I stumbled on this story while searching for information on biological warfare. I’m a history buff, fairly cognizant of the theater of blood that was WWII and the medical atrocities committed by the Nazis; not as well versed in the Pacific war. But this story of Shiro Ishii, Japanese wartime medical experimenter was someone I hadn’t heard of. Unlike some of the top Nazis, the Japanese might be said to have gotten away with the horrors they committed, as the records of their acts were deliberately concealed by the U.S. occupation at the end of the war.
Anyone acquainted with the levels of Japanese barbarity during WWII probably won’t be surprised by their medical experiments. While all war is barbarous, the atrocities carried out by the Japanese Imperial Forces seem to exceed those of most other countries for sheer numbers slaughtered and the gut wrenching savagery and sadism of the deeds. If you have the stomach for pure evil, read here and see if you agree. The victims of Japanese barbarity included untold numbers of Chinese, Sikhs, Filipinos, Javanese, Malays, Russians, Dutch, Australians, Brits, Americans, Koreans; in short anyone the military got their hands on. Here’s an excerpt:
LOA KULU MASSACRE (July 30, 1945)
After surrendering to overwhelming numbers of Japanese troops, around one hundred members of the Netherlands East Indies Army were disarmed and for a while permitted restricted freedom in the town of Samarinda, in Borneo, where most of the soldiers lived with their families. Early on the morning of July 30, all prisoners, including their families, were rounded up and taken before a Japanese officer who summarily sentenced them all to death. No reason was given as they were bundled into lorries and taken to Loa Kulu just outside the town. There they had their hands tied behind their backs and as the men and children watched, the women were systematically cut to pieces with swords and bayonets until they all died. The screaming children were then seized and hurled alive down a 600 foot deep mine shaft. The men captives, forced to kneel and witness the butchery of their wives and children, and suffering the most indescribable mental torture, were then lined up for execution by beheading. When the grisly ritual was over, the bloodied corpses and severed heads of the 144 men were then thrown down the mine shaft on top of their murdered wives and children. The horror of Loa Kulu was discovered by Australian troops who had earlier started a search for the missing Dutch soldiers.
ATROCITY ON LUZON
While many atrocities were committed on Luzon, this one stands out for its sheer bloody mindedness. Fourteen Filipino resistance fighters surrendered to the Nippon savages after their ammunition was expended. Tied together neck to neck and with hands tied behind their backs, they were marched three miles to their place of execution. Ordered to sit down, another group of prisoners were brought in and forced to dig fourteen holes two feet wide and four and a half feet deep. When the digging finished the fourteen Filipinos, with their neck ropes removed, were forced to jump into the holes while the other group shoveled the earth back into the hole and stamped it down hard until only the head and neck of the victims were visible above ground. Their repugnant duty finished, the grave diggers were then lined up and shot in cold blood. The attention of the Japanese was now focused on the fourteen heads awaiting decapitation. A few soldiers had gone behind some bushes to defecate and after scraping together their excreta on to banana leaves they returned to the buried victims and kneeling down offered each head a last meal. Unable to move, the helpless men could only shake their head from side to side whereupon the Japanese soldiers stuffed the revolting faeces into their mouths amidst peals of laughter from their comrades. After they had their fun, the serious business of execution commenced as an officer drew his sword and with deft strokes separated the fourteen heads from the bodies. No one was ever punished for this foul deed.
With so much evil everywhere the medical experiments of Shiro Ishii do not seem beyond the norm but they were. Most of the experiments occurred at Kiyushu University Mukden and Pingfan, Manchuria:
Chemical and biological experimental Units 731 and 100, of the Germ Warfare Complex were situated at Pingfan. It was here that Chinese and Manchurian nationals were experimented upon. It is not known exactly how many Allied POWs were subjected to these experiments but their numbers were relatively small. The terrible experiences suffered by prisoners at Pingfan and Mukden, has been, for over forty years, one of the best kept secrets of the Second World War.
…in the university’s anatomy department they were subjected to the most horrible medical experiments imaginable. One prisoner was shot in the stomach so that Japanese surgeons could get practice at removing bullets. Amputations on legs and arms were practiced while the victims were still alive. One was injected with sea water in an experiment to find out if sea water could be substituted for saline solution. One badly wounded American, thinking he was going to be treated for his wound, was anaesthetized and woke up to find that one of his lungs had been removed. He died shortly after. Others had part of the liver removed to see if they could still live.
The huge, super-secret laboratory station for chemical and biological warfare called Unit 731. Shiro Ishii was the chief medical officer . Humans, mostly Chinese, but some Russians and others designated humorously as mantuas or “logs”were caged and subjected to dissection and amputation without anesthesia, frostbite and gangrene experiments, injection with various infectious and chemical agents, before execution.
Pingfan had 4,500 flea breeding machines which produced 100 million infected fleas every few days. These fleas, infected with plague, typhoid, cholera and anthrax organisms, were to be dropped on the invasion troops in a last ditch effort to win the war. Most of these plague-infected fleas was purposely released before the complex was destroyed. North-eastern China immediately became a disaster area and at least 30,000 people died over the next three years from plague and other diseases.
Photos from CharonBoat:
According to the article, this is one of the best kept secrets of the war:
Only one person among the medical experimenters is known to have been tried for war crimes. The others, including Shiro Ishii made a deal with General McArthur to turn over the results of their horrifying experiments for use by the Americans in exchange for total exhoneration. Ishii died of throat cancer in 1959. Many others became government officials or heads of pharmaceutical companies after the war, benefiting directly from their atrocities.
Scientists and medical experts from Fort Detrick, Maryland – the American top secret BW facility – raced to interview Japanese technicians. Barely one of them stopped to consider the ethical implications. Having assessed the facts, an intelligence cable coldly informed the War Department, Washington DC, that the “foregoing information warrants conclusion that Japanese BW Group, headed by Ishii did violate rules of land warfare.” The message added pragmatically: “this expression of opinion is not a recommendation that group be charged and tried as such.” None of those implicated in Japanese BW research were brought to trial by the Allies.
Douglas McArthur warned the U.S. to keep the files secret, which it did, until forced to release them in 1993. Even the British government participated in the cover-up. Apparently the experiments didn’t stop with the end of the war.
Mukden inmate, Arthur Christie, a private in the Loyal’s Regiment, has no reason to think successive British governments lived up to his Regiment’s proud name. His many letters to the government, were met with an icy response. “Ministry of Defence, Whitehall, December 12, 1986: … we still have no evidence to support allegations that the Japanese experimented on Allied POW’s at Mukden, nor any evidence to support the allegations of a conspiracy to conceal the truth about what took place.”