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Japanese Finance Minister Looks to Nazis for Inspiration

Japan’s finance minister, Taro Aso, was roundly denounced today after he said that Japan should take a cue from the Nazis in changing the country’s constitution. His aides say the remarks were taken out of context and that he didn’t mean to praise Nazi Germany but, well, see for yourself:

“Germany’s Weimar Constitution was changed before anyone noticed. It was changed before anyone was aware. Why don’t we learn from that technique.” He was speaking at an event organized by the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a conservative think tank that came under fire recently for denying that Japanese soldiers forcibly recruited “comfort women” during WWII.

Japan’s nationalist leadership is no stranger to controversy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution, and Aso and others in his conservative, hawkish government share this goal. Aso himself has been caught saying some pretty weird things: Japan should let its elderly citizens die instead of using expensive taxpayer-funded life-support systems, and “a good country is a country where rich Jews would want to live.” What does that mean?

Some officials and even Prime Minister Abe have gone on record with inflammatory statements that have enraged foreign governments. Abe has repeatedly suggested that he would rescind Japan’s official statements of apology for Japan’s conduct during WWII, for example. South Korea’s government responded to Aso by saying his his remarks “obviously hurt many people.” China, too, is surely displeased by the signs that Abe’s rather batty government is forging ahead with a plan to modify the constitution and remilitarize the country. At a time when Japan’s top career diplomat is visiting Beijing in an attempt to settle everyone down, Aso’s references to Nazi Germany will only make China and other neighbors more alarmed.

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  • Philopoemen

    This seems like much ado about nothing, and yet another example of how special interest groups make it impossible to place prewar Germany in anything but the most cartoonishly evil light.

    The Weimar republic was a trainwreck, and to point to Germany’s emergence from it as a historically valuable lesson isn’t inherently wrong. Aso didn’t say “we should gas the Jews to fix our economy”.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Unlike Germany (which has struggled mightily to come to terms with its Nazi-era misdeeds), Japan still avoids taking any real responsibility for their numerous atrocities, and still tries to portray themselves as the victims. In that context, listening to nationlist members of the current government making references to Nazi policies, no matter how innocent the interpetation might be, is deeply disconcerting at best. Like it or not, there is a evil (correctly) associated with the Axis powers in WWII that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The Germans have done all that can reasonably be asked to help rehabilitate their reputation, The Japanese have done very little.

      • Tim Godfrey

        The average Japanese WAS a victim of the Tojo regime.

        In Western society the ‘i was only taking orders’ is not an excuse but in a rigid society like Japan not following orders was simply not an option – even if that meant one committed suicide.

        Westerners can never understand the Japanese perspective because our cultural reference points are so different.

        The fact that other East Asian countries have mostly moved on leads many Japanese see Koreans and Chinese as opportunistic whiners who are only using WW2 as a excuse to extort money or gain political advantage.

        It also means many think that further apologies are pointless because the Koreans and Chinese will never accept them as long as they think they can gain more political advantage by bashing Japan.

        • f1b0nacc1

          So “its a japanese thing, you wouldn’t understand” now becomes a stand-in for responsibility? The Japanese also believe that they are a superior race, destined to rule over lesser peoples. Does that mean that we in the West should simply ignore those pretentions as cultural differences?
          One need only read the wartime diaries of any number of Japanese, military and civilian to see that while the cultural pressure to conform was indeed great, it was not dominant to the point of robbing them of free will. More to the point, however, even if it was, how does this excuse anything? The Germans have been (rightly) taken to task for obediently following orders, and they have accepted responsibility and taken steps to make amends. To this day the Japanese leadership refuses to come clean on Japan’s responsibility for starting the war in the Pacific, and for the almost endless parade of bestial atrocities commited by the IJA.
          The Chinese were on the recieving end of just about every atrocity and barbarism that the Japanese could cook up, and if they (the Japanese) were less ambitious in their cruelty to the Koreans it is difficult to seriously suggest that the Koreans should take much comfort in that. I have spent quite a bit of time in these countries and can assure you that the anger is deep and quite authentic. The Japanese cannot simply apologize about LOSING the war, they have to apologize about starting it, and about their actions during it. Until they accept some responsibility, don’t expect their victims to be terribly forgiving.
          Finally, lets drop the ‘Tojo regime’, shall we? The Japanese people embraced the war with great fervor, they weren’t dragooned into it by a military clique, however much this image is used to excuse them now.

          • Tim Godfrey

            You are simply repeating the historical narrative created by the Koreans and Chinese. There are obviously elements of truth but that does not mean your narrative is any more valid than the narratives preferred by the Japanese.

            Perhaps the most glaring deception in your narrative is the presumption that the war in the Pacific was started by the Japanese. The facts are Japan did invade China and the US responded by blocking shipping to Japan. This was basically an act of war.

            I don’t deny that Japanese soldiers committed some awful atrocities during the war but the one sided narrative that are pushing is never going to be accepted by Japanese living today. Bashing Japan because they don’t accept your narrative simply re-enforces the Japanese feeling that they are being unfairly attacked by partisan political operatives.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Japanese invaded China in 1931, the US did nothing. The Japanese continued to invade more and more of China, and the US did nothing. The Japanese committed numerous atrocities (Nanjing in 1937 ring a bell?) and the US did NOTHING. The Japanese invaded IndoChina in 1940, and the US, after warning them that there would be consequences for this action BEFORE the invasi, imposed an embargo on Japan. They didn’t stop any shipping by third parties, they simply stopped selling oil and scrap metal to Japan. How this constitutes and act of war defies explanation.

          • Tim Godfrey

            The point you are missing is you have constructed a historical narrative that supports what you want to believe. Your narrative has basis in fact but it is still a constructed narrative.

            The question of whether the US embargo on Japan was an act of war or not is an example of how facts can be twisted by the narrative.

            The Japanese narrative is most of what the Japanese military did in East Asia is no different that what the British or the Spanish or the US did there for 200 years (opium wars ring a bell?). The abuses in China were the exception as opposed to the rule and as far as I can tell the historical facts do support this narrative.

          • f1b0nacc1

            (continuing my reply…dratted disqus!)
            The United States was well within its rights to embargo Japan for its behavior (or for any other reason, for that matter), and this did not in any way constitute an act of war. American firms were prohibited from doing business with Japan…hardly a friendly choice on our part, but given the circumstances fair reasonable, and certainly not an act of war as long as we didn’t try to stop others from doing so by force.
            As far as Japan’s alternative narrative, they compare Pearl Harbor (a sneak attack against a country that they were at peace with) to Hiroshima (the bombing of a city belonging to a country we were currently at war with, understaken only after warnings were made). This is simply self-servicing twaddle, and hardly worthy of serious consideration.
            I might agree that the post-war war crimes trials were regrettable examples of ‘victor’s justice’, and I certainly believe that this was a mistake, but that in no way absolves the Japanese from responsibility for what they did during the war or in the period leading up to it.
            Like it or not, the Japanese behaved barbarically during the war, and have steadfastly refused to accept any real responsibility for their actions in the post-war era. The physical and documentary evidence supporting this conclusion is hardly disputed, and pretending otherwise isn’t going to convince anyone. Japan will remain a pariah until it owns up to its past. Much as I despise agreeing with the Chinese about ANYTHING, they have a point here….

          • Tim Godfrey

            You completely ignored my point:

            For the most part Japan actions in East Asia were no worse than what the European colonial powers had been doing for 200+ years.

            This is the part of the Japanese narrative which Japanese feel is being ignored.

            War crimes occurred but they were the exception as opposed to the rule (part of Chinese narrative is to grossly exaggerate the extent of the war crimes).

            The fact that Mao killed more Chinese more barbarically (starving people is barbaric) than the Japanese Army did is a fact that illustrates how WW2 is being exaggerated by China for political gain.

            The Japanese narrative does not make a big deal out of the Hiroshima bombings so your argument there is a red herring.

            As for the oil embargo: 80% of the oil Japan consumed came from the US. By refusing to supply it the US left Japan with no choice but surrender or war with the US. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not the oil embargo is what started the war in the Pacific.

            Germany has not really done that much different from Japan. The main difference is Germany’s neighbors decided that forgiveness was politically preferable (at least until Greece needed a bailout – at that point the Greeks started dredging up WW2 resentments which proves my point about how political gain is the real motivator for these endless complaints about Japan’s WW2 record).

          • f1b0nacc1

            First things first…Whatever the failings of the western nations in over 200 years of colonialism, their atrocities pale in comparison to those perpetrated by the Japanese. Please identify even a single western atrocity that compares with Nanjing, or for that matter the willful destruction of Manila as the US approached in 1945. The behavior of the Japanese army in WWII was disgraceful by any standards, and to suggest that these were isolated incidents or that they somehow represented exceptions to an overall rule is to show a deep and abiding ignorance of even basic history on your part. The documentary evidence is overwhelming…these are not narratives, they are simple facts, however much you may not wish to acknowlege them.
            In an similar fashion, suggesting that Mao’s (who even the Chinese now recognize as a deranged madman) behavior can in any way excuse Japanese policy as an occupying power is nonsense. The Japanese (in clear violation of even basic international law) invaded Manchuria, and later China itself, and subjected it to barbarism that so far exceeeds even the wrost extremes of Western colonialism as to make comparisons moot. If you want to find worse villains (Mao, for instance), I certainly agree that it is possible. But in what sort of distrubed moral universe does that provide exculpation for the Japanese?
            More laughable, I suppose is the suggestion that the embargo of oil and scrap metal (by the way, it was much closer to 95% of their oil, not 80%) provides Japan with a casus belli. In this rather odd analysis, you suggest that the Japanese could take any action whatsoever, and if the US took peaceful steps to convince them to do otherwise (and note, the embargo was not a blockade, Japan was free to buy oil elsewhere, for instance), that this provides the basis for war? The Japanese had choices…withdrawing from IndoChina was one of them. Note that the Japanese had attacked several of their neighbors in the years leading up to Pearl harbor (in addition to China, and indochina, the Russians were attacked, though the Japanese learned not to mess with them after being rather brutally defeated), hardly evidence of a peaceful nation. The simple fact he is that the Japanese engaged in reckless aggression against their neighbors, and this stopped only when they were defeated by the US and occupied to prevent revanchism.
            That modern Japan would like to ignore their past, and portray themselves as victims is certainly understandable,…given their past any respectable nation would be ashamed…but this doesn’t mean that we shoudl play along, or that those who don’t wish to give the “Soldiers of the Sun” a get out of jail free card are somehow to blame themselves.
            The Japanese have a great deal to answer for, and thus far they have shown a remarkable (though hardly surprising) disinclination to acknowlege their responsibility. Suggesting that this is a difference in ‘narratives’ is the sort of empty-headed twaddle one normally associates with po-mo university classes, not serious analysis. As was said by a far wiser man than I…”You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts” Come back when you have some facts….

          • Tim Godfrey

            Again – you keep missing the point. Nanjing is the exception and I acknowledge them as war crimes. The trouble with your narrative is you want to pretend that the Japanese Army committed those kind of atrocities everywhere in East Asia.

            In the rest of East Asia and even in Korea Japan acted like a European colonial power. No worse and no better.

            This is what I mean by narrative – you are creating an artificial narrative based on real facts but twisting them in the a way that paints the Japanese in the worst possible light.

            As long as people like you refuse to acknowledge that the Japanese narrative is actually more true in some aspects than your narrative there can be no reconciliation because the Japanese see it as hateful Japan bashing.

          • Tim Godfrey

            The last point which you seem to ignore: Japanese living today are not responsible for the atrocities of WW2 and suggesting that they should feel guilty for WW2 is ridiculous.

            The only obligation Japanese have today is to not deny that war crimes like Nanjing occurred and that such crimes are unjustifiable (at some Japanese politicians do this which is wrong).

  • dave

    @tim…so your excuse for japan’s atrocities is they have their own narrative…you really like the word narrative as if this word can cleanse all sins…guess what how about I kill your baby son while you are watching and rape your wife and mother…but after that I am caught dont ask me to apologize…hey I have my own narrative!

    I prefer the German national character over the Japanese…The German’s has humility and can recognize their mistakes but Japanese culture don’t. That is why they will never be a great power.

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