RE: Unit 731
Cross-reference: Anthrax Outbreak; Biowarfare; China; Human Experiments; Harbin; Imperial Japan; Manchukuo; Pingfang; Shiro Iishi; Soviet Union; Sverlovsk Closed City; War Atrocities; World War II
"I heard about preparations for bacteriological warfare in Japanese Army for the first time after assuming my post on December in 1939 as a member of the Quarantine Unit of the Kwantung Army... namely the Ishii Unit, by the War Ministry, and assumed my post... On the basis of the facts and the work carried on in the corps under the leadership of ... Ishii, with which I was well acquainted, I hereby certify on my responsibility that experiments were conducted in the Ishii Corps in which living human bodies were sacrificed in testing."
- Major Karasawa Tomio, September 1946
Unit 731 was the proper name of the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwangtung Army. It operated in China, in Japanese-conquered Manchukuo, from 1937-45, when the end of World War II put a halt to their experiments. Its commander was General Shiro Iishi -- a highly brilliant researcher with a taste for baser pleasures, and no compunction against committing atrocity in the name of science.
Ostensibly created to research the prevention of plagues, and develop cures for epidemic-causing diseases, Unit 731 truthfully acted as a means for the Japanese Army to spread those maladies amongst the enemy. They experimented with transmitting cholera, anthrax, typhoid, tuberculosis, and the bubonic plague, as well as venereal diseases, and other incapacitating diseases, during wartime.
"No matter what was done, anything was permissible so long as it was 'for the country' or for the 'good of society.' ... In everyday society, there is no such distinction on reasons for killing. In the field of science, however, killing can result in new findings or a revolutionary breakthrough which would benefit all of mankind."
- Tsuneishi and Asano, 'Suicide of Two Physicians'
To test their numerous theories, they needed massive amounts of human subjects. Somewhere between 3000 and 12000 people -- mostly Chinese citizens -- were slaughtered by the Unit's scientists at the central camp at Pinfang, in Harbin. How many victims died at other, more far-flung experimental camps at the edges of Japan's zone of conquest is still not known.
They were not called prisoners, or even subjects; they were called "maruta" -- "logs."
Later, they passed through tunnels to an underground laboratory. "Instantly, an unbearably strong odor choked me. I remember that we passed through a hallway with at least 10 doors on either side. Each doorway was covered with black and red curtains." Suddenly, "a door opened. Three men pushed a surgical bed that contained at least 3 corpses into the hallway. They were covered with a white sheet"
- Harris, "Factories of Death”
Such "logs" were infected with various strains of diseases, introduced to them through many different vectors. They ate infected food, drank poisoned water, or were "inoculated" with the disease. They were also subjected to explosives designed to spread the diseases, and then watched as they died from wounds and sickness. If a subject survived too many experiments, he was considered "ruined," and put down with an injection of potassium cyanide.
The Unit's victims were also experimented on in various different ways, in order to satisfy the researchers' medical curiosity. They were subjected to frostbite to test new cures, taken apart and sewn back together, and injected with horse urine. They were placed in special pressure chambers, and observed as their eyes popped from their skulls, and organs from their anuses. Some were spun to death in centrifuges, others left hanging upside down for hours to see how long it took for them to die.
They were exposed to phosgene gas to discover the effect on their lungs, or given electrical charges which slowly roasted them. Prisoners were decapitated in order for Japanese soldiers to test the sharpness of their swords.
Others had limbs amputated to study blood loss -- limbs that were sometimes stitched back on the opposite sides of their body. Other victims had various parts of their brains, lungs, or liver removed, or their stomach removed and their oesophagus reattached to their intestines.
- Hudson, "Doctors of Depravity."
For many "logs," their time at the Unit ended in extreme pain and horror, as they were wheeled to an operating room and vivisected. The doctors wanted to see how their diseases had worked on living, pulsing tissue, and not the cold, dead remains of a man or woman put down by more humane means.
That this operation is not better known throughout the Western world is no accident. After the Japanese surrender that ended World War II, the Americans declined to put the Japanese officers of Unit 731 on trial, as they had with German war criminals. Instead, they appropriated their researches for their own use, and quietly allowed even the most heinous researchers to re-enter Japanese society without so much as a slap on the wrist.
General Shiro, in particular, opened a free clinic after the war, and died quietly of throat cancer in 1959. Some sources claim he was actually in America the entire time, advising on bioweaponry.
Some sources make darker suggestions.
If Ishii or one of his co-workers needed to do research on the human brain, then they would order the guards to find them a useful sample. A prisoner would be taken from his cell. Guards would hold him while another guard would smash the victim's head open with an ax. His brain would be extracted and rushed immediately to the laboratory. The body would then be whisked off to the pathologist, and then to the crematorium for the usual disposal.
- Harris, "Factories of Death"
The Soviets, however, took a much less generous view of the ill treatment of their Chinese allies. Any members of Unit 731 they got their hands on were put on trial, excoriated for their misdeeds, and sent to do hard labor in Siberia.
America discounted the trials as "communist propaganda," and refused to comment on what the Soviets may have done with the information, researches, and materials it confiscated from its prisoners.
Their tour concluded with a visit to still another exhibition room. Before entering, the veterinarian cautioned them that "Nothing in here is pleasant. All the specimens you will see came from dead bodies of different infected disease carriers. You can look through the open door." The veterinarian opened the door to the frightened youngsters. They observed a "room full of glass jars containing human heads, arms, thighs, hearts, spleens and sexual organs. All the specimens were soaked in formaldehyde."
- Harris, "Factories of Death"
In 1979, at the "closed" military city of Sverdlovsk, a horrific outbreak of Anthrax spores took place from its clandestine biowarfare lab. The accident was typically Soviet: caused by bureaucratic bungling, its true reason was covered up, and true effects were grotesquely downplayed.
According to the Soviets, only 100 people died from eating tainted meat. However, after the end of the Cold War, subsequent international investigations turned up the fact that Sverdlovsk had bred one of the deadliest anthrax strains in the world using research taken from its Unit 731 prisoners; it had been those spores that had caused the deaths, and not food poisoning.
But, thanks to non-bungling state suppression of the truth, the real death toll might never be known.
The remaining grounds of Unit 731's main facility, in Pingfang, is a people's museum that purports to tell the whole story of what the Japanese did there. The retreating army supposedly took all their notes and samples with them, but there has always been suspicion that some of what they made or used was hidden away, somewhere that neither the Americans nor the Soviets ever found. Whether the Chinese found these things or not remains a point of speculation.
Another point of speculation is what the Soviets did with their bioweapons laboratory in Sverdlovsk after the accident in 1979.
Their guide had still one more treat in store for his visitors before they were permitted to return to their school. Once outside, he ordered a soldier to bring him a horse. He then fed it some wheat that had been contaminated with a pathogen. "A few minutes later, the horse lay dead."
While waiting, they observed that "the great chimney was sending out dark yellow smoke that discharged a terrible odor. We thought that the veterinarian gave an order to burn the horse he had just poisoned."
- Harris, "Factories of Death"
(Notes on possible GORGON involvement with Unit 731 are classified at Triple Black, Directors' Eyes Only. Do not even !@#$ing ask, Agent.)
Last amended: 12/28/11