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Web might have stopped Hitler, says Nobel winner

Jean Marie Gustave Le Clezio, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, suggested that the Web can be a tool against conflict. But how well is it doing so far?

This year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio of France, has a dream.

In a lecture Sunday to the Swedish Academy that awards this stunningly relevant prize, Le Clezio suggested that the Web, had it been around in those days, might have prevented World War II.

"Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler's criminal plot would not have succeeded--ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day," he said.

It is hard to find good fiction these days. And it seems even harder to go along with Le Clezio's interesting suggestion. While not wishing to waft through the odor of an overly political debate, it's still a struggle to think of just one current leader with despotic tendencies who has been deterred or overthrown by online ridicule.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, by so many accounts (online and off), a despot to rival Pol Pot, still clings to power.

Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is now suddenly attempting to cuddle up to the European Union because, it seems, he's not getting on so well with Russia. But the pesky opposition in his country still fails to win a single seat in elections. And he has a great name for his secret police. Yes, it's called the KGB.

This is a memorial to those who opposed Hitler. CC Lauren At Clemson

Kim Jong Il of North Korea seems to be an ill Kim Jong, but no amount of Internet ridicule has made him so much as change his absurd hair. The dictator himself actually ran a successful campaign against anti-socialist hair in 2005.

No amount of online brick-batting seems to have prevented any of these or other dictators' actions, nor ridiculed them into swift departures. In fact, doesn't it seem as if dictators tend to leave the stage by dying of disease or being, well, killed rather than ridiculed?

A few manage to negotiate some pleasant exile for themselves. Uganda's Idi Amin, for example, spent his latter days enjoying cheap gas in Saudi Arabia.

But the thought that those who use oppression and slaughter as a means to secure power will be put off by Internet ridicule might strike some as vaguely ridiculous.

It is also worth considering the variable quality of information that the Web sometimes turns up. I just Googled "Ignored Hitler?" to see what wisdom might emerge.

One of the first results was a WikiAnswers page. The question asked was: "Why did world leaders ignore Hitler's genocide against the Jews during the war?"

The answer I saw was this: "I do not think world leaders ignored the genocide. However, in purely practical terms, there was probably not that much they could do, as Poland--where the main death camps were--was very inaccessible."

Oh, so that was it. Poland was a tough place to fly to. And not, in fact, as the writer and producer of the BBC's Auschwitz documentary, Laurence Rees, put it: "No one was bothered enough to make bombing Auschwitz a priority."

Perhaps Internet ridicule would have made some world leaders more bothered. Perhaps not.