History, horror and the law

Re “Don’t legislate history,” Opinion, Oct. 19

No wonder Oxford’s Timothy Garton Ash defends the right of deniers. There is something special about the two genocides denied by hatemongers. Armenians preceded Jews in this horror, and they were the reason the Nazis justifiably feared no retaliation exterminating Jews.

Denying either fact is not historical research or study but a first step toward the next genocide made easier. Thus it is a crime in progress to deny either. I am pleasantly surprised that the French would make a law criminalizing denial of a genocide -- but not surprised by another Briton besides David Irving supporting denial.



San Diego


Ash is correct in cautioning against legislating history and placing it in the hands of governments.

However abominable genocide and denial are, criminalizing denial speech and prosecuting deniers serves no one except those who seek to stifle free speech and debate.


It is not for states to decide and legislate historical truths, whether genocide, the Holocaust or anything else, but for historians, who are trained in the rigors of the discipline and the field and who know too well the problems and complexities of establishing “truth” -- to research, interrogate and interpret the evidence without the eclipsing shadow of the state, whatever its wider principles or politics.


Associate Professor

of History


Cal State Long Beach