A booklet titled “Atarashii Kenpo Akarui Seikatsu” (New Constitution--Bright Life) was published by Kenpo Fukyukai (Constitution popularization society), a extra-governmental organ, on May 3 1947.

About 20 million copies were distributed to households around the nation.

Hitoshi Ashida, who would become prime minister in 1948, declared ebulliently, “The old Japan has receded and a new Japan is born.”

The Japanese people were about to start living in a new era, and the booklet urged them to “change their way of thinking.”

In the 70 years since it took effect, the Constitution appears to have taken root in our society. But have our elected representatives also changed their way of thinking?

Unfortunately, the answer is “no.”

At a ceremony last month to commemorate the enactment of the Constitution, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke of his “quiet pride” with the progress made over the seven decades. He also stated his commitment to firmly bear in mind the ‘universal values” upheld by the Constitution.

But his words cannot be taken at face value. Abe’s own utterances eloquently reveal his true feelings.

“Now is precisely the time to unchain ourselves from the post-World War II regime, and that includes rewriting the Constitution,” he said.

And on his Liberal Democratic Party’s election slogan of “Nihon wo Torimodosu” (Recapture Japan), Abe explained, ‘This is a battle for the Japanese people themselves to recapture their nation from its postwar history.”

Far from his stated “quiet pride” in the Constitution, Abe’s remarks essentially reveal his negation of the “new postwar Japan.” His thinking is strongly colored by the argument that the Constitution was “forced on Japan.” That argument seemed to have receded at one time, but it is now resurging.

The Constitution is taking serious abuse under the Abe administration. In fact, we must say the Constitution is now facing its gravest crisis.

The Abe Cabinet arbitrarily overturned the Japanese government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution that the right to collective self-defense cannot be exercised without amending war-renouncing Article 9. Naturally, this Cabinet decision drew strong criticism--and still remains under fire--for “destroying constitutionalism.”

The same goes for the Abe administration’s recent moves to tacitly approve the reinstatement of the Imperial Rescript on Education that was issued in 1890 and then exorcised after World War II. We are deeply chagrined that this prewar “ghost” still lurks today even after all these years.

What is sorely wanting in the Abe administration is humility toward what generations of Cabinets have carefully upheld and defended. More specifically, we would say the Abe administration lacks respect for the Constitution itself.

The administration’s cursory or even rough handling of the Constitution is most acutely evident in its argument that the Constitution should be revised on a trial basis so that the public can see what it would be like.

Japan could achieve peace and prosperity precisely because the Constitution’s fundamental principles, such as sovereignty of the people, respect for human rights and pacifism, have functioned so far and served to build our free society. We, the people, must never lose our pride in this history.

What specific flaws, if any, are there in the current Constitution that require immediate attention? Any constitutional debate must start with this question, followed by steady and reasoned efforts to remedy the situation if necessary.

The present constitutional crisis is rooted in certain philosophies that negate the path pursued by postwar Japan. But we can never agree with any extreme perception of history, and any move toward dangerous constitutional amendment based on such perceptions must be blocked.

“New Constitution--Bright Life” states, “The government and its officials can be changed by us.”

It continues, “From now on, all political responsibilities are ours to bear.”

These words of 70 years ago could not sound more refreshingly true today.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 3