Japan probes WWII prisoner experiment site - ‘The Horror of Unit 731’
Japan probes WWII prisoner experiment site - “The Horror of Unit 731”
By Roland Buerk BBC News, Tokyo
Excavations are beginning at a former medical school in Tokyo which may reveal grisly secrets from World War II.
Toyo Ishii - 2006
The site is linked to Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army, which carried out experiments in germ warfare on prisoners.
Japan’s government has never formally acknowledged the atrocities took place.
It ordered the excavation after a former nurse came forward to break 60 years of silence.
The woman, now 88, said she and colleagues were ordered to bury hundreds of bodies after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II.
Unit 731 was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel.
Disbanding and the end of World War II
After Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Douglas MacArthur became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, rebuilding Japan during the Allied occupation. MacArthur secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731 in exchange for providing America with their research on biological warfare. American occupation authorities monitored the activities of former unit members, including reading and censoring their mail.
The U.S. believed that the research data was valuable. They had conducted small-scale human experimentation on their citizens but not on such a large scale, and not with prisoners of war. The U.S. did not want other nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to acquire data on biological weapons.
The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal heard only one reference to Japanese experiments with “poisonous serums” on Chinese civilians. This took place in August 1946 and was instigated by David Sutton, assistant to the Chinese prosecutor. The Japanese defense counselor argued that the claim was vague and uncorroborated and it was dismissed by the tribunal president, Sir William Webb, for lack of evidence. The subject was not pursued further by Sutton, who was likely aware of Unit 731’s activities. His reference to it at the trial is believed to have been accidental.
Some former members of Unit 731 became part of the Japanese medical establishment. Dr. Masaji Kitano led Japan’s largest pharmaceutical company, the Green Cross. Others headed U.S.-backed medical schools or worked for the Japanese health ministry. Shirō Ishii moved to Maryland to work on bio-weapons research.