In April, the Japanese government released the names of over three thousand members of Unit 731. Unit 731 was a group in the Japanese Imperial Army responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. Jack Gray explains.

Shiro Ishii, commander of Unit 731

Shiro Ishii, commander of Unit 731

(1)   Unit 731 is the commonly used name for the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army. It was a secret unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out experiments in biological and chemical warfare using human test subjects. Unit 731 was only one unit of several in the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out medical experiments, but it is the best known. These units were known as the Ishii Network, after Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, the commanding officer of Unit 731 who spent his military career researching the development of biological weapons.


(2)   Unit 731 was established in 1936 and operated in the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. It was shut down in 1945 after the defeat of Japan. Lt. Gen. Ishii had been carrying out experiments in China in secret since 1933 during the second Sino-Japanese War, although most of these early experiments were much smaller in scale. After 1939, Unit 731’s headquarters were located in Pingfan, near Harbin in China. In its early days most of its members were medical researchers from various Japanese universities, not professional soldiers. There were only eight people in the first group posted to the unit, but it quickly grew in size until there were several thousand members (only a small number were doctors).


(3)   Unit 731 was known for their use of humans as test subjects in horrific experiments studying the effects of plague, frostbite, and other various diseases. While they did carry out several field tests using biological weapons, the use of their weapons was generally less successful than their gruesome experiments. In these, they examined the effects of diseases such as anthrax, cholera, dysentery, plague, smallpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, and typhoid on live human subjects. Researchers infected prisoners with the diseases and then performed vivisections on them while they were still alive to track the progress of the infection. Some experiments studying frostbite involved leaving prisoners outside until their limbs froze and then attempting various methods of reviving the necrotic body parts.


(4)   Many of the members of Unit 731 received immunity from the U.S. government in exchange for the data from their experiments. After the conclusion of the war, Americans began investigating the unit’s experiments and asked for the data, but never used it as evidence to prosecute any members, saying that the information gained from the experiments was too valuable not to take advantage of, since no similar experiments could be carried out in the United States due to moral scruples. In addition, seizing the data prevented the Soviet Union from being able to access it; using the experiments as evidence in a trial would have resulted in making the results public, thereby giving the Soviet Union the information as well. Regardless of the reason, no member of Unit 731 was ever prosecuted by the United States or by Japan.


(5)   The history of Unit 731 has been a contentious issue in Japan, as the government did not disclose any information about the group until recently. Only recently has more information come to light after a request from the public. Many people feel that the lack of any criminal charges against members of Unit 731 is a great injustice, and that the United States should have prosecuted every member. The publication of the names of several thousand members of the unit by the National Archives of Japan was the result of a petition led by Katsuo Nishiyama, a medical professor. The request was first made in 2015, but most of the names on the list were redacted. Only in January of 2018 did the government agree to release the rest of the names. Katsuo hopes that the release of the names will lead to greater awareness of the unit’s history and a new commitment never to repeat the crimes of the past.


To summarize, Unit 731 was a group in the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II that was responsible for war crimes involving experimentation on live human beings, but escaped prosecution. Only recently have the names of the members of the Unit come to light. Hopefully with this new information there will be new commitments to avoid further atrocities and remember those who suffered.


Jack Gray is from Pacific Atrocities Education,


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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Admiral Yamamoto led the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. However, Yamamoto was an interesting character who clashed with other, more bellicose, factions in Japan. Here, Kevin K. O’Neill tells us about his life.


Seventy-three years ago, on a day that has lived in infamy, America was attacked by Imperial Japan at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in a devastating surprise attack. One of the masterminds of this attack was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of Japan’s combined fleet. Portrayed in the American press as the chief perpetrator of this nefarious gambit, Yamamoto was successfully demonized in the American mind by newspapers and magazines. Such slander is a tool of war as old as the business but with the passage of time a more realistic summation of Yamamoto’s character is in order.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.


Born Isoroku Takano in 1884, to a Nagaoka samurai clan, Isoroku was adopted into the Yamamoto clan in 1916 to keep the clan name alive, a common practice of samurai clans with no male heirs. By that time Yamamoto had already graduated form the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1904, served as a line officer during the Battle of Tsushima Straits in 1905, returned to the Naval Staff College in 1914, and been promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1915. Yamamoto went on to study at Harvard for two years with several subsequent American postings allowing him to tour America and become fluent in the English language. It was during this time in America that Yamamoto gleaned his understanding of American production and logistic capability. Showing foresight, Yamamoto shifted his specialty from gunnery to naval aviation.

In the 1930s the Army and Navy of Imperial Japan were at odds with each other over national doctrine. This animosity was fanned by politics turbulent enough to, after an assassination attempt in 1930, give the Japanese eleven Prime Ministers in as many years before the Army Officer, Hideki Tojo, became Prime Minister in 1941. The Army’s nationalistic outlook, a mix of ‘bushido’ and European fascism termed ‘Showa Nationalism’ by historians, was fueled by many things. Two of these were lingering resentment over the treatment by the ‘Black Ships’ of Commodore Perry’s gunboat diplomacy, and the indignation over the Japanese ‘racial equality’ proposal being rejected by the League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. One of the main bones of contention between the bellicose Army and the more pragmatic Navy was whether or not to join the German-Italian Axis powers in what was to become the Tripartite Act.

Admiral Yamamoto, previously against aspects of the Japanese aggressions in China, was also against the Tripartite Act, recognizing that it would almost certainly lead to open conflict with the United States. Well aware of the age old military tenet that it is easier to start a war than to end one, Yamamoto, against public opinion and to the ire of the Army, sounded the alarm over America’s production abilities saying that the Japanese Navy could “run wild in the Pacific for 6 months… after that, I have no expectation of success.” This realistic viewpoint, considered weak and unpatriotic by the Army and an increasing number of the Navy power players, led to Yamamoto being removed from his position in the Navy Ministry to sea duty as the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, where he was held in high esteem.



After Tojo was appointed Prime Minister, Yamamoto, knowing war was imminent, went into patriotic obedience with the mindset of giving America a heavy blow, drawing battle lines, and suing for peace. The first of these blows came at Pearl Harbor, but while the rest of Japan was celebrating the ‘decisive’ victory Yamamoto was in deep melancholy over the fact that not a single American aircraft carrier was touched and that, due to bureaucratic lag, the declaration of war was delivered late to the Americans, making Pearl Harbor a sneak attack that would harden American resolve. Yamamoto tried again to hit the Americans hard then sue for peace with the plan of securing Midway Island and swatting American aircraft carriers.

Midway was a sure Japanese victory on paper, but there were problems such as the lack of security making the plan an open secret discussed publicly in teahouses. One Japanese pilot received a letter from a foot soldier relative fighting in China wishing him good luck at Midway. Other tricks of fate, including the submarines sent to detect American aircraft carriers being placed incorrectly due to a typographical error, thwarted the Japanese fleet. American intelligence work and gambits, the heroism of the torpedo squadrons, and shipboard fire fighting capabilities helped tip the balance. The Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered from their losses at the Battle of Midway.

As the Japanese were pushed back further and further during the battle for the Solomon Islands and ensuing loss of Guadalcanal, their morale suffered. Yamamoto, against strong vocal protests by his staff, insisted on going on morale boosting visits to forward areas. With the Japanese secret codes broken, the US Navy knew the details of these visits. President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to “Get Yamamoto”. On April 18, 1943, Yamamoto was shot down during an aerial ambush. Killed outright by .50 machine gun fire the 59 year old Yamamoto was found thrown clear of the crash site in his seat, still upright, with head bent as if in deep thought, his katana still clutched in his white gloved hand. Boosting the morale of the Americans and demotivating the Japanese, Roosevelt’s decision to go after Yamamoto is hard to question when viewed from the mindset of the times.

Sadly for the Japanese people Yamamoto never got his chance to keep the, or sue for, peace with the Americans. Roughly 90% of Japanese casualties occurred after his death as the Japanese fought tooth and nail against the advancing allies. One can only wonder what might have happened in the mid-twentieth century had the forces of bellicose nationalism listened to Isoroku Yamamoto, a true warrior who knew the price of aggression.


Now, click here to read our article on how World War II stereotypes of Japan linger on to this day.

Reference: The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire by John Toland.

In this article Manfred Gabriel argues that as a result of World War II propaganda, some people in the West expect Japanese people to ‘appear’ a certain way…


I was watching the Japanese Anime film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the other night, when a question popped into my head that American and European fans of the genre have been asking for decades. Why do Japanese animators make their characters look Caucasian? Why the light skin, the round eyes, the light colored hair?

Academic papers have even been written on the subject and what it says about Japanese culture. Some have posited that the reason is the influence of Disney Movies on early anime artists. Others have claimed it is to do with an envy the Japanese have for all things Western.

The answer, however, can be summed up simply - they aren’t Caucasian at all.

20140125 Image 1.jpg

Now, let’s get one thing straight. Not all Japanese look alike, no more than all South Africans, Mexicans or Canadians look alike. While there may be some shared characteristics due to genetic factors, there is no one particular look for any one people. I myself can trace my German heritage back four hundred years on both sides of my family, yet among my two brothers and three sisters, there isn’t one blond haired, blue eyed person.

That said, look at the photo to the right of a real life Japanese girl and an anime character. Once you account for the lighting, the resemblance is uncanny.

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And how about the image to the left of the Japanese fashion model Sosaki Nozomi? 

World War II propaganda

The job of the soldier is to kill the enemy. But killing someone is no easy task. Those who train snipers will tell you that they can teach almost anyone to shoot another person through the head at five hundred yards. The hard part is finding people with the proper temperament to pull the trigger. One of the reasons for Nazi death camps, besides them being the most efficient means for mass slaughter, was that many of the men ordered to shoot the Jews (the method used before gassing) were having mental and emotional difficulties from shooting others.

The solution is to dehumanize the enemy. Turn them into monsters. You aren’t killing a person, you are killing an animal. And this is exactly what the US propaganda machine set out to do.

On June 13, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Office of War Information (OWI). Headed by the popular CBS radio newscaster Elmer Davis, it was created by combining several separate government departments into one. Its 3,000 employees were charged with controlling all news about the war and motivating Americans both at home and abroad.

World War II was total war, and everyone was expected to do his or her part to ensure victory. The OWI used short films, newspaper articles, newsreels, radio broadcasts and especially posters to encourage people to recycle, conserve fuel, maximize factory production, buy war bonds and write to troops. It promoted enlistment and continued to remind the troops on the front why they were stuck in muddy fox holes or storming some remote Pacific island.

All information regarding the war that came to the public had to go through the OWI. Among its output was 100,000 cable wireless words a day, 350 daily radio programs and 50 movie shorts per year. Over its three year history, it became the largest pamphlet and magazine publisher in the world.

The poster encourages employees not to call in sick to work.

The poster encourages employees not to call in sick to work.

Not many people complained about the OWI’s control over media. In fact, many in the military self-censored, seeing it as their patriotic duty to show America, and its armed forces, in the best possible light.

The OWI’s message was simple – this was a fight of good versus evil. Nothing was shown or communicated that could undermine this message. Maimed soldiers were never depicted, the dead only shown towards the end of the war. The enemy was always shown in a negative light. The OWI enlisted film-makers from Hollywood and advertisers from Madison Avenue to help hone this message. And to reinforce this message, they made the enemy look as evil as possible.

The inherent idea was this: the Japanese aren’t human. You can shoot them, bayonet them, even drop an atomic bomb on them with a clear conscience.

An actual photo of two young Japanese soldiers.

An actual photo of two young Japanese soldiers.

Remove the uniforms and swords (you can just see the hilts at the bottom of the photo) and what you have are a couple of good looking young men, who could be your neighbor, your co-worker, the clerk at the corner grocery. Certainly no one who deserves death.  

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Imperial Japan didn’t deserve to be defeated in World War II. I’m also not saying that US Propaganda was unique in this tactic. The Nazis, for example, were excellent at depicting Jews as ugly, rat-like creatures, helping them to justify mass extermination. But the OWI did use some methods that leave a sour taste in the mouth.

The OWI was dissolved with the war’s end in 1945, with most of its duties going to the State Department. All these decades later, its depictions of enemies who are now our friends still linger on.


By Manfred Gabriel


Enjoy this article? Well, another article from Manfred is here. It is about the story of how a car defined a nation.

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones