by Jack Demlow
It is well known in the American popular consciousness that Japanese Imperial Army at the time of World War II abhorred the idea of being taken prisoners in war, leading to suicidal attacks by Japanese soldiers and utter contempt for any enemies that they took prisoner. Additionally, though Japan officially stated that the terms of the Geneva Convention would be followed so far as it was possible, Japan had itself never ratified it. Following the Convention “so far as it was possible” meant it would not be followed very far at all, for excuses of cultural difference and necessity for labor would be used by the state as an external pretense to mask the Japanese military’s total antipathy regarding their prisoners’ well being; The Imperial Army violated at least 5 different articles of the Geneva convention with regards to the trial and execution of Allied POWs alone, not to mention further violations with regard to treatment of prisoners in the camps and using prisoners for labor. It is also worth noting that the disciplinary culture within the Imperial Army was extremely severe, and an institution that encouraged beatings for its own soldiers would hardly be expected to protect prisoners of war. Common means of execution were bayoneting, beheading with the sword, and by firing squad, while in fewer cases prisoners were drowned or immolated en masse.
While the behavior of Japanese soldiers and camp guards showed disturbing callousness towards the lives of defeated Allied soldiers, sadism was not reserved for prisons and camps: on several occasions, surrendering Allies were bayoneted or shot en masse on the spot. In
Hong Kong and Singapore, wounded soldiers were killed in their beds or penned up alongside civilian doctors and nurses for execution later. The captured defenders of Amboina Island (nearly 300 men) and both the civilian and military crew of the Vynor Brook (also around 300 persons) provide additional examples of mass slaughter, their executions seemingly ordered to prevent them from being a “drain” on the resources and manpower of the Japanese military.
Allied airmen were a unique case, for they were especially despised by their Japanese captors. After the “Doolittle Raid” bombed several cities on the Islands of Japan as a reprisal for Pearl Harbor, the Enemy Airmen’s Act was created by the Japanese government as a deterrent to Allied air strikes: in essence, the act declared that any Allied airmen who were found guilty of attacking civilians, private property, nonmilitary objectives (beyond what was unavoidable) or committing ‘violations of war-time international law’ would be prosecuted as war criminals and could be given the death penalty or ten years imprisonment. Three captured Doolittle pilots would be executed for such “offenses,” with their trials being little more than formal fronts for state-sponsored revenge. In the case of the Doolittle flyers, and many others that would be executed throughout the war, the impossibility of determining which plane was responsible for the destruction of which buildings did not stop the Imperial Army from finding them guilty. As the war progressed and more and more airmen were captured in greater numbers, trials were often dispensed with and prisoners were executed straight away. Regardless of whether or not they were given an official trial, their “guilt” was already determined by the flags on their uniforms.
As for the Allied soldiers who were not executed immediately or charged with war crimes and executed later, their fates were notoriously bleak and uncertain. They might be tortured or worked to death, murdered on the whim of a Japanese guard, or they might survive long enough to fall victim to another cruelty: mass execution to prevent their rescue by the Allies. Not only were these mass murders aimed to spite their foes, but in some cases, the executions were carried out to silence witnesses to the Imperial Army’s atrocities. Massacres on Formosa and Palawan took place while the war was still raging, with the events on the latter island being particularly chilling: the prisoners were fooled into thinking that an Allied bombing run was on its way, and then when they were all huddled in bomb shelters the Japanese soldiers lit the structures on fire and hosed them down with machine gun fire. Allied soldiers held on Wake Island and Fukuoka were murdered when their captors heard about Japan’s surrender, final acts of cruel defiance by men who were taught that defeat was anathema.
Francis, Timothy Lang. ""To Dispose of the Prisoners"." Pacific Historical Review (1997):
496-501. Journal Article.
MacKenzie, S. P. "The Treatment of Prisoners in World War II." The Journal of Modern History
(1994): 487-520. Journal Article.
Russel, Edward Fredrick Langley. The Knights of Bushido. New York: Skyhorse Publishing,
by Kelly Suen
Unit 731 was a biological and chemical weapons research and development unit of the Japanese Army. It operated covertly for ten years since 1935 in Harbin, China, and was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes committed by Imperial Japan, due to its extensive use of lethal human experimentation. With science and medicine as its stated purpose, Unit 731 was called upon to develop cures for sexually transmitted diseases, which had begun to spread among the Japanese army due to soldiers’ rape of civilians and sex with comfort women. To study STDs, Unit 731 prisoners were used as human test subjects. Female prisoners, for example, were infected by syphilis either by forced sex with an infected male prisoner or by injections. These women were forced to become pregnant for use in STD experiments, and the babies born to these women were also used in experiments.
Pregnant women were infected with syphilis and other STDs for use in studying the effect it may have on the fetus. Female prisoners were systematically raped, sometimes by doctors, resulting in a large number of babies born in captivity. Babies born to women with syphilis were tested on the moment they were born. These babies were personally delivered by doctors instead of nurses, as it normally would be the case. Blood flow from mother to child would be stopped and released intermittently to take multiple blood samples. This was done to determine the intensity of syphilis transmitted from mother to child, and to study the progression of the disease from the time of birth.
Some women were forced to have sex to study the transmission of STDs. When the infection of STDs by injection was abandoned, the researchers started forcing prisoners to have sexual intercourse with each other. The process was handled by four or five Unit 731 members, dressed in white laboratory clothing which would cover the body entirely, leaving only eyes and mouth visible. A male and female, one infected with syphilis, would be brought into a cell together and forced to have sex with each other, under threat of getting shot if anyone resisted. Once the healthy partner was infected, researchers closely observed the progress of the disease to determine, for example, how far it advanced the first week, the second week, and so forth. Instead of looking for external changes, such as the condition of sexual organs, researchers performed live dissections to investigate the effect of the disease on the internal organs at different stages of the disease. Unsurprisingly, some women were impregnated from these sexual encounters.
Babies, whether born outside or in Unit 731, were also made use of in experiments. The ones born in Unit 731 were the results of rape. A few months after being impregnated, women would be dissected and their fetuses removed while they were awake. On one occasion, a pregnant woman was infected with syphilis, and when her child was born, they were both dissected. Another experiment conducted on children was for a frostbite cure. A temperature sensing needle was inserted into the hand of a three-month-old baby and the infant was immersed in ice water, then temperature changes were recorded.
With the prevalence of syphilis and other STDs among Japanese soldiers, Unit 731 was sought out to create cures. Unit 731 performed experiments that had caused the deaths of many female prisoners. Atrocities such as vivisections and forced pregnancies were committed for science. Women were infected with syphilis, and some were also forced to become pregnant. They were infected and impregnated by rape or forced sex with male prisoners. Scientists utilized pregnant women as well as the children they would later give birth to in their STD experiments. Pregnant women, women with syphilis, and babies were dissected alive. Despite knowledge of a large number of children born in Unit 731, there are no records of survivors. It is likely the children were killed along with other prisoners at the end of the war.
Unit 731: Japan's Secret Biological Warfare in World War II by Peter Williams, David Wallace pg. 41
Unit 731: Testimony By Hal Gold
Get our ebook to learn more about Unit 731!
by Jack Demlow
The Fall of Singapore was a military disaster contemporary with Pearl Harbor, but it led to division and finger-pointing instead of rallying the Allies further against Japan. The Japanese invasion of Malaya (today’s Malaysia) began December 8th, 1941, landing troops on its shores and pushing south through the peninsula. The combined British, Indian, and Australian forces under General Arthur Percival’s command had great difficulty stalling the Japanese attack, and in two months the struggle was over: Japan had taken all of Malaya and the surrender of Singapore 130,000 Allied soldiers was being negotiated. This defeat was called “the worst disaster and the largest capitulation in British history” by British prime minister Winston Churchill, and the British generals that had led the defense were not viewed very graciously. Most of the popular blame for the capture of Singapore would fall on General Percival, though arguably this was unjust given lacking support for fortifying the region and a number of his generals who held him in contempt and inhibited smooth military operation.
Among these belligerents, General Henry Gordon Bennett, commander of the Australian 8th Division, was a notable case. He already had a reputation as a courageous frontline commander in WWI: Bennet had been wounded on his first day of battle, but he escaped the hospital ship as soon as he had a chance (not permission) and went right back to the front lines. This reputation was bolstered on many other battlefields, but it gained some unpleasant dimensions as Bennet was found to be argumentative and had a sensitive ego when working with other officers. Additionally, Bennet was not a full-time soldier in peacetime and had a poor opinion of officers who served in the military full-time, a position he vocalized frequently and even worked into a number of newspaper articles in 1937. This drew enough attention to Bennet for him to face Censure by the Military Board, which doubtless only worsened his relations to other officers.
When WWII began, Bennet was the third-highest ranking officer in the Australian military, but he was passed over for command in the field on three separate occasions. A courageous soldier Bennett may have been, but his touchy ego and dislike of regular officers would have harmed Australian capability to work jointly with British forces that were also operating in the Pacific. The promotion of the commander of the 8th Division, Major General Vernon Sturdee, finally gave Bennet a position to fill in the field. Bennett's performance as a commander against the Japanese advance through Johore was as strong any of his fellow commanders in Malaya, but it was not enough. Aside from a successful ambush at Gemas, his Australian and Indian units were pushed back along with the rest of the defending line. Malaya fell in early February, as did Singapore.
Bennet was known as a brave and enthusiastic soldier, no matter his pettiness with his peers and superiors, but his actions during the surrender of Singapore marred that reputation in the eyes of many. Allegedly having sufficient knowledge of Japanese tactics to provide an advantage later on in the war, Bennet gave up his command to Brigadier C.A. Callaghan and escaped Singapore alongside civilian evacuees. Bennett’s claim to possess valuable intelligence did not save him from rebuke for leaving his troops, and his senior officers kept him out of field command for the rest of the war. Bennett, and extended his defense to include criticism of the other commanders of the Malayan campaign in his book Why Singapore Fell. At the end of the war, Bennett found himself under military investigation for his flight from Singapore after the now-released General Percival accused him of unlawfully vacating his command. The investigation’s conclusion condemned Bennet’s actions as unjustified, no matter his intent or his degree of personal courage. Bennett returned to civilian life with his military reputation tarnished, though not in tatters, and he continues to be a controversial figure in the history of WWII.
Austrailian War Memorial. Lieutenant General Henry Gordon Bennet. n.d. web page. 27 June 2018.
Bell, Morgan. Gordon Bennet. n.d. web page. 27 June 2018.
Diamond, John. General Arthur Percival: A Convenient Scapegoat? 17th June 2016. web page. 27th June 2018.
Lodge, A.B. Bennett, Henry Gordon (1887-1962). 1993. web page. 27 June 2018.
by Sophie Hammond
During the early twentieth century, the Imperial Japanese Army invaded and occupied Chinese lands without ever officially declaring war.
In 1915, Japan issued the secret Twenty-One Demands to Chinese president Yuan Shikai, with the intent to claim economic and political power over China. The Demands were divided into five groups, with the Group Five demands including concessions similar to those Japan had forced on Korea. After twenty-five rounds of negotiations and intense political maneuvering on President Yuan’s part, the Twenty-One Demands were agreed to, except for the Group Five demands. The other Demands, though, reinforced Japanese control of southern Manchuria, Shandong, and eastern inner Mongolia. Japan’s hold on Manchuria was especially strong. The Chinese warlord Zhang Zuolin tolerated Japan’s encroachments on his Manchurian territory in exchange for their help maintaining his power, and Japan controlled southern Manchuria economically through its ownership of most of Manchuria’s railway lines and its lease of the Liaodong Peninsula.
In 1928, a handful of extremist Japanese officers stationed in Manchuria bombed Zhang Zuolin’s personal train, assassinating him. According to many sources, they acted without any direct orders from Tokyo, hoping to provide Japan with an excuse to invade Manchuria. Whether or not the Imperial Japanese Army actually authorized the assassination, Zhang Zuolin’s son and heir Zhang Xueliang was understandably not eager to ally himself with the Japanese after this. Instead, he gave his loyalty to the Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, who took as their main goal resistance to foreign influence in China.
The Manchurian railways also became a source of major contention, and to circumvent Japanese power in the region, the Chinese began building their own railway system which bypassed Japanese lines. It was these railways which formed the pretext for the Mukden Incident. Increasing tensions in the summer of 1931 culminated in the explosion of a bomb which destroyed a section of Japan-owned railway tracks near the city of Mukden. Japan blamed the Nationalists for the bomb, although even the League of Nations, after a thorough investigation, believed that the bomb had actually been planted by mid-level Imperial Japanese Army officers to justify seizing Manchuria.
The Mukden Incident, whether or not it was a staged pretext, is considered the beginning of Japan’s full-scale invasion of Manchuria and the beginning of Japan’s Fifteen Years’ War. By the next year, Japan had made Manchuria into Manchukuo, a puppet state headed by a puppet leader, the deposed Qing emperor Pu Yi. Pu Yi had become emperor of China in 1908 at the age of two, only for China to become a republic three years later. He lived in powerless luxury until 1924, when political turmoil in China caused him to appeal to Japan for protection. Eight years later, Japan made him Emperor of Manchukuo, and he lived again in powerless luxury.
As Japan pushed further and further into China and tightened its control over the regions it occupied, Chinese communist and Nationalist forces continued to fight against each other. However, in 1936, Zhang Xueliang, the leader of the Nationalists in Manchuria under Chiang Kai-shek’s command, forced Chiang to stop the civil war and ally with the communists to oppose the Japanese. Zhang achieved this unexpected result by kidnapping Chiang in Xi’an after Chiang arrived to order Zhang to resume fighting the communists. Chiang agreed to Zhang’s demands after communist leader Zhou Enlai intervened in the negotiations and helped persuade Chiang to fight more actively against the Japanese and to allow the communists local authority.
The Xi’an Incident of 1936 helped speed China on its way to a full-scale resistance to Japanese expansion, but most historians point to an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing as the real beginning of the United Front against the Japanese. On the night of July 7, 1937, a small Japanese force demanded to be allowed into the walled town of Wanping to find a missing Japanese soldier. The Chinese garrison refused, and during the argument, a shot rang out. It remains a mystery which side fired the first shot, but soon enough, both sides began firing.
The clash at the Marco Polo Bridge bolstered Chinese resistance. Immediately, nearly all of the regional political and military groups in China threw their weight behind the Nationalists, even those who had formerly withheld their support. In September of that year, the Communists agreed to put their troops under Nationalist governmental control. This quickly escalated the fighting between Chinese and Japanese troops, as the Japanese seized several major Chinese cities and ports, including Shanghai in a three-month siege, followed by the unrestrained assault on the Nationalist capital, Nanjing, in what has become known as the Rape of Nanking. The Rape of Nanking further intensified Chinese resistance, and while the Imperial Japanese Army continued to expand their control over parts of China, their progress was stymied outside urban areas.
Yet war remained officially undeclared by either side until December 9, 1941, when the United States and China simultaneously declared war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Cavendish, Richard. “Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China, Is Pardoned.” History Today, vol. 59, no. 12, Dec. 2009.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Second Sino-Japanese War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Dec. 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Second-Sino-Japanese-War.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Zhang Zuolin.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 31 May 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Zhang-Zuolin.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Marco Polo Bridge Incident.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 30 June 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Marco-Polo-Bridge-Incident.
Huang, Yanzhong. “China, Japan and the Twenty-One Demands.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Jan. 2015, www.forbes.com/sites/yanzhonghuang/2015/01/21/china-japan-and-the-twenty-one-demands/.
“Invasion of Manchuria and Japanese Aggression.” The Pacific Theater, Lynden Pioneer Museum, 3 June 2014, lyndenpacifictheater.wordpress.com/china-invasion/.
The Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs. “The Mukden Incident of 1931 and the Stimson Doctrine.” Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/mukden-incident.
Overy, Richard. “China’s War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival by Rana Mitter – Review.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 June 2013, www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/06/china-war-japan-rana-mitter-review.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. “On the Declaration of War with Japan - December 9, 1941.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Marist College, docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/120941.html.
Twitchett, Dennis C., et al. “China.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 July 2018, www.britannica.com/place/China/War-between-Nationalists-and-communists.
von Stauffenberg, Claus. “World War II: China's Declaration of War Against Japan, Germany and Italy.” Jewish Virtual Library, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/china-s-declaration-of-war-against-japan-germany-and-italy-december-1941.
Wright, Edmund, editor. A Dictionary of World History. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 2006
by Jack Gray
The Philippines played a critical role in American strategy during World War II. Before the war, the United States had large numbers of troops stationed on the islands. After U.S. forces were defeated from the islands, regaining the Philippines became an important goal, especially for General MacArthur, who had been forced to evacuate from his headquarters there in 1942 when the Japanese attacked. Accordingly, MacArthur adopted a strategy of island-hopping, which would allow him to steadily drive Japanese forces out of the islands they had conquered, bringing him closer and closer to Japan itself. Unfortunately, the Philippines’ proximity to Japan meant that they were among the last of the occupied islands to be retaken; fighting on the island of Mindanao continued up until the Japanese surrender in August of 1945.
The conflict in the Philippines thus had three main phases. The first was the Japanese invasion, which occurred between December of 1941 and June of 1942. In several battles the Japanese were able to defeat American and Filipino forces and quickly occupy the Philippines. From June 1942 until October 1944, the only fighting that occurred in the Philippines was between Japanese occupying forces and guerrilla resistance fighters. During this second phase there were no large or decisive battles, but rather many ambushes and raids against Japanese outposts. In October 1944, MacArthur and U.S. forces landed on Leyte, one of the southernmost islands in the Philippines. From then on until the end of the war in August 1945, there would be more large-scale fighting as American and Filipino forces recaptured important cities such as Manila and drove the Japanese out of the Philippines.
The first battles in the Philippines were raids against American airfields. The Japanese bombed Clark field, Del Carmen field, Nichols field, and Nielson field in the first few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, destroying much of the United States’ air power in the Philippines. They simultaneously launched preliminary amphibious attacks on or near the island of Luzon with small units, intending to give themselves a foothold to support larger attacks on the main body of U.S. forces in the Philippines. Most of these landings faced no significant opposition, as they did not directly threaten important bases or cities. On December 21, 1942, the Japanese launched their main attack on the Philippines with an amphibious assault at Lingayen Gulf and a second at Lamon Bay. They quickly overpowered combined American and Filipino resistance.
This was a disaster for MacArthur, who had based his entire plan for the defense of the Philippines on being able to maintain a strong defense against amphibious landings by the Japanese. Moreover, the Japanese troops landed at Lamon Bay and Lingayen Gulf were easily able to attack Manila, where American headquarters were located. MacArthur decided to evacuate the city of Manila, relocating his headquarters and the seat of the Philippines’ government to Corregidor, an island fortress in Manila Bay. Unable to carry out his original plan of defending the coasts, MacArthur carried out War Plan Orange-3, which called for delaying the Japanese advance at predetermined points in along the Bataan peninsula until reinforcements could arrive from America. This plan had been written with the assumption that the fleet at Pearl Harbor would be able to come to the defense of the Philippines, but with the destruction of those forces, there would be no reinforcements coming.
Nonetheless, MacArthur had no other options, with Manila left indefensible and his aircraft destroyed in the first days of the war by Japanese raids. The Bataan peninsula was heavily forested and ideal for defensive warfare, and there U.S. and Filipino forces were able to hold out for several months. However, the Japanese were able to slowly overcome American resistance until at last only Corregidor remained. Realizing the futility of remaining in the Philippines, General MacArthur had evacuated to Australia with his family, leaving General Jonathan Wainwright in command of American and Filipino forces, all of whom remained at Corregidor.
The Siege of Corregidor was the final battle of the first phase of the war in the Philippines. The soldiers defending the fortress held out for several months against heavy bombing and artillery fire until finally General Wainwright surrendered on April 9th, 1942. This marked the end of organized resistance in the Philippines, and was the end of the first phase of the war.
For the next two years there would be no large-scale battles, but fierce resistance by Filipino guerillas continued for the duration of the war. The long resistance by American soldiers, and subsequent guerilla warfare by Filipinos was unique in World War II. By the time of the American surrender, the Japanese had already conquered countless other islands in the Pacific, reaching as far as the Solomon Islands. Only the Philippines were able to put up any significant resistance.
The next major battle in the Philippines occurred in October of 1944 when U.S. Forces landed on Leyte. The Battle of Leyte Gulf lasted for several days and resulted in the destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy. MacArthur then moved to attack Mindoro, where he established airfields with which to threaten Manila and Luzon, his final objective.
The final days of the Philippines’ Campaign were similar to the Japanese invasion. Japanese troops fortified Corregidor Island and fought until February of 1945, when U.S. Forces took control of the island. MacArthur then attacked Manila, which required a month of intense fighting to capture. In the battle over 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed, some murdered by Japanese soldiers and others killed by American bombs. The battle of Manila, which ended in March of 1945, marked the end of Japanese occupation of the Philippines. While individual Japanese units continued to fight until the final surrender in August, there was no official or organized resistance.
Bluhm, Raymond K. "Battle of Corregidor." Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Corregidor.
Morton, Louis. The Fall of the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1953. https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/5-2/5-2_Contents.htm#part1.
by Kelly Suen
The rising sun flag refers to the flag of Imperial Japan’s military, particularly the Imperial Japanese Navy, during and before World War II. It has a red circle on a white background with sixteen red rays extending from the circle. It was adopted as the naval ensign in 1870. Rising sun is also sometimes used to refer to Japan’s national flag, the Hinomaru (“sun disk”). The exact origin of the two flags is not clear, but they have been used together for centuries. The meaning of the rising sun flag has been developed through time, with countries of East Asia having their own opinions of the flag.
The rising sun flag, with its red circle and sixteen red rays, can be interpreted as a sun with sixteen sun rays. It is similar in design to the Hinomaru, which is originated from the Japanese name of Japan, Nippon, meaning the sun’s origin, or the land of the rising sun. The name comes from imperial correspondence with the Emperor of China. In 607 A.D., the Emperor of Japan sent a diplomatic envoy to Sui Dynasty China. He sent along with them a letter addressed to the sovereign of the “land where the sun sets (sun-set country)”, from the sovereign of the “land where the sun rises (sun rise country)”. This event is supposed to be the origin of the name Nippon. Land of the rising sun also refers to the Japan’s geographic location relative to China’s, and the fact that the sun never sets in the east.
The rising sun flag and the Hinomaru motifs were everywhere before and during the war, symbolizing the emerging Japanese empire. The flags were used predominantly in propaganda posters, textbooks, pamphlets, films, and more as a source of pride and patriotism. The culture of war was widespread in Japanese society at the time. Japanese citizens celebrated their military victories with both flags. Children were also subject to the propaganda. Students consumed Hinomaru bento (rising sun lunch box) to show solidarity during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The bento boxes consisted of a single pickled plum in the center of a bed of white rice in a rectangular box. First graders learned to read from textbooks that had illustrations of simple phrases and pictures. One of the illustrations was a large picture of the japanese flag with the caption “hinomaru no hata, banzai, banzai” (rising sun flag, banzai, banzai). At school events, the Hinomaru was displayed alongside the rising sun flag. The symbol once thought by the Japanese to light the darkness of the world, became a symbol of darkness to the rest of Asia.
In former Japanese occupied countries, the rising sun flag symbolizes Japanese imperial aggression and war crimes. The flags were carried by soldiers and were raised when enemy territories fell to Japanese forces. When Nanjing fell to the Japanese forces, both the rising sun flag and Hinomaru were raised above the city walls, buildings, and on street corners as Japanese soldiers committed rapes and murders. In Korea, the flag is a reminder of Japanese colonialism, a time during which Japan ruled harshly and crushed korean dissent ruthlessly. During wartime mobilization, Koreans were sent as soldiers to the front and tens of thousands of young women were drafted as Comfort Women. To this day, the flag brings to mind the painful memories of the long and harsh rule.
In modern day Japan, the rising sun flag is commonly used by right-wing ultranationalists. Their ideologies originate from pre-war ultranationalist groups that promoted fervent loyalty to the imperial state, glorified in Japanese continental expansion, and fiercely opposed socialism and communism. These groups are in favor of constitutional revision, remilitarization, state support for Yasukuni Shrine, respect for the emperor, promotion of patriotic sentiment among japan’s youth, and are still generally anti-communism and anti-socialism. Anti-Korean and anti-Chinese racist organizations, such as Zaitokukai use rising sun flags and Hinomaru flags at their rallies and marches. They have sound trucks that drive through the streets of Tokyo and other metropolitan areas with rising sun flags painted on, blasting nationalistic music. The rising sun flag’s association with nationalism stems from right-wing extremists who romanticize Japan’s aggressive and imperial past. They are attached to the symbols of a heroic past that give them a sense of positive identity and belonging.
The rising sun flag, along with the hinomaru have centuries of shared history. They are still in use despite protests from neighboring countries. As atrocities were being committed under the flag in Asia, it was used as a tool of imperialism and was seen as symbols of resistance against western colonialism in Japan. The flag is a reminder of the atrocities committed during Japanese occupation, but in Japan, the rising sun flag and the Hinomaru are being used by racist nationalists who strive to return to Japan’s glorious militaristic days.
Japan in World Politics, Henry Dyer, pg 24
Our Country’s Flags and the Flags of Foreign Countries, Edward S. Holden, pg 154-155
Case Studies on Human Rights in Japan, By Roger Goodman, Ian Neary, pg 77-78
A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of National Symbols By Tim Marshall
Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity By Katarzyna Joanna Cwiertka p 117-118
Toshié: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan By Simon Partner pg 55-56
The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture edited by Sandra Buckley pg 422-423
by Jack Gray
The Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2000, another name for Title VIII of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2000, authorized the process of locating, declassifying, and publishing documents relevant to war crimes committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Previously, the majority of research on World War II was focused on Nazi war crimes as President Clinton had created the Nazi War Criminal Records Interagency Working Group (known as the IWG) in 1998 to “to locate, inventory, recommend for declassification, and make available to the public all classified Nazi war criminal records.”
The researchers of the IWG felt there was a need for additional research into Japanese war crimes, and asked permission to expand their activities to include this topic. Samuel Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs at the time, informally granted this request, which was later officially confirmed by President Bill Clinton. In 2000 the IWG was formally renamed the Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, and asked government agencies to examine their records for documents which could be relevant to Japanese war crimes. Specifically, they asked for (1) any materials related to Japanese Treatment of prisoners of war and civilian internees, including any materials related to forced or slave labor, (2) any materials related to development and use of chemical and biological warfare agents, (3) any materials related to General Ishii (the commanding officer of Unit 731), (4) any materials related to the U.S. Government decision after the War not to prosecute the Emperor and certain war criminals, and (5) any materials related to the so-called “Comfort Women” program, the Japanese systematic enslavement of women of subject populations for sexual purposes. This is why many of the war crimes are still being researched as the declassification didn't happen until the 2000s.
After reviewing each department’s inventory, the IWG estimated that there were about two hundred thousand pages of documents that could be released—a far cry from the ten million pages of documents relating to Nazi war crimes. The reason for this disparity is different departments of the U.S. government have documents pertaining to different aspects of the war; the Department of the Army had greater autonomy over the Pacific theater and kept their own records, gradually releasing them during the 1970’s and 1980’s, whereas in Europe the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) was largely in charge of intelligence, and had more stringent protocols for releasing documents. However, conventional intelligence agencies like the OSS and later the CIA (its successor) did play a role in the Pacific Theater. For example the Office of Strategic Services kept records about Japanese chemical and biological warfare and crimes against both civilians and prisoners of war, while the CIA kept records on Japanese intelligence efforts before and during the war.
In addition to the recently released documents, there are many documents that have been available to the public since the end of the war. Most of these are transcripts or evidence from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which prosecuted individuals such as Tojo Hideki, prime minister of Japan during the war, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, who conquered Malaysia and the Philippines, or Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu, who commanded the Bataan Death March. Prosecutors used over 4,000 documents as evidence against the 28 defendants.
Furthermore, many Japanese records from the war have been translated into English, thanks to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section under General MacArthur, who were responsible for gathering and analyzing Japanese documents during and after the war. Unfortunately, many Japanese documents were destroyed by the Japanese themselves in an attempt to protect their leaders from prosecution for war crimes. More were lost when the U.S. government agreed to return a number of documents to Japan in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Although originally directed to complete their mission in one year, the IWG continued to work until April 2007, when they presented their final report to Congress. They declassified 1.2 million pages of documents relating to Nazi and Japanese war crimes. However, they considered their greatest accomplishment to be their proving that declassification of intelligence documents would not have drastic negative consequences, as was previously thought. U.S. intelligence services had long resisted the release of confidential information, concerned that it would endanger current efforts and operations, but the IWG felt they had shown that the release of historical documents would have no negative effects.
The IWG also drew other large conclusions from their efforts. They showed that the reopening of documents and files is a massive, expensive, time-consuming effort, and recommended that all agencies continually review and follow protocols for declassifying their records instead of having to do large projects to search through decades of unopened files. The reason that these documents remain classified for so long after they became irrelevant was that there was a lack of public interest in Japanese atrocities before and during World War II. However, the stories of survivors and witnesses gradually gained momentum until the 1990’s, when a group of comfort women (women who were forced by the Japanese government to be prostitutes for Japanese soldiers) filed a lawsuit against Japan. In addition, Congress passed a resolution demanding that Japan issue both an apology for the crimes they had committed and pay compensation to surviving victims. However, Japan has never issued a formal apology, and did not provide restitution to their victims.
The documents released thanks to the efforts of the IWG will be resources for researchers and historians who can shed greater light on this dark period of history. Hopefully by learning from the crimes of the past we can prevent any similar atrocities in the future.
This small book provides introductory essays to some of the more useful sources on Japanese war crimes that were released thanks to the Disclosure Acts.
Most of the released documents themselves can be found on the National Archives Website at https://www.archives.gov/
National Archives. "Japanese Interim Report: an Interim Report to Congress." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/reports/japanese-interim-report-march-2002-1.html#highlights.
National Archives. "Declassified Documents: Berger Memorandum, February, 1999." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/guidance/berger-memorandum/berger-memo-dec-2000-2.html.
National Archives. "Interagency Working Group Title 8, Intelligence Authorization Act." https://www.archives.gov/iwg/about/iwg-title-8.html.
U.S. Congress. Nazi War Crimes & Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group Final Report to the United States Congress. April 2007. https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/NaziWarCrimes_Japanese-Records.pdf
by Sophie Hammond
In 1936, the Japanese built Unit 731—the administrative center of the top secret biological warfare project of the Imperial Japanese Army—in the isolated Pingfang District of the city of Harbin in Manchuria. At the time, Harbin was a city with a large Russian minority population, and writer Morimura Seiichi has hypothesized that of the 3,000 prisoners experimented on at Unit 731, up to 30% were Russian.
Harbin was built in the late nineteenth century as part of the Russian Empire’s colonizing effort. In 1896, China sold Russia the right to build the Chinese Eastern Railway across Manchuria, from the city of Chita in Eastern Siberia to the city of Vladivostok, an important Pacific port for the Russian Empire. This deal made Harbin, where three train lines now met, a major rail hub. Immediately an influx of Russian engineers, refugees, and criminals began. The relationship between the new immigrants and the Asian ethnic groups already living in Manchuria was rarely smooth—according to anecdotes, some of the arriving Russian soldiers would shoot out of train windows at locals as they sped past. Later came Russian Jews, to whom the Czar promised freedom from anti-Semitic laws if they served as Russian colonists in Manchuria. Anti-Communist White Russians fled to Harbin en masse during and after the Russian Civil War. By 1922, the Russian population of the city had soared to over 100,000. Artists, writers, and political refugees created a cosmopolitan, Russianized culture in the city they called their “Paris of the Far East”.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese and the Soviets fought over who should run the Chinese Eastern Railway. In 1924 China and the Soviet Union agreed to manage the CER together, with the Soviet Union acting as the dominant partner. Soviet citizens emigrated to Harbin to work on the railroad and caused friction with the White Russians already working there. Over most of the next decade, China and the Soviet Union battled for control over the railroad, and by extension, over Harbin.
These disputes ended when Japan invaded Harbin in 1931. The Soviet Union sold the CER to Japan four years later, and thousands of Soviet railroad employees left Harbin. Non-Soviet Russians also emigrated quickly. By 1939, some sources say that only 28,000 Russians lived in Harbin. Russians who stayed often faced the loss of their jobs to Japanese settlers and were vulnerable to arrests by the Kempeitai, a branch of the Imperial Japanese Army who patrolled the streets of Harbin like a police force. They had the power to arrest anyone accused of being a Communist sympathizer, an anti-Japanese saboteur, a spy, or a “vagrant”. Fearing the charge of vagrancy, some Russian families never let their children leave home after 5 pm.
Unit 731 got the vast majority of their Russian prisoners from those Russians arrested by the Kempeitai. Most prisoners of Unit 731 were brought there after having been charged and convicted of capital crimes, usually without even the pretense of a trial. However, when the supply of victims was running low, the Kempeitai were authorized to send even “vagrants” straight to Unit 731.
Very little information remains about who these Russian victims were or what they suffered. One account mentions a Russian mother and daughter trapped in a gas chamber, the mother frantically trying to shield her daughter from breathing in the gas as researchers safely on the outside of the chamber timed their convulsions. A Japanese Youth Corps member training at Unit 731 gave later testimony that among the subjects for syphilis testing were two Russian women with their children, a girl of four or five and a boy of six or seven. A former Unit 731 medical worker stated that he once saw a white man cut length-wise and pickled in a six-foot-high jar of formaldehyde, a man the worker assumed was Russian. Some of the Russian victims were not actually citizens of Harbin but Soviet prisoners of war captured in border skirmishes. One researcher later admitted to being personally responsible for the deaths of at least forty Soviet citizens in experiments at Unit 731. While details are far and few between, it is certain that all of the Russians held prisoner in Unit 731 suffered greatly and that none of them survived. In the last days of the war, any remaining prisoners were killed and buried.
In the end, it was the Soviet Union, in response to so many Soviet and Russian victims, who subjected the Unit 731 researchers they had captured to an open trial for war crimes. The other researchers made a deal with United States occupation authorities for immunity in exchange for their research data. The Khabarovsk War Crime Trials of 1949 found all eight Japanese researchers and four military servicemen guilty of biological warfare and sentenced them to work in Soviet labor camps for two to twenty-five years. As part of a political compromise, the remaining Japanese prisoners were released and returned to Japan in 1956, and historian Sheldon Harris thinks it is likely that the researchers gave the Soviets information about Unit 731’s research data in exchange for leniency. But while the week-long Khabarovsk Trials were at least partly for propaganda purposes, Harris in his book Factories of Death accepts the accuracy of their findings, saying, “Evidence introduced during the hearings was based on eighteen volumes of interrogations and documentary material gathered in investigations over the previous four years. Some of the volumes included more than four hundred pages of depositions....Unlike the Moscow Show Trials of the 1930s, the Japanese confessions made in the Khabarovsk trial were based on fact and not the fantasy of their handlers.”
To learn more about Unit 731 itself, see these blog posts:
And check out Pacific Atrocities Education’s book about Unit 731: http://www.pacificatrocities.org/unit-731-ebook.html
Clurman, Irene, and Dan Ben-Canaan. “A Brief History of the Jews of Harbin: How a Manchurian Fishing Village Became a Railroad Town and a Haven for Jews.” JewishGen KehilaLinks, JewishGen, 2007, kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/harbin/Brief_History.htm.
Dreyer, Jacob. “Ghost Town: Searching for Remnants of Russia in the Chinese City of Harbin.” The Calvert Journal, 20 Aug. 2014, www.calvertjournal.com/opinion/show/3018/russia-china-harbin-legacy.
Gold, Hal. Unit 731 Testimony. Tuttle Publishing, 2011.
Harris, Sheldon H. Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-1945 and the American Cover-Up. Routledge, 2002.
Kristof, Nicholas D. “Unmasking Horror—A Special Report.; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar. 1995, mobile.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html.
Lisenko, Alexander. “Harbin—A Russian Enclave in Manchuria.” The Orthodox Vision, 2006, pp. 4–10.
McCurry, Justin. “Unit 731: Japan Discloses Details of Notorious Chemical Warfare Division.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/17/japan-unit-731-imperial-army-second-world-war.
Morimura, Seiichi. The Devil’s Gluttony. Kobunsha, 1981.
Nie, Jing-Bao. “The West’s Dismissal of the Khabarovsk Trial as ‘Communist Propaganda’: Ideology, Evidence and International Bioethics.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, vol. 1, no. 1, Apr. 2004, pp. 32–42., doi:10.1007/bf02448905.
Pawlowicz, Rachel, and Walter E. Grunden. “Teaching Atrocities: The Holocaust and Unit 731 in the Secondary School Curriculum.” The History Teacher, vol. 48, no. 2, Feb. 2015, pp. 271–294., www.societyforhistoryeducation.org/F15Preview.html.
by Jack Demlow
On June 12th, 2018, the Philippines celebrated the 120th anniversary of their declaration of independence from Spain in 1898. However, like most holidays, the history behind this date is a good deal more complicated than a declaration and a day on a calendar.
The Philippines were colonized by Spain in the 16th century and was used for agricultural purposes under the feudal-styled encomienda system, as well as for trade with the East Indies and China. Spain was far from the first foreign power to interact with the Filipinos, who had a history of trading with Chinese and Arab merchants, but Spain would have nearly 300 years of continuous control to gouge out a mark like no other. Traditional religion, methods of governance, systems of agriculture, and more would see significant change under outsider rule. The Spanish crown kept a close eye on the islands, replacing the encomienda system with crown officials to guarantee that the colony was defended, dues were paid, and the Filipinos were instructed in (and restricted to) practicing the Christian faith.
Spanish impositions would gradually ease by the 19th century, but they were still a heavy weight. However, wealthy Filipinos could gain access to education abroad, and through this window the Philippines was exposed to liberal and nationalistic currents. The writer Jose Rizal is credited with rallying many Filipinos to the cause of reform, and his arrest and execution by Spanish authorities resulted in the formation of the Katipunan, an underground revolutionary group. After discovery by the Spanish forced the Katipunan to act quickly with their plan, and the Philippine Revolution began in August 1896. These first hostilities were concluded by a truce and the promise of reform by the Spanish government, but Spain still had not taken steps to meet this promise by 1898, when revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo led his fellow revolutionaries to take advantage of the Spanish-American War and fight for their independence.
The Malalos Republic and Resistance to U.S. Control
Filipino and U.S. forces pushed the Spanish hard, and Aguinaldo and his forces celebrated a wave of victories by declaring independence on June 12th 1898 and forming a governmental system for the newly declared “Malalos Republic,” of which Aguinaldo was president. However, when final victory over the Spanish was declared, the Philippines were not granted official independence; instead, Spain had transferred control of the Philippines over to the United States as part of the 1889 Treaty of Paris. Filipino forces engaged in a guerilla war against U.S. control until Aguinaldo was captured in 1901 and he subsequently encouraged acceptance of the new regime. The fact that U.S. imperial possessions contradicted principles of self-determination was not lost on Filipinos or many Americans, though ostensibly the American regime was meant to prepare the Philippines for independence. This paternalistic claim was not as disingenuous as it might appear; civil services in the Philippines saw a steady decrease in non-Filipino employees and in 1933 the Tydings-McDuffie Act set 1945 as the date for Philippine independence.
The Commonwealth of the Philippines and WWII
Before the Philippines would become completely independent they would have 10 years of U.S.-supervised Filipino self-government. This commonwealth of the Philippines wrote its own constitution and elected Nacionalista Party leader Manuel Quezon as its president. The Commonwealth of the Philippines was officially established on November 15th, 1935, the date of Quezon’s inauguration. The road ahead did not look smooth, however, as Japanese aggression in China bred anxiety in the Philippines, and General Douglas MacArthur became the islands’ military advisor as preparations for defense began.
The Philippines were struck by the Japanese invasion on December 8th, 1941, and had very little preparation in place to fall back on. U.S. and Filipino forces surrendered on May 6th, 1942, but fighting on the islands was far from over. Both army and civilian-organized resistance groups engaged in guerilla warfare over the course of the Japanese occupation, most notably the communist-led Hukbalahap. Almost two years after their initial defeat, U.S. forces returned to the Philippines in October of 1944, landing first on Leyte island then inflicting heavy damage on the Japanese fleet in the battle of Leyte Gulf. MacArthur reported total success of the invasion on July 5th, 1945.
Just shy of a year later, with WWII finally over, the U.S. granted the Philippines independence on July 4th, 1946. After centuries of fighting Spain, then the U.S., and then Japan, and 48 years after Emilio Aguinaldo's assertion of independence, the island nation finally had international legitimacy. Yet, it is June 12th, 1898 that is celebrated today, not July 4th, 1946, a pointed rebuke of both Spain and the United States.
DLSU - Manila. "Philippine History." n.d. Pinas. Web Page. 18 June 2018.
Encyclopedia Britannica. "Philippines." 2015 June 2018. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web Page. 18
Gov.PH. "About the Philippines." n.d. Republic of the PHilippines National Government Portal.
Web Page. 18 June 2018.
History.com Staff. "This Day in History: Philippine independence declared." 12 June 2018.
History.com. Web Page. 18 June 2018.