Sunday, November 1, 2015

Google Publishes Free Ebook Facsimile of Famous Soviet 1949 War Crimes Trial of Unit 731

"Question: So it would be correct to say that all persons brought to Detachment 100 for experimental purposes, were doomed to die.
"Answer: That is so."

-- Page 325, Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing and Employing Bacteriological Weapons
Google Books is to be congratulated for shining a light on one of the most heinous and yet still largely unknown episodes of World War II, via the free publication for the general public of the English language version of the materials released on the 1949 Khabarovsk War Crimes trial. Published originally by Moscow's Foreign Languages Publishing House in 1950 (see full title above), "Materials" documents the examination of the use of biological weapons and illegal human experimentation, including thousands of "terminal" experiments, by members of the Japanese military unit most closely identified with this program, Unit 731.

Written off by some as a Stalinist "show trial" -- and there undoubtedly are some elements of that here -- the facts examined at Khabarovsk have been established to be true by Western historians. "Materials" is divided into pages of documentary proof, testimony by the accused and various witnesses, the state prosecutor's case, statements by the defendant's attorneys, and of course the verdict itself. I have personally found the reading of this trial material to be one of the most amazing and emotional experiences I've ever had. You cannot read this book and be unaffected.

It may be of interest to readers to know that none of the criminals indicted and convicted were executed for their crimes, though some did die in captivity. The majority were released early, as the USSR in the 1950s trying to win political points with the post-WWII Japanese state.

The question remains: why has the worst use of biological weapons and illegal human experiments, even dwarfing the crimes of the Nazis, gone mostly unremarked for almost three generations?

The ramifications of the decision by the Japanese government to research bacteriological or "germ" warfare on prisoners, killing thousands of them via inoculation of biological toxins, and then wage biological warfare across China and parts of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, are still resonant in Asia today. It is not unusual to hear in Chinese or North Korean propaganda references to the crimes of Unit 731. An article by AFP, and published in Feb. 2015 by Japan Times, documents the fact that "70 years on, Unit 731’s wartime atrocities fester in China’s memory."

The actions of the Japanese emperor and his Army to unleash biological warfare -- led by the infamous general Shiro Ishii -- went unremarked during the Toyko War Crimes trials at the end of World War II. The reason for this was likely due to the established fact that the U.S. made at the time a secret agreement to amnesty all the personnel involved in Japan's Unit 731, "Detachment 100," and other assorted BW experimental and operational units, with the aim of gathering all the data gathered by Japan's illegal human experiments and operational experience with biological weapons for itself.

The Soviets, stymied in their attempt to get the matter brought up at the Tokyo trials -- the U.S. dragged its feet on even letting the Soviets interview BW chief Ishii, who was under house arrest by the Americans -- turned to their own separate trial of captured personnel from Unit 731 and the Kwantung Army, spurred on by popular resentment against the Japanese imperialist army and the dreaded Kampetei, who had kidnapped hundreds of Soviet and Chinese citizens for terminal use as guinea pigs in the Unit 731 dungeons at Pingfan, Manchuria. At moments, the anger of those in attendance at trial is even noted in the proceedings.

Some of the documentary material regarding the decision by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE, or Tokyo War Crimes trials) not to pursue biological warfare charges against the Japanese have been published digitally online at a special site dedicated to the Tokyo trials by the University of Virginia Law Library.

The information obtained by the Americans, and, if some reports are true, in some cases the personnel, went to the U.S. Army's biological weapons labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. (According to the official military historian at Ft. Detrick, years later documents about Unit 731 were destroyed by order of Ft. Detrick's commander, leading to Congressional action to release what documentation still existed.) During the Korean War, the Chinese and the Soviets claimed the U.S. tested use of such materials during limited biological warfare operations against North Korea and China. Famously, captured U.S. airmen confessed to such use after interrogation (leading to the "brainwashing" scare pushed by the CIA and the U.S. media in the 1950s and 1960). The U.S. strenuously denied using biological weapons, but the accusations remain, and the evidence is still being sifted, much of it still classified after 60 years.

Indeed, for historians, both amateur and professional, finding original materials, such as the prosecutor's examination of the general leading the Kwantung Army's BW unit during WWII, was next to impossible, unless you had the money and perspicacity to search out rare copies of the printed version of selected materials. Now, thanks to a review of the copyright legality of publishing this material, initiated at my request, Google has published this important historical text for all readers to use. I am grateful to them, and hope that the general availability of this important original documentation will facilitate greater recognition of the crimes that took place during World War II, and throw greater light on the aftermath of the Unit 731 episode, one that reaches far across the historical divide to allegations of the use of biological and chemical weapons today.

For further reading: Here are two articles of interest. The first from a bioethics journal, "The West's dismissal of the Khabarovsk trial as 'communist propaganda': ideology, evidence and international bioethics."

The second article is a 2001 article in The Japan Times, which recounts the trial itself: "The trial of Unit 731". The following is an excerpt from that article (the link to Harris's book is added):
Russians aware of the atrocities in Harbin were outraged. Josef Stalin responded by ordering trials of his own. On Dec. 25, 1949, the trial of Unit 731’s doctors began, with orders to finish by the end of the year, before implementation of a decree reinstating the death penalty in the Soviet Union. Stalin apparently feared that Japan might execute Soviet prisoners of war if the physicians were hanged in Khabarovsk, Permyakov said.

Nevertheless, the proceedings “were not a show trial on the Stalinist model,” said Sheldon Harris, the American author of “Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932-45.”

“It was a strange affair, having the trial take place in Khabarovsk rather than in Moscow or Leningrad,” Harris said. “However, the evidence presented at the trial was reasonably faithful to the facts. It was discredited in the U.S. and elsewhere because of the notoriety of earlier show trials in the U.S.S.R. Nevertheless, the [U.S.] State Department and MacArthur’s people were in a panic that some evidence would come out at the trial that there were American POWs who were [victims of] human experiments.”


terje said...

Thank you for your interesting coverage of this suppressed subject. I stumbled across it in Wilfred Burchetts wonderful autobiography just a few weeks ago.

I can't seem to either download or read the Khabarovsk trial book from google books. Are you sure they have changed their copyright settings on it? If not, do you have a copy you can upload to the web when you have time? The book is of high historical (and contemporary) significance, and I, for one, would like to read it.

Terje said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Valtin said...

Tanks, terje! By the way, the link works fine for me. Click on the link at the quote at the top of the post. You should be able to read it in the browser, or click on the button that says "Read ebook" to download and read the book via Google Play. I've not been able to download a PDF or .mobi version, or therefore get my own copy to upload. If you are not in the United States, I can't say for sure if this works. I believe Google published because they decided the book is in the public domain, but I can't really speak for them. Please let me know if you are successful or have further problems.

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