A Blog devoted to progressive politics, environmental issues, LGBT issues, social justice, workers' rights, womens' rights, and, most importantly, Cats.

Monday, December 07, 2009

War Crimes: Never Forget

Ishii Shiro

If you want to know why this Cat hasn't posted much of late, you should read about Ishii Shiro. Who, you might ask, is Ishii Shiro? And why should he keep a Cat from blogging politics?

WARNING: Graphic subject matter.

The preceding link takes you to a Wikipedia entry on Ishii. The information there is scant, and only linked so that you, should you choose to follow the link, will know who this man is. However, the article glosses over the fact that Ishii Shiro was a monster equalling any the world has ever known, in depth of depravity if not scope. He may not have murdered as many people as Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot, but that was for lack of opportunity, not intent.

For those who don't want to click the link, here are a few basic facts: Ishii Shiro was a microbiologist who joined the Japanese Imperial Army before its criminal aggressions in World War II. He was ultimately promoted to the rank of General. He started a military unit tasked with bacteriological and chemical warfare. In the course of his tenure at this unit (the infamous Unit 731), Ishii authorized and conducted experiments on living human beings, including babies. These experiments included bombing live humans, then observing their sufferings for weeks as the shrapnel from such bombs infected the test subjects with various bacteria, including plague, cholera, typhus, and the like. He authorized and performed vivisection on political prisoners and prisoners of war and unfortunate people seized for various reasons, or for no reason at all, by the Kempeitai, that group of sadists and malign misanthropes often miscalled "the Japanese military police."

Vivisection at Unit 731

Note the unfortunate subject's hands, bound, as he is being cut open while still alive and conscious.

You will ask why I chose to read about Unit 731. Quite honestly, I put off reading the book as long as I could. It was not pleasant reading. However, I highly recommend that anyone who would claim the label of pacifist, anyone who believes in non-violence, or ahimsa, anyone who opposes war, do the same.

We cannot fight a thing if we don't know what it is. Saying "war is evil" without knowing anything about war is mere bloviation.

War has been part of the human condition since the first proto-human brained his brother (literal or otherwise) with a rock as they fought over access to scarce resources.

Today our capacity to make war threatens every living thing on this planet. We could destroy our entire planet many times over, although it only needs destroying once to make the issue moot.

It bothers me that, of late, nearly every article on astronomy I read in scientific publications seems to contain the assumption that we are looking for a new home, a new planet to house our discordant species. Are we so close to the destruction of this, our home? Is there some plan afoot about which we, the labouring masses, know nothing and guess little? And, should we find it necessary to leave this planet, are we only taking with us the seeds of our future destruction?

We are still involved in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we elected Barack Obama to the highest office in the land, he promised us that the troops would be coming home soon.

I have plenty of respect and admiration for President Obama. He's doing a great job, given the mess he inherited. But while we are drawing down troops in Iraq, and finally bringing them home; while we are closing for good that monument to the fall from grace of America The Once-Beautiful, the torture chambers of Guantanamo Bay Prison; while we have finally resolved the amorphous and overly-broad scope of the "War Against Terror" into a mission to seek and destroy Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, his evil stepchild — I cannot but be troubled over our sending more troops to Afghanistan.

I understand that in order to safeguard itself and attain its objective, the US/NATO force currently in Afghanistan does require reinforcements. And it will be no easy task to finally clean up the mess that our Former Dear Leader Dick "they call me Dick for a reason" Cheney/Gee, Dumb? Yeah! Bouchebag and that ambulatory purulence, Donald Rumsfeld, left behind in Afghanistan.

I understand we can't just pull our military out all over the world and "bring the troops home" en masse, no matter how much we want to. We must ensure that those troops have something to come home to — jobs, or opportunities therefor, at least; the rescaling and restructuring of the military; training that will allow members of the military to do something very different than what they've been doing for the past X years. Medical issues, contract issues, benefits, all have to be managed, and with minimum disruption.

Most importantly, I believe that, although a standing army is pretty much required of any nation in this day and age, we need — we all need — to learn how to be a nation at peace. The military budget is destroying this country. We are spending millions on machines that have only one purpose: to kill or maim other human beings.

Most of us find the thought of killing and injuring other people distasteful. If we did not, there would be no need to demonize the enemy. Apparently, we don't find it distasteful enough to stop our country from becoming a vast military-industrial Moloch that grinds our own children to death in its jaws. We sacrifice the best of ourselves, our humanity, our health, our lives, and the lives of others, casually, to feed the beast. And the same people who support the burgeoning military budget complain at having to spend less than one-fifth of that amount to ensure the nation's health. (FYI: 2009 military budget: $515 billion. Estimated yearly expenditure on the public option: $90 billion annually.)

The time has come for that to end. This means we all need to learn, to see, to feel, to think, without equivocation, without flinching, about war. About exactly what it is.

And this is what it is. Torture, sadism, cruelty, inhumane acts, evil. War represents the worst in the human spirit, that allows us to justify killing old men, blowing up pregnant women, blowing limbs off little children.

Could you cut open a living human being? Dr. Ishii could. He did. He ordered his subordinates to, as well. You might say, "But I am not responsible for Dr. Ishii. This happened many years ago, and I was not even alive, at the time."

This is why you cannot plead that defense: Dr. Ishii and the scientists of Unit 731 were never prosecuted for their crimes. In return for access to their research on live human subjects — experiments forbidden by any code of ethics — Douglas MacArthur, and through him the United States of America, offered these war criminals full immunity from prosecution.

What Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and their cohorts authorized in Iraq and Afghanistan bears plenty of resemblance (perhaps they didn't go as far as vivisection, although we don't yet know) to what was done by Unit 731. And these war criminals continue to walk among us, scot-free.

Here, for your delectation, some excerpts from this exceptional chronicling of Unit 731, Japan's Secret Biological Warfare in World War II, by Peter Williams and David Wallace:
The unit was referred to under a number of different names at different times: Ishii Unit; Manchuria 25202 Unit; Kwantung Army Epidemic Prevention and Water Supply Unit.


One of Ishii's dreams could come true — doctors in combat alongside the glorious infantry.
Doctors in combat. Those who take an oath to preserve health and life, serving alongside, and assisting, those sworn to take both health and life from anyone they, or their superiors, identify as "the enemy." Ishii set up his headquarters at P'ing Fan, in Manchuria. It was by order of the Japanese Emperor of the time, Hirohito, that the size of the detachment was fixed at 3,000 personnel.
Ever since his trip to Europe, plague had fascinated Ishii. ... Plague could create casualties often out of all proportion to the number of bacteria disseminated. Ishii deduced, therefore, that it would make an efficient weapon and set about preparing the most dangerous strains. He looked to history, to the great plagues that had ravaged continents and delighted in the chaos that such a weapon would create. ...

Plague had another advantage for Ishii. Its origins could be concealed.


Russians from Hogoin were only one source of human guinea pigs. Most, around 70 per cent, were Chinese soldiers, intellectuals and local worker agitators apprehended by the Kenpeitai and Secret Service throughout Manchuria.
Such human experimental material included those designated as
suspected spy, saboteur, or ideological criminal, perhaps an opium smoker, pro-Soviet and anti-Japanese, "disloyal," of no value for "enlistment," unwilling for "re-education," of no fixed abode, or simply whose release was "undesirable."


Unsuspecting and innocent people were also tricked into the clutches of Unit 731. Some were lured by the prospect of employment. Young boys, mothers and children, even pregnant women were trapped.

Prisoners were referred to as "maruta," which is the Japanese word for a log of wood.
Talk about dehumanization!
A maruta was just a number, a piece of experimental material. They were not even regarded as human beings.


The prison was a vision of hell. Through the spyhole cut in the steel doors of each cell, the plight of the chained marutas could be seen. Some had rotting limbs, bits of bone protruding through skin blackened by necrosis. Others were sweating in high fever, writhing in agony or moaning in pain. ... An infected person would be put with healthy marutas to see how easily diseases spread.


Marutas were "used up" at the rate of two or three per day.
Among the prisoners on whom such inhumane tests were performed were 88,000 American and Filipino PoWs captured during the fall of Bataan and Corregidor. Some of these, together with Australian, British, and New Zealand PoWs (a total of 1,485) were sent to Manchuria. How many White Russians perished at P'ing Fan is not clear. At least the Chinese and the Allies have some record of how many of their people died.

The Soviet Union prosecuted those members of Unit 731 that they captured for war crimes. They were sentenced to lengthy terms but not put to death. Eventually, they were released and repatriated to Japan. Those who evaded capture by the Soviets ended up under the military authority of the United States. In exchange for their experimental data, Douglas MacArthur and, through him, the United States Government, shielded these war criminals from prosecution, essentially giving them a free pass. Many of them went on to win high honours in their quickly-resumed professional lives.

And the U.S. government took the data from Unit 731 and conducted bacteriological warfare against the North Koreans. Uninformed Americans wonder why the North Koreans are so paranoid. In their place, wouldn't you be? Information has only now, 50+ years later, begun to surface about war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Korea. But the truth about bacterial weapons used against the Koreans is not yet common knowledge even in the U.S.

While civilian Japanese paid with their lives and health at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ishii Shiro and his cohorts lived in comparative wealth and splendour to the end of their days. While his countrymen starved and suffered, Ishii Shiro and the commanders of Unit 731 lived well. Some of these monsters — perhaps all of them, by now — are dead. But their crimes must never die.

Chinese and Japanese protest war crimes of Unit 731

We must never forget that we human beings are capable of doing such things to each other. We invoke war as our excuse to dispel the last shreds of our humanity. It has often been said of humankind that we are "midway between angel and ape." The deeds of Unit 731 put the lie to that claim. No ape could, or would, cause such suffering to its fellow apes, and justify it so disingenuously.

In all honesty, although this book took weeks to read, and more weeks to recover from, this Cat has actually also been occupied with the monumental task of editing several books. That task is now drawing to a close, and this blog will resume its regular assault upon your consciousness.

Thank you for your attention.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Stumble It!


At 12:44 PM, Blogger hmscollingwood said...

The worst aspect is the Japanese refusal to teach anything in school about this horrific and shameful subject or reference to it in any university entrance exam, on Japanese or world history.

This is an example where 'keeping face' has been at the expense of honesty, integrity, humanity and compensation towards the victims, which Japan denies even exist.

No apology has ever been offered, apart from a few brave perpetrators who have recently gone to China and apologised, which the Chinese greatly respected and welcomed.

Other Japanese surviving criminals of Unit 731 when interviewed, said they "would do it all again"! They have annual reunions and celebrate their campaign in China.

This is a classic case where the public appearance of the defeated state has been put above basic human rights, and is still to this day colluded in, by the United States, which has overseen Japan’s ‘selective amnesia’ rehabilitation (because of the US Army, Fort ‘Dirty’ Detrick, Maryland, CBR ‘research’ connection, and information exchange).


Post a Comment

<< Home