Unit 731 victim. Image Source: Wiki.
In the past century, crimes against humanity were committed in a spirit of secular confidence. Decency - or backwardness - had once prevented certain aspects of human existence from being quantified. But in the 20th century, a perfect blend of brutality and scientific advancement swept away both decency and backwardness. During times of conflict and oppression, older prohibitions fell by the wayside. Wherever researchers and doctors worked beyond the pale, beyond scrutiny and controls, human beings were probed and experimented upon using scientific and industrial methods. War removed barriers to the quest for knowledge. This was a phenomenon of the time, a mentality which combined limitless savagery with a bizarrely searching rationality. It became a blind worship at the altar of knowledge, which had to be gathered at any cost to win victory. Indeed, one of the purposes of war in advanced societies is that conflict removes barriers to research, permitting explorations of the unthinkable. The Nazi concentration camps are the most famous examples of this phenomenon, but human experimentation occurred in other places.
Less well known but no less horrifying than the Nazi concentration camps was Unit 731, a covert Japanese research and development centre which operated during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It was located in the Pingfang district of Harbin, in the state of Manchukuo, that is, Japanese-occupied China. Officially known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (関東軍防疫給水部本部 Kantōgun Bōeki Kyūsuibu Honbu), Unit 731 was the site of some of the worse war crimes in history. It was constructed between 1934 and 1939; by the fateful year 1941, it was known simply as Unit 731. The victims were mainly Chinese, with some southeast Asians, Russians and Pacific Islanders; they included infants and the elderly. Women were impregnated by rape and then became subjects of experiments along with their foetuses. Some 200,000 people died at the unit.
Most of the Internet's images from the unit are too graphic and gruesome to reproduce on this blog. Image Source: Travel Creepster.
Medical experiments at Unit 731 involved invasive surgery and vivisection of victims without anesthesia; switching of limbs from one side of the body to the other; freezing limbs; inducement of gangrene; amputation without anesthesia; and study of subjects intentionally infected with various diseases - syphilis, gonorrhea, plague, cholera, tularemia, smallpox, botulism, typhoid, dysentery and anthrax. Parts of prisoners' internal organs were removed or rearranged. One surgeon who had worked at the unit under Surgeon General Shirō Ishii eventually stepped forward in the 2000s to recount his acts; Ken Yuasa also confirmed the terrifying fact that he quickly lost all moral resistance to committing atrocities:
Experiments tested the effects of weapons of mass destruction - biological, chemical (especially poison gas), and radiological. Prisoners served as targets to test germ-releasing bombs, chemical weapons, and explosive bombs. Wiki:In 2007, the Japanese army surgeon Ken Yuasa testified to the Japan Times that, "I was afraid during my first vivisection, but the second time around, it was much easier. By the third time, I was willing to do it." He believes at least 1,000 people, including surgeons, were involved in vivisections over mainland China.
In 2011, China asked the Japanese government for DNA samples of victims in an attempt to identify them. The Japanese denied the existence of any remaining samples from the unit. In April 2014, legal hearings were held for Chinese victims of Japanese abandoned chemical weapons in Harbin, and particularly remaining harmful substances left at Unit 731.In other tests, subjects were deprived of food and water to determine the length of time until death; placed into high-pressure chambers until death; experimented upon to determine the relationship between temperature, burns, and human survival; placed into centrifuges and spun until death; injected with animal blood; exposed to lethal doses of x-rays; subjected to various chemical weapons inside gas chambers; injected with sea water to determine if it could be a substitute for saline solution; and burned or buried alive.
One famous film about Unit 731 is Tun Fei Mou’s Men Behind The Sun (1988). A glance at the Youtube comments below Men Behind the Sun on Youtube (here) shows that Sino-Japanese hatreds persist in the wake of this awful history. The person who posted the film on Youtube attempted to tie the history of Unit 731 to current events in Syria. A four-hour mocumentary English-language film on the subject, Philosophy of a Knife (2008), directed by Andrey Iskanov, covered the subject with archival footage, faked interviews and extremely graphic reenactments; on its release it was placed on Netflix and then removed; it appears from time to time on Youtube. Philosophy of the Knife is considered "the most violent movie of all time" and falls under the horror genre, 'based on a true story.'
Kizu: The Untold Story Of Unit 731. Video Source: Youtube.
History Channel documentary on Unit 731. Video Source: Youtube.
ZDF program on Nazi concentration camps and Unit 731 debates post-war legacies of war crimes. Video Source: Youtube.
Today, those in government, the military, the universities, and pure research professions rarely, if ever, publicly recognize the grim knowledge carried forward from Second World War experiments. The medical profession and pharmaceutical industry, as well as several militaries, made strides based on these dreadful, shameful undertakings. Some confirmed legacies of Unit 731 include the Russian biological weapons facility in Sverdlovsk and the United States Biological Weapons Program. Beyond those legacies, there is a Millennial continuity: is it any wonder that terror is now a byword for conflict? Unit 731 laid the groundwork for bioweapons and chemical weapons in future wars, signaling that development does not always stride hand-in-hand with progress.
Image Source: Travel Creepster.
Attempts to preserve the history of Unit 731 depended on Japanese medical veterans since none of the victims were known to have survived. Video Source: Youtube.
The buildings of Unit 731 still stand as a grim museum near Harbin city and are rumoured by tour guides and visitors to be haunted. Voices beg for mercy and the guides refuse to take tours to one area where prisoners had their limbs frozen. Travel Creepster:
there is one section of that building that the tour guides will not take you through; the frost bite ward (guess what went on there). Throughout this ward witnesses have reported sighting sudden mists in the form of people moving through the halls, the sounds of heavy breathing, and faces in reflective surfaces. Those that have seen the faces describe them with trembling voices. Offer to pay a guide extra to take you through the frost bite ward and he’ll only reiterate… “Don’t go in that ward!”Paranormal investigators and ghost seekers place Unit 731 on their top ten lists of one of the most haunted places in the world, after sites like Poveglia and Aokigahara Forest. Ghost Story:
Recently, during the filming of a BBC television documentary, the English film crew experienced unexplainable problems with their lights and batteries often a sign of ghostly activity. Many speculate that as the story of Unit 731 is more widely told, the ghosts of those tragically tormented and murdered there are becoming more and more active.
"A Chinese woman visits the ruins of the yellow-rat breeding room at the Japanese germ warfare centre operated by Unit 731, near the Chinese city of Harbin." Image Source: Jason Lee/Reuters via The Guardian.
See my earlier post on Japanese war crimes here.
See all my posts on Ghosts.
See all my posts on Horror Themes.
See all my Countdowns.
Check out other blogs observing the Countdown to Hallowe'en!