U.S. Government Shielded Japan War Criminals

Deirdre Griswold, Workers World, 30 March 1995

It is being presented in the media here as a political bombshell for Japan. The headline in the March 17 New York Times on its article about Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army said Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity.

The story is extraordinary in its revelations. Yet it is perhaps even more extraordinary that no sector of the capitalist media here considers it damning of the U.S. political establishment as well. There have been no calls for Washington to reveal its dirty secrets.


What was Unit 731?

It was a special unit of the Japanese Army during World War II that conducted research in biological warfare. The unit was stationed in Harbin in occupied northern China, not far from the border with the Soviet Union. It killed perhaps 3,000 Chinese and Russian individuals in experiments that numb the brain with their brutality.

Chinese prisoners were exposed to plague bacteria and then, alive and without anesthesia, were cut open to see the effects. Surgeons cut up healthy anesthetized prisoners for practice. Doctors watched through glass, timing their convulsions, as a Russian woman and her daughter were gassed.

There were no survivors.

But that's not all. Unit 731 also dropped plague bombs on Chinese cities. In his 1994 book Factory of Death, Sheldon H. Harris, a historian at California State University in Northridge, estimated that more than 200,000 Chinese were killed this way.

In Japan, there has recently been a rush of books, documentaries and exhibitions that give many more details of atrocities committed by those who later became some of Japan's most distinguished doctors, the Times reported.

Here's where U.S. complicity came in. After Japan's surrender, the country was under U.S. occupation, headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Japanese sovereignty was not restored until 1951.

In these six years, the U.S. presumably was tracking down and punishing war criminals. Certainly, that's what the population here thought.

But it turns out that the U.S. occupation regime was actually protecting the people responsible for Unit 731.


The research was kept secret after the end of the war, wrote the Times, in part because the United States Army granted immunity from war crimes prosecution to the doctors in exchange for their data. Japanese and American documents show that the United States helped cover up the human experimentation. Instead of putting the ringleaders on trial, it gave them stipends.

The head of the unit, Gen. Shiro Ishii, was never prosecuted. He died of cancer in 1959. Other officers in the unit saw their careers flourish in the postwar period, rising to positions that included Governor of Tokyo, president of the Japan Medical Association and head of the Japan Olympic Committee.

Why did the MacArthur occupation regime treat these murderers so well, when at the same time the U.S. government was keeping innocent Japanese-Americans in concentration camps?

The answer is anti-communism.


Even before the war was over, U.S. generals were already planning the Cold War. That's why they gave the Japanese doctors immunity in exchange for their vile data. The same thing happened with many Nazi mass murderers in Germany, especially those who could provide the victorious Allies with intelligence on the Soviet Union.

But there's another aspect of this terrible story.

Most of the victims themselves were Communists, both Chinese and Russian.

Dr. Ken Yuasa, who still practices medicine in Tokyo, says that when he was put in charge of a clinic in north-central China in 1942, he periodically asked the police for a Communist to dissect, and they sent one over, according to the Times. The doctor says he also cultivated typhoid germs in test tubes that were used to infect the wells of villages in Communist-held territory.

The Japanese capitalist government, like the European fascists, had poisoned the minds of the population with the racist view that other peoples were less than human. It was part of their preparation for wars of conquest, which they desperately needed to grab the raw materials and cheap labor that Britain, France, the U.S. and others controlled in the Third World.

They also had a special hatred of Communists, who were trying to arouse the workers and peasants of all nationalities to unite against the ruling classes.

In China, it was the Communist Eighth Route Army that fought Japan to a standstill. The anti-communist Chiang Kai-shek, who received dollars and weapons from the Allies, mainly sat on the sidelines.

While the atrocious crimes of Unit 731 may be reaching the ears of most Japanese only now, 50 years after the war, they were certainly no secret to the people of China or of the Soviet Union.

When the full history of the Cold War is written, it must include U.S. complicity in covering up the live vivisection of Chinese and Russian Communists and the promotion of those in charge to prominent positions in postwar Japan.


This passage from Agnes Smedley's book on the Chinese Revolution, The Great Road, helps explain why Japanese imperialism so hated the Communists:

By mid-1942 ... the surrender and desertion of Japanese [troops] had become frequent.

These prisoners of war were never put in chains nor herded into concentration camps. They were given Chinese uniforms and placed in classrooms to study much the same subjects that the anti-Japanese armies studied, with special emphasis on the feudal structure of their own country, the history of the Japanese working class, and the principles of scientific socialism. ...

[There were underground] Japanese anti-fascist organizations within the Japanese army, one of which was the ‘Japanese Awakening Alliance.’