I was talking today to two representatives of the Hokkaido Shimbun newpaper, a Japanese-language daily newspaper, who had drawn my attention to the fact that the Japanese Finance Minister, Taro Aso, had made the following comment regarding constitutional reform in Japan: "The Nazis were able to change the Weimar constitution in a swift manner without anyone realizing, perhaps we can learn a trick from them". The comment was made in the context of a debate about revising the Japanese constitution, including Article 9, “so Japan can use the right of collective self-defense as stipulated by the U.N. Charter”
The first question the journalists had was this: would any high-ranking German politician ever make such a remark? To the effect that Germans might learn something from the Nazis, rather than from the aberrations of Nazism? The answer, it seemed to me, was “no”. While I can think of (one or two) serious German postwar politicians who might have found something good to say about quite specific aspects of Nazi social or economic policy (while of course condemning Nazism as a whole), I could not think of one who had actually praised such anti-democratic measures as the Enabling Law. That would have been, and would be political suicide. But in Japan, it seems, you can get away with remarks like that. So the second question was: why?
We had a long discussion about the differences between post-war Japan and post-war Germany, which I won’t go into here. We also discussed the fact that Nazism, of course, is Germany’s history, not Japan’s; Aso was not taking inspiration (if that’s what he was doing, and I am not entirely sure, because he seems a master of irony) from the more dubious aspects of Japanese history. Who, in Japan, knows much about the Weimar constitution? Maybe he would not have had to resign even if he had tried to take something good from the excesses of Japanese imperialism. But Nazism, in Japan, is a less slippery floor for controversial remarks.
What we also discussed is that German politicians have no problems drawing all sorts of comparisons between Nazism and the politics of their political opponents. If you were to believe the admittedly rather maverick FDP politician Lindemann, for instance, then the recent campaign by the Green Party for a “veggie day” can be compared to the Nazi Women’s League’s attempts to persuade German children to eat wholegrain bread. Politicising suggestions of continuities between Nazism and the Green Party are not new, of course – but they don't become any more reasonable by repeating them. Noone in their right mind would claim there are tenable similarities. That would be true of any of the numerous egregious Nazi comparisons German politicians mobilise in an attempt to discredit their political enemies. Yet it still seems acceptable in Germany to make such comparisons. There are complaints, and calls for resignation, but the indignation generally passes without major damage to reputations or parties. Let’s not pretend it’s only the Germans who are at it. Germany’s European partners are far worse. The number of times Merkel has been compared to Hitler in the Polish or Cypriot press, well, they would be hard to count. The trivialisation of Nazism through farcical comparison, the belief that Hitler is at least good enough for a cheap shot, is little better than praising the Enabling Law. Oder?