World War II in the Pacific
- 1925 -- Japan refuses Geneva Convention ban on biological weapons.
- 1932 -- Japanese troops invade Manchuria. Shiro Ishii, a physician and army officer who was intrigued by germ warfare, begins preliminary experiments.
- 1936 -- Unit 731, a biological-warfare unit disguised as a water-purification unit, is formed. Ishii builds huge compound -- more than 150 buildings over six square kilometers -- outside the city of Harbin, Manchuria. Some 9,000 test subjects eventually die at the compound.
- 1942 -- Ishii begins field tests of germ warfare on Chinese soldiers and civilians. Tens of thousands die of bubonic plague, cholera, anthrax and other diseases. U.S. soldiers captured in Philippines are sent to Manchuria.
- 1945 -- Japanese troops blow up the headquarters of Unit 731 in final days of Pacific war. Ishii orders 150 remaining 'subjects' killed to cover up their experimentation.
- 1946 -- U.S. makes a deal with Ishii for germ warfare data based on human
experimentation in exchange for immunity from war-crimes prosecution.
Sources: ''Factories of Death,'' by Sheldon H. Harris (Rutledge, 1994)
''Prisoners of the Japanese: POWS of World War II in the Pacific,'' by Gavan Daws (William Morrow, 1994), and
''UNIT 731: Japan's Secret Biological Warefre in World War II'' by Peter Williams and David Wallnce (The Free Press, 1989).
War Crimes Against Humanity
Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 killed thousands of Chinese and Russians held prisoner in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, in experiments to develop chemical and biological weapons.
In the autumn of 1945, MacArthur acceded to granting immunity to members of Unit 731 in exchange for data of research on biological warfare. "The value to the U.S. of Japanese BW data is of such importance to national security as to far outweigh the value accruing from war crimes' prosecution." The BW information obtained from Japanese sources should be retained in 'top secret' intelligence channels and not be employed as war crimes evidence and not be fallen into the Soviet hands. The State Department disagreed over a two year period and the topic simply disappeared.
Why did the US lose interest in pursuing the issue of war criminals? China became communist, Japan was a required base for operations in Korea, and Japan became a major trading partner and economic power in the East.
Japan's biological weapons program was born in the 1930s, in part because Japanese officials were impressed that germ warfare had been banned by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. If it was so awful that it had to be banned under international law, the officers reasoned, it must make a great weapon. Establishment of two biological warfare Units 731 and 100 in Manchuria in 1933 because of the number of test subjects available. Harbin in Manchuria was the headquarters of Unit 731. Ishii promoted to full colonel with 3,000 Japanese working under him. In addition of bacteriological warfare, studies were also conducted on human damage done by burns, freezing, high pressure, and bullets. Former members of the unit say that at least 3,000 people and by some accounts several times that number were killed in the medical experiments in which none survived.
"After infecting him, the researchers decided to cut him open to see what the disease does to a man's inside. I cut him open from the chest to the stomach and he screamed terribly and his face was all twisted in agony. made this unimaginable sound, he was screaming so horribly. This was all in a day's work for the surgeons, but it really left an impression on me because it was my first time."
The human experimentation did not take place just in Unit 731, nor was it a rogue unit acting on its own. Prince Mikasa, toured Unit 731's headquarters in China and wrote in his memoirs that he was shown films showing how Chinese prisoners were "made to march on the plains of Manchuria for poison gas experiments on humans." Premier Tojo personally presented an award to Ishii for his contribution to developing biological weapons.
The Japanese army regularly conducted field tests to see whether biological warfare would work outside the laboratory. Planes dropped plague-infected fleas over Ningbo in eastern China and over Changde in north-central China and plague outbreaks were later reported.
Japanese troops also dropped cholera and typhoid cultures in wells and ponds, but the results were often counterproductive. In 1942, germ warfare specialists distributed dysentery, cholera and typhoid in Zhejiang Province in China. but Japanese soldiers themselves became ill and 1,700 died of the diseases. An estimated 440,000 Chinese died of this germ warfare.
Planned Bacterial Attack on the United States.
Proposals included use of these weapons against the United States. They proposed using balloon bombs to carry disease to America and they had a plan in the summer of 1945 to use kamikaze pilots to dump plague infected fleas on San Diego.
Some Japanese generals proposed loading the balloons with weapons of biological warfare, to create epidemics of plague or anthrax in the United States. Other army units wanted to send cattle plague virus to wipe out the American livestock industry or grain smut to wipe out the crops. As it happened, 9,000 balloons each carried four incendiary and one antipersonnel bomb across the Pacific on the jet stream to create forest fires and terror from Oregon to Michigan.
As the end of the war approached in 1945, Unit 731 embarked on its wildest scheme; codenamed Cherry Blossoms at Night, the plan was to use kamikaze pilots to infest California with the plague.
Toshimi Mizobuchi, who was an instructor for new recruits in Unit 731, said the idea was to use 20 of the 500 new troops who arrived in Harbin in July 1945. A submarine was to take a few of them to the seas off Southern California, and then they were to fly in a plane carried on board the submarine and contaminate San Diego with plague-infected fleas. The target date was to be Sept. 22, 1945. As it happened, the fleet of submarine seaplane carriers that assembled was assigned to launch torpedoes at the locks in the Panama canal, but that was changed to attack the US fleet at Ulith just as the war ended.
As the Japanese army retreated from China as the war was ending, plague-infected animals were released and caused outbreaks of the plague that killed at least 30,000 people in the Harbin area from 1946 through 1948.
"Iishi and his colleagues received immunity from prosecution and ... in exchange they provided a great deal of information to U.S. authorities." In particular, they provided the results of "field tests" in which hundreds of thousands of civilians in China and eastern Russia were exposed to and died from deadly germs such as anthrax and plague.
At the outbreak of the Wusung-shanghai campaign on August 13, 1937, the Japanese army used poison gas against Chinese troops. In the succeeding eight years of war, Japan had used poison gases 1,131 times in 14 Chinese provinces.
On at least five occasions during the first two years the Japanese armed forces tried to employ bacteriological warfare in China. They have tried to produce epidemics of plague in Free China by scattering plague-infected materials with airplanes.
These five times are: October 4, 1940, when Japanese airplane dropped plague bacteria at Chuhsien in Chechiang province which caused the deaths of 21 people. On the 29th of the same month, Japanese airplane spread plague bacteria at Ningpo, Chechiang which caused the deaths of 99 people. On November 28 of the same year, Japanese airplanes dropped a large quantity of germs at Chinhua but no deaths were reported. In January 1941 Japan spread plague germs in Suiyuan and Ninghsia provinces and again in Shansi that caused serious epidemic outbreaks of plague in these areas. When too many Japanese soldiers also died, the attacks were suspended.
Japan Admits Dissecting WW-II POWs
On May 5, 1945, an American B-29 bomber was knocked down over southern Japan. Eight American airmen prisoners were made available for medical experiments at Kyushu Imperial University. The eight were dissected organ by organ while they were still alive.
This is the only site where Americans were incontrovertibly used in dissections and the only known site where experiments were done in Japan. Kyushu University, Fukuoka, is midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Thirty people were brought to trial by an Allied War Crimes Tribunal in Yokohama, Japan, on March 11, 1948. Charges included vivisection and wrongful removal of body parts; 23 were found guilty of various charges. Five of the guilty were sentenced to death. None of the death sentences was carried out. By 1958, all those convicted were free. The Soviet Union also held trials. Sentences there were carried out.
War Crimes Trial
High-level Japanese war criminals were tried by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The prosecution team was made up of justices from eleven Allied nations: Australia, Canada, China, France, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The Tokyo trial lasted two and a half years, from May 1946 to November 1948. The principle charges were making aggressive war and allowing atrocities against POWs and civilians.
Two of the twenty-eight defendants died of natural causes during the trial. One had a mental breakdown on the first day of trial, was sent to a psychiatric ward and was released in 1948. The remaining twenty-five were found guilty. Seven were sentenced to death by hanging, sixteen to life imprisonment, and two to lesser terms. All seven sentenced to death were found to be guilty of inciting mass-scale atrocities, among other counts, and hanged Dec. 23. Three of the sixteen sentenced to life imprisonment died in prison. The remaining thirteen were paroled between 1954 and 1956, with less than eight years in prison for their crimes against millions of people.
ACCUSED 0 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 5 5 SENTENCE NOTES 1 7 9 1 2 3 5 6 4 5
ARAKI G G X X X X X X X X Life Imp. Paroled 1955 DOIHARA G G G G G X G G G O Death HASHIMOTO G G X X X X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1954 HATA G G G G G X X X - G Life Imp. Paroled 1955 HIRANUMA G G G G G X X G X X Life Imp. Paroled 1955 HIROTA G G X X X X X X - G Death HOSHINO G G G G G X X X X - Life Imp. Paroled 1955 ITAGAKI G G G G G X G G G - Death KAYA G G G G G X ? ? ? O Life Imp. Paroled 1955 KIDO G G G G G X X X X X Life Imp. Paroled 1955 KIMURA G G G G G - - - G G Death KOISO G G G G G X X - - G Life Imp. Died 1950 MATSUI X X X X X X X X - G Death ** MINAMI G G X X X X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1954 MUTO G G G G G X X - G G Death OKA G G G G G X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1954 OSHIMA G X X X X X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1955 SATO G G G G G X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1956 SHIMADA G G G G G X X - - - Life Imp. Paroled 1955 SHIRATORI G X X X X - - - - - Life Imp. Died 1949 SHIGEMITSUX G G G G G X X - G 7 years Paroled 1950 Foreign Minister 1954 SUZUKI G G G G G X X X X - Life Imp. Paroled 1955 TOGO G G G G G X X X - - 20 years Died 1948 TOJO G G G G G G X - G O Death ** UMEZU G G G G G - - X X X Life Imp. Died 1949 Blank: No indictment; G: Guilty; X: Not Guilty; O: Other.
|** - Enshrined as "martyr" at the Yasukuni Shrine,
national war memorial dedicated to the
Shinto code of bushido - the way of the soldier.
COUNTS OF INDICTMENT: Count 1: as "leaders, organizers, instigators, or accomplices in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy ... to wage wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law." Count 27: waging unprovoked war against China. Count 29: waging aggressive war against the United States. Count 31: waging aggressive war against the British Commonwealth. Count 32: waging aggressive war against the Netherlands. Count 33: waging aggressive war against France (Indochina). Count 35&36waging aggressive war against the USSR. Count 54: "ordered, authorized, and permitted" inhumane treatment of Prisoners of War (POWs) and others. Count 55: "deliberately and recklessly disregarded their duty" to take adequate steps to prevent atrocities.
References on the WebJapan Admits Dissecting WW-II POWs
Unit 731: History and New Evidence -- gone
All POW MIA - use site search engine for: "unit 731".
Germ War and Experiments on Humans -- gone
History We Shall Never Forget - China: 1931-1945
Japanese War Crimes - links -- gone
Nanjing Massacre and the Tokyo War Crimes Trial
Japanese Imperialism and the Massacre in Nanjing - English translation of a classified Chinese document
The Nanking Atrocities - Online Documentary, thesis -- gone.
Unit 731: History and New Evidence - news accounts -- gone
An Insight into Life and Death at a POW Camp in War-time Japan -- gone
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About this page: Unit 731 and War Crimes - This page is condensed from the references above.
Created about January 21, 2001
Last updated February 11, 2014 - update sources