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Unit 731 - A Lesser Known Piece of WW2 History
June 7, 2011 5:14 AM   Subscribe

While most Westerners are familiar with the Holocaust and Nazi war crimes, fewer Westerners know much about the war crimes committed by the Japanese military throughout Asia, particularly the human medical experiments conducted by Unit 731.

The human medical experiments run by Unit 731 was one of the most extreme activities conducted by the Japanese army. They included subjecting prisoners of war to germ warfare, weapons testing, and a stunning array of experiments in vivisection without anesthesia, as well as experiments that seemed simply to test the effects of miscellaneous ways humans could die.

Over 10,000 victims are reported to have been subject to these experiments, most of them Chinese and Korean, and included women, children and infants.

After the surrender of the Japanese, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur granted immunity to several of the physicians of 731 in exchange for their research. The article states, "Some former members of Unit 731 became part of the Japanese medical establishment. Dr. Masaji Kitano led Japan's largest pharmaceutical company, the Green Cross. Others headed U.S.-backed medical schools or worked for the Japanese health ministry. Shirō Ishii moved to Maryland to work on bio-weapons research."

Much of the research provided by Unit 731 is still classified by the U.S. government, based on the belief that it could expose data that would lead to the development of biological weapons.

In February 2011, excavations began at the site of 731's former Tokyo headquarters, digging up the remains of former victims. The Economist reports that the Japanese press is oddly silent about excavation, and notes, "Since 2002 Tokyo courts have at least acknowledged that Unit 731 took part in experiments in germ warfare...yet the government has never acknowledged Unit 731’s atrocities, even after mutilated skulls and bones were discovered in 1989 a few hundred yards from the excavation site."

Akiko Azumitami's documentary "Silent Shame" explores why very little of Unit 731 and other war atrocities are not discussed today in Japan. She interviews people who have experienced both sides of the war and its atrocities. Trailer here.
posted by The ____ of Justice (95 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think many people in Britain and Australia remain very familiar with Japanese war crimes. Though the Nazis were responsible for dreadful atrocities against civilian populations, they treated allied prisoners of war with due respect for the most part. Allied prisoners of the Japanese suffered routine and appalling abuse and the bitterness about this still lingers, particularly among older generations. This goes far beyond the evil actions of Unit 731, 60,000 allied prisoners of war were forced to work on the Burma railroad in dreadful conditions, for example, and pictures of skeletal POWs taken after the Japanese surrender remain a stain on the collective memory.
posted by joannemullen at 5:23 AM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


More about unit 731 here (warning-gruesome photos), here, and in particular this NY Times article.
posted by TedW at 5:27 AM on June 7, 2011


I think you can add many Americans in on your total as well, joannemullen.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:28 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Warning: do not have breakfast/lunch/dinner just before reading any of the Wikipedia links. Seriously.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:28 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


US Generals can grant immunity to war crimes?
posted by DU at 5:30 AM on June 7, 2011


The question that always comes to my mind here is whether the US had anything similar. If the Germans, Japanese, and Russians were doing it, believing the Americans were somehow above that seems rather naïve.
posted by Jon_Evil at 5:30 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hideous, hideous history. And the continued stonewalling by the Japanese government and legal system, concerning this and other wartime atrocities (the "comfort women" of Korea, the "Rape of Nanjing", etc.) are shameful and sad.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think many people in Britain and Australia remain very familiar with Japanese war crimes.

In Holland too.
posted by Skeptic at 5:32 AM on June 7, 2011


Apologies Joanne--I didn't mean to diminish what terrible things happened to Allied prisoners of war. This was a post to highlight what happened to those occupied by the Japanese...something I never learned from my US history books.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 5:33 AM on June 7, 2011


US Generals can grant immunity to war crimes?

Not just any US Generals, Douglas MacArthur, the de facto emperor.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:34 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The question that always comes to my mind here is whether the US had anything similar

Not directly related to the war effort, but we did do some pretty bad things.
posted by TedW at 5:37 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Nazis didn't treat Soviet POWs very well.
posted by Daddy-O at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The question that always comes to my mind here is whether the US had anything similar. If the Germans, Japanese, and Russians were doing it, believing the Americans were somehow above that seems rather naïve.

Indeed.
posted by Skeptic at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2011


TedW beat me to it...
posted by Skeptic at 5:38 AM on June 7, 2011


I have a few Chinese friends attending the local univeristy for graduate/doctoral studies. They all hate (though probably wouldn't say it directly) the Japanese. When I inquire as to why, there's generally a reference to the way the Japanese treated the Chinese people in WWII. But it's more of the general "occupation" treatment during the second Sino-Japanese war/WWII. I've never heard any of them reference Unit 731. Maybe it's too much to mention.
posted by kuanes at 5:41 AM on June 7, 2011


This article about Unit 731 from former NY Times reporter Judith Miller is also worth a read.
posted by briank at 5:46 AM on June 7, 2011


I've never heard any of them reference Unit 731.

It comes up quite a bit in China, particularly if you visit the NorthEast. Perhaps they just didn't mention it specifically because they assumed everybody must know about it.

On the other hand, I have some native Taiwanese family friends who applauded the Japanese occupation, in their words in describing the way they wer treated by successive waves of invaders, "the Japanese were dogs, but the Chinese were pigs!"
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:56 AM on June 7, 2011


I have some native Taiwanese family friends who applauded the Japanese occupation, in their words in describing the way they wer treated by successive waves of invaders, "the Japanese were dogs, but the Chinese were pigs!"

Well, in the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the native Taiwanese were, I'd guess, left relatively alone by the colonial government due to a (probable) perception that the native Taiwan tribes were essentially no great threat, and therefore of little consequence. Let me stress, however, that I have no specific historical knowledge to back that up, it's merely an unsubstantiated hunch, and I may be wrong.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:03 AM on June 7, 2011


Tuskegee was of course horrific, but I'm not sure you can compare it to vivisection and the other shit Unit 731 did. I mean, that's some incredibly high octane nightmare fuel right there.

I have some native Taiwanese family friends who applauded the Japanese occupation, in their words in describing the way they wer treated by successive waves of invaders, "the Japanese were dogs, but the Chinese were pigs!"

As always, humans find all kinds of ways to be shit to each other. Japan does horrible things to China and the rest of Asia, China does horrible things to itself and its neighbors (Tibet and Taiwan, just to start), hell the KMT were barely better than the CCP.
posted by kmz at 6:07 AM on June 7, 2011


Oh my fucking god, I knew, but I guess I didn't know. Horrendous.
posted by msali at 6:14 AM on June 7, 2011


What really pisses me off is the general attitude towards this by the Japanese. Unlike in Germany where holocaust denial is a crime, ignorance to outright denial is prevalent in Japanese society. Like the OP pointed out, Japan has NEVER officially apologized or even acknowledge such atrocities.
posted by yifes at 6:32 AM on June 7, 2011 [12 favorites]


The 10th Regiment:

The difference with Taiwan is that it was ceded to Japan by the Qing dynasty in 1895. It did not go through the violent invasion and subsequent brutal pacification and extermination of ethnically Chinese - like in other Japanese occupied territories such as Singapore. While the initial Japanese occupation in 1895 may have been just as bad as when the KMT took over, their memory may not have extended back to 1895.

Just out of curiosity, what ethnicity are your Taiwanese friends, considering the demographics of Taiwan are 98% Han Chinese and only 2% aboriginal Taiwanese.
posted by yifes at 6:37 AM on June 7, 2011


Japan has NEVER officially apologized or even acknowledge such atrocities

Actually, Japan has apologized for such atrocities, and has also paid compensation.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:38 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But it's more of the general "occupation" treatment during the second Sino-Japanese war/WWII. I've never heard any of them reference Unit 731.

WW2 is just the most recent mistreatment. Let's not forget the first Sino-Japanese War, Japanese participation in the burning of the Summer Palace, Japanese occupation during the 19th century, Japanese invasion of China, and Japanese invasion of Korean territories (viewed during the dynasties as tributary states by Chinese dynasties).

Well, in the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the native Taiwanese were, I'd guess, left relatively alone by the colonial government due to a (probable) perception that the native Taiwan tribes were essentially no great threat,

There were actual Chinese there on the island of Taiwan during Japanese occupation. Chinese settlement goes even before Ming reactionary Koxinga used it as a secret pirate base. I believe most of the Chinese there then were Fujianese with some Hakka too. Aboriginal Taiwanese are genetically related to Malay.

The Japanese occupation of Taiwan is actually more of a colonization. Pretty severe from what I've read, but they also brought good infrastructure and institutional development, versus out and out war and supporting war economy of the variety Imperial Japan did in WW2.
posted by FJT at 6:40 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu:

Please provide credible sources showing how Japan has officially recognized, apologized, and compensated for the atrocities of unit 731, as it would be very relevant to this discussion.
posted by yifes at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, what ethnicity are your Taiwanese friends, considering the demographics of Taiwan are 98% Han Chinese and only 2% aboriginal Taiwanese.

I am not sure of their actual tribal group, but despite their Chinese surname they are most certainly (and adamantly!) not Han.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:45 AM on June 7, 2011


I was talking about occupation of China in general, but I can do some digging if you like. I kind of wonder what the point of this FPP is, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:48 AM on June 7, 2011


KokuRyu:

The Economist article, quoted in the OP, clearly states that:

"Yet the government has never acknowledged Unit 731’s atrocities, even after mutilated skulls and bones were discovered in 1989 a few hundred yards from the excavation site."

So unless you provide some drastic proof otherwise, I'm going to assume you're just making it up to cover for the shameful denialist attitude of the Japanese government.
posted by yifes at 6:51 AM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, and to add, we have some other, mutual Taiwanese friends whose ancestors were part of the first wave, and who are considered greatly more palatable to those KMT come-tos!

All this makes them sound like terribly racist people, but I assure you they take this about as seriously as I might when I make an Irish joke with my cousin highlighting his "inferior qualities" to my Scotch-Irish acestry despite our having 99+% the same DNA.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:52 AM on June 7, 2011


I kind of wonder what the point of this FPP is, though.

Are you serious?
posted by moxiedoll at 6:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


>> The question that always comes to my mind here is whether the US had anything similar.

80 years prior to WWII, you might consider Camp Sumter, the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, GA.
posted by JohnFredra at 6:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to assume you're just making it up to cover for the shameful denialist attitude of the Japanese government.

Like I said, I was talking about apologies for the war in general, and I would do some digging about 731. The Economist is not really an expert on Japan, by the way.

By the way, one of the reasons that soldiers from Unit 731 were pardoned by American authorities is because the Americans wanted access to the data from human experiments. There are a lot of places to confirm this, but Japan At War: An Oral History is a great place to start.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:59 AM on June 7, 2011


What I find most interesting is that, of the 20+ languages the "Unit 731" wikipedia article seems to be written in, the only one (that I saw) that has the tag at the top "the neutrality of this article is disputed" is the one written in Japanese.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 7:01 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


80 years prior to WWII, you might consider Camp Sumter, the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, GA.

Of course if you want to talk about actions by the United States you should link to Camp Douglas rather than Andersonville.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:03 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I was hoping someone would confirm or deny a thought that's stuck in my mind around Unit 731 and WW2 Japanese atrocities in general.

Is it true that it was actually Japanese reporters, veterans, and historical scholars that first started actually researching, investigating and writing about these atrocities, bringing them to public attention? Anyone doing research on the historiography and public memory of these atrocities know what sort of scholarly and reporting work was done in China, Taiwan, Japan, and the West?
posted by FJT at 7:04 AM on June 7, 2011


Several years ago when I was watching a bunch of gory films (because I'm a sick bastard), Men Behind the Sun somehow made its way into the queue between Takashi Miike and Romero and others. It was kind of sickeningly exploitative in a trashy Cannibal Holocaust sort of way, and I almost skipped through it, but it had this eerie dreadful feeling to it at parts. I watched nearly all of it because I felt like I needed to see how terrible human behavior can get (though I hesitate to mention it in the same breath, kind of like watching Schindler's List.) Now though, I think if I could un-see only 3 films in life they might be Men Behind the Sun, Mermaid in a Manhole, and Dragonheart.
posted by MrFTBN at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2011


I just realized something. Anyone find it a bit creepy that the Human Centipede FPP is right below the Unit 731 one?
posted by FJT at 7:08 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah I just noticed that too, FJT.
posted by MrFTBN at 7:10 AM on June 7, 2011


Kokuryu? List of War Apology Statements Issued by Japan
posted by jet_manifesto at 7:17 AM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


By the way, one of the reasons that soldiers from Unit 731 were pardoned by American authorities is because the Americans wanted access to the data from human experiments.

This is mentioned at the top of this page in the original post. The shameful involvement of the US doesn't absolve anyone else.
posted by jalexei at 7:18 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I remembered reading about the recent excavation news this past February, via Japan Probe, which also had links to more news sources (both Japanese and western) and expands a bit on the Japanese government's hesitation to make definitive remarks about the found remains.
posted by p3t3 at 7:24 AM on June 7, 2011


Umi to Dokuyaku (The Sea and Poison) is a stark 1986 Japanese movie about two doctors involved in the "experiments."
posted by ecourbanist at 7:25 AM on June 7, 2011


The question that always comes to my mind here is whether the US had anything similar.

The issue was access to victims and the problem of public reaction. Medical experimentation on the levels carried out by the Germans, Russians and Japanese requires a substantial subject population which the average citizen wouldn't give a damn about. Germany, Japan, and Russia all had large numbers of POWs and foreign civilians within their zones of control, as well as indigeneous groups that were widely disliked and could be treated however the government wished without fear of a public backlash (Jews, non-Russian Soviets, Ainu, etc.).
The opportunities for this sort of thing were fewer in the United States - Tuskagee deliberately targeted the most marginal of marginal Americans (poor rural African-Americans). The only other option would be to go overseas (as in Guatemala), which created its own potential issues.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:35 AM on June 7, 2011


To be noted: Whereas Germany makes it very well known about their Nazi past and their atrocities, the Japanese still refuse to make public their involvement in such atrocities.

Now: In the US, we tend to play with names and purposes, so that, for instance, what used to be called The War Department is now called The Defense Dept. So, too, we have a camp where a lot of work is being done on chemical and biological warfare, except we say that it is for Defense against such things rather than saying it is to develop such things.

But having said that, go HERE and you will see how your tax money is given to pharm companies to develop just such things, but of course without public awareness.
posted by Postroad at 7:40 AM on June 7, 2011


>> Of course if you want to talk about actions by the United States you should link to Camp Douglas rather than Andersonville.

I don't recognize the sovereign nationhood of the Confederacy. Can we agree that both camps stand as testament to the cruelty that Amercians have inflicted on their enemy? (And fortunately neither seem to have anything to do with medical testing. I neglected to read that into the context of the original question.)
posted by JohnFredra at 7:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But having said that, go HERE and you will see how your tax money is given to pharm companies to develop just such things, but of course without public awareness.

Not a credible site, and no citations or links. Just a bunch of paranoid blather on a site that features "Mind Control" as a prominent navigation option.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:46 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


But having said that, go HERE and you will see how your tax money is given to pharm companies to develop just such things, but of course without public awareness.

To be honest with you? antifascistencyclopedia.com doesn't exactly strike me as a super reputable news source. Their "news stories" about chemical warfare research are about as believable to me as other web sites' stores on alien abductions.

And on preview, Inspector Gadget beat me to it.
posted by antifuse at 7:50 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The standard book is Factories of Death.

this book lays out the case that the US took over the Unit 731 materials and staff, and used them in experimental attacks during the Korean War.

The Japanese War Crimes trials were terminated early and many suspected war criminals (Sasakawa being a prime example) were released and later became deeply involved in US/Japanese relations, the Lockheed scandals, the WACL, Moon, etc. ad nauseum.
posted by warbaby at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


a site that features "Mind Control" as a prominent navigation option

[off to MetaTalk to make a pony request...]
posted by Trurl at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


80 years prior to WWII, you might consider Camp Sumter, the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, GA.

Or, on the Union conscience, Camp Douglas.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:04 AM on June 7, 2011


Just a bunch of paranoid blather on a site that features "Mind Control" as a prominent navigation option.

So we're supposed to see "Mind Control" and automatically dismiss it as paranoia?

Have you ever heard of Project MK-ULTRA? The CIA's covert human research program on mind control, outed by the Church Committee and other congressional and executive branch investigations?

I'm not going to endorse that web site, but you're going to have to come up with a better smear than that to discredit it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:33 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tuskegee was of course horrific, but I'm not sure you can compare it to vivisection and the other shit Unit 731 did.

Sure you can. Unethical experiments which were known would result in serious harm or death to subjects.

The US may not have had a single center location/organizaiton for non-consensual medical experiments, but it sure helped having a few hundred years with populations without rights who "didn't need" anesthesia.

But seriously, do we have to play Evil Olympics? The fact that the US was eager to take these folks in after committing such atrocities basically lays out the mindset involved.
posted by yeloson at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to endorse that web site, but you're going to have to come up with a better smear than that to discredit it.

Did you actually click through to see what the category contained? It's Grade-A USDA Certified nutbar spittle froth. So is the remainder of the site, if you poke around.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:47 AM on June 7, 2011


nutbar spittle froth
nutbar spittle froth

i just like to say nutbar spittle froth.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 8:56 AM on June 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


The stories of Unit 731 fueled a lot of nightmares when I was a kid -- they were told in Civic Studies to educate us on how evil the Japanese invaders were.
posted by of strange foe at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2011


I'm going to assume you're just making it up to cover for the shameful denialist attitude of the Japanese government.

Or....maybe it's a case of simply not knowing otherwise. I mean, just last month we had an FPP about a senator who finally, after 70 years, called the government out for the internment camps the U.S. set up for Japanese-American citizens during World War II. And, it wasn't until 2005 that the Senate finall apologized for failing to pass any anti-lynching laws -- one hundred and five years later.

Governments who commit atrocities should absolutely be held accountable for them. Atrocities are all horrific. But it does not always necessarily follow that a resident of said country should also personally be held accountable for any "cover up" (show of hands -- who even knew that the U.S. apologized for not enacting anti-lynching laws? Who assumed we had some? Who was just surprised when I pointed out that we didn't? Who even know that we issued that apology?).

tl:dr -- all governments have done horrible, horrible shit during wars. But not all citizens get the unsanitized truth about how their governments have handled the aftermath.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


who even knew that the U.S. apologized for not enacting anti-lynching laws?

Well, I, for one, didn't know that lynching was legal.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2011


Apology is policy.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:13 AM on June 7, 2011


I keep typing a response which encapsulates both anger at another Japanese "la la la I can't hear you" response and incredulity that I, as British National, could be a kettle of such blackness.

Perhaps the depravity of the horrors committed by Unit 731 is a special case, but the palpable sense of pile-on which is gathering around Kokuryu makes me uncomfortable.

Basically, what I think I'm saying is, everyone over the age of 30 should be killed.
posted by fullerine at 9:29 AM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can we agree that both camps stand as testament to the cruelty that Amercians have inflicted on their enemy?

Sure, but I was taking your link to be an attrocity conducted by the United States government rather than by people from the United States. The Japanese atrocities were conducted by agents of their government in accordance with government policies. I can't agree that what occured at Andersonville was conducted by or with the approval of the US government.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:53 AM on June 7, 2011


Previously on Metafilter, the Soviet trial of Unit 731.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 10:07 AM on June 7, 2011


>> I was taking your link to be an attrocity conducted by the United States government...

Ok, I see where you were coming from now. Thanks for following up!
posted by JohnFredra at 10:19 AM on June 7, 2011


These were called by Ishii and his peers maruta (丸太) "logs," a term originating either in the view of subjects as inert, expendable entities or possibly in the cover story told to locals that the facility contained a sawmill.[citation needed]
posted by clavdivs at 10:23 AM on June 7, 2011


OMG, Unit 731, what a beyond belief real life horror story. Didn't know about it until this post. How could those people commit such insane atrocities?! Wow. Jaw droppingly horrible.

But having said that, go HERE and you will see how your tax money is given to pharm companies to develop just such things, but of course without public awareness.

Yes, Big Pharma and the US government have secretly participated in their own horror stories of malicious experimentation on unwitting human beings of all ages.
posted by nickyskye at 11:03 AM on June 7, 2011


The sense I'm getting from KokuRyu is akin to shock. I don't think he's trying to defend the Japanese state here, just maybe his facts were a bit wrong. Ignorance is no crime, provided you don't willfully persist in it.

And of course the U.S. isn't innocent in any of this. War is hell, but that particular war was really quite a lot of hell, and under the cover of that, all that hell, some people, medical people, took opportunities to do things to human beings that that wouldn't have been able to get away with if the subjects weren't being wildly demonized at the time as part of the war effort.

I'd call it a failure of the Hippocratic oath, but really a lot of systems failed in protecting those prisoners, and they failed because they were being bent out of shape by the realities of waging war. It's what Orwell was going on about, and is why the current "War on Terror" is such a crock of fucking bullshit.
posted by JHarris at 11:55 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And just to mention that Unit 731 was also the subject of two X Files episodes.
posted by Relay at 12:08 PM on June 7, 2011


Kokuryu:

I kind of wonder what the point of this FPP is, though.

Um...what?

I'm sort of stunned by your comment. Should this kind of stuff be hidden from common knowledge? But if you really need an answer, I was floored when I read about Unit 731, and then I was quite puzzled as to why I have heard so much about Nazi war crimes, but fewer about crimes under the Japanese militarily, particularly with respect to the people it colonized. Given the extreme cruelty and systematic application of 731's activities, I thought it deserved a post.

Knowing about events like this may also help in understanding why Japan's relations with its neighbors are often still quite contentious.


By the way, one of the reasons that soldiers from Unit 731 were pardoned by American authorities is because the Americans wanted access to the data from human experiments.


This fact is mentioned in the post.

There are a lot of places to confirm this, but Japan At War: An Oral History is a great place to start.

This looks like a great book.

Look Kokuryu, I can understand how people can feel sensitive about stuff that casts a country in a particular light. But now I'm curious as to how your reaction to the post is not "wow, this awful" or even blase indifference, but suspicions as to why I'd post something like this, as if I had an ulterior motive. It seems like Unit 731 did some awful, awful stuff--the cruelty of which is of historic proportions. There are people to this day who are unaware (and even others who deny) that it ever happened. Don't you find it unfortunate that fewer people actually know about this instead of the fact that there is a Metafilter post about it?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:57 PM on June 7, 2011 [6 favorites]



I just realized something. Anyone find it a bit creepy that the Human Centipede FPP is right below the Unit 731 one?


I noticed that right after posting this.

It makes me wonder why we even need movies like this when reality is equally, if not more horrifying.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:18 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Should this kind of stuff be hidden from common knowledge?

I think questioning the "point of this FPP" was probably more geared towards: "this is pretty much just some Wikipedia links and a magazine article," with no compelling reason for posting, beyond "bet you didn't know about THIS!" (that's not necessarily my opinion, but I can kinda see how someone might think that.)

For people who didn't know about Unit 731 before, these links are probably enough to get them started, but for those who did know about it, it may come across as kind of a "yeah...and?" situation. (just a guess)

For more on Unit 731 there's also Philosophy of a Knife which may have the hardest-to-sit-through opening credits of any film I've seen.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:32 PM on June 7, 2011


I'm sort of stunned by your comment. Should this kind of stuff be hidden from common knowledge?

I'd imagine it's the scant links in the post that raise an eyebrow; I mean, it's an important and gruesome chapter in history, but padding it out with the Wikipedia on vivisection? With nothing timely in there, it's a sort of historical outrage-filter. I know that's a more appropriate subject for Metatalk, but I asked myself a similar question, why is this being posted? and looked in vain for something new or groundbreaking in the links. This post was fixed by link-supplying commenters.

Mentions on the internet of Unit 731 and other war crimes of the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere are often manifestations of anti-Japanese Chinese propaganda; they show up in comments sections for news articles all the time. Enough so that I wonder whether any online mention of Japanese war crimes is actually done by these same comment-bombers. This post read more like something the poster read about, had a visceral reaction to, wrote a precis on, and then found a few links to scatter throughout.

None of this is to diminish the horror of these or any war crimes. I can understand why China and Korea are so unwilling to accept Japan's apologies; after all, the Pacific War in all its horror liberated the mainland from a decade of absolute atrocity and enslavement. Because of the inhuman viciousness involved, I don't believe there is an apology complete enough to satisfy the demands. This is borne out whenever a representative of the Japanese government does apologize; it's always held up by the receivers as insincere or tepid.

I think more people should know about war crimes their own country has committed. I'm looking at a late-90's Japanese middle school history textbook and there's barely a page on the Pacific War. Along with a picture of Pearl Harbor.

We should all learn more about all this stuff, just like we should all read Black Rain. We should also read a whole host of other accounts of what happens when people stop thinking of other people as human.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know about U731, but Japan has apologized for enslaving "comfort women" during that time. It took a few tries and 50+ years.
posted by snsranch at 1:51 PM on June 7, 2011


Ice Cream Socialist--I indeed apologize for the scantiness of the links, and basically the much better links posted by many of the commenters (thank you all.)

I was aware of a few of the other links, but actually could not stomach some of them because of accompanying photos and graphic descriptions. The wiki article seemed the least gory. Probably not the best method for link selection, as I realize now.

And yes, I can understand the point of view as being "yeah, so what, what more do you have to add?" Nothing really, as just the knowledge of it alone was enough to make me more aware that humans beings are truly capable of things beyond imagination.

Thanks for your comments.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:57 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kind of agree with KokuRyu here. The post is three wikipedia links lined up - one being the only link above the fold - then a thin Economist opinion piece, and the two minute trailer for a movie. It's not a "best of the web" find (e.g., an informative new historically-accurate site devoted to Unit 731) nor is it exactly news. So I took his "what's the point" question as addressing the quality of the post vs. the importance of the subject though I don't want to put words in his mouth.
posted by Rumple at 2:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I should apologize as well, The ____ of Justice; I think my tone may have verged on the corrective or peremptory, which I didn't really intend. I studied Japanese at a Quaker college, where we really delved deep into the war atrocities but kept with us an understanding of the humanity of the war criminal. It's a tough line to toe, but I find a distressing part of many discussions of Unit 731 to be that these horrors are now often used to show a lack of humanity in not just the individual soldiers or the war machine, but in the entire wartime generation or the Japanese people themselves.

Anyway, nobody was doing that here, so I'm sorry for being too strident by half.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 2:21 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Rumple said what I meant to say. Unit 731 was obviously guilty of war crimes, and for the most part the participants have gone unpunished. I'm kind of wondering, though, what the point of the post is. Is there some new information? A new movie?

Japanese people are well aware of Unit 731. You can rent movies about it in the same section of the video store where you can find Faces of Death. There are books about it at the bookstore, and at the library.

History textbooks don't normally mention Unit 731, but that's not really surprising, or even upsetting, because history textbooks are merely books that are out of date as soon as they are published. When I taught social studies in Canada, I used the same textbook I had learned with a decade previously. It still talked about the European "discovery" of North America (this was in the late 90s).

This also sums up my feeling about these threads:

It's a tough line to toe, but I find a distressing part of many discussions of Unit 731 to be that these horrors are now often used to show a lack of humanity in not just the individual soldiers or the war machine, but in the entire wartime generation or the Japanese people themselves.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:12 PM on June 7, 2011


Yeah, Rumple said what I meant to say. Unit 731 was obviously guilty of war crimes, and for the most part the participants have gone unpunished. I'm kind of wondering, though, what the point of the post is. Is there some new information? A new movie?

Japanese people are well aware of Unit 731.


Well, hopefully you understand then that there are a lot of non-Japanese people who had no idea this kind of thing went on. I never heard about it, ever, from any of my classes in high school or college. In Western media there are lots of book and movies about the Holocaust, but you often don't hear about what happened in Asia aside from the Bataan march. As you can see from this thread, its news to some.

You can rent movies about it in the same section of the video store where you can find Faces of Death. There are books about it at the bookstore, and at the library.

I'm not sure the "Faces of Death" section is evidence that Unit 731 is well known, and in fact may be evidence against.


This also sums up my feeling about these threads:


So should we not mention these things at all? I would say it would be wise to use caution in discussion, yes of course.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


> I'm kind of wondering, though, what the point of the post is. Is there some new information? A new movie?

It doesn't have to be news to be on the front page of MetaFilter. That would be Newsfilter. This is an interesting subject that clearly a lot of people don't know about (including many, many Japanese people--in fact, my Japanese friends tell me that the prevailing WWII narrative in Japan is that the Japanese were the victims of WWII).

It's not the best-researched FPP of all time, but the comment section is a pretty good place to supplement that.

It seems to me that you're not only trying to downplay these events (by, for example, falsely claiming Japan has apologized and "paid reparations" for Unit 731) but also going so far as to question the post itself. It's hard for me not to see that as an attempt to squelch discussion.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:33 PM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure the "Faces of Death" section is evidence that Unit 731 is well known, and in fact may be evidence against.

Well, here's the Wikipedia entry. There's also 114 entries on Amazon's Japan site.

Japan did a lot of bad stuff during the war. They also apologized for a lot of it.

With some of these issues, notably the Comfort Women, the Japanese government has been content to stonewall and wait for them to die. If it's any consolation, it's a typical tactic employed against the victims of Minamata disease.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:35 PM on June 7, 2011


I think many people in Britain and Australia remain very familiar with Japanese war crimes.

I don't think they are. I think they've watched Changi, and have heard stories from Granddad, but they don't know the first thing about the specifics or the extent, or about anything that happened to anybody other than Australians, or about war crimes committed by Australians, or that they'd even characterise these actions as war crimes.

This goes far beyond the evil actions of Unit 731, 60,000 allied prisoners of war were forced to work on the Burma railroad in dreadful conditions

60,000 Allied prisoners forced into labour (of whom 16,000 died - and let's not forget the 180,000 Asian labourers, half of whom died) goes 'far beyond' 440,000-580,000 people killed by germ warfare and human experiments? More civilians were killed in a couple of nights in Dresden than during the entire Burma railway saga.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Sorry - more civilians than Allied POWs.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2011


What are your final thoughts?
posted by Renoroc at 4:44 PM on June 7, 2011


Warren Ellis wrote a "Hellblazer" issue in which John Constantine meets the ghost of one of the doctors involved in Unit 731, who graphically recounts some of the experiments he participated in. Issue #142, which is included in the Setting Sun TPB. It deals with the issue... I'm not sure if tastefully is the right word, but its horrific nature isn't used gratuitously.
posted by chmmr at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2011


some of the atrocities just sound like "we were bored so we did all this shit-fuck stuff to people for our own amusement"

like infesting with fleas

and spinning in a centrifuge until dead
posted by tehloki at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2011


Big Pharma and the US government have secretly participated in their own horror stories of malicious experimentation on unwitting human beings of all ages.

Didn't know about it until this post. How could those people commit such insane atrocities?! Wow. Jaw droppingly horrible.





More civilians were killed in a couple of nights in Dresden than during the entire Burma railway saga.

Were the victims warned before they became experiments to facilitate weapons research. Because the people of Dresden, god rest thier souls, knew they were going to be bombed.

I understand suprise attack. I do not understand this research nor will I. Perhaps thats why the allies hustled these madman back to the homeland. Like getting a big bug jar with a tight lid all in the name of preparedness.

"we were bored so we did all this shit-fuck stuff to people for our own amusement"


good point, is this why we etched thier shadows on concrete, the birth of a metaphoric cold war?

It is dated, but A Higher Form of Killing is an tough but informative read.
posted by clavdivs at 5:28 PM on June 7, 2011


like infesting with fleas

I don't know if this has been covered in this thread already, but one of the purposes of Unit 731 was to assist with crude biological weapons programs, such as propagating typhus ("jail fever") and plague. Inmates (referred to as "logs") were used to cultivate or produce masses of fleas, which would hopefully be infected with plague or typhus. The fleas were harvested from the inmates, transferred onto rats, and dropped onto Chinese villages. The project didn't work.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:00 PM on June 7, 2011


Sorry I don't have a link handy, but I remember hearing about Unit 731 20 years ago, when the Canadian military was pilloried in the press for using data that came from Unit 731's experiments about putting people in freezing water to see how long it took for them to become unconscious and die. (Do we presume that they got this information from the US?) IIRC they were using the test data to design rescue and survival equipment for people working on Arctic and northern seas.

So there's another question: do you use data that would be unobtainable today because we don't do that kind of thing? Is it possible to use it "respectfully" to honour the memory of the test subjects? Or do you say that it's too horrific and we need to figure out how to do without the tainted data altogether?
posted by sneebler at 10:21 PM on June 7, 2011


sneebler, if I can recall any of the discussions about Judaism when I was younger and still a follower, that question came up with the Nazi experiments and the data they came up with. As far as I can recall, the general attitude was regret that the horrors had happened, but the feeling that to do away with the data (that has, in some cases, helped advance medicine) would dishonor the dead and the horrors they endured, removing even the last little shred of meaning that their deaths had.

It's not in any way an easy topic to discuss, but it is, I feel, something that people should be aware of, both with the data from 731 and the Nazi equivalent.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:11 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you've ever worn a Mustang brand lifejacket or survival suit, then you are making use of data from Nazi concentration camps especially Dachau. These were developed by a Canadian biologist in the early 1970s who made the difficult decision to use these data in order to save lives. He also used data gathered from immersing a steady stream of graduate students in ice baths with probes in their rectums.

Related: Nazi Hypothermia Research: Should the Data be Used (PDF) (Canadian research in cites 34 and 39, among others).
posted by Rumple at 11:13 PM on June 7, 2011


So there's another question: do you use data that would be unobtainable today because we don't do that kind of thing? Is it possible to use it "respectfully" to honour the memory of the test subjects? Or do you say that it's too horrific and we need to figure out how to do without the tainted data altogether?

Well, no. Because it's tainted by not just moral concerns, but by the fact that it is irreproducible.
posted by desuetude at 11:26 PM on June 7, 2011


Well, here's the Wikipedia entry. There's also 114 entries on Amazon's Japan site.

Ah, my apologies. I thought you were using the Faces of Death section in a reference to WESTERN knowledge about Unit 731. Which I believe is very scant.

If it's any consolation, it's a typical tactic employed against the victims of Minamata disease.

I don't know why this would be a consolation. Perhaps you mean a different word than "consolation?" Do you mean in a "hey, we know the Japanese government has fucked over some people" but "look, the Japanese government fucks over its own people too!" Because that's not really a "consolation", I feel.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 11:45 PM on June 7, 2011


This is an interesting subject that clearly a lot of people don't know about (including many, many Japanese people--in fact, my Japanese friends tell me that the prevailing WWII narrative in Japan is that the Japanese were the victims of WWII).

It seems like there is greater knowledge about what happened in WWII in Japan compared to many years ago, and it depends on who you ask. The documentarian in the FPP seems to say her own textbooks discussed the nuclear bombs, and didn't mention stuff like 731 at all. It's laudable she's exploring the subject through her film, given that it seems the subject is culturally taboo. She seems to believe some older rightwingers in Japan are responsible for trying to deny such things ever occurred.

I know, that like her, there are several Japanese writers, journalists, researchers, and just regular people, who believe it is very important to know everything that happened in the war and not sweep the really awful stuff under the rug.

Personally, just knowing there are people like that out there is extremely inspiring, and is one of the small but precious glints of light on an otherwise vile piece of history.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:17 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Were the victims warned before they became experiments to facilitate weapons research. Because the people of Dresden, god rest thier souls, knew they were going to be bombed.

I wonder if the people in Nagasaki and Hiroshima knew they were going to be part of a large scale atomic weaponization and radiation afterefects experiment? I mean, they hadn't really been bombed during the war and weren't really expecting anything from a lone plane.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:22 AM on June 8, 2011


It seems like there is greater knowledge about what happened in WWII in Japan compared to many years ago, and it depends on who you ask.

I'm sure you're right. For the record, my friends in Japan are mostly between the ages of 30 and 45, are fairly well-educated, and are skeptical counter-culture types who have traveled extensively.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2011


Nothing like war to bring out the very best in people, and, conversely, the very fucking worst. It's not a fair trade-off. The glory is not worth the gory.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2011


whoa, Bider-Mienhoff to the rescue:
I'm in the midst of a post-911 thriller about Unit 791 and fungal bio-weapons. It's called Spiral, by Paul McEuen and I'm 100 pgs into it. Very good stuff.
posted by krieghund at 1:21 PM on June 9, 2011


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