Sins of Omission

Unit 731

Every time I ask my college students if they are familiar with Nazi atrocities, the collective reply is “Of course.”  Nearly all of them have also heard of Dr. Josef Mengele and his horrific medical experiments conducted at Auschwitz.  The “Angel of Death” has been the subject of countless lectures, articles, books, movies, and documentaries.  And well should his inhumanity and bestial cruelty in the name of science be remembered and condemned.  Yet, it is a rare day when I find a student who can identify Japan’s Unit 731, which made Mengele look like a piker.

During World War II, Unit 731 conducted the most atrocious medical experiments imaginable on thousands of Chinese and Koreans and hundreds of Russians, British, and Americans.  The late Sheldon Harris, the author of Factories of Death, said, “My calculation, which is very conservative, and based on incomplete sources as the major archives are still closed, is that 10,000 to 12,000 human beings were exterminated in lab experiments.”  Long before his book was published, Harris told me that the number of deaths that he could verify was probably only a small portion of the real total.

Japan’s Kwantung Army, which controlled Manchuria and anticipated a war with the Soviet Union and fighting in subzero temperatures, was especially interested in the effects of frostbite.  Unit 731...

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