Japan began to explore research on both biological and chemical weapons in the late 1920s. Even before he became emperor, Hirohito showed an interest in this line of research. In 1925, during his regency, Hirohito had a biological laboratory constructed within the Akasaka Palace, and in 1928, during the second year of his reign, the Emperor Hirohito had the Imperial Biological Research Institute built within the Fukiage Gardens. (Herbert Bix. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, 2000, p.60) In the 1930s, as the country came under the growing influence of ultra-nationalist militarists, this avenue of research became much more aggressive.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Japan and Nazi Germany had much in common
Both German and Japan embraced an ideology of racism and the belief in their superiority; which became a central tenet in both regimes. Both nations developed an irrational hatred of those deemed inferior, and the influence of militarism increased within the wider culture.The Japanese believed they were destined to rule over the people of Asia; they called themselves the Yamato Race, which they proclaimed themselves to be superior both among Asians and “the white race” whom they sought to expel from Asia. All non=Japanese races were deemed to be second-rate, lower life forms, hence expendable.
Although it is of no consequence to the millions of people who were victimized as to which of the two murderous aggressors was the more brutal, the statistics bear notice. Nazi Germany murdered six million Jews and 20 million Russians. During the era of Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito), the Imperial Japanese Army slaughtered as many as 23 million Chinese and another 8 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese.
Doctors from prominent medical institutions in both nations engaged in diabolical medical experiments on captives; and both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale; though Japan plundered more, over a longer period, than the Nazis. Both enslaved millions of people as forced laborers; and, in the case of Japan, young girls and women were forced to be sex-slaves for front-line troops.
“Japan’s biological weapons program was born in the 1930’s, in part because Japanese officials were impressed that germ warfare had been banned by the Geneva Convention of 1925. If it was so awful that it had to be banned under international law, the officers reasoned, it must make a great weapon.” (Nicholas Kristof.Unmasking Horror — A special report; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity, The New York Times, March 17, 1995)
Following Japan’s invasion of Manchuria (northeast China) in 1931, a young Army doctor, Shiro Ishii, who held both a medical and Ph.D. degree from the prestigious Kyoto Imperial University, seized the opportunity to launch Japan’s massive biological and chemical research program geared toward their utilization of germ and chemical warfare. Given the Japanese racist perspective, Ishii embarked on diabolical human experiments without restraints. He exhorted his subordinates, convincing them that conducting biological warfare experiments on human captives was acceptable because the victims were lower forms of life. Professor Sheldon Harris, author of the seminal book, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare,1932-45, and the American Cover-Up, describes Japanese world view:
“The superior Japanese race would benefit immeasurably from the sacrifices of people who were in general, of little value to mankind. The world would be a better place to live, they reasoned, without so many sub humans wasting the plant’s limited resources.”(p. 47)
In 1932, Ishii established the Epidemic Prevention Laboratory in the Army Medical College in Tokyo, the headquarters of his medical network, and the Togo Unit in Beyinbe, Manchuria where the deadly human experiments began in 1933. The Togo Unit becomes Unit 731, an official unit of the Japanese Imperial Army. Its official designation concealed its true function: “Water Purification Unit 731.”
In all, 63 germ warfare bases and facilities were established in China’s larger cities including, Harbin, Changchun, Beijing, Nanjing and Guangzhou, as well as in Singapore and Malaysia. (Takashi Tsuchiya. The Imperial Japanese Experiments in China in The Oxford Textbook of Clinical Research Ethics, Ed. By Ezekiel Emanuel, 2008, see: Table 3.1 Timeline; Jin Xide, Japanese Wartime Aggressors “Savage and Cruel” – Why and How, 2005)
The medical atrocities committed by medical doctors under the Japanese Imperial Army occurred within a hierarchical authoritarian culture that glorified Samurai fearless ferocity; a culture that believed in their own racial superiority and sub-humanity of their enemies. Tamura Yoshio, a member of biological warfare Unit 731, described the cultural milieu in “Japan at War: An Oral History.” When asked, hw did you view those people that you infected with bubonic plague and dissected while they were still alive? Didn’t you have any feelings of pity?
Answer: None at all. I had already gotten to (a point) where I lacked pity. After all, we were already implanted with a narrow racism, in the form of a belief in the superiority of the so-called “Yamato Race.” We disparaged all other races. … If we didn’t have a feeling of racial superiority, we couldn’t have done it. People with today’s sensibilities don’t grasp this. …We, ourselves, had to struggle with our humanity afterwards. It was an agonizing process. There were some who killed themselves, unable to endure.” ( The Japan Times, Nov. 2014)
In 1999, in an address to an audience in Tokyo, Professor Harris stated:
“The traditions and moral outlook of the men who conducted fiendish biological and chemical warfare human experiments 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.” (Japanese Medical Atrocities in WWII: Unit 731 Was Not An Isolated Aberration)
Even today, Japan, as a nation continues in its effort to bury the victims of the Nanking Massacre and the victims of the diabolical experimentation by Unit 731 physicians into historical oblivion.
In contrast to Germany which as a nation accepted its responsibility for its war crimes and has shown contrition and remorse, Japan has not done so; nor has Japan paid any blood money as compensation to the Chinese and the others whom it victimized. U.S. government officials facilitated Japan’s escape from its responsibility for the atrocities committed by its Imperial Army, and they awarded Shiro Ishii and his cohorts cash payments and immunity from prosecution for the data obtained from inhuman biological warfare experiments.
The leaders of Japan, whose Imperial Army unleashed diabolical evil; whose soldiers committed mass murder, savagely butchering, torturing, and raping innocent Chinese civilians; and whose doctors committed medical atrocities subjecting human beings to ghoulish lethal experiments; have yet to come to grips with the nation’s responsibility.
“In a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” Albert Camus
Japan has built shrines in honor of “war heroes.” Yasukuni shrine, a repository of 2.46 million war dead – including Class-A, B and C war criminals, among them, Tojo Hideki, the General who ignited Japan’s full-blown assault on China in 1937, and the commanders of Japan’s chemical weapons Unit 731. Yasukuni plays an important symbolic role fueling a resurgent nationalism in Japan. The Yasukuni shrine is administered by the army and navy; it is visited annually by high ranking officials – including prime ministers – who deny Japan’s culpability, as they attempt to perpetuate a fictitious valiant World War II history. (Shimbun Yomiuri. Yasukuni: Behind the Torii: From Government-run Shrine for War heroes to bone of Contention, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 2005)