Albion Monitor /News

More Japanese WWII Human Experiments Revealed

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

Biological warfare tests carried out on mostly Chinese and Koreans
(IPS) TOKYO -- More than five decades after Japan's defeat in the Pacific War, ugly secrets continue to slowly emerge from the country's wartime past.

Early this month, yet more secrets were revealed by the testimony in court of Yutaka Mio, 84, the first Japanese to officially testify on the Japanese imperial army's biological warfare program in the 1930s.

His voice shaking and at times breaking down in tears, Mio, a former police officer in the imperial army, told a Japanese court how he arrested Chinese men and took them to Unit 731, a series of infamous hospitals that conducted germ warfare experiments on civilians in what was then Japan-held Manchuria.

The secret program on biological warfare, which included human experiments, was carried out on mostly Chinese and Koreans nationals, and some stateless White Russians.

Japan has been reluctant to fully discuss those dark pages of its history, and critics find it difficult to produce hard evidence to support reports of Japanese cruelty by thousands of aging Asian survivors
Tokyo's responsibility for the gruesome experiments and Unit 731 is one among key wartime issues that remain unsettled between Japan and the rest of Asia.

The Tokyo government has so far refused to admit it engaged in biological warfare. In the 1960s, the government ordered a Japanese professor to strike out references to Japan's "aggression" in China in his school textbook.

In a clear voice, Mio recalled how he personally took to Unit 731 four young Chinese men who had been accused of spying for the Russians or who belonged to the Chinese Communist Party fighting to overthrow the Japanese colonizers.

"I should be called a murderer," said Mio, whose testimony is a vital part of the evidence compiled by lawyers appearing for three Chinese plaintiffs who are suing Tokyo for compensation on behalf of their relatives who died in Unit 731.

He listed the names of the Chinese, saying he could still see their faces as they were tortured by his officers and then dragged off by him.

The "factories of death," as they were called in Manchuria by the Chinese, were shrouded in secrecy. Mio says even he did not know what exactly was happening inside.

"All I knew was that people taken in there were never released. When I found out in Japan years later, I was overcome with grief," he recalled.

For a long time after the end of the Pacific war, facts about the cruel biological warfare Japan waged in the 1930s and early 1940s remained unclear. Unlike other war criminals, members of Unit 731 were not prosecuted by the victorious Allied forces because of a secret deal they struck with the United States after the war, according to research conducted by Japanese and foreign scholars.

Mio says he was conscripted into the Japanese army in 1934 and left for Manchuria the next year with his wife and children. His work involved keeping a close watch on anti-Japanese movements in Dalien, a city of 200,000 Chinese in Manchuria.

Under orders from the Japanese army, Mio was also expected to crush any sign of dissent in his area. Those Chinese he considered suspicious he sent off to prison or Unit 731.

Mio says he takes full responsibility for his role in Japan's germ warfare. He belongs to the Support the Demands of Chinese War Victims, a group of scholars, lawyers, and ordinary citizens that want Japan to own up to its aggression in Asia and work towards peace and reconciliation with its neighbors.

But this has been a tough campaign. "I can face the death threats I receive from rightists in Japan. But the deepest psychological blow is when top historians and politicians in Japan also deny the facts," Mio explained.

More than 50 years after the Pacific War, Japan's colonization of East Asia from the 1930s until the mid-1940s remains a divisive issue here. The Japanese government has been reluctant to fully discuss those dark pages of its history, and critics find it difficult to produce hard evidence to support reports of Japanese cruelty by thousands of aging Asian survivors.

From their accounts, some of which have only recently began trickling out, Unit 731 scattered bacillus from planes, causing massive plagues in Chinese villages. Its officers conducted operations on innocent civilians without the use of anesthetic, the reports said.

Osamu Fujimoto, a professor at Shizuoka University, said in August he has found documentation at the National Defense College that revealed that Japan's imperial headquarters had decided to conduct a major germ and poison gas offensive in China in 1942.

But perhaps what is most revealing in the demand for justice by Mio and other Japanese groups arguing for a franker debate on the country's wartime conduct is the suffering that Japanese nationals themselves endured under their own government and army.

After Japan's surrender in 1945, Mio says he was taken by the Soviet army to a prison in Siberia. He spent five years there and then six years at a Chinese prison. He returned to Japan in 1956, exhausted, lonely, and mentally unstable.

"The Japanese government did nothing to help me. This is why I am fighting for the truth to be told in Japan. No Japanese must go through again the unbearable pain I have endured," Mio said softly.

Mio recalls how he was tutored to become an unquestioning subject of the emperor, who was considered a god in Japan until the end of the war, and how he had believed he was doing his duty. He said that Japanese unwilling to comply with the daily rituals of bowing so low that their noses touched the ground before photographs of the Emperor, and of singing Japan's national anthem many times a day, were whipped or tortured by superiors.

Local media have also told how former Japanese soldiers were forced to eat human flesh as they tried to survive in the thick jungles of Southeast Asia after Japan's surrender, and how anti-war dissidents in Japan were captured and beheaded by the Japanese military police.

Mio says the point is that Japan and its people must come to terms with its past in order to move ahead. Said Mio: "It is so important to face the awful things and vow to work for peace."

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Albion Monitor October 27, 1997 (

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