A bill on special state secrets now before the House of Representatives could seriously hinder the preservation and disclosure of official documents that are common assets for the public, and thereby allow the government to evade historical assessment by future generations.
A lack of historical evaluation would be a loss for all members of the public. Human beings can learn lessons from history over multiple generations and visualize their future only by ensuring that future historians evaluate current policies and social affairs.
The leaders of six academic societies on history have recently issued a statement opposing the bill. Hitotsubashi University professor Yutaka Yoshida, who heads the Japanese Association for Contemporary Historical Studies, pointed to the possibility that the bill would make it difficult for members of the public to access official documents and enable the government to discard such documents, if the legislation is to come into force.
He has also expressed concerns that the bill would make it difficult to practice oral history. This is because the bill would discourage politicians and bureaucrats from talking about their activities and have a chilling effect on historians.
Oral history that historians have actively practiced in recent years is effective in highlighting historical facts that cannot be uncovered through old documents. One such example is a book titled, "Kikigaki -- Nonaka Hiromu Kaikoroku" ("Oral Record -- Memoir of Hiromu Nonaka") authored by Takashi Mikuriya and edited by Izuru Makihara. Testimonies by Nonaka, who as secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) supported many LDP-led administrations, vividly describe political situations of the past and revealed what had been withheld. It would be a huge loss to the public if the bill prevented scholars and journalists from preserving such records.
In the meantime, the previous government led by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) investigated the loss of diplomatic documents regarding a Japan-U.S. secret agreement on the reversion of Okinawa to Japan's sovereignty in the early 1970s. During the probe, it was reported at a meeting of the Foreign Ministry's panel of experts that it was difficult to believe that the documents were accidentally lost. In a subsequent Diet session, a former director-general of the ministry's Treaties Bureau pointed to the possibility that some of the documents, including those on a secret accord regarding the U.S. bringing nuclear weapons into Japan, were deliberately discarded. If such practices are to be repeated, it would be impossible to conduct fair historical research.
The United States and Britain have enforced rules that government documents designated as state secrets must be disclosed in principle once declassified after a certain period. Unless government documents were disclosed, historians would have no choice but to evaluate Japan's diplomacy based mainly on the historical documents of foreign countries, and such assessments could be biased. The entire picture of historical facts can be visible only by shedding light on aspects from various angles.
To dispel such concerns, legislation must set rules that information designated by the government as special secrets must be disclosed in principle after a certain period and create a system under which a third-party organization would examine whether designation of official documents as special state secrets is appropriate.
That the bill would hinder historical research could be harmful not only to historians. The achievements of their research activities will eventually be reflected in school history textbooks and shared by all members of the general public. What causes problems for the experts of today will cause trouble for future members of the public.