Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who also serves as the finance minister, apologized on Thursday for what he described as an “inappropriate” quote about Adolf Hitler the previous day.
“I won’t ask you about the motive. What’s important is a result. Hitler, who killed millions of people, was no good even if his motive was right,” Aso told a gathering of political trainees on Wednesday, deftly finding the worst possible way to make the entirely valid point that intentions matter less than outcomes for politicians.
In a statement released on Thursday, Aso said it was “regrettable” that his remarks “caused misunderstanding which was totally different from my intention.”
“My intention was to point out that what matters most for politicians is to bring the best results,” he explained. “I mentioned Hitler as an example of bad politicians in order to emphasize the above-mentioned point.”
“It is obvious from my overall remarks that I am extremely negative toward Hitler, and his motives were definitely wrong as a matter of course,” Aso insisted. “My quotation about Hitler was inappropriate, and I would like to take it back.”
However, as CNN points out, Aso has a long history of making weird and inappropriate remarks along these lines, most notoriously in 2013 when he suggested Japan could learn a few things from how a certain group of Germans set about modifying their own constitution.
“Germany’s Weimar Constitution was changed into the Nazi Constitution before anyone knew. It was changed before anyone else noticed. Why don’t we learn from that method?” Aso said, almost immediately thinking better of it and adding that he did not want to “deny democracy” by revising the Japanese constitution in a “frenzy.”
CNN also recalls Aso getting in trouble for suggesting people on life support “die quickly” to save the government money, beating American celebrity crackpot Bill Nye to the punch by four years.
Newsweek remembers Aso finding inappropriate ways to use the other branch of the Axis in 2006, when he claimed Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan was responsible for the island’s high educational standards.
Aso’s apology might not be good enough for Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said his comments “damage Japan’s reputation at the very time when all Americans want to show their solidarity with Japan, our sister democracy and ally, following the missile launch from Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.”
However, Cooper recalled meeting with Aso in 2013, after he dropped his Nazi Constitution bomb, and concluding he was “ignorant” but not anti-Semitic.
Opposition party leader Kazunori Yamanoi called Aso’s comment a “serious gaffe” and “extremely shameful,” then questioned Aso’s competence as a government minister.
The UK Guardian notes the Simon Wiesenthal Center is fresh off condemning another Japanese celebrity, plastic surgeon Katsuya Takasu, after he “highlighted the Nazis’ contribution to science and medicine, and appeared to deny the Holocaust.”
The Center said Takasu’s remarks “violate all norms of decency and reveal a person who is a racist anti-Semite and outright lover of Nazism.” The comments in question were actually made on Twitter in 2015, but only recently translated into English.
Just two months ago, Japanese central banker Yutaka Harada said Hitler had “wonderful” fiscal and monetary policies, but added they allowed him to do “horrible” things.
Aso is scheduled to meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, economic adviser Gary Cohn, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin next week for a round of bilateral economic talks, and possibly to discuss the North Korea situation.