Would you read “Goodnight Moon” to Baby Hitler?

by John Holbo on January 20, 2019

Defend your answer with reasons.



dr ngo 01.20.19 at 4:55 am

Of course.

I would read “Goodnight Moon” to any baby in my vicinity. It’s a wonderful book, and generally has the effect of soothing the child if read properly.

Conceivably it might almost – if read enough times, over enough years – nudge the child in the direction of greater calm and consideration for others, others to whom one says “Goodnight” because that’s just a nice thing to do.

What possible reason would there be for refusing to do this?


J-D 01.20.19 at 5:54 am

No. If it was the English version he wouldn’t understand it, and if there’s a German version I wouldn’t understand it.


John Holbo 01.20.19 at 6:21 am

J-D, you would understand it. You just couldn’t pronounce it, that’s all.


b9n10nt 01.20.19 at 6:43 am

Cruelty is unprocessed trauma. Not reading to baby Hitler means the terrorists win.


bad Jim 01.20.19 at 8:33 am

I’m partial to Werner Herzog’s rendition of another classic children’s book.


Jim Buck 01.20.19 at 9:06 am

For me to be in the vicinity of baby Hitler would suggest that I had, by some inexplicable means, travelled back in Time. Being there so would implicate me as an agent in the concatenation, from thereon, which lead to me going back in Time, in the first place. I am good with babies, so why would read I not read Goodnight Moon to baby Hitler? He would have been as innocent as any baby at that stage.


J-D 01.20.19 at 10:24 am

Actually I’m moderately confident that my capacity to pronounce German exceeds my capacity to understand it.


Chetan Murthy 01.20.19 at 11:25 am

(1) if I’m unwilling to read it to him b/c I think he’ll grow up to be Hitler as we know him, I’m obliged to kill him.

(2) so either I kill him, or I read Goodnight Moon to him.

(3) so, “yes”, I’d read it. B/c maybe he might not grow up to be the Hitler we know , as “dr ago” says.


nastywoman 01.20.19 at 11:55 am

as @8 beat met to ”teh reason” – we perhaps have to add, that if ”Older Hitler” would have been accepted to the Wiener Kunstakademie – he for sure would have turned out to be ”a terrible artist” – instead of THE TERRIBLE MONSTER he turned into – after he couldn’t make a living with ”art”.

And that’s what makes this ”thing” with Baron von Clownstick so unbearable – like – when I met him at this Party and he gave my friend -(she is now a doctor in Switzerland) – and me the eye – my friend could have accepted a ”Quicky” and then -(as she was in pre-med school) – giving him a real tough Prostrate Exam- as what did may favorite. female American Philosopher tell US all Saturday night:

”Lean over America – it’s time for a finger up the Caboose”!!


bob mcmanus 01.20.19 at 12:36 pm

I presumed that this post was inspired by or alluded to this recent In Depth Analysis by Dylan Matthews over at Vox. Or perhaps that hit philosophical tv show that everybody is watching except me and the Holbos if they don’t get it over there.

If you can time travel to 1900 to assassinate baby Hitler then why wouldn’t you go to 1920 instead? Easier on the conscience.

I would under no circumstance read Goodnight Moon.


Jay 01.20.19 at 2:06 pm

Yes, but it wouldn’t be my first priority. My first priority would be kidnapping him and arranging his adoption to a nice Swiss family. In a country with a strong tradition of neutrality, I doubt he would grow up to start WWII.


Kip Manley 01.20.19 at 3:14 pm

This is but the Great Baby theory of history, and I’ll have no part of it.


Cervantes 01.20.19 at 3:20 pm

Bob makes a good point. The Dylan Matthews argument, once we lay aside the logical contradiction of altering the past, is based on the premise that he’s just a baby and the consequences in the far future of killing him are unknown. However, if we set the question in, well not 1920 but let’s say 1935, it’s a much easier call.


Dwight L. Cramer 01.20.19 at 3:54 pm

I’ll bite (and channel Werner Herzog):
Of course, I’d read Goodnight Moon to Baby Hitler. And whatever else it takes to put him down. A slumbering child is easier to smother. And, as Herzog narrates, easier to mother, or, to be properly gender neutral, parent, though parent hardly rhymes with smother. But neither does father.
Incidentally, Werner Herzog eats his shoe (prepared by Julia Child) is another funny video.


oldster 01.20.19 at 4:00 pm

Yes, I’d read it to him.

It’s an excellent book. The first half of the poem is an allegro with a thrilling accelerando, followed by the subito piano when the quiet old lady whispers hush. Then it moves into a meditative andante, with a final self-reflexive coda.

It reminds me of some Brahms’ sonatas. Hitler listened to too much Wagner, not enough Brahms.

So, yes, I’d read it to him. And then if I could tell with certainty that he was going to grow up into a mass-murdering genocidaire, I’d kill him. Goodnight Moon makes a nice requiem, too. Goodnight noises, everywhere.


bianca steele 01.20.19 at 4:29 pm

When my kid was a toddler, we had to borrow a library book she really liked the cover of, which was a really awful British picture book about a girl who was very bad and no one liked her and the grownups rightly hated her, and a dog who was very bad and no one liked him, and they found each other and sat on the beach forever watching the sunsets.

I’d read that to baby Hitler.

Most of the British picture books were horrific, as I remember them. Come Along, Daisy was beautifully illustrated and quite poetic in its introduction of the chthonic evils that might threaten a toddler who didn’t follow along quickly enough, however,


bianca steele 01.20.19 at 5:05 pm

If I might suggest another ethical problem related to picture books: when reading “Have You Seen My Hat,” do you narrate the subtext aloud to ensure your child knows the real story? Or do you allow them to believe “the rabbit had an identical hat and now the rabbit and the bear are friends” is an acceptable interpretation of the text?


Glen Tomkins 01.20.19 at 7:57 pm

Perhaps an unstated premise here is that you know that the baby in front of you is going to grow up to be Hitler as he was in our actual timeline.

If that’s not the case, and you lack this knowledge of the future, of course you treat the baby exactly as you would any other. You treat the baby well, because if you damage the child he is more likely to grow up to be some monster, like, you know, the historical Hitler. The baby could still grow up to be that or even worse, but if you’re not willing to take that risk, please stay away from all babies. All we can do is increase the chances of good outcomes and decrease those of bad outcomes, so do what you can that seems most likely to help the baby not grow up to be a monster.

If you need to accept the premise to comment, I will pass, because impossible premises invalidate the set up of an ethical dilemma. How can you say that one course of practical action or another is better or worse, if neither is at all practicable, because the premise is impossible?


JHW 01.20.19 at 8:09 pm

Killing baby Hitler is immoral. Not only is it immoral, but it is quite obviously immoral. The fact that the culture is so confused about this (note Dylan Matthews, who absurdly claims that it would be an “easy question” in favor of killing if only we could control for the unpredictability of the future) is just an indication that our moral culture is confused and, indeed, deeply corrupt. Thus, I would read Goodnight Moon to baby Hitler, as a prophylactic effort to demonstrate the appropriate treatment of innocent babies, irrespective of what we might predict they will do many years in the future (a distance of time and circumstance far exceeding any standard of imminence or any reasonable criterion for how we might designate someone a present danger).


novakant 01.20.19 at 10:24 pm

For an in-depth treatment of this fundamental ethical question I recommend “The Boys From Brazil”:


Actually, having read Timothy Snyder’s two books about the genocide in Eastern Europe, I’m rather less inclined to be nonchalant about the matter.

The question what made Hitler the man he became remains a valid one though. Knausgaard is quite enlightening in volume 6 of his “My Struggle” novels.


maidhc 01.20.19 at 10:50 pm

If you’re going to go back in time to change one thing, why not prevent the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, rather than kill a baby?


J-D 01.21.19 at 12:28 am


Yes, but it wouldn’t be my first priority. My first priority would be kidnapping him and arranging his adoption to a nice Swiss family. In a country with a strong tradition of neutrality, I doubt he would grow up to start WWII.

Stephen Colbert reacted to Jeb Bush’s affirmation that he, Jeb Bush, would be prepared to kill baby Hitler by saying that he, Stephen Colbert, would not kill baby Hitler but would kidnap him and raise him with love. I don’t think reading Goodnight Moon to him was mentioned. I was raised with love, but nobody ever read Goodnight Moon to me.


Omega Centauri 01.21.19 at 12:34 am

First off, if I found myself in that circumstance I’d know I’d been abducted into the twilight zone, and whatever I did would not only turn out horribly, but would be entirely my fault. So roll a six sided dice, which has various actions, one of which is midnight moon, and one of which is kill him.
I think his dad abused him horribly, so killing him would be one of the possibilities. And maybe you could take the baby back to the future, where even if he retained his severe anti-sicial nature, he would be unlikely to mesmerize millions. Most likely most would be do nothing -you shouldn’t mess with the timeline…


Faustusnotes 01.21.19 at 12:56 am

Is there any evidence hitler had bad parents or that bad parenting had anything to do with him becoming evil? Or that good parenting could have stopped it? I know in American movies everyone always has a definable reason for their fear of water / psychopathy / inability to commit / scheme to take over the world but I think in reality it might not be that simple. Also, contra the theory laid out in every American movie and tv show, not everyone has daddy issues and daddy issues are not the primary motivation for being a bully/arsehole/ hero/ genocidal maniac.

Which means I guess that if you’re time traveling to kill hitler you should do it, since you don’t know what parenting choices are going to make him a better hitler. I think there’s a critique of the great man theory of history in there somewhere but I don’t know what it is.


J-D 01.21.19 at 5:44 am

Yes, Faustusnotes, there is evidence that Adolf Hitler had a troubled relationship with his father, who was a man of domineering and abusive character, and also that he was powerfully affected by his father’s death when he was fourteen. Obviously it is impossible to say how much that influenced the direction his career later took.

I mentioned above that Stephen Colbert said he would kidnap baby Hitler and raise him with love; he added that he would watch him like a hawk and be prepared to kill him at the first signs of vicious propensities. Again, I don’t know the extent to which Hitler’s future propensities were detectable in his childhood.


faustusnotes 01.21.19 at 6:07 am

I watched the netflix Fyre documentary last night, and although all the testimony of everyone involved is obviously self-serving, I was struck by one person (deeply involved) near the end who said they just kept getting caught up in the next escalation, there was no time to stop and take stock and they always felt they had no choice. The dude in charge of Fyre was a particular kind of personality disorder which I have also experienced, I think, and they do have this ability to keep you constantly confused, disoriented, and reacting to crisis without a proper objective view – it’s hard to step back, take stock and decide to bail, and they often invest you in the project in such a way that bailing is catastrophic for you and those around you.

In Architects of Annihilation, Aly and Heim chart the path to Auschwitz as a kind of continuous logical ratchet, the same kind of thing that we have seen in the slow march to prison camps in Australia and the new extravagances we’re seeing in America. I think it’s possible that we don’t need anyone particularly special to set in train what Hitler did – just someone with a bog-standard personality disorder who is in the right place at the right time. This means that killing Hitler would have been effective, since it would stop the right man being in the right place at the right time, but it won’t stop anything, since the system is still vulnerable to hijack by someone like Hitler. We see the same in the American political system, which seems to be powerless to stop a narcissistic idiot with borderline personality disorder getting away with whatever he wants.

So maybe instead of reading children’s books to baby hitler the time traveler needs to find ways to change the institutions so they’re immune to the insidious corruption that people with personality disorders are capable of doing.


bad Jim 01.21.19 at 9:13 am

Time travelers have only tried to change the course of history in various ways; the point, however, is to understand it.


nastywoman 01.21.19 at 10:39 am

– on the other hand –
When Hitler helped Lion Feuchtwanger into his coat and called him:
”Herr Dr. Feuchtwanger” – that was Feuchtwangers chance to tell Hitler:
Don’t do it –
BUT the tragedy was – that Feuchtwanger completely underestimated Hitler as this ”ungebildeter, kleinbürgerlicher” Moron and even when Hitler moved next door to the house of Lions family and Edgar Feuchtwanger had to wait too long for his milk in the morning because the milk-Bote firstly delivered nearly all of his milk to Hitler – the Feuchtwangers still didn’t realized that ”the devil” had moved next door.

And only in his exile Feuchtwanger finally realized that he should have stopped Hitler -(when Hitler helped him in his coat) – but then it was too late – and he only could try to change history by writing ”Erfolg” and ”die Geschwister Oppermann” AND having lunch with Charlie Chaplin.

”Los Angeles, 11. Jan.[1933] …Dann Lunch mit Chaplin und Mr. Moos von der Universal. Chaplin ist hingerissen von meinen Ideen über einen Hitlerfilm. Abends lange Autofahrt nach Pasadena zu [Albert] Einstein. Ganz nett. Einstein redet ziemlich wenig und selbstgefällig. Er ist furchtbar saturiert …

12. Jan. [1933]
Zug nach S. Francisco von Los Angeles …Dann fahre ich hinaus zu Chaplin. Er ist wenn möglich noch mehr begeistert als den Tag vorher und will mit mir nach Europa fahren…

– and if Feuchtwanger would have told Stalin in 1937 to stop Hitler RIGHT AWAY – nobody ever would have had BEFORE to read ”“Goodnight Moon” to Baby Hitler?

Sosny, 8. Jan. [1937] …Morgens ruft man an, ich soll mittags zu Stalin … Ich spreche drei Stunden mit Stalin, erst gewundenes Zeug über die Freiheit des Schriftstellers, schwierig auch durch Ãœbersetzung, dann über den Stalinkult, dann über „Demokratie“, dann über den Prozeß…


bob mcmanus 01.21.19 at 1:58 pm

Re: Carlyle vs Tolstoy and dead babies

Up above I said do H in in 1920, and someone said 1935 and I went On noes that would be too late. Too many pieces were in place, Goebbels had the media in line, Goehring and Speer had production down, Himmler was crazy but charismatic (hard to understand, but the SS loved him.) And Rudolph Heydrich gives me nightmares from a century away. Hitler was not replaceable, but Nazism would have survived with very bad consequences.

Maybe we’re wrong, but I think focusing on individuals and “great men” somehow gives us a little reassurance, a little predictability. Maybe a misplaced faith that Gillibrand won’t turn out to be Trump II or be forced into it but we like to pretend we know. My preferences on massively divided agency, already existing “democracy” with power everywhere (“Hitler’s Willing Executioners”), on the historical materialism of subterranean forces or individual decisions…my Marxism…does return possibility of resistance (and complicity) to “the people” but makes history hard to comprehend and the future harder to predict and control. And alternate histories comforting bedtime stories.

It was the machinegunners in Petrograd refusing Kerensky’s orders to the front and the sailors holding the bridge (Nevsky?) that changed the world. Lenin just rode the wave.


Z 01.21.19 at 3:06 pm

bad jim @27. I love you.


Matt_L 01.21.19 at 3:57 pm

You philosophers have such weird but charmingly anachronistic ideas about history. Put down Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott and pick up some nice social history. Bob mcmanus is right, the machine gunners, the women workers on strike, the factory organizers and the rest of the people facing another winter in wartime Petrograd, they changed the world.

Of course you read Goodnight Moon to Baby Hitler. All babies, even Baby Hitler need to be loved, held, soothed, read to out loud, and fed. Now toddlers are unreasonable and downright ornery, but still you have to take care of them too.


MonsterX 01.21.19 at 4:22 pm

It’s not the “Great Baby” but the “Big Baby” theory of history. It predicted the rise of Trump, and has therefore been proven empirically valid.


nastywoman 01.21.19 at 5:35 pm

”Maybe a misplaced faith that Gillibrand won’t turn out to be Trump II or be forced into it but we like to pretend we know”.

As it is one of the easiest thing in life to identify narrow minded morons and a…holes or generally ”terrible people” on first side – WE not only pretend to know –
We ALL know.

Even ”the dumbest blond chick” like… ME!

AND the insanity that some of US pretend NOT to be able to identify ”the monsters” –
right away – has just to do with – that some of US like to use ”terrible people” or ”monsters” for our own agendas.

Like – as everybody knows – historically – for example – a group of Naive Germans -(or American Republicans?) trying to use an obvious monumental a…hole for THEIR ”politics” – and shenanigans –
(I love this word)
BUT the problem with such a… a… am I allowed to say ”concept”? – IS that narrow minded morons and a…holes tend to be very unpredictable and as my favorite ”predictable” American philosopher MLK used to say:

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” –

There – indeed is NOTHING: ”more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity!”

AND as WE all witness right now how such ”sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” EVEN IN THE 21th CENTURY of just 1 –
In words ”ONE”!!! – Individual has disastrous consequences for all of US –
ONE could come up with the additional question:
Would you accept Young Hitler -(or Trump) as one of your students –
(if you could make sure that afterwards he doesn’t destroy the whole world –
or -(in von Clownsticks case)
– the US government?

But who was this commenter on CT who once wrote:
Burn it all down?!


Trader Joe 01.22.19 at 4:18 pm

The parlor game of ‘time travel’ is always interesting but here we are presupposing that not only have you traveled back in time, but you have also somehow been inserted into the Hitler household in a sufficient position of influence that not only might you read to the tot, you’d get to do it regularly enough to influence his ultimate development.

The nature vs. nurture question is left unspoken but those who chose to read are inherently picking the nurture argument. Some comments above did at least visit whether so called great man or great moment is the key ingredient in history making.

Since the question is if I would read or not – I would read it as value reading and I enjoy reading to children in general. I read to my own children along with lots of other parenting stuff but even in my own personal small sample size its clear that neither nurture nor nature has full sway over ultimate outcomes.

If the question is whether I’d have use the unique access to kill, kidnap or otherwise attempt to change what we know as history – I’ve watched/read enough distopian sci-fi to know that changing one path doesn’t necessarily lead to something better and plausibly can lead to something worse (imagine some postponed alternate evil ruler who chose a-bombs over concentration camps as his genocidal implement of choice).


Birdie 01.22.19 at 5:27 pm

Whenever we try to change the future through the use of Extreme Prejudice, it takes us in the direction we were trying to prevent. I mean, eg the Gulf War of course but even James Earl Ray thought he was talking MLK out of the picture. So I imagine that if there were some way of offing BH, Bormann or Goering would have been Chancellor and won the damn war. To make peace, first be peaceful.


DILBERT DOGBERT 01.22.19 at 5:37 pm

I would not read to him. I will make sure he never came in to contact with Old Shatterhand (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Shatterhand) or any books about the plundering of indians in murika.

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