After Black Hat announces his completion of a time machine which will only ever work once, Cueball gives a common suggestion for what to do when you have a time machine: killing Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born dictator who famously led the Nazi Party to a hostile takeover of the German government, which eventually led to World War II where the Nazis conducted a military invasion of several other European countries and a genocidal campaign known as the Holocaust. Even though Black Hat has other (and probably better) ideas about how to use his time machine, he relents to Cueball's pleas and goes off to kill Hitler, comically using the casual phrase "BRB" which is an abbreviation for "be right back". He soon returns, commenting that he found Hitler in a very noisy bunker in the year 1945.
In the real world, Hitler and his wife Eva Braun committed suicide on April 30, 1945, in Hitler's personal office in the Führerbunker. Berlin was the last major stronghold of Nazi Germany at that point, and was under heavy military assault by the Soviet Union, making it fairly obvious to the Nazis that they wouldn't control the city for much longer. Germany surrendered to the Allied forces almost immediately after Hitler's death, bringing an end to the European side of the War (the Pacific side, mostly fought between the United States and the Nazi-allied Empire of Japan, would linger on for a few more months until Japan was driven to surrender by two nuclear attacks). The fact that Black Hat killed Hitler in the Führerbunker in 1945 means that the War and the Holocaust had already resulted in the deaths of millions, and history would not be significantly changed by murdering Hitler at that point. Also, Black Hat's comment that "1945 was loud!" suggests that Berlin was already under attack when he emerged in the Führerbunker, implying that the killing took place around the time Hitler would have taken his own life anyway, possibly just a few moments before.
Cueball's intent was clearly for Black Hat to travel back to a time before Hitler's rise to power, in the hopes that killing him back then would prevent both the War and the Holocaust; he's therefore horrified by the realization that Black Hat had used his sole opportunity for time travel and probably made little difference at all. This is typical Black Hat behavior, going out of his way just to troll people like Cueball and cause horrible things to happen, in this case deliberately not changing any history or avoiding any of the atrocities carried out by Nazi Germany. That might be for the best, however, since killing Hitler early might cause more problems than it would solve.
Sure enough, there are some conspiracy theories claiming that Hitler had no intention of taking his own life and was actually shot dead by someone else, most of them relying on some kind of "evidence" that Hitler and Braun weren't alone in the room when they died. If this comic was meant to be taken as a serious theory on Hitler's death, it would suggest that Black Hat was directly responsible, but because he used a time machine to reach Hitler's office, historians would have no knowledge that he was ever there and therefore could only conclude that Hitler and Braun killed themselves instead. Also, if the Novikov self-consistency principle is true, it means that Hitler's suicide was interrupted by Black Hat in the first place, and Black Hat was merely going back in time to do the thing he already did.
The title text refers to the time travel theme from the Superman movie in which Jor-El states, "It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history." Here it is suggested that Black Hat needs to know some history before going back in time to interfere with it, perhaps so that he would do the right thing and kill Hitler before the Holocaust and World War II.
- Hitler was also the subject of Black Hat's third appearance.
- In 1617: Time Capsule, Beret Guy has the same mission, but has instead "traveled" forward in time, and when he arrives Hitler is long dead.
- There is an episode of Love, Death and Robots that is entirely about going back in time to kill Hitler.
- [Black Hat and Cueball stand in front of a double door, which bears the label 'TIME door'. Black Hat has his hands on his hips.]
- Black Hat: I finished my time machine, but it's one-use-only.
- Cueball: You gotta kill Hitler.
- [Close-up of Black Hat, one hand palm upward.]
- Black Hat: Why are you so obsessed with this Hitler guy? We have all of time we could explore!
- [Close-up of Cueball with both hands palm upward.]
- Cueball: He's evil incarnate! He murdered millions and sparked global war! Everyone agrees—if you get a time machine, you kill Hitler.
- [Black Hat enters the now open Time door as the other man looks on..]
- Black Hat: Fine, fine, I get it! Calm down. BRB, killing Hitler.
- [Black Hat returns, shutting the door with one hand. Cueball has outstretched arms.]
- Black Hat: There. Done. Are you happy?
- Cueball: Thank you.
- Black Hat: He was in some kind of bunker. 1945 was loud!
- Cueball: NO!
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Actually, I think the joke here is that Black Hat actually did end Hitler's atrocities, but that history is not actually changeable. Hitler's "suicide" was actually Black Hat killing him. This is then layers with the impossibility of changing history. This would imply that anyone that wants to stop Hitler before he rose to power will be circumvented.
UnaSalusVictis (talk) 01:26, 25 November 2012 (UTC)UnaSalusVictis
- According to all reasonable time travel theories, this makes sense. You cannot go into the past to change things, because the future that exists is a future where you were in the past - you just didn't know it yet because it was in your future. This also applies to the future. Your knowledge of the future cannot possibly change it because your foreknowledge exists in this future. If your foreknowledge made that future not happen, then there would be no need to change it. But the future and the past account for the fact that you were there to change things, even before you ever knew you would be. Ergo, any attempt to change the past will merely result in causing the past to result exactly as it did before. The catch-22 of time travel stories. You can have a fatal flaw, or a fatally uncompelling story. But, all that said, this is a cartoon and not necessarily reliant on reasonable time travel theory.22.214.171.124 07:07, 23 June 2013 (UTC)
- That's exactly my opinion on this topic! Look at this video (Mercedes vs Hitler in the past): [] ~~Muessigb
- But say you could predict what the future would look like if you did nothing (or did not yet have that knowledge). Then by obtaining that knowledge you could then do something you would not have done otherwise and thus change the potential future. With a powerful enough simulator, you might get a good idea of what would happen if no one knew about it, and then decide if something should be changed based on this information. This is what happens in the book Lightning. I do not believe this can be done, but as the future has not happened yet, I do not see the same problems as with traveling back in time. Of course having a good guess of the future is not the same as traveling to it... If you did that, then changing it after you had been there would be troublesome. See for instance Back to the Future 2 and the book mentioned above. --Kynde (talk) 12:44, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
True, killing Hitler before he rose to power and committed all his atrocities would cause a Grandfather paradox... Cueball invented the time machine and send Black Hat back because he wanted Hitler dead, but if Hitler died before that, there would be no reason to invent the time machine and send Black Hat back which ergo cause the initial trip to kill Hitler not possible and ergo Hitler couldn't die before he rises to power and committed his atrocities. 126.96.36.199 01:40, 5 December 2012 (UTC)
- Just for the record, it was Black Hat who invented this time machine! --Kynde (talk) 12:51, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
Maybe in the original timeline, Hitler's atrocities extended beyond 1945. When Black Hat went back in time and assassinated Hitler in 1945, a new time-line was created. When Black Hat returned to the current date, he returned to a different timeline than the one he left. In this timeline (ours), Hitler died in 1945, and because this timeline is based on that fact, Cueball thinks that Black Hat has not changed anything, when in fact, Black Hat's actions created the new timeline. -- mwburden 188.8.131.52 15:00, 7 December 2012 (UTC)
- Except that Hitler would have already been killed in 1945 by Black Hat, only it would have been thought beforehand to be Hitler killing himself as, until the time machine is invented, you wouldn't think that people from the future would be coming from the future to assassinate the opponent. People would assume that Hitler killed himself as that is more plausible than an assassin killing him and then vanishing without a trace. -- Mulan15262 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Also Cueball would not know that anything had happened if anything had been changed, as his an everyone else life would have changed, and most people born say a few years after the start of the way, would probably not have been born, because everyone else would have done something different if World War II had never happened, and many more people would have lived back then, to make the chance that your parents meet and fall in love much less. And even if they still did, they might have had their children at a different time in their lives! And just a few seconds can matter in which cell will enter the egg...--Kynde (talk) 12:51, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
- The only flaw in that logic is that there's really no way Hitler would have survived the Russian invasion. He was in a bunker, killing himself, because his whole nation and army were crushed. He would have been put on trial and no doubt executed, if not shot by the first soldier who saw him. -HavokTheorem 184.108.40.206 04:30, 9 October 2013 (UTC)
- Thank you for this answer. My faith in explainxkcd contributors was declining rapidly until I reached your comment. 220.127.116.11 20:20, 30 January 2014 (UTC)
- Actually you only think that because Black Hat prevented Mecha Hitler. 18.104.22.168 17:54, 16 December 2015 (UTC)
Was the explanation always as bad as it appears now?? It's awful. 22.214.171.124 01:34, 1 February 2014 (UTC)
First off, in a previous time line he could have escaped to a Moon Base to rebuild his army and destroy the world and Cueball just does not remember that history, just the one where Hitler dies in the bunker. Second, there are many forms of logical time travel. You could jump to a different Now 70 years ago and kill Hitler (assuming he exists) and then come back. Your timeline would not have changed, but the other Now would have a future without Hitler. The good or bad that is achieved is the same, but you get no benefit other then the joy of killing Hitler. And you really should seek professional help for that.--126.96.36.199 18:52, 20 May 2014 (UTC)
- In many stories where this idea is used, you actually go to this alternative time yourself, so when you return the world you return to would be the one where Hitler died. Maybe you were never born in this world, but as you are from another dimension where you did get born, then you can exist in this world instead. --Kynde (talk) 12:51, 6 January 2016 (UTC)
Did Randall at least partly choose Hitler because of the old rumour that he wasn't actually dead (Because hearing the news of his death may have seemed incredulous, and because his body was removed by the Soviets, who never openly revealed information to the West). Sorry about the wordiness of this comment, I hope you'll be able to comprehend it. 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- I recommend this short story on time travel: Wikihistory. My favourite quote: "everybody kills Hitler on their first trip". Brilliant, short and nerdy.
- --Lou Crazy (talk) 16:37, 28 September 2015 (UTC)
You are all assuming that the time machine actually works. Why? 184.108.40.206 21:50, 9 November 2017 (UTC)
If time travel were possible, you could go back in time, seduce the woman who was to become your mother — you would become your own father! Robert Heinlein wrote a story with that theme, “‘—All You Zombies—’”. Heinlein goes further, introducing a sex-change operation, so mother, father, and child are all the same person.
If I had a time machine I would go back only twenty years and kill Bush and Blair. Think of the millions of lives that would be saved! -- The Cat Lady (talk) 16:39, 2 September 2021 (UTC)