Deputy Prime Minister, former-PM and noted Rozen Maiden fan Taro Aso has caused outrage by supposedly saying Japan should copy the methods Nazi Germany used to do away with its pesky liberal constitution, although despite his apologies there are some concerns that he may have been grievously misquoted after all.
Aso’s translated comments were quoted as saying Japan should sneak through constitutional reform as Hitler did with his infamous Enabling Act:
“The German Weimar constitution changed, without being noticed, to the Nazi German constitution. Why don’t we learn from their tactics?”
Predictably, China and South Korea have also weighed in, with China warning it that after only 70 years of being Asia’s doormat Japan must “win the trust of Asian neighbours and the international community through concrete actions” and Korea claiming the remarks “definitely hurt many people.”
Top anti-anti-semites the Simon Wiesenthal Center also condemned him:
“What is worth learning from the Nazis? How to secretly undermine democracy perhaps? Has he forgotten how Nazi Germany dragged the world into the abyss of the Second World War?”
Aso quickly retracted his remarks in response to all the controversy:
“I retract my remarks in which I cited the Nazis as an example, as it has ended up leading to misunderstanding.”
The Chief Cabinet Secretary also affirmed this:
“I want to make it clear that the… cabinet will never view the Nazi government positively.”
Japan’s post-war constitution remains unchanged from the version imposed upon the ruined empire by MacArthur in 1947, essentially being a hastily cribbed copy of the US constitution with the notable addition of a “pacifism” clause.
Aso and most of the LDP have long been keen to reform it, with proposals ranging from wholesale reform to allow the sort of authoritarian state most LDP nationalists seem desperate for, to the most moderate and realistic option of a revision of Article Nine to allow a more credible defensive posture against China, although as Japan maintains the world’s 4th largest navy despite its provision that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” the practical necessity of reform seems questionable.
Another recent development has been efforts by the LDP to support an initial reform of the constitution’s requirements for revision, in order to make it easier for them to pass their wish-list of subsequent reforms (most of which relate to stripping individuals of rights, or making the document “more Japanese” as the LDP would have it).
As might be expected, some have alleged his remarks were simply quoted out of context or translated rather liberally (and may have a point, as the original address apparently does not explicitly mention Nazis at all and is clearly alluding to the threat China poses to Japan’s security) – his full address:
The international situation Japan finds itself in now differs completely from that it found itself in when it enacted the current constitution. Thinking you can just shout about the constitution and peace will come is a big mistake.
The objective of the constitution is the stability and peace of the nation. The constitution itself is just the means to this end. It’s not something we should determine in the midst of an uproar.
We should calmly consider what sort of environment we find ourselves surrounded with, after carefully considering the situation conduct constitutional reform in line with public opinion. If we don’t, we cannot avoid a mistake.
Germany’s Hitler arose under the Weimar constitution, at the time thought to be Europe’s most progressive constitution. Even with a constitution regarded as good such a thing was possible.
I don’t want to discuss the constitution in an excited atmosphere. Even with the Yasukuni Shrine, we should visit and pay our respects quietly. What would be strange is that we would not pay our respects to those who gave their lives for the nation. We should visit quietly.
So, saying “we should do it quietly” is also relevant to the Weimar constitution – it was changed without anyone even noticing. How about we learn from their methods? I have no intention of denying democracy, but I do not want to decide something like this in the midst of an uproar.
There is some concern about the level of difference between the full text of his speech and what mass media soundbites have alleged he said:
“If that is what he actually said, what is the problem?”
“Somebody upload his full speech please…”
“The worthless media needs to stop editing what he said and put the whole thing out.”
“Honestly, there is something really wrong with our media if they manage to turn this into ‘Aso supports the Nazis!'”
“Maybe one of them simply didn’t understand the speech?”
“Maybe to the most deluded anti-Japanese maniacs this does look like praise of the Nazis?”
“This is a pretty egregious example of media fabrication. The LDP should do something about the press!”
“The world’s media is going on about him praising the Nazis and the word ‘Nazi’ isn’t even mentioned in the original speech!”
“It looks as though the Yomiuri altered what he said in their quote of him to say ‘The Weimar Constitution was changed into the Nazi Constitution without anyone ever noticing. How about we learn from that?'”
“Aren’t they ashamed? I guess they make more money making things up than would reporting anything honestly.”
“He’s still talking about how they changed the Weimar Republic into the Nazi Germany overnight.”
“I think he has a point… I read the Wikipedia article on the Enabling Act and was convinced. The Nazis did not even abolish the constitution, they just passed an act and overrode it all.”
“According to tweets from people who actually attended, that was the basic content of what he said though – he was saying it doesn’t really matter how good your constitution is you let someone amend it in the midst of a crisis or uproar, not praising the Nazis or the method they used.”