EVERY NATION CELEBRATES its better historical moments. A sterner test of national character is how nations deal with their mistakes and embarrassments, the skeletons in the closet of history.
Like the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-four, police states dispatch bad memories down the "memory hole," making inconvenient facts into nonfacts. They also invent bogus facts, as when the czarist secret police forged the so- called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document that has served as one of the foundations of twentieth-century anti-Semitism.
In their better moments, by contrast, free societies confess error. A notable example was the official recognition, in 1988, of the in- justices the United States did to citizens of Japanese ancestry who were interned after the attack on Pearl Harbor in January 1941. As national memories go, the panic that followed Pearl Harbor and its cost to a highly visible and vulnerable group of American citizens is neither proud nor pleasant.
After Pearl Harbor, a Japanese attack on the West Coast was