Today we conclude our brief excursion into the still unspeakable — as far as official Japan is concerned, anyway — prewar and World War II crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Imperial Japanese military in numbers that still stun to contemplate. Undoubtedly the most notable atrocities Japan has never admitted and for which it has never made amends are the murders of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on Saipan sometime after their July 2, 1937 disappearance. As I wrote in my Sept. 25 post, “Earhart’s murder among first of Japan’s War Crimes,“ this section was originally created for inclusion in the closing chapter of Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last. My intent was to demonstrate how easily the American fliers became among the very first victims of the bloodthirsty Japanese regime upon their still-unexplained landing at Japanese controlled Mili Atoll on July 2, 1937. Here, then, is part two of “Japan’s War Crimes.”
JAPAN’S WAR CRIMES
Former Japanese soldier Akira Makino, of Osaka, assigned to Unit 731 for four months in 1945, described his dissection and dismemberment of 10 Filipino prisoners of war, including two teenage girls, for the U.K.’s Daily Mail in March 2007. “We removed some of the organs and amputated legs and arms,” Akira recalled. “Two of the victims were young women, 18 or 19 years old. I hesitate to say it but we opened up their wombs to show the younger soldiers. They knew very little about women — it was sex education.” Akira’s victims were luckier than some, according to reporter Christopher Hudson, who wrote that Makino “anaesthetized them before cutting them up,” while others were not so fortunate.
Suspicions persist that some American POWs were subjected to the always-fatal experiments at the Japanese BW units in Manchuria. In 1980, journalist John W. “Bill” Powell Jr., writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, briefly galvanized public attention on Japan’s BW atrocities when he reported that “among the human guinea pigs were an undetermined number of American soldiers, captured during the early part of the war and confined in prisoner-of-war camps in Manchuria.” The sensational charges in Powell’s article, “Japan’s Biological Weapons: 1930-1945, a Hidden Chapter in History,” were broadcast in the American media on the CBS news weekly Sixty Minutes, and featured in People Magazine.
Powell was best known for his sedition trial after he published an article in 1952 that reported on allegations made by Mainland Chinese officials that the United States and Japan were carrying out germ warfare in the Korean War. In 1956 the Eisenhower Administration pressed sedition charges against Powell, his wife, Sylvia, and Julian Schuman, after grand jury indictments that had been sought by Federal prosecutors were handed down against the three North Americans who had published the allegations about bacteriological warfare. However, the prosecutors failed to get any convictions.
Powell’s 1980 efforts led to Congressional hearings and an acknowledgement by Japan’s Diet that Unit 731 had existed and “committed heinous war crimes,” but no formal apologies have even been issued by Japan, which awarded Ishii a handsome retirement pension, despite government knowledge of his BW experiments. In fact, neither Ishii nor anyone else associated with the vast Japanese biological warfare program were ever brought to justice by the United States, despite fitting the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal’s definition of “A” level war criminals.
Ishii and more than two dozen Japanese BW experts were granted immunity from prosecution for sharing “the fruits of their research” with American scientists involved in their own, more benign research. At House Veterans Subcommittee hearings at Helena, Montana, in 1982, and Washington, D.C., in 1986, former POWs testified that they had been involved in Japanese BW experiments, but no report was issued, no action was taken and no further investigations resulted. “The Mukden POWs were thanked for their service to their country, and sent on their way home,” Sheldon wrote.
Nationally syndicated columnists Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta interviewed Congressman Pat Williams (D-Montana), a leader in the lobbying campaign for the Helena and Washington hearings, in 1987. Williams told them he had “encountered cover-up, denials and an intolerable cloud of secrecy” from U.S. Army and State Department officials who testified at the proceedings. Three years later, a front-page New York Times story about the “discovery of thirty-five non-Japanese human skulls and thighbones . . . just steps from the site of the wartime laboratory of Lieut. Gen Shiro Ishii” briefly returned attention to the issue. “Under General Ishii’s direction, prisoners of war – primarily Chinese, but by some accounts Americans and Russians as well – died gruesome deaths in secret camps set up in Japanese occupied territory,” the Times noted.
Japan’s feckless inability to come to terms with its sordid past was demonstrated once again in August 2002, when a Tokyo court rejected a claim for an apology and compensation by 180 Chinese, either victims or the family of those killed at Unit 731. The significance of the story, which received scant attention in the United States but was covered extensively in Japan, Australia and Britain, lay in the fact that it was the first time a Japanese court had acknowledged that Unit 731 and other units had engaged in “cruel and inhumane” biological warfare in China, costing countless lives. Still, the Japanese panel of three judges refused to apologize to victims or their families, nor did they offer them any compensation for Japan’s wartime atrocities, claiming there was no legal basis for the claims, because all compensation issues were settled by a treaty with China in 1972.
“While it had an authoritative legal ring to it, there was a deep sense of injustice around the courtroom and among supporters waiting outside,” Shane Green wrote in the Australian newspaper The Age. “How could a court acknowledge a crime had been committed, yet fail to do anything about it? In the only official comment on the day of the decision, the Japanese Justice Ministry said the court’s decision verified the validity of the Japanese Government’s position in refusing compensation and an apology to the victims of Unit 731.”
The inconceivable Nanking butchery, the innumerable victims of Japan’s biological warfare experiments and the dehumanizing sexual slavery of the comfort women were atrocities of unimaginable proportions, but those crimes were perpetrated almost exclusively against Chinese, Filipino, Korean and other Asian peoples. Though Westerners were aghast at the specter of Japan’s barbarity against its neighbors, when its inhuman cruelty was unleashed against 140,000 U.S. and Allied prisoners of war, with too many dying horribly under the merciless yoke of their captors, Japan’s wartime depredations struck home in a far more personal way. Australian historian and author Gavan Daws, now living in Hawaii, spent 10 years interviewing hundreds of survivors of Japanese POW camps, capturing their stories in his remarkable 1994 book, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific.
The exhaustive litany of torment and death Daws recites should give pause to all but the most fanatical of Japan’s wartime apologists. In opening his grim narrative, Daws succinctly describes the vast scope of Japan’s perfidy against its confined enemies: “They sacrificed prisoners in medical experiments. They watched them die by the tens of thousands from diseases of malnutrition like beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy, and from epidemic tropical diseases: malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers, cholera. Those who survived could only look ahead to being worked to death. If the war had lasted another year, there would not have been a POW left alive.”
The cold statistics confirm the desperate plight of POWs in Japanese captivity. Thirty-four percent of Americans, 33 percent of Australians, and 32 percent of British POWs in the Pacific theater died in Japanese hands, while the Allied death rate in Nazi POW camps was just 4 percent. “The undeniable, incontrovertibly documented record of brutality, disease, and death in the POW camps,” Daws wrote, “plus what happened in the civilian internment camps for white men, women, and children, and the massacres and atrocities perpetrated on native Asian people in occupied territory – all this shows the national tribe of Japan at its worst as a power in the world. That worst was humanly dreadful, a terrible chapter in the world’s twentieth-century book of the dead.”
Following the surrender of Bataan in April 1942, about 70,0000 American and Filipino soldiers were force marched, without food or water, for 75 of the 100 miles from the Bataan Peninsula north to Camp O’Donnell in central Luzon, in the infamous Bataan death march, the worst single atrocity against American POWs in history. Starving men were beheaded or bayoneted at such a rate that one dead body was left every 15 yards for a hundred miles, “every death a Japanese atrocity,” Daws wrote. The Japanese “would see a man desperate for water, catch him throwing himself down at some filthy pond and chop his head off. They would kill a man squatting with dysentery, leave him bleeding to death, fouled, with his pants down around his ankles. They killed men for going too slow, exhausted men dropping back through the column, Japanese buzzard squads coming along behind them to finish them off. The Japanese might order prisoners to dig graves and dump corpses in, one on top of the other. Some were thrown in alive, and the Japanese made other prisoners bash them down with shovels, or be bashed themselves and buried, alive or dead.”
Japan’s education system continues to perpetuate the myth of that nation’s innocence in World War II, and only its oldest and best-educated citizens are even vaguely aware of their forebears’ bloody legacy of incalculable wartime criminality. “Typically, Japanese school and college textbooks gave only half a dozen or so pages to the war in its entirety, phrased in sanitized language officially enforced by the Ministry of Education,” Daws explained. “In the orthodox teaching of the Japanese national tribe, Japan was the victim of white aggression, and the atrocities of the war began and ended with the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World-scale atrocities like the Rape of Nanking were reduced to incidents, and POW camps were cleansed out of existence altogether.”
In a 1995 interview, Daws told The Washington Post he didn’t know why “the Japanese refuse to acknowledge these things the way the Germans have their atrocities. It’s not like there’s any question about their authenticity. After all, there are newsreel films showing Japanese soldiers tossing live Chinese babies onto their bayonets. Atrocities like the Rape of Nanking . . . are a matter of indelible record. Obviously these true stories muddy Japan’s increasingly sanitized image of itself as merely the innocent victim of the atom bomb. And that makes them very nervous.”
In Conspiracies, Cover-ups and Crimes (1996), Jonathan Vankin explored America’s “supersociety” or “ruling class,” and its symbiotic relationship with the Japanese corporate state. Vankin cites the November 13, 1989 issue of U.S. News and World Report, announcing the sale of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan as well as 51 percent of the Rockefeller Group to the Japanese corporation Mitsubishi. “The press recorded the transaction as evidence of Japanese encroachment into American affairs,” Vankin wrote. “Little mention was made of the long alliance between the Rockefellers, American industrial leaders, and Mitsubishi, which plays a similar role in the Japanese corporate state. The press also failed to scrutinize the assumption that the Rockefeller organization is actually ‘American.’ In fact, it is global, and the guiding philosophy of the family in its business dealing is not nationalistic, but ‘one world.’. . . Many of these people hold the highest positions in government and in big business. They sit on the boards of banks and control the money circulating around the world. They decide what gets manufactured, and how much. Educational institutions and mass media outlets are under their control, which means the information we receive — the very stuff of our thoughts — is also shaped by this elite, this Establishment. This conspiracy.”
Would this establishment’s interests be served if the truth of Japan’s guilt in the deaths of Earhart and Noonan were acknowledged? Further evidence of the overwhelming efficacy of our government-media establishment’s inbred policy of deceit in the Earhart case is indirectly reflected in Vankin’s book itself, where not a whisper can be found about the Earhart disappearance. Did Earhart simply escape Vankin’s attention, or did something else compel him to refrain from any discussion of the Earhart matter?
In “The San Francisco System at Fifty,” the introductory chapter to the 2002 Brookings Institution-published U.S.-Japan Relations in a Changing World, editor Steven K. Vogel discusses the September 1951 peace treaty Japan signed with forty-eight nations, forging an alliance with the Unites States under the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This arrangement, known as the San Francisco system, has defined relations between the two nations ever since. “Japan effectively committed itself to military, diplomatic, and economic dependence on the United States,” Vogel wrote. “Japan allowed the United States to station troops on Japanese soil and to maintain control over Okinawa. Japan acted as a member of the Western camp, following the U.S. lead on crucial foreign policy issues. The United States protected Japan from external threats, but Japan developed military forces to help defend itself and to support U.S. forces in regional conflicts. The United States also supported Japan’s economic recovery by allowing Japan to limit the reparations paid to war victims, by creating a liberal international trade regime, and by maintaining open markets at home while tolerating Japanese trade protection and an undervalued yen.”
The Embassy of Japan’s web site offers similar language about the Japan-U.S. alliance: “Japan and the United States share interests and fundamental values, including freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The two countries are building significantly interdependent and cooperative relationships across a broad range of areas in the political, security and economic cooperation.”
By itself, the United States’ conciliatory, almost paternal postwar attachment to its former enemy would be enough to keep the secrets of the Earhart disappearance buried in the deepest recesses of our national security apparatus – if the records still exist at all. One wonders whether the San Francisco arrangement would have proceeded as smoothly if President Harry S. Truman had broken ranks with his deceased former boss and revealed Japan’s guilt in the deaths of Earhart and Noonan, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s gag order to suppress public knowledge of it.
But FDR’s sanitized legacy as the New Deal savior of the American middle class, who rid the world of the Nazi and Japanese menaces, could never have withstood the revelation of his abandonment of Earhart and Noonan in the prewar years, or even his failure to reveal Japan’s guilt upon learning of the fliers’ fate. In either case, FDR had no stomach for the public outcry and endless questions, and his alleged secret executive order that permanently embargoed the truth in the Earhart disappearance was FDR’s way of permanently dealing with the problem. The world has been left with the “Earhart mystery” ever since.