chapter  3
20 Pages

Public Attacks of Political Leaders on Historians

ByAntoon De Baets

A question regularly popping up in censorship research but rarely investigated is the following: did political leaders ever attack historians in public? This question is important because if powerful leaders attack, their words become guns, backed by the weight of the state apparatus. The impact of such attacks on the private and professional lives of the targets can be devastating and their effect on critical audiences paralyzing. In the following attempt to answer the question, I had to reduce it to manageable proportions. I limited the category of “political leaders” to its highest levels: it encompasses only incumbent heads of state and government or their functional equivalents such as powerful Communist Party leaders or theocratic leaders. I therefore exclude lower-ranking politicians and future heads of state and government, such as (successful) independence leaders or presidential candidates. I also leave out former heads of state and government—those who were not re-elected, who resigned or retired. It cannot be denied that some of these former leaders had considerable reputations to lose and some went to the courts to defend themselves. But the impact of such actions is usually different from the impact of attacks by incumbent leaders. 1