Biological Weapons Amnesia

Judith Miller has a striking article on the history of Japanese WWII biological warfare in City Journal.  She interviews a few remaining likely victims of the truly massive biological warfare attacks sponsored by Unit 731 of the Japanese army and describes the “science” that made the weapons possible:

Maruta, or “logs,” as the Japanese scientists dubbed their victims, would be registered, given numbers, and later dragged from their cells through underground tunnels into the testing labs at the compound’s center. Here, Sheldon Harris reported, they would have to eat food laced with one of 31 germs—anthrax-filled chocolate, plague-treated cookies, typhus-infected beer—or be injected directly with deadly pathogens to determine the minimal dose required to sicken or kill them. The “logs” usually lasted only a few weeks. Some were “sacrificed” after unit officials deemed them no longer fit for scientific study. …

I recalled interviewing an elderly Japanese soldier several years earlier who told me that he had performed vivisections, without anesthetic, on naked prisoners. Describing in almost a whisper his revulsion the first time he picked up his scalpel when ordered to do so, he said that he eventually grew accustomed to the “procedure.” But his anguish suggested otherwise.

Equally striking has been the reluctance of Japanese institutions to discuss the evils of biological warfare.

Franzblau has tried for years to introduce a resolution at World Medical Association meetings calling upon doctors to ask Japan to “officially repudiate Unit 731” and to explain “why physicians employed in Unit 731 have never been prosecuted for murder and crimes against humanity.” Each year, his resolution has gone nowhere. “There has never even been a debate,” he complains. The Japanese Medical Association has also remained silent, perhaps because one former president of the JMA was a Unit 731 staff member, as were former officials in many prestigious Japanese organizations.

Japanese politicians and even Japanese courts have called the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a war crime, and the issue has provoked an intense debate in the United States.  If Miller’s article is correct, though, the death toll caused by Unit 731 in China may be double the number killed by atomic weapons in Japan.

As I explain in Skating on Stilts, it’s likely that terrorists will use biological weapons to cause mass casualties long before they acquire nukes.  So we can’t really afford silence and amnesia about just how loathsome biological weapons can be.

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