Whenever a Communist nation rights some old wrong, when China rehabilitates Confucius or the Soviet Union comes clean about another victim of Stalin's purges, Americans tend to feel morally superior. That can't happen here, we say. Our general assumption is that, in a land where due process rules, injustices are quickly corrected, convictions are overturned and the historical record is set straight.
And yet there is still at least one glaring lapse, one case in which our laws and our leaders failed us and civil liberties were violated on a massive scale. That, of course, was the World War II internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans. Historians since have established that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was stampeded into issuing Executive Order 9066 and into setting up detention camps by wartime hysteria and a War Department that concocted "proof" of the Japanese-Americans' treachery. A national commission concluded five years ago that there was no military justification for the evacuation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast, no evidence that any of these loyal Americans ever committed a crime against the United States. But there still has been no official redress for the Japanese-Americans, no adequate compensation for either their material losses during relocation or the trauma that they suffered while living for years behind barbed wire.