Flashpoint Paradox: Professor Zoom Needs a History Lesson
Re-Thinking The Flashpoint Paradox
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is a DC fan favorite. It catapults the DC Animated Movie Universe, is a phenomenal adaption of the Geoff Johns' comic, and introduces the non-comic book reading audience to Flashpoint Batman! We also get a brief, but mesmerizing glimpse into the sheer evil of Professor Zoom. A true sociopath! However, it is near the end of the film, with what he says that is a bit troubling. We finally learn what created this alternate Earth, and he challenges Barry Allen's selfish action. Many may think Professor Zoom has a point. But really...does he?
What's the problem? Well do where do I even begin? Let us start with his comment on Hitler.
Hitler Was In Art School?
Anyone with a basic understanding and history of Adolf Hitler knows he was an artist. His dream since childhood was to become a painter. A career choice, his father, Alois Hitler, did not share at all. You probably learn of this in high school. By no means is this important to understanding the ideology of Hitler, or the case of World War II. Instead, the notion of Hitler as the painter is akin to trivia almost. Does everyone know Abraham Lincoln was a cat person? Probably not, but no one is missing out on this information for a broader historical understanding.
The problem for Professor Zoom is that Hitler was never in art school! Zoom is no professor of history, a matter of fact, does he even hold a doctorate in anything at all? The young Hitler applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, twice! On both occasions, Hitler faces rejection. His paintings receive criticism, and his drawings as well. I am no art critic and am hardly a great artist anyways. Other non-art people may look at Hitler's works and say 'not bad.' Part of the critique is Hitler's portfolio is dull, lifeless, and evokes no passion. Is that not the purpose of art, to evoke some emotion? Later on, he'll make a living by copying postcards and painting to fill picture frames to sell.
Hence, how can Barry Allen make sure Hitler stays in art school if he never got accepted? Perhaps Barry can forge some artwork or bribe the critics of Hitler's proposals? Doubtful, given Barry is no artist, and bribes do not seem like his m.o. What Zoom is trying to get at here is, if Hitler is in art school, then there would be no rise of the Nazis, no World War II, and lastly, no Holocaust.
Counterfactual history can also be a virtual history. It is a form of historiography that attempts to answer "what if" questions known as counterfactuals. Professor Zoom is pitching some what-if scenario if Barry Allen saved JFK or somehow kept Hitler in that art school that denied him entry.
Problems arise in counterfactual history in that it simplifies historical events and ascribes to Great Man History. The historiography that explains history solely through the impact of great men, usually political and military leaders. JFK and Hitler both meet these demands. You have heard the notions that we would not have been bogged down in Vietnam if JFK lived. The turmoil of civil rights bypassed, thanks to the survival of JFK. Sadly, there is evidence denying both allegations. Kennedy was an ardent Cold War hawk who beefed up operations in Vietnam from Eisenhower's administration. He asked Congress to spend 50 cents of every tax dollar on defense. His brother, Robert Kennedy, even notes that Jack did not incline to pull out of Vietnam. Go to the day of Kennedy's assassination, hours before he makes a speech to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce that he "increased our special counterinsurgency forces which are engaged now in South Viet-Nam by 600 percent." He acted more reactionary to civil rights rather than pro-actively. The young man even noted once "I did not like awake worrying about the problems of Negroes."
Let us pretend for a moment for the sake of argument Hitler did get into art school, and Barry Allen kept him there somehow. What happens in 1914 when war breaks out? Is Hitler still in the audience like in that famous photograph, cheering for war? Or is Hitler too committed to his artwork now? Inconvenient for him, the draft probably will not save him from this respite. What people forget or are ignorant of is Hitler never created Pan-German nationalism or anti-Semitism. These trains of thought predate even World War 1. Remember, the party's full name is the National Socialist German Worker's Party. The German Worker's Party predates Hitler's invite and carries an ideology already. The bohemian corporal through maneuvers takes over the party and becomes not so much its founder but its best salesman. We forget other big names in the party, or how war hero General Ludendorff's name gives the party some recognition after he signs off with them to overthrow the Reichstag. Mussolini still comes to power and invades Africa, there is the Spanish Civil War, and sooner or later, Stalin would expand Soviet communism into Poland and beyond, it was only a matter of time.
Professor Zoom peers at history in a linear timeline of simplistic cause and effect, through the impact of individuals. Historical understanding must take into cultural, social, and economic factors as well. We can all prove that if you leave the ice cream on the counter that it will eventually melt. Nobody can confirm the outcome of World War II if Hitler somehow got into art school. History must factor intertwining events, ideas, trends, movements, and so much more than the whims and decisions of one individual. Hence, it is counterfactual, or another way to describe it is fan-fiction. Historian Richard J. Evans calls it a waste of time. In the case of Kennedy, we create these what-if scenarios to mythologize history, usually the individual at the center of said history. With Hitler, we do it to create scenarios that may have steered us away from horrible events that make us feel uneasy. Sorry, but history is not here to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Now perhaps the argument can be made in both cases of Hitler and Kennedy that their existence in said conflicts would create some form of change. We can argue what those changes are, but no doubt there is some impact. Yet, why is it when Barry Allen's mother lives that Bruce Wayne dies? Kal El never meets the Kents, and the Amazons go to war with Atlantis? We can draw a connection between Kennedy and Vietnam. What connection is there between Mrs. Allen and the conflict between Atlantis and Amazon? Hence, I dare think if Barry Allen saving his mother would trigger such a catastrophic change that saving Kennedy would trigger nothing at all. But then again, I cannot prove that. Welcome to the circular logic of counterfactual history, that creates more what-ifs and more questions, rather than making truly informed, rational conclusions.
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Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of The American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change, Broadway Books, 2009