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If Only He'd Pulled The Trigger

It is a classic ethical dilemma: if you could go back in time and strangle the baby Hitler, would you?

Well, Henry Tandey, recepient of the Victoria Cross and Britain's most-highly decorated private during World War I, was in an even better position to snuff out the Third Reich before its inception. He had Adolph Hitler in his sights at Marcoing, France (or perhaps earlier at Ypres).

He didn't pull the trigger.

Matania's painting of Tandey at Ypres.

As Wikipedia puts it: 'Hitler subsequently saw a newspaper report about Tandey being awarded the VC, recognized his photo, and kept it. Tandey, now a war hero, was featured in a famous painting by Italian artist Fortunino Matania, carrying a wounded soldier at Ypres. In 1937 Hitler asked Tandey's old regiment for a large photograph of the painting, which was sent. Captain Weidmann, Hitler's Adjutant, wrote the following response: 'I beg to acknowledge your friendly gift which has been sent to Berlin through the good offices of Dr. Schwend. The Fuhrer is naturally very interested in things connected with his own war experiences, and he was obviously moved when I showed him the picture and explained the thought which you had in causing it to be sent to him. He has directed me to send you his best thanks for your friendly gift which is so rich in memories.' Hitler also obtained a copy of Tandey's service record.

In 1938 when Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler at his alpine retreat, the Berghof, for discussions that led to the Munich Agreement, he saw the picture and asked about it. Hitler said "that man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again, providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us". He also asked Chamberlain to convey his best wishes and gratitude to Tandey, so Chamberlain promised to phone Tandey in person on his return, which he did.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Tandey tried to rejoin his regiment to make sure "he didn't escape a second time" but failed the physical because of old war wounds. He was living in Coventry when the Luftwaffe bombed it in 1940, and only survived a collapsing building by sheltering in a doorway. He was also in London during the Blitz and told a journalist in 1940, "if only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people, woman and children he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go".'

There is a lesson in here somewhere, but I am not sure what it is. That an act of kindness can end up loosing a horror upon the world? That you should always go ahead and shoot? How about this: the world is thoroughly inscrutable, and second-guessing contingencies is a complete waste of time.

Posted by Ken McCracken · 30 April 2007 08:43 AM


In essence, you're trying to make the case that committing atrocities can be excused on the basis that it might prevent an atrocity in the future.

There is no lesson to be learned here aside from coincidences do occur.

Posted by: Jadegold at April 30, 2007 10:01 AM

A friend of mine once claimed that he wouldn't be here if it weren't for Hitler. This is because my buddy's father was studying for the Catholic priesthood, but resigned from his studies because of WW2, joined the military and eventually found a wife, resulting in their bringing my friend into the world.

I also remember reading about a boy born to a British woman, the product of an affair with a Canadian sailor. The boy's name was Eric Clapp. He later changed his last name to Clapton.

Posted by: Bigfoot at April 30, 2007 01:08 PM

No Jadegold, that is not the case I am trying to make.

Yet again, you fail to comprehend what I said.

I said I think there is a lesson to be learned here.

Ultimately, the lesson to be learned is to not play mental games like that.

Nowhere in the post did I make the case that committing atrocities are in any way excused.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at April 30, 2007 03:22 PM

We have long since established that jadegold is not interested in a discussion of issues, but delights in playing trapping games on the plane of language, pretending that he doesn't get your meaning. Of course he understood you. He chooses not to in hopes of fooling a few. I suppose there will always be some who are bamboozled by such things, but we needn't let it concern us. I have four sons, and as each of them went through middle school they delighted in precisely this sort of argument.

To the more serious point: it is easy to see how an act of kindness that resulted in such horror can be questioned in hindsight, and hard to see a benefit that can ever counterbalance it.

We don't live in hindsight. If we did, we all would have bought Microsoft in 1976 or bet on the Mets in 1969. We can only go with what we hope will be the likely outcome. That single act of Tandey may not be the proper metric for measurement. The fact that Britain was a nation which regularly produced such men, who could display kindness even in wartime, may have been why Germany could reintegrate into civilized society after WWII. Had England been like the Bosnians or the Byelorussians, their atrocities might have prevented the Germans from recognizing their madness.

Not that no Brit was cruel or no Slavs were kind - but the aggregate matters. It is fashionable these days to engage in an equivalency that says all grays are the same, counting the actions of the Allies on a par with those of the Axis. That type of moral relativism is worse than childish - it is the method by which evil is justified.

In a related point: Just War theory is not only a method of evaluating whether a war is justified. If the conditions for a just war are met, it is considered a sin to refuse war at that point. To refuse to sacrifice for obvious justice is also a sin against the oppressed. Those who wish to criticise this administration on religious grounds for going to war need to take the other side of the Just War doctrine seriously.

What am I saying? Yuh, like that's gonna happen. Silly me.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at April 30, 2007 07:31 PM

Heh, not to mention . . . does JadeGold really want to go on the record, along with the whitepower skinheads and holocaust-denying revisionists, of claiming that killing Hitler would have been an atrocity?

Of course not. But then again, honest argument is not his strong suit.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at April 30, 2007 07:55 PM

As those who have fought war will say, it is not rational and it is not just.

Assistant Village Idiot wrote:

“It is fashionable these days to engage in an equivalency that says all grays are the same, counting the actions of the Allies on a par with those of the Axis. That type of moral relativism is worse than childish - it is the method by which evil is justified.”

While I take his point and generally agree, I would add the loss of history—memory, if you please—may be the greater threat because of its uncontested selling of lies. As I am writing this I am thinking of Eastwood’s wholly misrepresentative tale of the culmination of Japan’s wars throughout Asia. Long story short, the Japanese produced millions of brutal savages and the United States did not. Attempting to build a myth, equating these two forces is to wantonly poison the well of History, weakening the moral virtue of all subsequent drinkers there.

Posted by: allen at April 30, 2007 11:29 PM

Because some of us are moral human beings, we could not pull the trigger in the same situation. We can not divine with absolute cosmic metaphysical certitude what the future holds in store for us or someone sitting on the sights of our weapon.
If you are not a barbarian, raised in a good environment, and have respect for the society in which you reside, you have to perform better than a hungry, prowling, instinct-drive animal looking for food.
The inscrutability arises due the wishful thinking. If Hilter had been taken out, tens of millions of innocent people may have survived with or without war. We will never know. We are put in the present, doing good or bad based upon what has been put into us. You only get out of a person, the values put into them.

"absolute cosmic metaphysical certitude"
stolen from the "McLaughlin Report"

Are you still farting in church and pointing toward your mother?

Posted by: Eneils Bailey at May 1, 2007 01:22 PM

One can only hope AVI's sons aren't passed AVI's lack of intelligence and penchant for prevarication.

There is no lesson to be learned here. In reality, had Tandey pulled the trigger--he had no knowledge that he was killing someone who would kill 6M or someone who might have invented a cure for some illness that killed millions.

Ken is merely attempting to lay the groundwork that atrocities may be necessary to possibly prevent further atrocities. Of course, this argument is bereft of both logic and morality. But I suppose it helps Ken sleep at night, knowing torture and the killing of of over 500,000 Iraqi civilians is done in his name.

Posted by: Jadegold at May 2, 2007 10:29 AM

jadegold, unless you have developed some new motive-o-tron that allows you to read the thoughts of others, you have no basis for that statement. You have constructed an imaginable scenario and declared it true.

And trust me, you don't want to go head-to-head with my children in an intellectual discussion, unless you can beat an average SAT Verbal of 790.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at May 2, 2007 12:51 PM

AVI, given my brief interaction with you, I have no doubt your children are incapable of intellectual discussion.

An SAT score doesn't measure capability to engage in discussion, intellectual or otherwise. Morever, the SATs were renormed in 1995--so my 1460 would likely be in the mid-1500s today.

But I digress.

There is a marked tendency, these days, for rightwingers to search out historical events--however obscure--in an attempt to justify Young Master Bush's failings.

Posted by: Jadegold at May 2, 2007 01:37 PM

Geez, I post a blog item about an interesting bit of historical trivia - and JadeGold thinks it's about Bush!

Just amazing.

Talk about Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Posted by: Ken McCracken at May 2, 2007 04:54 PM

SAT's are a data point. You can take your own chances with the boys.

Your 1460 is a very good score, BTW, but still not high by Wyman standards. As a past president of the Prometheus Society, I know enough psychometrics to know what SAT's do and don't signify.

To the main point: you leapt to an unwarranted conclusion about Ken's motives and you are now trying to cover. Artfully, perhaps, but that hardly matter.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at May 3, 2007 05:33 PM

Wow. I felt bad about my comment of two hours ago and hurried back to apologize for it. It's not here. Apparently I made a fortuitous error and didn't print it. I'll check the other threads, but I'm pretty sure it was here.

At any rate, I'm grateful I don't see it, and apologize anyway. First to the group in general, and secondly to jadegold in specific. It was an arrogant and obnoxious comment.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at May 3, 2007 07:47 PM

Ah, there it is. Delete my 5:33pm comment, please. If jadegold has already read it, I apologize again.

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at May 4, 2007 04:43 PM