Real accountability requires real names.
A colleague of mine writes about this in his most recent book, where he discusses why we historians cannot promise our IRBs that we will not harm our subjects. He points out that sometimes we go into a project pretty much knowing that we're likely to harm some of our oral history subjects, because we're tracking an uncomfortable history where – almost by definition – somebody did some dumb or bad stuff.
It's also really hard to appropriately laud those who did the right thing without naming the names of those who didn't along with those who did. For much needed inspiration and perspective, lately I've been reading the definitive biography of a particular founding father by an historian whose name you would surely know. Through it, I have been reminded how the stirring lessons we take from the history of our brave and wise founders is made possible by knowing who exactly said and did what to whom. We need to know the names of the cowards and traitors to really appreciate the heroes and martyrs.
Eloquent, but it's still hard to beat Tacitus: "This I regard as history's highest function, to let no worthy action be uncommemorated, and to hold out the reprobation of posterity as a terror to evil words and deeds."
Dreger also throws in a bit of pedagogy:
Years ago, I developed a little bit of fame at a certain Big Ten university for banning the word "society" from my course. I was teaching a course on something and something else, and I had grown weary of my students constantly saying, "Society thinks . . ." or, "Society says . . ." This was my students' way of seeing the world as hopeless in its oppression: Society was to blame for gender discrimination, for oppression of the poor, etc.
As long as Society was to blame, no one was to blame. And no one had to change the status quo, because no one could change Society. Once I forced my students to start naming who exactly thinks or says this or that, their whole view of the world changed. Suddenly they realized who was responsible for promoting this (mis)representation or that ugly norm. And they realized you just had to change the behaviors of those people. Suddenly my students had power. The giant named Society had magically shrunk; the short guy with the slingshot had magically grown.
As my students (especially in HIST 332) well know, the forbidden word in my classroom is always. Claim that people have always behaved in a certain way, and I can find a point in a time for which that claim is false. (The planet is 4 billion years old, you know.) The study of history is the study of beginnings and of endings. This too, is the study of power: if the world was different once, it can be different again.