Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hidden History – Unit 731

Between 1932 and 1945 Japan killed somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 civilians in a series of biological weapons attacks. To put that in perspective, it is about twice the number that died as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was the most deadly use of weapons of mass destruction in history and one of the worst crimes against humanity ever recorded. Most people have never heard of it.

It was orchestrated by a group called Unit 731. Unit 731 performed some of the most horrific experiments imaginable. Thousands of civilians and POWs were victimized. People were tied down, infected, and observed until they finally died. People were chopped up just to see how long it would take them to bleed out. Vivisection was commonplace. While the name Joseph Mengele has become a byword for evil, 731's leader, Shiro Ishii, is almost completely unknown.

This article from City Journal is a good introduction to this hidden history. Here's what 731 did when they wanted to learn how the diseases they had produced would spread:

The Japanese laced more than 1,000 wells in the area of Harbin with typhoid bacilli. They also inserted typhus into bottles of lemonade that children loved to drink in the summer, Harris reported. In Nanking, they distributed anthrax-filled chocolate and cake to hungry children. The Japanese discovered that packing fountain pens and walking sticks with deadly germs was a particularly effective way of secretly disseminating them.

Later the Japanese experimented with ways they could deliver germ warfare through aerial assault. They developed various bombs. At their most cartoon-like evil they even worked to infect fleas, put the fleas on bats, and drop them out of airplanes over target populations.

Why did they do it? Why kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people? Because they wanted to learn the best way to use biological weapons against the U.S. and Russia. They eventually developed a plan: Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night. Kamikaze planes were to be loaded with anthrax and attack California. It was scheduled for September, 1945. Hiroshima was bombed in August.

Two questions might occur to you about now gentle reader. First, what happened to these monsters after the war? Second, why have more people not heard of this? The City Journal article cited above answers both questions. Nothing happened to those monsters, and the reason for that is the same as the answer to the second question. Because the U.S. wanted to learn the secrets of Unit 731. The most evil research program in history became a bargaining chip in the Cold War.

I think it's time that we add this chapter to our textbooks. The lessons of this history are too important, too powerful, and sadly too relevant to our own time to be lost.

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