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Consumer Group Lawsuit Saves Historic Archive Film

Feb. 4, 1998


Consumer Group Lawsuit Saves Historic Archive Film

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A decision by the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) to dispose of over 2,000 hours of motion picture films detailing the postwar U.S. occupation of the Ryukyu Islands was arbitrary and capricious, a judge ruled today in a victory for researchers and scholars.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen represented researcher Seiko Green in the successful attempt to prevent the National Archives from destroying the films or sending them overseas. The films cover the American occupation of Okinawa and other Ryukyu Islands from 1944 to 1972.

“These unique historical records would have been lost to the American public forever if we had not brought this lawsuit to save them,” said Public Citizen Litigation Group attorney Michael Tankersley, who brought the action. “The National Archives? decision to discard the films shows the serious flaws in its procedures for evaluating the historical value of the records it holds.”

The court found that NARA?s decision to dispose of the films was based on a mistaken assumption that they only covered the period 1944-1961. NARA had argued that the films lack sufficient “value to warrant continued preservation,” a claim the court dismissed as “to say the least, unreliable.”

NARA also claimed the films do not contribute to the understanding of American history, a suggestion fiercely contested by Seiko Green and other historians who say they constitute precious historical material on how the American military administered Okinawa and the other islands. Many of the films were made under U.S. direction and broadcast to the Ryukyus on television, providing invaluable insights into how the occupying force used the media to legitimize its presence, say researchers.

Public Citizen is a non-profit consumer advocacy organization with extensive experience in working to open up access to government records and to preserve historically significant records.