Many people know about what the Nazi’s did in the way of human experimentation during World War II, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that Germany wasn’t the only country to test on both their own people and enemy forces. There are stories about the United States testing chemicals and diseases on their own soldiers. The United States however does not hold a candle to what both Germany and Japan did to their enemies. Not a lot is known about what Japan did, other than some tales from POWs, but more information has started to come out about Unit 731, a Japanese unit that was responsible for human experiments.
Unit 731’s base of operations
It wasn’t until the 80s that Japan formally revealed that yes, the unit of legend was real, and what they did was as horrendous as everyone thought, in fact sometimes it was worse than imagined. The Japanese Government in consort with Japanese universities and medical schools would use Chinese and other Asian citizens to create and breed diseases. The government would allow the research scientists access to their findings, and in some cases would allow the text subjects to be intentionally refused medical intervention in order to document the disease’s progression.
These aren’t diseases like the cold and flu, but virulent strains of everything from Anthrax to Cholera, and the Plague. In order to remove the humanity of the subjects, they would call them Maruta which translates to “Wooden Logs”. Yes, they were doing tests on wooden logs, not living, breathing servicemembers and civilians.
Of course it wasn’t just infecting disease, but things such as autopsies while the patient was still alive and without any anesthesia. One of the worst things was when they would put someone in a pressure chamber, used for helping individuals who have “the bends” but instead of helping them, they would see how much pressure it would take before the “patient’s” eyes would pop out of the skull. The belief was that it would help know what depths their own servicemembers could go before having irreparable damage. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?
Plague Experiment – Manchuria
So all of those responsible were condemned and jailed right? No, not unlike a lot of SS running to Argentina, many of Unit 731’s soldiers would try to escape to China. Those found were arrested and detained, but only a handful were actually ever tried as war criminals. Post-War the US government actually gave immunity to those who were found in exchange for informational results on the experiments. In fact the lead scientist and officer responsible for the frostbite trials. Yes they did experiments on just what happened with frostbite Hisato Yoshimura, was not only not convicted, but he went on to become one of the key scientists in medical and other posts post-war.
Even as a historian and someone who worked with MIA/KIA/POW who never returned, I did not know about this unit. I knew about the concentration camps, and what Dr. Josepf Manegla did, everyone who knows about World War II knows about his twin experiments and using skin for lamp shades, but how many actually know about Unit 731? Researching for this post has just increased my thirst for information, and I know more about Unit 731 then I think I wanted to. It is like a train wreck, you want to look away, you want to stop “reading” but for me it is enthralling. Not because it happened, as much as because it isn’t that well known.
There is actually a museum dedicated to Unit 731 in China where the base was set up. Remember Japan occupied portions of China during the war, and it was a lot easier to get Chinese victims in China then to drag them across to Japan, especially with the allied forces at times breathing down their neck.
Obviously I now have another place I want to go to visit. I mean, it isn’t that it is gruesome or that people died. For me it is the history, and obviously I am a little into the morbid, I did work with lost remains.