Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, in part of a speech at a Tokyo symposium last Monday, called on politicians leaning toward revising the Constitution to learn from the teguchi (method) that the Nazi government of Germany used. Teguchi is a Japanese word that usually means a method a criminal uses in committing a crime.
In his speech, Mr. Aso also said he did not want debates on constitutional revisions to be done in a noisy environment. In his Friday statement, he retracted his reference to the Nazis as an example and said that it is highly important to discuss constitutional revisions in a calm manner.
Still, it was extremely inappropriate and careless of him to have referred to the Nazis’ method in connection with discussions on constitutional revisions. All the more so because he is a former prime minister. Some countries might use his remarks for the purposes of anti-Japanese political propaganda.
Worse is the possibility of creating the perception in the international community that a leading Cabinet member of Japan has ideological affinity with Nazism — or even the perception that Japan at heart is the very crucible for ferocious totalitarianism.
In an earlier part of his speech, Mr. Aso called attention to the fact that Adolf Hitler took power not through military force but through an election. He seems to be warning here that totalitarianism can be born out of democracy. But toward the end of his speech, he said: “Let’s do it quietly. One day suddenly (people) noticed that the Weimar constitution had been changed into the Nazi constitution. The change was made while nobody noticed. How about learning from this teguchi?”
Apart from mistaking facts related to German history, Mr. Aso seems to recommend that the forces pushing for constitutional revisions should try to achieve their goal by using a sly and secretive method that keeps people in the dark about changes to the Constitution — the total denial of a democratic process.
Protesting against his remarks, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, asked, “What ‘techniques’ from the Nazis’ governance are worth learning — how to stealthily cripple democracy?” His comment seems to be right on the mark.
By having the Reichstag pass the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, the Nazi Cabinet gained the power to enact legislation, including laws not conforming to the Weimar constitution — said to be the most democratic constitution in those days — without the consent of the parliament. The constitution was not officially repealed but was completely ignored.
Following a fire set in the Reichstag building on Feb. 27 that year, the Nazi government arrested all Communist and some Social Democratic deputies expected to vote against the act. One wonders whether Mr. Aso wants to emulate this example.
Japanese leaders cannot be too careful about making comments on historical issues. In April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet, “There is no definition of aggression, academically and internationally.” Such remarks by Mr. Abe, and now Mr. Aso, could create the impression in the international community that Japan has not learned the right lessons from its past militarism and has failed to uphold democratic principles. Mr. Abe and Mr. Aso should realize that if other countries come to perceive that Japan is the odd man out who does not share important democratic values with them, it will cause irreparable damage to Japan.