We all know that it’s pretty tough for those in the public eye, as their comments are constantly being hashed over, picked apart and – very often – taken out of context. Rarely a day goes by when we don’t see a public figure being harangued by the press via a sensationalist headline that is only loosely based on parts of the truth (as Hilary Mantel found out back in February of this year). Usually, the consequences of this kind of incident are that there is a forced public apology, and even in the case of some of the more extreme misquotes where the damage can’t be undone, maybe even a resignation or withdrawal from the public eye.
Most public figures tend to steer clear of controversial topics and will simply apologise quickly if their comments have been taken out of context to end the furore. Not so the deputy Japanese prime minister Taro Aso – who is also the country’s finance minister – who recently found himself making the front pages of most of the international press thanks to some comments made at an ultra conservative conference in Tokyo last week. In his comments to the conference Mr Aso seemed to be encouraging Japan to follow the example of the Nazis with respect to secretly building up a more powerful national armed force.
According to the transcript of the conference, he also said that there wasn’t enough support for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution and that the Japanese should be keener to overthrow the document that was drawn up largely in the wake of World War Two. In his suggestions to revise the constitution he said that this shouldn’t be done too publicly and that it would be better“doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution, without anyone realizing it, why don’t we learn from that sort of tactic?”
In anyone’s book, it was an odd thing to draw a positive comparison between the Nazis and one’s own country. In military terms the ‘achievements’ of that once invading force might impress some, but most public figures in this day and age tend to have the tact and sensitivity not to highlight any of the positives of an organisation that also murdered more than 31 million people. It’s usually only those who seek out sensationalism who bring up this particular piece of history and that’s rarely a public official in a senior position as is the case here.
However, despite the outcry that the comments have caused, Mr Aso has refused to apologise for them. Although he’s made it clear he feels that the parts of the speech that have ended up being headline fodder were seriously taken out of context, he has also said that he has no intention to resign and no intention to retract the comments. It’s a strange approach for someone in a position where he needs to be able to interact with others on the international stage, but perhaps says more about Mr Aso’s view of the media’s ability to twist the truth with quotes than anything else. Although personally, we’d probably apologise so that the matter doesn’t detract from the important business of running a country, we’re still interested to see whether this starts a wave of non-apologists in the months to come.