Miss Gioia

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

731 - War Crimes

During our trip to Harbin last weekend, we spent a morning visiting the 731 Museum just outside of town. Many people have not heard much about what happened in China during World War II. While every American child knows about the Holocaust, the rape of Nanking and other horrors do not get much mention in textbooks.

Sometime around 1931, the Japanese imperial army established an outpost in occupied Manchuria called Unit 731. From what people have been able to piece together, this Unit was charged with performing experiments on humans in order to better understand germ warfare. They infected people with bubonic plague, typhoid, cholera, and yellow fever under different conditions so they could see how fast they got sick. People were put in vacuum chambers and watched to see at what pressure they would explode. People were intentionally shot in the head and then immediately operated on to see if anything could be done to save their life. People's extremities were frozen and then placed in baths of water to see what temperature was best for preventing frostbite.

As we learned all of this, I kept thinking about how astounding it was that humans did these things to other humans. The only explanation is that the Japanese solders did not view their prisoners as humans at all. They must have seen them as subhuman. In fact, records show that they did not use names for the prisoners, instead using the Japanese word for wood: maruta.

Historians estimate that between 3,000 and 10,000 people died in this facility outside of Harbin before the war ended. Approximately 300,000 more people died throughout China from bubonic plague, typhoid, cholera and yellow fever (sound familiar?) contracted from eating or using intentionally contaminated food supplies dropped from airplanes. When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Unit 731 evacuated and blew up the building, destroying much of the evidence. The doctors at this unit were never prosecuted. Ever. Some were still teaching at Medical Universities in Tokyo in the 1990s.

Chris and I had a hard time walking through this museum. It was sickening. In fact, Chris really doesn't ever want to visit something like this again. We are planning to go to Ho Chi Minh city in May, and he really does not want to see the war museums - just too hard to contemplate all of that sadness.

I think, however, that we have to see it, have to talk about it. After all, not many people know this happened at all. Did you know? Why didn't we know?

This is a picture of the crater where the central lab building of the 731 complex once stood. A big, vast, frozen crater where thousands of people, not maruta, were systematically tortured and executed. I hope we talk about this until everyone on earth knows what happened.



Blogger Johnny said...

I just happened to watch a (sickening) recounting of that as part of a PBS show on germ warfare. The Allies (the US) agreed not to prosecute ANY of the "doctors" because the doctors said they wouldn't cooperate and hand over their scientific works. Also, the US didn't want the Russians to learn that they were interested in that type of warfare (a trial would have opened that all up).

In the end, after looking at the data, they deduced that 731 had performed "junk science". It was just doctors doing things to see what would happen, but none of gathered information was usuable as science.

(and they don't teach that in history books in Japan, do they?)


February 13, 2007 11:23 PM  

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