Michael Matteo: To learn from history we must teach all of it PART 2

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Most US history classes teach lessons about the ghastly and gruesome events that the Nazi’s did during the Holocaust that led to the extermination of over 12 million people.  However, few history lessons ever mention the atrocities committed by the Japanese at a place called Unit 731. Only a select few were punished for crimes against humanity during the Tokyo War Crimes Trials that took place between May 1946 and November 1948 because most were given immunity for providing information about what happened at camps where no one incarcerated there survived to tell the story.

Unit 731 was a facility that was originally labeled: The Army Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory in 1932.  It was led by Shiro Ishii and he employed the services of Colonel Chikahoko Koizumi, who is known as the father of Japanese chemical warfare.  Ishii was similar to Josef Mengele who worked as an SS officer for the Nazis and conducted a variety of inhumane experiments at Auschwitz.  Like Mengele, Ishii escaped prosecution for his crimes against humanity.  In 1936, Emperor Hirohito issued a decree that expanded the Zhongma Fortress a prison experimentation camp, which was originally located in Beiyinhe, and it was moved to a more rural area of Harbin, China so their brutality would go unnoticed.  The new unit would occupy 32 kilometers.  Unit 731 had over 50 different experiments on civilians and POW’s.  Subjects for experiments were called “maruta,” which is the Japanese word for logs because when they were dead, their bodies were cremated, like burning pieces of wood in a fireplace.

There were experiments where victims were dismembered without anesthesia to study the effects of blood loss.  There were bizarre experiments where limbs were amputated and then attempts were made to reattach these limbs to the opposite side of the body.  One of the most common experiments was vivisection, which was done on living subjects to practice surgery and to see the internal effects of diseases.  One surgeon, Fukumatsu Okawa, who was a main participant in vivisection, was actually given an award by Ishii (a ceremonial sword) for his outstanding performance in vivisection.  It was reported that a contest was held among Japanese soldiers to see who could kill 100 people with a sword first.  Unit 731 was split into 8 divisions that focused on experimenting with bacteriological diseases that include cholera, bubonic plague, anthrax etc.  Subjects were injected with these diseases and then studied.  They also did studies on injecting victims with seawater, which were similar to experiments done at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

Rape rooms where men and women with syphilis were forced to have sex with non-infected subjects, and pregnant women were also raped so they would contract syphilis so doctors could study the effect on the women’s unborn babies.  Frostbite and extreme heat experiments were also done on subjects where test subject were taken into subzero areas and water was dumped on subjects.  High pressure centrifuges were also used to determine how much force it would take to cause death as people’s bodies were torn apart by pressure.  There was a glass chamber that was set up to emit poison gas, and I read one account about how a Russian mother and her child were killed in this manner as staff members looked on and made notes. One area of the camp was a field of wooden crosses where victims would be tied to the crosses and bombs filled with plague or other contaminates would be dropped or grenades would be thrown into this area and the survivors were then vivisected, while alive, to determine the impact of the weapons on their organs.

The sources of “marutas” were families snatched from the streets of Harbin and other areas as well as allied POW’s who were sent there.  When Russian troops entered Harbin on August 19, 1945, the facilities had been blown up by the Japanese to hide their devious deeds and all inmates had been executed, so no one could tell what happened.  It is estimated that over 250,000 people were killed in Unit 731, which operated for over a decade.  No one will ever know how many victims were killed in such a vicious manner.

Some of the weapons developed by Unit 731 were used on Chinese cities and estimates show that over half a million Chinese civilians were killed with a variety of biological weapons during the war.  Cholera was dumped into wells, bombs with bubonic plague carrying fleas were dropped on Chinese cities. Given the callous nature of these attacks, you can surely believe that if the Japanese had developed nuclear weapons, they would have used them on their enemies during WWII, so the claim that the United States use of the atomic bomb was immoral and barbarous fails to acknowledge the way that the Japanese waged their war against their enemies.

Sadly, Ishii and many of the savages who committed these atrocities were given immunity by General MacArthur for providing the United States with files about Unit 731.  While those on the left are quick to demand apologies for the use of the A-bomb on Japanese cities, they conveniently ignore the extreme atrocities that were committed and sanctioned by Japanese leaders during WWII.  Yet, those on the left do not demand reparations or even an apology from the country that started a war, used inhumane tactics throughout the war and their emperor had the audacity to say that America used a “cruel bomb” on its people.

War, especially in modern times, is brutal and the weapons of war have the potential to kill millions at a time.  Those who seek to revise it to make support their agenda and leave out key details, as Howard Zinn did in his books, are propagandists, not historians.  It is too easy to manipulate history, and as Orwell stated in 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” We must resist the attempt to teach the history we like or that supports our political views and ignore what we don’t like because it contradicts our beliefs.  Orwell also wrote, “The heresy of heresies was common sense.”  Unfortunately, common sense isn’t very common in a classroom where a teacher is incapable of discerning fact from fiction, which should be the goal of critical thinking as well as imparting the lessons that true history teaches to future generations.


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