Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso at a G7 meeting in Bari, Italy, May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Hitler comparisons are never, ever, a smart ploy to win an argument. Tell that to Japanese officials who just can’t seem to quit citing the 20th century’s most-hated genocidal maniac. Case in point: Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

In 2013, the 76-year-old Aso celebrated the process surrounding the “Nazi German constitution.” He asked, at the time: “Why don’t we learn from their tactics?”

It seems Aso hasn’t learned from his own tactics. This week, he courted fresh controversy when he told some Japanese lawmakers he agreed with Hitler’s motives.

Aso declared: “Hitler, who killed millions of people, was no good even if his motive was right.”

That, just two months after a top Bank of Japan policymaker, Yutaka Harada, waxed poetic about Hitler’s “wonderful” fiscal and monetary stimulus steps.

Harada’s bizarre comments drew a rebuke from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as did Aso’s this week.

“This is not the first time that members of Japan’s elite publicly expressed their admiration for some elements of Hitler and Nazi Germany,” the Los Angeles-based human rights group said.

“Each of these incidents creates deep unease among Japan’s neighbors and friends.”

One of those incidents involved former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who certain politicians compared with Adolf Hitler.

One of those incidents involved former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who certain politicians compared with Adolf Hitler.

“This may not be the most appropriate analogy, but his powerful oratory skills are just like Hitler when he was young,” former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara said of Hashimoto in 2012.

Uh, no, it’s not appropriate, particularly coming from Ishihara, a nationalist with his own track record of racist gaffes.

In 2014, more than 300 copies of Ann Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” were vandalized in public libraries around the nation.

In April, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet approved the return of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” memoir to Japanese classrooms.

Tokyo also allowed schools to use the long-defunct Imperial Rescript on Education, a 19th-century call to patriotism instrumental to mindsets behind Japan’s disastrous World War II adventure.

What, oh what, gives? Such comments and gestures get lost in translation at a moment when Abe seeks to increase Japan’s global “soft power” and diplomatic footprint.

What, oh what, gives? Such comments and gestures get lost in translation at a moment when Abe seeks to increase Japan’s global “soft power” and diplomatic footprint.

But then, so do many of his policies like revising the pacifist post-war constitution against public opinion.

Abe also courted controversy in 2014 for tapping Eriko Yamatani to head the National Public Safety Commission.

She spent much her tenure trying to deny long-time ties to an internationally condemned ultranationalist group Zaitokukai that targets the Korean community.

Yamatani was also among the parade of Cabinet members irking Korea and China with visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.

In May, Tokyo-based reporters Jake Adelstein and Mari Yamamoto penned a Daily Beast article headlined “Shinzo Abe’s Government Has a Thing About Hitler. It Likes Him.”

In it, they say some of Abe’s other policy moves seem right out of the Nazi playbook. They include an ambiguous state secrets bill that could put journalists and whistleblowers in jail and a security bill that brings Steven Speilberg’s “Minority Report” film — arrests on suspected crimes — to life.

In their piece, subtitled “To Heil and Back,” Adelstein and Yamamoto muse about another science-fiction work, the hit TV series “The Man In the High Castle” which imagines a reality in which the Nazis and Imperial Japan won the second world war.

Nationalists often spend too much mythologizing a past that might’ve been and not enough at a fast-approaching future (Donald Trump comes to mind here, too).

Abe’s revival scheme, Abenomics, is a case in point, trying to recreate an economic model that thrived in the 1980s, but no longer exists in a world increasingly dominated by China and other Asian upstarts.

Aso moved to take back his latest misstatement. “It was inappropriate that I cited Hitler as an example and I would like to retract that,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

The trouble with such gaffes, aside from the obvious affront to human decency, is the backward-looking worldview they betray.

This, after all, is Abe’s deputy and finance minister, a man who should be gearing Abenomics for the world it will confront 75 years from now.

Instead, his mind is on the events of 75 years ago — and the worst ones, at that.

(William Pesek is a Tokyo-based journalist, former columnist for Barron’s and Bloomberg and author of “Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades.” Twitter: @williampesek)

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