Talking to strangers at a party, it’s never very long before I’m asked what I do for work. “I’m a physicist over at Stony Brook,” I explain. “Actually, I just invented a time machine.” An impressive answer—or so you’d think. In fact, no one ever is all that impressed. They don’t congratulate me, or ask if I can take them for a spin. No, they all respond the same way: “When are you going to go back in time and kill Hitler?” And that’s fair enough, I guess. Obviously, it’s a science fiction trope, and, in the current political climate, maybe it’s on people's minds more than ever. The thing is, though, I can’t kill Hitler. My time machine runs on Holocaust denial.

But try telling them that. “What do you mean your time machine runs on Holocaust denial?” Well, I mean exactly that: the time machine I invented is powered by Holocaust denial. That’s its fuel. “So it runs on the Holocaust not happening?” If only! No, it's powered by people saying the Holocaust didn’t happen. The Holocaust, unfortunately, still needs to have occurred. No Hitler, no Holocaust. No Holocaust, no Holocaust denial. No Holocaust denial, no time travel.

It’s sometimes made to sound like I would rather keep my time machine than kill Hitler, but you have to understand it’s not a question of choosing between the two. Obviously, if I could prevent the deaths of six million Jews, I would. It’s impossible, is all. It would be a paradox. This isn’t the Back to the Future movies. The time machine wouldn’t just fade away or something after the assassination—the real world doesn’t work like that. In the real world, time machines are powered by anti-semitic conspiracy theories, and Hitler has to survive until pretty much the end of the war.

If you’re like most people, maybe you’re wondering, “Well, Tom, couldn’t it run on something other than Holocaust denial?” I’m sorry, but what does your time machine run on? Or sometimes I’m asked to explain how it runs on Holocaust denial, exactly. At a party? Here, hand me that napkin and I’ll give you a short course on tropical geometry right now, will I? Then I guess we’ll break for punch before getting started on mirror symmetry with a view towards performing calculations in string theory. “I’ve heard of string theory.” Oh, have you? Fuck you. I’m sure you aced Calculus 101 at Wesleyan, but I’m a scientist. Do you think it’s possible this is a bit above your head?

There’re so many cool things I can kill, but everyone gets hung up on this Hitler thing, and it just wears on me. I wish my time machine ran on seawater or natural gas. I wish I could go back to 1889 and shoot baby Hitler dead in his crib. But I just can’t. I’m sorry. Anyway, you’re looking at the asshole that invented time travel. I guess I’ll go fuck myself.

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