by Ellie Wong
Under the leadership of Commanding Officer Ishii Shiro, Unit 731 in Harbin, Manchuria functioned as the Imperial Japanese Army’s covert weapons research facility. Here, from 1937-1945, Japanese scientists and researchers experimented with lethal bacteriological agents, using animals, prisoners, and innocent Chinese villagers as guinea pigs. The personnel, funded by and at the consent of Emperor Hirohito, ruthlessly created epidemics and slaughtered humans alive, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths and unimaginable suffering. Read more about the background of Unit 731 here & view all blog posts relating to Unit 731 here.
Though at the closing of World War II the Japanese attempted to liquidate all evidence of their heinous crimes against humanity, declassified documents from a five-year Allied Occupaion Forces investigation in 1947 revealed a compelling testimony by former Japanese army officer and medical researcher Junichi Kaneko, offering insight to his work with biological agents during the course of the war. Obtained by PAE from the National Archives is the teseimony of Surgeon Major Kaneko, a physician and bacterial bomb expert, and one of the 3,000 faculty infamously offered immunity by the United States in exchange for information about the biological weapons research at Unit 731. Ishii and Hirohito were also granted full immunity under international law in what would come to be known as America’s elaborate coverup of Japanese war crimes. This kept Unit 731 a secret not only during, but after the war as well.
On March 5, 1947, Kaneko testified to Allied Investigating Officer Joseph Sartiano that during his tenure at Harbin Experimental Station, he first was tasked with experimenting with a typhoid vaccine, conducting tests using mice and rabbits. This project developed alongside other scientists’ involving the cultivation of typhoid germs to infect the wells of Chinese villages. Then, in 1939, he was ordered under Commanding Officer Ishii to begin bacterial bomb experimentation, analyzing multiple ways a bomb could be manufactured and dropped to cause different amounts of damage and bomb content diffusion. Kaneko attested, “[Ishii’s plan] was to see if it were possible to conduct a bacterial phase of warfare”, and that these bomb experiments were a key part in this scheme.
In 1941, Kaneko moved to Tokyo’s Institute of Infectious Diseases where his work was centered around injecting mice with salmonella to “determine how this bacteria affected the inner organs”. All of the mice used in Kaneko’s testing died. Having previously stated that animals’ reactions to biological agents representated its probable impact on human bodies as well, Kaneko’s research of bacterial bombs from 1939-1941 and fatal salmonella injections thereafter foreshadowed vengeful Japanese operations in the closely following years, including the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign of 1942. During this atrocious episode, the Japanese unleashed hundreds of pounds of biological weapons including the plague, salmonella, and anthrax on Chinese civilians.
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