Remembering the Horrors of Unit 731

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The other day Spencer sent me the link to a video about Unit 731, saying that he could only stomach the first three minutes.  Bleary eyed at six in the morning, still waking up over emails and tea I began watching the video below.  I made it through fifteen minutes before I was overloaded.  What I saw was a short documentary on yet another horrific, and little known chapter in history. 


I am currently working on a thesis in a Master’s history program and although I have had a fascination with history my entire life I was startled by this piece, which was never mentioned in any of my classes.  Perhaps teachers never told me about Unit 731 because they didn’t know about it or because of the heinous nature of the events.  Although I have made some minor forays into Asian history I have never studied any nation in depth, and the inhumane brutality conceived in Manchuria was truly startling. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) an injustice of epic proportions occurred on the outskirts of Harbin, Manchuria. 


People were experimented on and tortured like lab rats. The sadistic Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii oversaw the operation, he was a man who “could give lessons in evil” to the “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele, the face of Nazi experimentation.  Shiro Ishii was given unlimited funds from Japanese government to perform experiments on the local Chinese in hopes of creating chemical and biological weapons. Innocent people from the surrounding area were routinely dissected alive, subjected to frost bite, infected with terrible diseases, and much worse.  Death became a cold and measured experiment.  People were exterminated like rodents. 


In the eighteenth century Immanuel Kant said, “always treat people as ends in themselves, never as means to an end.”  However, in Manchuria people were treated worse than animals, they were dehumanized, referred to only as “logs.”  Like wood they were burned, branded, and chopped to pieces.  It was later discovered that the United States helped to cover-up the atrocities in exchange for all of the medical information gathered from the mass torture.  The fact that many U.S. citizens are unaware of the nation’s role in these atrocities is troubling.  This is another example of historical filtering and bias. 


What role do I have as a U.S. citizen who has just been exposed to this information?  Why were we not exposed to this in our educational careers?  Was it the horror, or something deeper?  Why couldn’t I just turn away?  It got me thinking of the relationship of the between history and memory.


One of the most compelling reasons history is so important, and why even terrible things cannot be forgotten, is that it gives us a fuller sense of what humanity is.  If we do not remember, there is little hope for the future.  If we do not heed the lessons of the past then we are doomed, as the cliché states, to have history repeat itself.  Anyone who grasps the events chronicled in this video would work to live in a world where this never happens again.  In life we must look into the mirror and acknowledge our flaws as individuals and work on those flaws in order to grow.  Is a society any different?



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