(CC BY 2.5 Nik Frey)

It’s several years that a mind game had took place among history enthusiasts, especially those who cultivate military history: the so-called “whatiffing”. Many times I thought: what would have happened if the “big moustache” and the “little moustache”, the two very well-known dictators of the past century, kept their regimes totalitarian, but without the paranoias for which they passed to history?

Surely, the most of you will consider that a silly question. But take a moment and think about the brain exodus that nazi antisemitism provoked in all Central Europe, at total advantage of American universities and military technology. Apart from the always mentioned Albert Einstein, we may think about less known but more technologically effective scientists. We may think above all to the famous group of Hungarian scientists who had worked in Germany and later were forced to migrate in the United States just because they were Jews: Paul Erdős, Leo Szilárd, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, Eugene Wigner. But also the German Hans Bethe and the Italian Enrico Fermi. The importance of those names for the Manhattan Project is well known. Von Neumann was an eclectic genius: he left an enormous legacy in mathematics, quantum mechanics, game theory, economics, and above all computer science. He took part in the Manhattan Project and was an unwavering apologist of the United States’ nuclear deterrent, fostering USAF and Convair to give birth to the Atlas ICBM missile.

What’s the probability that a strong pangermanist but not nazist regime could achieve the atomic bomb first of all others? Lise Meitner discovered the nuclear fission of uranium, in a German laboratory. She was forced to refuge in Sweden.

And “what if” the communist regime of the “big moustache” wouldn’t have shooted or starved thousand of scientists and engineers in the Thirties? Communist purges wiped out even humble astronomers without anything to do with politics. Eventually, Soviet Union nevertheless became a superpower, but with much more efforts and toil. The assassination of the best soviet generals was a major cause of the 1941 catastrophe, for example. Germany could have been the second superpower, in place of the United States, and, to a lesser extent, United Kingdom?

But what happened, happened, and we cannot go back to see what would have been.