Unit 731









I entered the conference room of the East Asian Center with a shadow of doubt clouding my mind, wondering if the man about to speak was going to go on about the grisly details of torture and gas experimentation, or if he would try to format an interesting theoretical perspective on the Japanese and their tendency to subjugate races viewed to be inferior throughout the span of their history up to Japan’s loss of World War II. The biological development of weapons of mass destruction is always earmarked with the experimentation of such deadly viruses as will be discussed later in this paper on living beings. Whether those victimzed are human or animal makes less difference to me than whether they are living or dead, since the sanctity of life is violated and the perpetrators are never willing to give themselves to the cause of their science. Mock bravery, existent when it is another person undergoing the experimentation, doing the dying, does not stand when positions are switched. Suddenly the pursuit of ‘truth’ is not as important if the analytical bastards have to factor in personal agony followed by a slow, painful death for their beloved science. Abruptly science does not matter as much as it did to the individual; truth becomes secondary to self preservation. The only country I can hypothesize that this might not have been true for was Japan before the conclusion of World War II, when nationalistic Confucianism held the country’s population in a kind of sway never before seen throughout the world, making the individual ready to sacrifice, willing to sacrifice his individuality in the furthering of his country’s ambitions. Never has government so scarred its own people, that even today, walking down the street, you will see certain old Japanese men who will not look at an American in their midst, because the thought of it is sickening to them, bruising the honor that was so carefully cultivated in them from birth. They prefer to pretend we do not exist.

            So Hal Gold began his talk about the Japanese Biological Warfare program by giving us a brief outline of the history of Japan’s military medicine field.  It is best stated in his book, ‘Unit 731 Testimony.’ The passage reads as follows;

                        The American army can never hope to emulate the Japanese until the time

                        Shall arrive when, through the reorganization of its medical department,

                        The surgeon shall have executive rather than merely advisory privileges

                        In matters of sanitation and hygiene in barrack and field; and until that line                   

Officer shall display the same courtesy and respect to the medical expert                         as does his Japanese brother in arms.

            The Japanese can certainly be lauded for their behavior towards the purported conservation of human life, even if it was only intended to further them on their path towards world domination, beginning with Russia. After Hal talked about this for a few minutes, he jumped headlong into a subject that was obviously fascinating to him, biological warfare. He started out by speaking of an Ishii Shiro, a man who researched chemical biology at Kyoto University before his rise to infamy. This man was responsible for the founding of the Japanese government’s biological weapons department. Ishii’s argument claimed that due to the lack of resources Japan had within its reach, constructing warships and airplanes to match the other great military powers of the world was economically unfeasible. The likeliest route towards martial supremacy, and in his opinion the key to insuring Japan’s future survival, lay with research into the development and deployment of biological weapons.

            It is when one begins to search out the methods of Ishii’s approach to this research that the flawless logic he so articulately utilized as he argued before the highest echelons of Japanese government begins to take on an even more malevolent cast. The potential chemical and biological weapons studied by this germ warfare unit include all of the following;

                        -Bubonic plague                                  -Tularemia

                        -Anthrax                                              -Cholera epidemic

                        -Smallpox                                            -Hemorrhagic fever

                        -Typhoid                                             -Syphilis

                        -Aerosols                                             -Botulism

                        -Brucellosis                                         -Glanders

                        -Yellow fever                                      -Gangrene

                        -Diphtheria                                          -Salmonella

            The Japanese military, under Ishii’s direct instructions, studied all the previously mentioned diseases in depth trying to secure an aggressive means of transporting them into enemy territory, to allow them to do their work. These tests were conducted on people of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, and American origin, and they always ended in the death, living dissection, and study of the biological facets of the individuals involved. Even to the present day, there are Japanese people who were involved in the experiments who deny that there was anything wrong with the methods they practiced in pursuit of a perfect biological weapon. There are farmers in Saitama Prefecture who were employed by the government to raise rats, though when questioned the mostly illiterate, then elderly farmers claimed they knew nothing of how the rats were intended to be used. They certainly had no knowledge that they would be modeled after the rats of the Black Plague of Europe and released in urban settings to test the virility of the disease they carried on Chinese innocents. Also, though the Nazi doctors responsible for the same caliber of crimes, though perhaps not on the same scale, were held to account for their transgressions in the ‘Nuremburg doctors’ trials’ of 1947, the elite of Japan’s Biological manufactory were never tried and justice was not meted out in a balanced manner.  It is possible that the secrets German doctors might have used as bargaining chips towards the absolution of their guilt fell into American hands without the need to negotiate, costing the researchers their lives while their contemporaries in Japan got off the hook.

            It is difficult for the modern mind to grasp this blatant deferral of justice, especially when the account of two hundred thousand deaths caused by Japanese seeded Cholera epidemics in the southern province of Yunnan in China are from but one of the twenty six units where biological research was being done. This was a massacre carried out for the development of weapons intended to massacre more innocent non-military as well as unsuspecting militant individuals, all for the ‘Glory of Victory.’ The death toll has been estimated at between seven hundred thousand and one million people. How could this go unpunished, I ask myself? Of course, the answer lies within America’s classified history.

            The fact is, American government officials decided to bargain with the murderers, asking for the information the Japanese had accumulated over the years of testing in exchange for the guilty parties’ full pardon. This seemed relatively lucrative to the Japanese scientists and civilians who had been involved, and the swap took place. The excuse of war crimes on a par with the worst in recorded history followed, traded for the data necessary to bypass such gruesome research coming into the hands of the American military.

            This is ironic, considering the formulated but never carried out ‘Operation PX,’ which called for a few Japanese submarines approaching the Western coast of America, launching specially designed planes over the coastal states with payloads of plague-infected rats and other pathogen-carrying objects, the releasing of said materials from the air. This project was finalized on March 26, 1945, but never reached its intended conclusion due to the intervention of one of Japan’s top generals, a certain Umezu Yoshijiru, who despite holding the American-perpetrated Great Tokyo Air Raid in his immediate conscience, which cost an estimated 100,000 lives and occurred a mere two weeks before, said ‘ If bacteriological warfare is conducted, it will grow from the dimension of war between America and Japan to an endless battle of Humanity against Bacteria. Japan will earn the derision of the world.’ The truly ironic point is what comes next; Umezu was tried and found guilty of war crimes by the American war tribunal, and sentenced to life imprisonment, during which he died in 1949. His singlehanded prevention of the biological attack on America never surfaced during the trials, and the secret, he must have thought, died with him.

            Here we find the apparent end to the matter. Most of those culpable for the crimes committed in China and Manchuria are already dead, and the United States is not fond of apologizing for moves made in its roughshod rise to power, thus the entire episode is excluded from textbooks and there is a wide swath of complete ignorance on the subject. Obviously, this is a crime against humanity in itself, but what can be done to increase awareness of the matter? Hal Gold is helping, and though the research might have fried his brain a bit, making the lecture hard to bear at times due to his almost maniacal passion for the area under discussion, he helped me learn about something I had no previous knowledge about, especially after I read the book he wrote on the subject. In his book, Unit 731, as in his lecture on the subject, Mr. Gold failed to develop any of the nascent hypotheses that were apparent upon a careful examination of the text. How could the Japanese, witnessing such horror being visited on their fellow man, not react against such a system? Mr. Gold hints at Confucian philosophic leftovers as a source of blind loyalty to one’s superiors, but then leaves us to wonder what he meant when he wrote those words.

 The visages of this horror carried out by the Japanese are still apparent, in a small village in the Zhejiang province of China, which is named, even today, after the effects of this unpunished crime; ‘Rotten leg village’ is what it is called. The elderly residents still bear the scars of the Glanders attacks of 1942, ever rotting flesh that refuses to heal and which has been paining them for over sixty years now. Surely this is sufficient cause for reparations to be made by the Japanese Government, I told myself, hoping for the basic compassion of all human beings to conquer the need to hide a national secret – and perhaps it did, but if compassion triumphed why did charity fail so miserably? The compensation was barely sufficient to help those suffering even recover, much less start a new life distant from what must be a land haunted by the ghosts of their families. This is where the matter stands today. I just hope that someone with the gumption and the authority to make a difference will speak out and call for these crimes to be recognized and for those survivors still alive to be honored.