Nazi doctors & Japanese doctors; similar atrocities but very different consequences

During WWII, Japanese and Nazi doctors committed heinous experimental medical atrocities. Yet, those performed by the Nazi doctors were deemed “crimes against humanity,” whereas those performed by Japanese doctors were disregarded despite the many similarities. The doctors in both countries who carried out diabolical experiments regarded their victims as sub-human, not worthy of living.

In 1942, the Japanese medical establishment made a decision to exploit POWs and populations in conquered territories as prime candidates for human experimentation. And to use these human beings as substitutes for animals traditionally used for medical training purposes. Civilian and military captives were routinely strapped to gurneys, vivisected without anesthesia, injected with scores of different pathogens, or used in demonstrations of surgery techniques. (Sheldon Harris, Medical Experiments on POWs, Crimes of War)

The doctors and medical assistants took sadistic pleasure in torturing, humiliating, and inflicting excruciating pain and suffering on their victims. The ultimate goal of both Nazi and Japanese aggressors was to exterminate the victims after their usefulness as experimental subjects was completed. Neither the Japanese government, nor any professional Japanese medical association has ever acknowledged the guilt of these physicians.

There was no counterpart of the Nuremberg Doctors Trial for Japanese doctors who committed medical atrocities. Evidence has slowly emerged confirming that the Japanese doctors were given a pass by the U.S. government which struck a deal with the Japanese Dr. Mengele, Dr. Shiro Ishii and his colleagues. In return for the data from their heinous human biological warfare experiments, the U.S. government did not prosecute any of them as war criminals.

In point of fact, at the same time that a  U.S. military tribunal sat in judgement of some of the Nazi doctors in Nuremberg, the U.S. government secretly covered up the medical war crimes of key Nazi doctors and scientists and imported them to the United States where they continued their diabolical work under cover of the military and CIA intelligence. (Read Operation Paperclip in this chronology) The difference is, that the U.S. gave ALL the Japanese doctors immunity. In so doing, the U.S. marginalized and trivialized the entire Japanese criminal enterprise and devalued the victims of lethal experiments, including U.S. Prisoners of War. (Daniel Barenblatt. A Plague Upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare Operation, 2004)

Professor Takashi Tsuchiya makes an insightful observation about the lack of even handedness: he states that, “this fact casts doubt upon sincerity of the U.S., the organizer of the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial and the producer of the Nuremberg Code.” (Takashi Tsuchiya. The Nuremberg Code Revisited: A Japanese Perspective, 2000)

Japan enacts Eugenics Forced Sterilization Law
In the wake of the Doctors’ trial at Nuremberg (1947), in which the Nazi atrocities were laid bare, it would have been inconceivable for any civilized country to enact a forced sterilization law. Japan enacted a “Eugenic Protection Law” in 1948, targeting mental patients for involuntary sterilization. Between 1948 and 1996, more than 16,500 Japanese men and women were sterilized against their will.

The cover-up of Japan’s diabolical medical crimes and the failure to hold Japanese doctors accountable denied the Japanese people the necessary opportunity to reflect upon their moral values in light of the barbaric Unit 731 experiments. Japan neither embraced the Nuremberg Code nor forged similar acceptable boundaries for non-therapeutic medical interventions and human experiments within Asian traditions. An important essay by Jing-Bao Nie, a physician and associate professor of bioethics at the University of Otago, New Zealand, compares the Nazi and Japanese Doctors’ Human Experimentation noting that the atrocities were the same, but the historical consequences were radically different. (Challenges of Japanese doctors’ human experimentation for East-Asian and Chinese bioethics, Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 2001.)

He notes the enormous influence the Nuremberg Code has had in establishing ethical standards in contemporary Western bioethics. He cites a German bioethicist, Ole Doering, who noted the continuing influence of the revelations during the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trials on German physicians’ and social scientists’ consciousness — especially among the younger generation after the 1970s. They are sensitized to recognizing “continuing threads combining Nazi medicine with current medical practice and the necessity of being always alert as to political, social and structural feature related to medicine with might favour inhuman medical conducts.” (Jing-Bao Nie. Challenges of Japanese doctors’ human experimentation for East-Asian and Chinese bioethics, Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, 2001)

The ashes of Auschwitz and a determination “never again” to be confronted with the horrors of human experimentation such as were conducted by Nazi doctors gave birth to Western bioethics. But the inhumane atrocities and medical murder by Japanese doctors went almost unnoticed by the bioethics community – both Western and East Asian — as though the lives of Chinese and Asian people were of no value.

By contrast, not only are the Japanese criminal human experiments less known; they are not even explored academically and intellectually. Whereas numerous books and scholarly articles explore the Nazi doctors’ atrocities,

“the Japanese doctors’ human experimentation is treated as having little relevance and is rarely discussed in today’s Chinese and Japanese medical ethics. The historical, psychological, socio-cultural, and moral-ethical dimensions of Japanese doctors’ experimentation have been far from well explored.” (Nie. Challenges of Japanese doctors’ human experimentation)

The traditions and moral outlook of the men who served in the [biological warfare] and [chemical warfare] units continued even beyond the first post-war generation of doctors and scientists.  Involuntary human experiments continued to be standard procedure for all too many researchers.  Some of the studies were sponsored by the National Institute of Health.  Others, were conducted under different agencies concerned with the problems encountered by the Hiroshima survivors.  Still others used humans without their knowledge to test unproven vaccines and drugs.” (Japanese War Crimes, Rational Wiki)