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Japan PM Abe's new slogan stirs memories of wartime rhetoric

TOKYO (Reuters) - A new slogan adopted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and meant to show that all Japanese will benefit from economic growth is raising eyebrows among those who see it as an eerie echo of wartime propaganda.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives to speak before attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Abe unveiled the goal of building a “Society in Which All 100 million People can be Active” after his re-election as ruling party chief late last month. He will create a new post to oversee the plan when he reshuffles his cabinet on Wednesday.

Political insiders say the phrase describes a society in which all can achieve their potential. The 100 million level is where the government wants to hold Japan’s shrinking population over the next five decades, versus 126 million now.

However, some bloggers and historians say the slogan recalls wartime rhetoric, such as a call for all “100 million” civilians, spanning Japan’s then-colonies of Korea and Taiwan, to be ready to die, rather than accept defeat, in World War Two.

“Abe-chan, is this a return to 1937 and a “Movement to Mobilise the National Spirit?” quipped one person on an internet chat board, addressing the premier by a familiar diminutive, and referring to another wartime propaganda campaign.

Asked about the perception that the phrase echoed wartime rhetoric, a government source familiar with Abe’s thinking said, “The biggest meaning is ‘inclusive growth’.”

Abe, 61, has often spoken of “escaping the post-war regime”, a legacy of the U.S. occupation that conservatives say eroded national pride and traditional mores.

“Whether he chose this slogan consciously or as a result of a mindset that doesn’t think it is somehow problematic, I don’t know,” said Sven Saaler, a history professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “But it comes from a basic sympathy he has for prewar and wartime Japan.”

Political analysts say the new slogan and Abe’s three new “arrows” of economic policy, ranging from a strong economy, and support for childrearing, to a stable social security system, are aimed at wooing voters ahead of an upper house poll next July.

Abe’s support has sagged over a controversial change in defence policy that could allow troops to fight abroad for the first time since 1945.

“It’s not only pre-war nostalgia. He needed to step up the rhetoric for the election,” Saaler said. ” But I don’t think its coincidental that something related to wartime propaganda came up.”

Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez