Time? Waitaminute, I got a time machine!

  134. 134
    cmorenc says:

    @General Stuck:

    Just take me back to the sixties when getting nekkid was nothing more than an extended handshake. The weed wasn’t bad either. Let someone else save the world.

    AMEN! The late 60s seemed one of the last times we could easily dream of things turning out right over the long haul, and all it would have taken was more people willing to get nekkid like an extended handshake.

  135. 135
    maye says:

    @celticdragonchick: I have some Plantagenet blood myself. I’m an English history freak, with an emphasis on the period 1066-1485. I’ve made a few trips to England to comb over historical minutia.

    I was disappointed in Pillars of the Earth. But I was not a big fan of the book either.

  136. 136
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Garrigus Carraig:

    Without the Black Death, how does Europe make its way out of feudalism, and how does the middle class arise?

    Really, really good point. The Black Death helped tear down feudalism, and that is not appreciated fully today.

  137. 137
    Marmot says:

    I’d pay the Gothic troops employed by the Romans in the late 300s a lot better, and promote Alaric to a regular army generalship. No sacking of Rome, no fall of the Roman Empire! Maybe!

    I don’t know. Seems like fun.

  138. 138
    Corner Stone says:

    130+ posts and no one has said anything about going *forward* in time as an alternative to the question?
    You’ve got a time machine for cripes sake! Live a little!

  139. 139
  140. 140
    celticdragonchick says:

    @maye:

    I have some Plantagenet blood myself. I’m an English history freak, with an emphasis on the period 1066-1485. I’ve made a few trips to England to comb over historical minutia.

    My spouse is taking a medieval history class right now. I absolutely intend to get to Scotland, England etc at some point (I am Scottish by heritage. The Dickey family were lowlanders and a sept of the Douglas Clan.)

  141. 141
    Anne Laurie says:

    I don’t have any faith in my ability to make huge, significant changes very far back in the timeline. So I’d bring back selected specimens of now-extinct charismatic megafauna (triceratops, dire wolves, North American lions, Tasmanian tigers) for breeding purposes. Also, I’d geld Prescott Bush’s old man, give the little girl who beat up six-year-old Karl Rove a handgun, and kidnap Nino Scalia and John Roberts to be raised in a lesbian commune.

  142. 142
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Corner Stone:

    130+ posts and no one has said anything about going forward in time as an alternative to the question?
    You’ve got a time machine for cripes sake! Live a little!

    Bring back the cool costumes and weapons from the radioactive barbarian post apocalypse!

    I have really got to go study… :)

  143. 143
    Greenhouse Guy says:

    @WaterGirl:
    @Linda Featheringill:

    Thanks for your thoughts and… I’m still grieving.

    I’m really glad I found her ring today (during the edit time!).

    That brought a smile to my face… along with your comments.

    GG out for now.

  144. 144
    Everett says:

    cleek, morzer, et al,

    Go back to 1672 and open an account at C. Hoare & Co. Deposit whatever the equivalent of $5 worth of gold was at the time. Return occasionally throughout the intervening centuries and keep the account active. Watch your wealth grow with each visit. Soon, thanks to the magic of compounding, you’re totally effing loaded and you can use your fabulous wealth to totally pimp out your time machine Dr. Who style.

    And then maybe you can, you know, save the world and stuff.

  145. 145
    JCT says:

    @dan: So-so kids? Surely you jest! .

  146. 146
    Bowser's Clown Copter says:

    @Tom Hilton:

    Was this Tim Kreider comic what you had in mind?

  147. 147
    Vince CA says:

    @comrade scott’s agenda of rage: Whoops. Julian the Apostate. Not Justinian. Too many Js. Justinian was a big promoter of the Church. He commissioned the Hagia Sophia, after all.

  148. 148
    Menzies says:

    A few ideas from a history major:

    Counter-historical –

    – Convince Pontius Pilate to not wash his hands and instead protect Jesus.
    – Get Germany to step in on the side of Spain during the Spanish-American War.
    – Attempt to forestall the Cuban Revolution.

    Personal –

    – Tear every book I read between the ages of three and seventeen out of my hands and replace them with Greek philosophers, the classics, and Neil Gaiman.
    – (Optional.) Convince myself women haven’t stopped getting cooties just because they have breasts now.

  149. 149
    Scott P. says:

    A better what if:

    What would you do if:

    A) You had a time machine
    B) It could only be used once
    C) You could only go back in time for one hour
    D) You are not allowed to change history
    E) You are not allowed to bring cameras or videorecorders (only pen and paper (or the equivalent) allowed).

  150. 150
    monkeyboy says:

    I would go back between 500 and 400 BC to introduce the ancient Greeks to the modern scientific method and a bunch of science and math that these days can be taught at the high school level.

    We had our “Age of Enlightenment” around 300 years ago and a lot of it still hasn’t taken hold. If it was 2500 years a lot of the nonsense between then and now could have been avoided.

    Would Alexander the Great still have happened? What if his army had muskets and decent medical knowledge?

  151. 151
    maye says:

    @celticdragonchick: Scotland is fantastic. I hope you get there. My Scots ancestors were McGills.

  152. 152
    The Dangerman says:

    …no one has said anything about going forward in time as an alternative to the question?

    OK.

    Sexual Holodecks.

    There has been some thought this has already occurred, but the inventor has been too busy to take it to market.

  153. 153
    Brachiator says:

    Alright, just to have some fun. I would have gone back in time and made sure that John Lennon and Keith Richards became friends and bandmates, and then paired Paul McCartney with Mick Jagger. And just to be on the safe side, I would have made sure that Pete Best stayed with the Lennon/Richards version of “The Beatles.”

  154. 154
    Corner Stone says:

    @The Dangerman: I was actually thinking about finding the person/team who cures cancer and bringing that info back but…sexual holodecks…probably a better idea now that I think about it a little.

  155. 155
    steve says:

    Several people have mentioned SF stories on this theme. Here’s a really weird one you probably haven’t heard of. One of the rejected stories for the very first Star Trek movie (back in the 1970s) involved the Enterprise crew going back to 1963 and stopping the JFK assassination. Of course, when they return to their own time, everything is hopelessly bollixed up. In order to restore the timeline, they have to go back to 1963 again. Since Oswald isn’t available this time around, Spock has to shoot JFK himself. I’m not kidding.

  156. 156
    geg6 says:

    @Vince CA:

    Would you murder baby Hitler in his crib? That’s infanticide

    Yeah, so? I mean, really. We were asked what we’d like to do. No one mentioned any consequences or anything like that. Just a thing or two we’d like to make different if we could. The only way to get rid of evil people before they have any sort of chance to spread their evil is to kill them in the womb or as infants. And as my list at #20 shows, I have several I’d be smothering to death. With great glee.

  157. 157
    ruemara says:

    Nothing but pure profit. Sorry, the past wasn’t too kind to women and the minorities, so, I’m just hitting alexandria with a pocket scanner and a laptop, scrounging up some antiques, then I’d zip forward and see if the stupid subsided and we have a chance in hell.

  158. 158
    Andy Olsen says:

    Careful with that time travel, Dude. Expect the unexpected!

  159. 159
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Scott P.: Am I allowed to bring money? I’d drop in on Jane Austen, and pay her good English guineas for every scrap of her letters, manuscripts, and papers she could lay hands on. It wouldn’t ‘change history’, but giving her more of a financial cushion might give us fanatics another novel or three… maybe she’d even have survived a few more years… and at the very least I’d have done something to make Ms. Austen’s life a little easier, and garnered a treasure hoard before her nitwitted relatives could destroy all her wittiest correspondence ‘for propriety’.

  160. 160
    Hawes says:

    The problem is: the further you go back in time, the less predictable the outcome of your changes. For instance, I would take command of American forces before the Battle of Bladensburg and whup the British before they can burn Washington. Then using my prestige, try Andrew Jackson for his criminal actions under illegal martial law in New Orleans.

    Because I fucking hate Andrew Jackson, that’s why. And he and Martin Van Fucking Buren introduced some of the worst aspects of our politics into the mainstream.

    But who knows what the long term effects of denying the “Age of Jackson” from unfolding? Maybe Lincoln never gets elected.

    So I’d go back to 1992, disfigure Newt Gingrich by slicing his nose off so he could never go on TV and he couldn’t inject his scorched earth politics into the American political system.

    Then buy up a ton of Microsoft stock, use the money to buy Broward and Miami Dade optical scan voting machines so no butterfly ballot.

    Then I’d stop 9/11.

    Could I convince Clinton to NOT get involved in Mogadishu but TO get involved in Rwanda? Who knows. Be fun to try.

    Whatever consequences of those changes might be less mind-fucking.

  161. 161
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Corner Stone:
    __

    130+ posts and no one has said anything about going forward in time as an alternative to the question?

    What blogger wants to be the least sophisticated person in the room?

    Besides, we’re half-afraid that it’ll be Mad Max territory, within the next generation.

  162. 162
    Scott P. says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    I’d say you can’t bring back things from the past — no antiquity hunting. But if you want to fund Jane Austen, why not?

  163. 163
    Chat Noir says:

    @suzanne:

    will be the first woman president if she doesn’t get arrested plotting to burn down the 2024 RNC first.

    LOL. You’re obviously doing something right with your kid.

    /applauds

  164. 164
    Corner Stone says:

    @Anne Laurie: My suggestion was posited with the idea that the Mayans are not correct, of course.
    But hell, we know to some small or large degree what has happened in recorded history. Take a chance, zap forward a little and see if you can make it 48 hours without being thrown into a Palin re-education camp for not having the bar code.

  165. 165
    Redshift says:

    @Brachiator: Or John Crowley’s “Great Work of Time,” my favorite time-travel story ever.

  166. 166
    Zaftig Amazon says:

    Give Columbus and his crew a nasty disease that will depopulate the eastern side of the Atlantic, thereby giving American Indians a fighting chance

  167. 167
    Citizen Alan says:

    Assuming the problem of paradox can be overcome: I would go back to April of 1980 and advise President Carter on how to overcome the logistical and weather problems which doomed the hostage rescue attempt. The hostages are freed, Carter becomes an action hero and gets reelected, Reagan is consigned to the dustbin of history, and the next four years mark the dawn of a new golden age of fuel efficiency, environmentalism and health care reform, rather than the beginning of an irreversible decline into Republican neo-fascism.


    Assuming the problem of paradox cannot be overcome:
    I would bring Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt to the present day. I would thoroughly debrief them on historical events and then interview them on their thoughts regarding how America had changed from their times for good or ill. In particular, I would ask Jefferson what he thought about Freedom of the Press in a world where corporations totally controlled the media. I would ask Lincoln and Roosevelt what they thought of modern day Republicanism. I would Madison about whether he would like to have made any changes to the 2nd Amendment after having seen what an assault rifle can do. I would ask Washington, Adams and Jefferson to explain their religious views and whether they intended for the U.S. to be a “christian nation.”

    Once I had all that on tape, I would erase their memories and then return them to their own eras so as to preserve the time line. Then, I would force every god-damned Teabagger in the country to watch the footage of their ascended god-kings in their own words over and over again until they woke the hell up!

  168. 168
    Catsy says:

    How about stopping the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand?

    No Great War means no Treaty of Versailles, which removes the majority of the factors that led to WW2. No WW2, no Nazis as we now know them, no Holocaust, no bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or Dresden, no Cold War as we know it.

    Of course, that’s not to say that the unintended consequences couldn’t be worse: the crimes and subsequent prosecutions of Nazi Germany led to much of what we understand as international law today, as well as many of the contemporary rules of “civilized” warfare that make war–while awful–a somewhat less ruthlessly cruel affair than it once was. The wartime military and industrial mobilization of the United States helped our recovery from the Great Depression and helped reduce the still-high unemployment rate. Hitler’s uncompromising hostility and appallingly stupid decision to invade the Soviet Union aligned the full weight of Soviet industry and manpower against Germany, and in absence of that greater threat we could very well have fought a first and/or second world war against the Soviet Union rather than Germany.

  169. 169
    John Bird says:

    @Suck It Up!:

    Well, you know, maybe you can’t kill Hitler to stop the Nazis. But you can seize control of the Nazis by being better at them at running an organization, and then better than them at running it into the ground.

    I mean, there was a country full of potential Hitlers, in my opinion, but the DNVP, Pan-German League, etc., weren’t about to take over jack shit.

  170. 170
    David Fud says:

    There were (in an intellectual sort of way) good outcomes from the Black Plague: http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/doc.....Plague.pdf

    Q: What were the sociological and economic effects?
    A: They were mixed. The Black Plague accelerated the demise of the feudal system of government, and it might actually have improved the economic lot of serfs after 1370. The disease hit rural farm workers especially hard, so labor became scarce. According to the laws of economics, wages would then go up. Landowners had to offer their workers special incentives to stay and work the land, or they would up and run off to work for another lord down the road. Increasingly, the aristocracy would grant charters to communities, or release peasants of traditional demands and taxes, or even (gasp!) pay them actual money for their work. This ultimately encouraged the rise of a prosperous middle class. That was a long-term benefit to the survivor’s grandchildren, however. In the short term, it was economically devastating. To illustrate how trade was affected, consider that about 1,360 ships set sail to trade Gascon wine to England on average each year between 1320-1340. In the year and a half after the black plague, only 141 trading ships sailed, a 93% drop in trade–far worse than the Great Depression in America.

    and

    Q: What were the religious effects?
    A: After an initial frantic outburst of short-term piety and revival, the Black Plague caused long-term damage to religious institutions. During the plague outbreaks, many believed God was punishing humanity for its sins. Strange penitential practices returned like those of the flagellants (who went from town to town publicly whipping themselves until they bled). Some infected people tried to bury themselves alive in holy ground when no priests were left to perform last rites. The Pope declared a worldwide indulgence, allowing the laity to perform funerals and hear confessions to ensure all the dying would have a chance to confess before death. Good priests, who would stick around to administer last rites, perform funerals, and comfort the dying, were especially likely to contract the disease from their parishioners and thus die themselves. Bad priests would simply run off and hide. The church suffered from a serious shortage of quality priests after the pandemic, and it lowered its standards of theological training and literacy in order to attract fresh blood over the next twenty-five years. Likewise, the sheer number of deaths diminished the importance of saintly veneration and saint’s shrines as healing places, leading to a new interest in medicine. Before the Black Death, many medieval authorities had discouraged herbal and medicinal treatments, thinking this smacked of witchcraft instead of faith in God, and priests might urge their sick parishioners to pray for healing or to visit the shrines of saints. In the case of the plague, the demonstrable ineffectiveness of this medical regimen in the long run caused ritual pilgrimage and ceremonial veneration of the saints to diminish in prestige. Others despaired, and wrote that God did not exist, or that He had died, or He was asleep, or He had given up on humanity. Europe did not regain a sense of optimism and hope until the Renaissance of the late 1500s.

    I don’t think I would retain feudalism as an outcome of stopping the Black Plague. See? We can make any Machiavellian trade we want to since it is hypothetical.

  171. 171
    Hawes says:

    John Lewis Gaddis does a great “counterfactual” in his abridged Cold War text. He shows how easily the Korean War could have gone nuclear if Truman had let things go just a little bit sideways.

    So be careful you don’t kill Truman’s greatgrandfather on any of your trips.

  172. 172
    John Bird says:

    @Catsy:

    One problem, though, is that the assassination of Ferdinand is practically a case study for accidental causes of structurally likely wars. Don’t know enough to argue that position but it sure seems like Ferdinand himself as an heir, and even the Austro-Hungarian throne itself, didn’t have a ton to do with anything beyond allowing France and Germany another excuse to fight a big stupid war with each other over cows and channels.

    It’s still strange to think that the study of war in the Western world, from tactics to history, is almost completely defined by how and when and why France and Germany decided to kill each other (brutally, often, and because it’s Tuesday).

  173. 173
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Vince CA:

    You don’t have to kill Hitler as a child. You pay his family to move to America and put them in a lovely Jewish neighborhood where his best friend will have a name like Stein.

    He becomes a kitschy landscape painter and his kids become lefty leaning labor reps in the Bronx.

  174. 174
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    I’d go back to last Friday and buy the winning ticket before you did…. grin

    Current theories of time travel involve “closed time-like loops” where you can travel back only to the point where such a loop was created.

    You’ll know this occurred when 20 million people all buy the same winning lottery ticket.

  175. 175
    Batocchio says:

    The Library at Alexandria is the biggest one for me.

    Gore beating Bush would be the cleanest way to avoid many other horrible subsequent events. Not that all would be well, but…

    There are other historical events to change that come to mind, most of them already mentioned. But in some cases, I see them as more set or intertwined with history, or with uncertain alternative consequences.

    On the personal front, being present to prevent an unnecessary death or two would be good. And there are plenty of conversations and relationships and choices I might replay.

  176. 176

    @Michael:

    __

    @WyldPirate:
    smother Baby Jesus in the manger…..have Paul of Tarsus die of thirst in the desert. Have the Jews die of thirst in the desert while on their little walk.

    __
    …whisper “does she really think you’re stupid enough to believe that shit?” to Joseph before handing him a large rock.

    That’s mean and nasty, really, really mean and nasty. Will you be my friend?

  177. 177
    HeartlandLiberal says:

    I would go back and prevent the assassination of Julius Caesar.

    Odds are that that one act would have stabilized Rome, and instead of another 400 years of empire, it might have lasted even longer.

    On the other hand, assuming that certain Roman social traditions prevailed long term, a lot of us might still be able to say “I am Spartacus” even today.

  178. 178
    Citizen Alan says:

    @steve:

    This was actually the plot of one of my favorite Red Dwarf episodes. The guys accidentally (don’t ask how) end up in the Texas Book Depository and prevent Oswald from shooting JFK. JFK lives … just long enough for his affair with Marilyn Monroe to come out, thereby causing him to lose in 1964 to Barry Goldwater who then starts WWIII. Unfortunately, none of the guys wants to be responsible for shooting JFK to put things right (and none of them have the marksmanship skills to do so anyway), so they take JFK himself from the alternate time line right before the bombs start falling and have him shoot himself from the grassy knoll, restoring the original time line and causing alternate JFK to vanish.

  179. 179
    Citizen Alan says:

    @artem1s:

    Actually, that could go very, very badly considering those CSA reenactors would likely have an encyclopedic knowledge of Union battle plans for the remainder of the war. Couldn’t we just “accidentally” misalign something so that they emerged in 1863 but maybe 20 feet underground or deep in the heart of Africa or something?

  180. 180
    Brachiator says:

    @David Fud:

    There were (in an intellectual sort of way) good outcomes from the Black Plague.

    I like James Burke’s argument in Connections which linked the aftermath of the Plague to the Renaissance and the revolution in learning arising from the development of the printing press:

    @ 0:56: After the Black Death Plague, there was a great boom and emphasis on linen – people wore more underwear and thus wore out more underwear, which created abundant resources for paper makers.
    __
    @ 3:33: Suddenly post-plague there is an abundance of paper, but the not enough clerks to use paper, as the plague had killed half of them off. What solves this problem? Efficient printing
    __
    @ 7:18: Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th Century. The earliest known dated paper using the printing press comes from Gutenberg and is dated August 14, 1457.
    __
    @ 7:30: The printing press triggered the mass spread of knowledge. Book shops opened up and anybody who could afford a book could buy a book.
    __
    @ 7:53: Books encouraged accuracy because authors could get called out by those who knew more about the subject then they did.
    __
    @ 8:08: Books benefited the specialists who would write about what they knew about and thus spread the knowledge.
    __
    @ 9:00: Venice became the printing capital of Europe in the 15th Century.

  181. 181
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    And as regards time travel, I’d go back and save the silphium plant, preferably genetically engineering it so it spread wider and was cultivated over a far larger area of Europe and the Mediterranean…

  182. 182
    Suffern Ace says:

    I would direct the pyramid builders to leave a note with my picture on it, stating in heiroglpyhics that “When Suffern Ace returns, please do whatever he says.”

  183. 183
    Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    You don’t have to kill Hitler as a child.

    Besides, it never works.

  184. 184
    John PM says:

    I am of the belief that you either can’t change the past and/or that by going back into the past you actually take part in what actually happened. For example, in trying to kill John Conner, Skynet actually brings him into existence and thus eventually leads to Skynet’s own destruction. If you do not know who John Conner is, you should not be on this thread.

    However, assuming you could travel back in time, I would travel back in time to college and sleep with this amazingly hot girl who unbeknownst to me was very, very interested in me.

  185. 185
  186. 186
    An American in Exile says:

    @maye, @martin, re comment no. 89: the Swiss banned minarets, not mosques. Even the minaret ban is outrageous, of course, but not AS outrageous as a mosque ban would have been.

  187. 187
    fucen tarmal says:

    go back to 1983 and convince the steelers to draft dan marino….

    but for realz, i don’t know how much killing one person, even hitler would change things, as leaders are a product of their times. would we have had the exact nazis we had, maybe not, but there would have been a nation of butt-hurt germans willing to listen to anything, and follow anything…..

    of course, relevant to the pains in the ass on the right, going back to the drafting of the constitution, with a specific set of questions, to ask the men who shaped that document, for more clarity of intent and purpose….

    i am saying proding jefferson and others to write specific ancillary documents on the process, beyond what we have, so interpreting the thing wouldn’t be such a big fucking deal…

    i’m not sure if its cheating in this game to tell the founders the kind of idiocy carried out in their name, or to let them know of the specific issues future generations had with their wording, but that could help a lot.

  188. 188
    xanthippas says:

    I’d go back and sink Columbus, and maybe delay the mass genocide of Native Americans for a little bit. Or maybe give them machine guns and vaccines and even the odds a little.

  189. 189
    Tom Johnson says:

    I’d do everything in my power to keep Florence Henderson from getting famous.

    Also, I’d go back to 1963 and buy a couple of cases of Chateau Latour for $9 a bottle and hide them down in a cave somwhere I could find them.

    No Florence Henderson and a well-aged Premier Cru? Doesn’t get better than that.

  190. 190
    Larkspur says:

    Okay, so pretend that my change wouldn’t result in some horrible catastrophe. Or that at least, having made the change, I would have no recollection of it.

    Two possibilities: I’d sit Jesus down and have a serious conversation with him. It’d be like “It’s a Wonderful Life BC”. I’d tell him about his weird disciples, and that dying on a cross is icky (which he would already know, since it happened to people so frequently) and that 2,000 years later, millions of people would be eating wafers and drinking wine in the firm belief that they were eating bits of his flesh and drinking his actual blood. Yuck. I’d tell him to expect the Spanish inquisition. Blah blah blah. I’d suggest that he marry Mary Magdalene, have some sons and daughters that they’d raise to be excellent men and women, and open a school that would become real popular on account of how it’s based on the Rule: that which is hateful unto thee, do not unto others. He could leave the rest of the commentary to some other curriculum. He should just build some stuff, have a happy life, help out whenever he could, and not make a big thing about it.

    Second possibility: I’d ensure that Karl Rove’s ass got drafted and sent to Vietnam.

  191. 191
    Matt says:

    Curiosity makes me want to see what the world would look like if the Romans had won the Battle of Yarmouk.

    My inner Harry Turtledove would demand it.

  192. 192
    Barb (formerly gex) says:

    Hey, anyone notice the Obama administration referred to being gay as a “lifestyle choice” when addressing gay teen suicides?

    That is about as offensive as it gets. If a kid decides to off themselves because they are gay, it probably stands to reason they did not feel that they had a choice.

    Fucking assholes.

  193. 193

    […] at Balloon Juice they’re having a pretty serious discussion about what they’d do if they had a time […]

  194. 194
    Tim says:

    The Redemption of Christopher Columbus entertains that idea.

    I found it interesting at the time but it’s been many moons since I’ve read it.

  195. 195
    James E. Powell says:

    I’d go back and become an apostle of Jesus. I’d write down everything he said. Get the real story on his birth, upbringing, life (including his relationship with the Magdalene), and goals. Find a way to get it published far and wide, or chisel it in stone.

  196. 196
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Barb (formerly gex): The “Obama administration” = Valerie Jarrett in this interview.

    Go to the 3:45 mark for the lead up to the part where Jarrett uses the clumsy and outmoded wording “lifestyle choice” in this excerpt.

    “In many cases [parents of teen suicides] are doing a good job. Their families are supportive .. I met with [parents of Andre Alburg] These are good people. They were aware their son was gay. They embraced him, they loved him, they supported his lifestyle choice, but when he left the home and went to school, he was tortured by his classmates.
    __
    “What the President asked me to do was to go and deliver his message that this is an issue that is important, it needs to be addressed now, we’ve got to stop acting like this is just a rite of passage in school.”

    Funny how that doesn’t sound like “He made his bed, let him lie in it”, does it?

  197. 197
    Triassic Sands says:

    …there are some things I would definitely change (Bush and the war come to mind), but if you have a time machine, wouldn’t you want to focus on some bigger stuff?

    The way you’ve written this Bush and the war sound like small stuff. I think Bush’s eight years (fiscally and militarily) actually qualify as “big stuff.” Apart from the countless lives lost and ruined by Bush (yes, still small on a WWII scale), his actions are likely to prove critical in the ultimate failure of this country. Bush may eventually be viewed as the tipping point in American history and that would, indeed, be big stuff.

  198. 198
    Kirk Spencer says:

    @Corner Stone: meh. Every time i think of that, Buster Keaton’s Twilight Zone episode pops into my mind.

    No thanks.

  199. 199
    Nitahoyo says:

    @joel hanes: But then there would be no Bedtime for Bonzo!?!?! Oh… wait… neeever miiind.

  200. 200
    platonicspoof says:

    Regardless, if you could go back and change something, what would it be?

    Is that similar to “where the hell did we go wrong?” and how do we fix it with technological power?
    If we could bebop forwards as well as backwards, someone could jump ahead to a point where gene therapy can change anything and the brain is completely mapped, then zip back to the last bottleneck in the human population and increase the mirror neurons (or whatever) for empathy and compassion towards every life-form by a factor of 10,000.

    Still an eternity of puzzles to wonder about (e.g., self-delusion), but a different approach to life.

    Although my magical thinking might be as useful as asking this at a beauty pageant or a political clownhall.

    And even less useful if the past is just our twisted memories and the future our ignorant guesses.

  201. 201
    MaryRC says:

    I’d go back to middle school so my 12-year-old self could know how the clique-y kids who made me miserable would turn out. Some of them would crash and burn, others would become my friends. It would have been nice to know at the time.

  202. 202
    gbear says:

    @Barb (formerly gex): OMG He’s worse than Bush!!

  203. 203
    BC says:

    On getting rid of the villains of history – why not just keep the parents from having sex at that particular time? What if Mr. and Mrs. Hitler had had a daughter rather than a son because instead of having sex on that date they had it either earlier or later? I’ve always been intrigued with the idea that we are the people we are because of that particular sperm and that particular egg combining. Any other combination and-voila- we would not be the same people.

  204. 204

    @different church-lady: Yup, and when he was done, he drew a map of the US on her forehead. (I love my new junior Senator.)

    As for time travel: I think I’d go with stopping Sirhan Sirhan, because RFK was going to clean Nixon’s clock had he made it to the general. The planned takeover of Washington, DC — and later, the media (as planned out in the Powell Memo and by William Simon, who would put Olin Foundation funds to use towards this goal) — by the GOP and their corporate interests would have hit a serious roadblock.

    Oh, and while I was there, I’d put out the word, especially to Ramparts, Rolling Stone, The Nation, and the overseas and Canadian media, that the Paris Peace Talks were about to be sabotaged by Nixon’s crew. Yeah, that old softie LBJ didn’t want to see Tricky Dick put on trial for treason, but doing this would have put a stake through the heart of the far right (much as the Smedley Butler revelations, had they been followed through as justice and decency demanded, would have done the same thirty-four years earlier), and also meant that the Vietnam War would have ended in 1968, not 1974. The crowd that preened itself on its super-patriotism would have had to face the fact that its standard-bearer was a fricking traitor.

  205. 205

    @celticdragonchick: It also led the way to the Renaissance and Reformation, which in turn laid the groundwork for the Enlightenment, by shaking people’s faith in received wisdom.

  206. 206

    @joel hanes: Better yet, make sure that Edith Luckett never had sex during the last four months of 1920, so the child who would grow up to be Nancy Davis would never be born.

    Ronnie started out as a Democrat, remember. It was only during his affair with the ultra-conservative Nancy that he got corporatized.

  207. 207

    @Matt: My guess is that the Muslims would have turned towards the east a lot earlier than they did, and gone all the way to India a good four centuries earlier than they they did, possibly even making a serious effort at taking over China — and if they got to China at the right time, they may have beaten the Mongols to taking it over.

  208. 208
    pjcamp says:

    I’d really rather not have eaten that leftover mushroom pizza a few weeks back.

  209. 209
    Barb (formerly gex) says:

    @Comrade Mary: Well, check out some of the rest of my comments, because I’ve moved on and admitted error/careless wording. B

    @gbear: You too.

  210. 210
    J.R. Jenks says:

    I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

  211. 211
    sunsin says:

    @celticdragonchick: Give the aboriginal peoples of the Americas all the common European/Asian diseases in about the year 1000 (you could have the Vikings carry some of them).

    If that had happened, they’d have recovered their population levels and social organization by 1492, and they would have developed a resistance to the diseases. It would have made subsequent history a bit more even.

  212. 212
    Larkspur says:

    @sunsin: I like this quite a bit.

  213. 213
    Dirk Gently says:

    As much as I would have loved to have seen Bush prevented from being prez in 2000, consider all the second order counterfactuals that could have made things worse:

    (1) An arch-conservative or useful idiot becomes prez in 2004 or 2008 (because surely folks would have eventually picked the other party, regardless of how Gore did). Then we’re dealing with that neocon shit after North Korea has nukes and Iran is about to get them, when we haven’t yet pulled the trigger on the debacle that is Iraq. We would be at war with Iran now if Iraq hadn’t already happened, is there anyone here who doubts this? You think Iraq is bad, consider how much worse a war with Iran could be.

    (2) Maybe Gore fails spectacularly on domestic policy. Maybe he overreacts to a 9/11 type event, and since he wants to seem tough while not wishing to “remake” the Middle East like the neocons, he doesn’t send troops but rather nuclear armed cruise missiles. Who knows? Whatever the case, any Gore blunders would doom liberal domestic agendas–now actually accomplished in some form or broadly favored–for a generation (alas, like Carter).

    The Bush presidency was one of the worst things to ever happen to our country, but only in this timeline.

  214. 214
    Paul in KY says:

    I’d go back to 1968 & take care of Sirhan Sirhan. Then I’d get Sen. Kennedy to get some real professional security, instead of the goofballs he had.

    If that didn’t work, I’d go up to 1988 & tell Gov. Dukakis to stay the fuck out of that tank & no goofy hats.

  215. 215
    Paul in KY says:

    @Brachiator: That would be hard to do. The rest of the band (McCartney, Lennon & Harrison) were jealous of Pete’s popularity with the public (girls especially).

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