Being called a war freak

Posted on November 25, 2010.

By Fuyuko Nishisato
Journalist and author


Standing (left) by the Unit 731 Museum in Pingfan, near Harbin with daughter and grandson of a Chinese human guunea pig. The daughter discovered her father was arrested and sent to Unit 731 more than sixty after the end of World War ll in 1945. The discovery of his record as anti-Japanese Russian spy was made available to her through the Imperial Japanese Army Kempeitai (Japanese version of Gestapo) records that were discovered in postwar China.

Shocked by sufferings of A-bomb survivors

I have been working in the field of TV journalism for nearly 30 years, mainly for Western television stations covering Japan. During my school education I had learned very little about World War ll and the human suffering caused from that war.
When I covered for the first time the A-bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a BBC Television documentary, I could not stay in the display room of Peace Memorial Museum much longer than 30 minutes. I felt like I was being suffocated when I faced to their stories and had to get out to take a deep breath.
Since my working for the BBC documentary called “The Darkness of God”, that featured the United States atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I began to question about this war as the worst criminal action against humanity. When one individual kills one person, he or she would be accused as a murderer. Why is it then that when the armed force of one country had mass-murdered civilians of the enemy country, the military will not be accused for this horrible crime?
Only because this is what war is about? Is it because during wars it is the normal practice for people to kill each other? I still don’t know the answer for this “naïve” question. Since then I have covered many war stories like the battle in Okinawa that involved the family suicides in Kerama islands, Japanese atrocities committed in China including Nanking massacre, sex slavery in the occupied areas in South East Asia and China and so forth. Also the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941 and later the fall of Singapore and Hong Kong to Japanese military, Japanese cannibalism in Mindanao and New Guinea are also truths that I have investigated mostly by relying on stories that are told best by witnesses who are now getting too old and passing away every week.

Trapped by Unit 731

Among them, one story that disturbed me very much was about Unit 731, the Japanese Imperial Army’s Biological Warfare Unit, which was comprised of Japanese medical scientists, microbiologists and zoologists. Those elite scientists developed biological warfare weapons of mass destruction and to do this they conducted research by using germs indiscriminately to make people succumb horrible infectious diseases. The aims of the human experiments were to develop vaccines to protect the Japanese forces and to develop more lethal germs to kill more enemy. They waged germ war over Chinese towns by dropping plague contaminated flea bombs, dumping cholera and typhoid culture solution into the rivers and feeding starving people food contaminated by dysentery. Chinese and Korean anti-Japanese resistant campaigners were rounded up under the accusation that they were anti-Japanese bandits or spies. Many of them were sent to Unit 731 in the outskirt of Harbin to be consumed as human guinea pigs. They called those prisoners maruta(logs of wood) for they were used to test all sort of germs and later their bodies were vivisected to check and record the pathological effect. In the process of the research, I came across the Allied Prisoners of War(POW) camp in Mukden(presently called Shenyanghai, Manchuria.) In Mukden camp there were mainly American soldiers who were captured in the Philippine and British and Australians who were captured in Singapore. In Mukden, there were the Mukden Army Hospital and Manchurian Medical College which were two important research bases for Germ Warfare Unit of Japanese Kuwangton Army, meaning Unit 731. I also got the records of Unit 731 scientists who were regularly visiting POW camp in Mukden to carry out the research about the different effect of various germs over different ethnic races. One British prisoner kept diary which recorded they recieved 18 inoculation injections within a span of almost three years and 50cc of blood were collected every month from over 1000 prisoners.
That is how I came across with issues of POW camps in and outside of Japan. I joined in the foundation of POW Research Network Japan in 2003.(homepage; We have progressed extensive research about POW and
civilian internment camps. And we help POWs and their families to get some informations about the camps and their locations. We often give them guidance when they visit Japan. In recent years I am mainly working on Allied POW camps in China including Mukden.

Effects of War

After the war was over, American military wished to monopolize the data Unit 731 accumulated over 20 years in exchange for immunity to those war criminal of worst type. As a result of the deal, none of Biological warfare unit and Chemical warfare unit(poison gas) was prosecuted in the Far East War Crime Court led by America. Only Soviet Russia had Khabarovsk Trial finding total of 12 Unit 731 and Unit 100(Kwantung Army Hippo-Epizootic Unit)members among Japanese forced labour in Siberia who were rounded up in Manchuria. Unit 731 scientists and military surgeons and their families returned to Japan much earlier than other ordinary Japanese civilians based in Manchukuo. My research has shown that many of these scientists were really afraid of prosecution of war crime and lived in hiding. But because this has not happened due to deals with the American Occupation we see that in post war Japan many of these scientists had gone back to their work in university laboratories, hospitals, pharmaceutical campanies and schools to lead their lives as respected members of the society. These Japanese had no need to run away to Brazil like the Nazi doctors had to in spite of exactly same type of cruel crimes they had committed.  The case of Unit 731 is another symbolic case to explain why Japan has never faced its war crime and the atrocities they committed. The government has avoided the issue of compensation and issuing a sincere apology to those victimized in South East Asia and China. Chinese people believe Unit 731 and Sex Slavery(comfort women for military brothels) are two of the most unbearable crimes they had to suffer by Japanese.

I believe that Japan should face up to the past which is crucial to build better relations with those victimized countries. But modern Japan has continued to be a client nation under the United States of America and what is ironic is that Japan, the only country that experienced the misery of A-bomb, is in fact, under the nuclear umbrella of America. Washington has never apologized to the victims and survivors for the A-bomb and those Allied POWs, who are still suffering from psychological and physical injury during their captivity in the Japanese camps, are under the notion that the A-bomb defeated Japan and saved their lives.

We may have finished World War ll but the after-effects of this war linger on and has been carried over several generations. This is the lesson that I learned through my long research of war.

thank you.