Evil experiments

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/8/17 19:28:39

Documentary on Japanese atrocities triggers public outrage, calls for reflection


Mannequins resembling Japanese soldiers stand in the Museum of Evidence of War Crimes by Japanese Army Unit 731, in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. Photo: IC



 A documentary recently released by Japan's public broadcaster NHK has triggered heated discussions and calls for reflection in Japanese society.

The documentary, titled The Truth of Harbin Unit 731, reveals the crimes committed by Unit 731, a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Outrageous atrocities

Unit 731, notorious for cold-blooded lethal human experimentation among other crimes, is a subject seldom mentioned in Japan.

The documentary, released on August 13 by NHK, however, through testimonies of Unit 731 participants and records of the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials in 1949, presents vividly the cruel yet irrefutable historical truth.

Unit 731 was based in Harbin, then the largest city in Northeast China. The unit, set up around 1936, conducted experiments on live human beings to test germ-releasing bombs and chemical bombs among other atrocities. 

The majority of the victims they experimented on were Chinese, while a small percentage were Soviet, Mongolian, Korean and captive soldiers of the Allied Forces.

"I saw no one leave the camp alive (after being experimented on)," testified Kiyoshi Kawashima, an officer of Unit 731, according to an audio record of the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials in 1949.

Takeshi Misumi, only 14 years old when he joined the unit as a junior member, told NHK that just before the war ended in 1945, in order to cover up their atrocities, the unit killed all the people on which they were experimenting.

History shall be remembered 

The documentary, while irritating Japan's ultra-rightwing forces, exposed many Japanese people to the truth of the war, and many started to reflect upon history.

Nobuo Okimatsu, veteran of World War II and head of a civil group dedicated to promoting Sino-Japanese friendship, said that the truth about Unit 731 is touchy to many, but it is also something that the Japanese people should know about.

"The Japanese people should know about the crimes that Japan committed in the past," he said.

Tamaki Matsuoka, a former primary school teacher who has devoted 30 years of her life to conveying the historic truth about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre to the Japanese people, said it was great for the documentary to make public the audio records about Unit 731 and from the Khabarovsk Trials.

But she also pointed out that the documentary failed to ask why most of the officers and researchers responsible for the crimes of Unit 731 went back to Japan untried and unblamed after the war, and even enjoyed academic fame afterwards.

Instead of being tried for war crimes, the researchers involved in Unit 731 were secretly given immunity by the United States in exchange for the data they gathered through human experimentation. Only those  arrested by Soviet forces were tried at the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials.

"Japan has been trying to cover up the history for over 70 years ... Whitewashing the war crimes and highlighting its own suffering to pretend to be the victim instead of the victimizer," she added.

An alarm for the present

While calling for the war crimes of Unit 731 to be never forgotten, scholars in Japan are alarmed about the current situation that has some similarities to those before the end of the war, especially as the government is attempting to revise the pacifist constitution, and is allocating more funds to military research programs in universities.

During World War II, the Japanese military and universities had rather close bonds, with the military providing research funds for the universities, while universities supplied so-called "research talents."

"As the documentary showed, the best universities at that time in Japan all provided research personnel for the invading army and became accomplices to the war crimes," said Hiroshi Onishi, a professor of economics at Keio University in Tokyo.

He added that the documentary sounds an alarm bell for the present, as Japan's Defense Ministry started a research funding program called National Security Technology Research Promotion in 2015, which assists and supports the research of technologies that could be used for military equipment.

"While the government is cutting funds for fundamental research, the surge in the budget for the funding program for military research could lead astray the research in universities and research institutions, especially public universities which rely on government support," said Onishi.



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