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May 28, 2024 48 mins

Unit 731 was a secret group within the Japanese Army in WWII that committed unspeakable atrocities against humans in the name of scientific research. Listen with caution. 

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff You Should Know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, and there's
Chuck and Jerry's here too, and this is Stuff you
Should Know. And this is definitely the chipperest I'm going
to sound for this episode right now.

Speaker 1 (00:21):
Yeah, and another joke free edition.

Speaker 2 (00:25):
Yeah. Possibly, we're definitely hitting that.

Speaker 1 (00:28):
Should we see oa?

Speaker 2 (00:30):
Oh yeah, there's there, Yeah for sure. Please go ahead.

Speaker 1 (00:35):
Okay, all right, I did laugh. There are unspeakable atrocities
that we will discuss of the horrors of well I
was about to say the horrors of war, but it
really are just the horrors of human experimentation during war.
And so children should not listen to this, and people

that are really haunted by that kind of thing should
not listen to this.

Speaker 2 (01:04):
Yeah, I mean we can. It's not like there's spoilers
or anything. We're going to talk about human vivisection, abuse
of like children, women, the elderly, like it's it's as
bad as humans can possibly do to other humans what
we're going to talk about today. So if that's not
your bag, we will definitely not blame you for skipping
this one.

Speaker 1 (01:24):
That's right, But we do need to thank a listener
sitting this one in. This came from you know, I
don't even know if I'm going to say her last name.
Her name is Amy, and you know who you are,
and you know, I'm glad you sitting this my way
because this is something I knew nothing about and I
think people, you know, part of the fabric of the

show is teaching people some of the unspeakable things that
have happened that you would not learn in school. And
so Amy sitting us in. So thank you, Amy, and
we'll just forward any complaints to you.

Speaker 2 (01:58):
Yeah, thank you, Amy.

Speaker 1 (02:00):
Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 2 (02:02):
I had heard of Unit seven thirty one before several times. Nothing.
I had no idea the detail that I know now
about them, but you know, I was walking on like
we'll never talk about that. So thanks again, Amy. But
I guess let's just start at the beginning. Let's give
a little background, because what we're talking about here is

a detachment and I think an Imperial Army unit from
Japan that started up in the nineteen thirties and it
committed medical atrocities war crimes that actually rival easily rival
Joseph Mengel's hideous medical war crimes at Auschwitz Death Camp,

like the stuff that the Japanese essentially did during World
War Two to Chinese and Russian and to a lesser
extent Mongolian civilians and then sometimes prisoners of war, including
American It's just it's unspeakable and we're going to try
to speak it as best we can, but it doesn't
make sense without a little bit of context. If you

have a little bit context, in my opinion, of where
this evolved from, it doesn't doesn't excuse it doesn't explain it.
It just makes slightly more sense than the Japanese just
suddenly did this horrible thing and now everything's back to normal.

Speaker 1 (03:22):
Yeah, And just to add an additional comment to the
sort of comparison to Nazi atrocities, certainly not in scale
that was happening in Germany and Poland and elsewhere, but
as far as just the how reprehensible some of this
stuff is.

Speaker 2 (03:40):
You know what I'm saying, No, No, this is a
separate thing for sure, and there's no comparison it. This happened.
This happened. It's just the reason I'm comparing the two
is because most people walk around understanding that the Nazis
did these horrible atrocities, and what I'm trying to get
across is that the Japanese did too during World War II. Yeah,

it's just for really specific reasons that the average person
isn't walking around knowing about that, which we'll talk about
later too.

Speaker 1 (04:07):
Yeah. Absolutely, all right, So you promised talk of backstory,
and we'll get into that here, because the backstory is
is starting sort of in the late eighteen hundreds. The
government of Japan was it sort of went through a
movement where it was looking to build itself up into
a superpower, like you know, just like Europe was, just

like the United States was, And a lot of this
was tied up in just sort of modernizing the country,
whether it was the military or how they functioned economically,
and sort of this ultranationalist movement grew up around all this.

Speaker 2 (04:47):
Yeah, so you just said the key word here ultranationalist,
which is I mean nationalism is fervent to begin with.
Ultranationalism reaches a fanatical level, and that's kind of this
journey that began to infect Japanese society starting in the
twenties or thirties. And the reason why is because Japan
took a number of like kind of punches and was

kind of down both economically and as far as like
cultural honor goes like Japan helped the US and UK
win World War One, but were left out of the
table when the spoils of war were divided up. That
was a big black eye and the national pride. The
Great Depression hit Japan disproportionately hard compared to some of

the other countries outside of the US. There was just
a lot of stuff that it was clear that the
leaders of Japanese society weren't equipped to handle. And the
worse it made Japan look to the Japanese, the more
the national pride felt it needed to be defended. And
that's where that nationalism and then eventually ultra nationalism came from.

And the reason that we're talking about this today is
because it became a really thick component of the Japanese military.
Nationalist fanaticism.

Speaker 1 (06:02):
Yeah, I mean, it can become a very and usually
does become a very dangerous thing.

Speaker 2 (06:06):
Yes, everywhere anywhere in all of.

Speaker 1 (06:09):
History, Yeah, for sure. In the nineteen thirties, there was
a part of China and northeastern China kind of near
Korea in Russia and Mongolia called Manchuria, where Japan had
a lot of people that were living there, had settled there.
They had a lot of influence on that area. The
Chinese government did not like this, of course, they were

in the middle of a civil war with the Nationalists,
which was the ruling party at the time. The Nationalist
government with Shang Kai Shek and then Malo Zedong's Communists
were trying to take control, but they had a common
enemy in Japan, and Japan was sort of encroaching on
this area in northeastern China in the thirties.

Speaker 2 (06:51):
Yeah, and the ulter nationalism, I said, was so thick
in the Japanese military. It actually created almost like an
additional branch, especially for the Kwantung Army that had basically
invaded Manchuria. They weren't following orders from the Japanese Imperial
Army heads, the leaders of the actual military. They were

kind of working on their own to expand the empire
and they were successful, so they were getting away with it.
They were also getting away with it because they would
assassinate you or they would stage a coup attempt, like
you did not mess with these people, even though they
weren't the leaders. The leaders were afraid of like these
middling officers who were actually these ulternational fanatics. So the
upshot of all that is that Japan ended up controlling

Manchuria in the nineteen thirties and set up a puppet
government there, and it was like a big first step
toward expanding the empire. And one other part of the backstory,
and then I'll be quiet about the backstory, is that
part of that ulternationalism was a certain amount of genetic
and cultural pride in Japan and the Japanese. And there's

nothing wrong with having pride in your culture, but the
problem is very often, especially in the context of nationalism
or ultra nationalism, means everybody else is inferior. And so
that kind of gave this ultra nationalist detachment of the
military carte blanc to mistreat anybody who wasn't Japanese, which
included the Russians, Koreans, Mongolians, and Chinese. That all kind

of met in Manchuria, which was at the border of
all of these countries, which is where the Japanese had
taken over and set up this puppet government.

Speaker 1 (08:34):
Yeah, I mean, anytime you throw the word genetic in there,
you're probably traveling down a bad road. Yeah, you know,
and Japan definitely saw themselves, or at least a faction
of Japan. I'm not going to say like everyone in
the country, but this ultra nationalistic wing thought they were
the superior Asian human being on planet Earth at the time.

Speaker 2 (08:56):
Yeah, and the ones who didn't think the same way
were too scared to speak up. They were killed, Like
they killed the Prime minister, Chuck, the military just killed
the Prime minister, assassinated because it wasn't going along with
their aims. Okay, so I lied. That was the end
of the backstory.

Speaker 1 (09:12):
All right. So the puppet government was there in nineteen
thirty two in Manchuria. The Chinese, like I said, did
not love this. So they had a common enemy and
got together to fight, and there was a pretty much
a full scale war started which started in nineteen thirty
seven that a lot of people are like, you know,
you could really point to this as the very beginnings

of what would be World War two if you want
to get technical, and so this is just sort of
what's going on. When Unit seven thirty one is formed
in nineteen thirty six under the command of General shiro
A Shie I watched this. It was pretty good documentary. Actually,
it's like an hour long on YouTube. I can't remember

what it was called, but if you're looking for Unit
seven thirty one docs on YouTube, it's the one that's
like an hour long on the nose and super professionally done.

Speaker 2 (10:06):
It's called There's Something Wrong with Aunt Shiro?

Speaker 1 (10:09):
Was that it?

Speaker 2 (10:10):
No? No, I was referencing another horrible documentary called There's
Something Wrong with Aunt Diane. Not horrible, horrific.

Speaker 1 (10:16):
Oh, I think I've heard of that one.

Speaker 2 (10:19):
Actually, it's it's tough.

Speaker 1 (10:22):
Yeah, we'll talk offline. Okay, I'm not sure I'm thinking
of the right one.

Speaker 2 (10:24):
This is definitely the episode to bring it up, and
I'll tell you that.

Speaker 1 (10:27):
Yeah. So, she E was a doctor in the Japanese army,
was a part of that ultra nationalist wing before the war.
He was interested in biological weapons and what that might
offer the army, and supposedly as early as nineteen thirty
was starting to do some human experimentation. I think, you know,

as a doctor, though not as a general, correct.

Speaker 2 (10:56):
As both I believe he was. He'd been a general
for a while, or at least a high ranking military
official for a while when he started. Okay, so the
reason that we talked so much about Manchuria a second
ago is because doctor General Ishi realized very quickly that
even in ultranationalists Japan people weren't super cool with unwilling

human experimentation. So he's kind of successively moved his operation
further and further away from the prying eyes of everyday
Japanese people and ultimately ended up in Manchuria because it
was so it was so lawless as far as like
ethics and morals regarding civilian treatment and war crimes goes.

It was the kind of place where you could set
up a medical experimentation machine using unwilling participants. It was
that kind of place. And it also had a steady
supply of inferior human beings. I just made scare quotes
for those of you who can't see me, who were
the Koreans and the Russians and the Chinese and the

Mongolians who lived in the area and were just unfortunate
to have lived in this area that Japan now controlled.

Speaker 1 (12:11):
Yeah. Absolutely, So. In nineteen thirty TWOHI became the head
of the and this is a new operation, but it
was called the epidemic Prevention research Laboratory. This was at
the Japanese Military Medical School in Tokyo, and Unit seven
thirty one was known officially, we call it Unit seven

thirty one now for short, but it was the Kwan
Kwantung Armies Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department or Manchu
Detachment seven thirty one. But like I said, we call
it Unit seven thirty one now. And this was the
main base of operations. It was a there were like
eight village basically where they kicked all the villagers out

and said this is ours now they built I mean,
it was like a prison camp basically. You know, it
was surrounded by barbed wire, there were guard towers. No
one was coming in or getting out of there without
explicit permission. But some of the people invited in were
doctors and nurses and engineers and pathologists and people that

specialize in bacterial cultures and stuff like that. So they
were just sort of staffing up with you know, legitimate
and medical personnel because they were they were set to
and as you'll see, it was sort of like, hey,
let's figure out anything we ever wanted to know about
the human body and how it responds to anything you

could throw at it, from bullets to knives to anthrax.

Speaker 2 (13:43):
Right, And so they actually started out with a fairly
legitimate mandate, which was figure out how to essentially treat
things like communicable diseases or things that soldiers, Japanese soldiers
might find useful, like, you know, if there were fighting
in the Pacific theater, figure out how to treat malaria

or something like that. But under the guidance of General Ashi,
it became they moved from willing, initially willing Japanese soldiers
who signed consent waiver saying you can test on me,
to unwilling, unfortunate civilians. And there's a lot, as we'll see,

there's a lot of debate and discussion about what happened when,
who is involved, And if we were doing this podcast
twenty years ago, we would be completely lost by this
point totally. So much has come out that we essentially
know exactly what happened. And one of the things that
has really been established over the years is that awareness

of Unit seven thirty one and the unwilling medical experimentation
war crimes that was carrying out went all the way
to the top. The Emperor was involved the Emperor's family
was involved, Prime Minister Tojo was involved. Everybody knew about this.
It was incredibly well funded and it was a huge
prong of the Japanese military. It was just also kept

incredibly secret too.

Speaker 1 (15:10):
Yeah, for sure. And when we say unwilling subjects because
of where it was located, like we said near Korea
and Russia and Mongolia. Sometimes that were Russians and Koreans
and Mongolians, but most of them were Chinese citizens. Some
of them were criminals, some of them were just communists
that were arrested basically and rounded up, and they were

brought in like you said, sort of initially like hey,
let's see what Let's see what happens when you don't
eat for a while if our soldiers are out there
and kate get their hands on food and water, Like
how long can humans go without food and water? Or
what is this? What does milaria do? Like you were saying,
like diseases they might encounter, But it really morphed pretty

quickly into hey, and this might be a good time
to break but hey, I think we can develop biological weapons,
so let's see how they react to the human body.

Speaker 2 (16:03):
Yeah, that's when it really took a terrible left turn.

Speaker 1 (16:06):
Yeah, all right, so we'll be right back. And it
gets worse an act too, We'll be right.

Speaker 2 (16:12):
Back, okay, Chuck. So when we were last talking, the

Unit seven thirty one had started to veer off into
developing biological weapons, and they did so apparently because in
nineteen twenty five, under the Geneva Convention, a bunch of
countries outlawed biological weapons, and apparently that caught the attention
of the Japanese, who were like, wow, if it's worth outlawing,
those things must really work at killing, so let's try those, right.

It pequed their interest enough that they started a program,
and so they developed a really extensive pathological development section
where they apparently could develop a trillion microorganisms every few days. Like,
they just grew so many communicable diseases that I saw
in some field tests they would have one hundred and

fifty kilograms of it, Like that's how much they could produce.
And they were doing things like producing malaria, cholera, typhus,
the plague. They were growing this stuff. Yeah, and then
they were testing it on those unfortunate, unwilling test subjects
to see what happened. And that's where the essentially the
medical torture, the war crimes really began.

Speaker 1 (17:42):
Yeah, and if you want to see what happened to
someone that was infected with typhus or cholera, you don't
just ask a bunch of questions and check vitals and
see how Say how are you feeling, and we'll write
it down. You mentioned vivisection earlier, and that's what would happen.
Vis Section is, you know, the dissection of a live thing.

So whether it's a frog in biology class or in
this case, a human being, it is a live human
being in these cases being cut open and studied from
the inside out, and a lot of times without anesthesia.
I think they did use anesthesia for some stuff here
and there, at least a documentary said they did, But

a lot of times they didn't even use anesthesia when
they would amputate someone's limb or take someone's kidney out
to study it.

Speaker 2 (18:34):
So on vivisection. Nicholas Christoff, the New York Times reporter,
went to Japan in nineteen ninety five as some of
this stuff was really coming out and talked to some
people who are actually in Unit seven thirty one, and
he actually interviewed a man who was a doctor at
Unit seven thirty one who had performed one of these

unanesthetized vivisections, and he quoted the guy in the article
if you want, I want to hear it, it's it's
just insane that people have ever done this to other people.
So what the guy said was that the the and
I'm paraphrasing this first part, that when they brought the
prisoner in, he knew that it was over for him,
that his life was about to be executed, but he
didn't know how, so he wasn't he wasn't fighting along

the way. He came in essentially willingly. But when they
put him down on the examination table and a scalpel
was produced, he started screaming, and he said that this
is this guy, this doctor who performed this said quote.
I cut him open from chest to the stomach, and
he screamed terribly, and his face was all twisted in agony.
He made this unimaginable sound. He was screaming so horribly,

but then he finally stopped. This is all in a
day's work for the surgeons, but it really left an
impression on me because it was my first time that
that happened. A guy did that to another guy. He
killed him by performing surgery on him without anesthesia and
opening his his abdomen and removing the organs.

Speaker 1 (20:00):
Yea, and this happened a lot at unit seven thirty one.
And we'll say that that part and like the next
probably five to seven minutes are we're gonna kind of
go through some of the worst of it. Yeah, so
feel fear to skip ahead, and then you know, we'll
talk about kind of ramifications and all that stuff.

Speaker 2 (20:20):
But yeah, just listen for the sound of one of
us wretching while the other one's talking. You know, we're
still in that five to seven minute part.

Speaker 1 (20:26):
Yeah, exactly. So I mentioned amputations and stuff like that.
Organ removal. Boy, this one is tough. They had men
that were infected with different venereal diseases like syphilis, that
were forced to rape women there to see how syphilis spreads.
There were women who were raped and impregnated that had

you know, where the men had communical diseases, like you know,
make her pregnant so we can see the effects on
developing fetuses. Sometimes babies were born. Those babies were experimented
on elderly people. You know that they wanted to get
a range of not just what would this do to
a Japanese soldier, but what would these weapons do to

a range of humans, like from literal babies to elderly people.
So that's what they did. You want to take over.

Speaker 2 (21:21):
Sure, So some of the things in addition to studying
what communicable diseases the effects that had on the body.
And that's actually the reason why they would give later
on why they didn't use anesthesia. Sometimes they were concerned
that the anesthesia would affect the effects and that they
wouldn't have like an actual picture of what was really
going on in the body, So they just didn't anesthetize.

But they studied other things too, like what happens when
we crush your limb? What happens if you are only
allowed to drink seawater for several days? Like just imagine
like completely losing all of your morals and ethics being
a doctor and saying like what can I pursue here?
What just crazy experiments can I come up with? And

then actually carrying them out? And that's essentially what happened
at ping Von.

Speaker 1 (22:09):
Yeah, what if you had a blood transfusion of cow's blood? Like,
what would that do to a human being or a
blood type that didn't match your own? What would that
do to somebody? There was one guy, he was a
physiologist name Yoshimura Hissato that focused on frostbite. So they would,
you know, purposely give people frostbite to see what happened

to their body and their limbs. They did publish some
of this stuff, I believe. The second in command, his
name was Masagi Kitano, said that, yeah, we published some
of this stuff, but when we published it during the war,
we said that we were using you know, research monkeys
and stuff like that, and certainly keeping all, you know,
anything about humans a secret.

Speaker 2 (22:52):
Yeah, so it's not like they didn't realize that what
they were doing was considered unethical and immoral. Yeah, they
knew it. That's also they kept the whole thing secret too,
and yet they did it anyway. That frostbite work is
very frequently cited as you know, evidence that actual scientific
findings came out of this, because apparently before the way

that they thought to revive a frostbit and limb was
to rub it back into health, and they found that
actually makes it worse that you want to dunk it
in water that's between one hundred and one hundred and
twenty two degrees farentheight, And so people are like, see,
that's a scientific finding. It's weird. It's almost as if
they're trying to excuse it in some way, shape or form,
or say that it was in any way justified. And

from what I can tell, that's the only one that
anyone's actually able to point to as a scientific experiment
that produced actual scientific findings that we weren't aware of before.

Speaker 1 (23:47):
Yeah, for sure. So not only were they like saying,
you know, what kind of bomb can we make out
of poison gas or a plague culture or you know,
something that as like infected fleas, like animal fleas as
a payload that have the plague dropped on a town.
But I mentioned earlier just you know regular weapons, guns

and knives and stuff like let's just tie people up
at a stake and shoot them with different things from
different distances to see like how far the bullets travel,
what kind of wounds they would produce, you know, flame throwers, knives, swords,
anything they could think of to just log sort of
what the human body could take and what kind of
effect it would have.

Speaker 2 (24:31):
Yeah, that area where you're talking about was a second
kind of satellite site at a town called Hoda. It's
about ninety miles away from Harbin, which is where the
ping Fon complex was, right, and everything we're talking about
to this point has was carried out at Pingfon and
this one huge, sixty five square acre complex of just horror,

every single day horror. And imagine hundreds of other people
working with them, and all of them are walking around
of doing the same thing, hearing the same screams, like
carrying out the same atrocities. Yeah, and it's just like
the guy said, like it was just all in a
day's work. That's just what we were doing. Like imagine that,
like try. I can't even conceive of putting myself in

a place like that and just going along with it,
because you know that there were people who were there
who were worried about not going along with it because
they knew they would be next on the slab if
they spoke up or spoke out against it. I just
can't imagine it. When when my brain tries to put
me in that that place at that time, it's just

like stop, I don't want to go there.

Speaker 1 (25:38):
Yeah, did you see the zone of interests. Yet, No,
you should check that out.

Speaker 2 (25:44):
What is it a movie? Is it a play?

Speaker 1 (25:46):
Yeah, it was a movie from last year, won the
Oscar for Foreign Film and was nominated for Best Picture overall.
Jonathan later, it's basically a movie true story obviously about
the guy who led who was sort of the head
of the concentration camp. I think it was Auschwitz and

not Docu. But you know, it doesn't go in the
camp at all. The whole movie is just told from
the perspective of the fact that he had his house
next door on the other side of the wall, where
he had his wife and kids in garden, and they
just they live this normal life and it's a very
The way that Glazer did it was very, very effective

and different than I've seen in any other war movie
to get across this sort of horrors without seeing any
of them happen.

Speaker 2 (26:38):
Wow. Yeah, that's really interesting. I've heard about that. Yeah,
I haven't heard anything more than what you just said.
So I'll check it out though, because I trust your recommendations. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (26:48):
I mean, it's a great film and very effective, And
you know, the reason I brought it up is because
that's sort of the same idea because I did a
little research after about this guy and he was like,
you know, I felt like I was, you know, I
had to do this stuff or else I would be
you know, shot for not following orders. And that's always
sort of the line that you hear.

Speaker 2 (27:09):
Sure, no, for sure, especially further down the pecking order.

Speaker 1 (27:13):

Speaker 2 (27:14):
The thing is is there were very very clearly people
who were there who were totally into this and were
totally fine with it all in a day's work. Yeah,
it's just what they did. Yeah, But I guarantee there
were people who were there just crumbling inside every day.
I don't know, maybe there weren't. Maybe you couldn't possibly
keep quiet in a place like that, who knows. But

there were hundreds of people, like you said, from all
different fields and professions that were coming together to work
to experiment on unwilling humans at ping Fon. And that
was just ping Fon because what we said earlier was
that their ultimate goal was to create biological weapons. Yeah,
and you can sit there and come up with a
trillion microorganisms every few days, all like, all year long,

and it doesn't amount to anything if you can't infect
your enemy with them. If you wanted to carry a
biological warfare program, I should say. And so one of
the other things that they experimented on was how to deliver,
like you said, payloads of plague infected fleas or cholera
into local wells, and they did it sometimes successfully. And

I think the number for the people who died just
at Pingfon was three thousand. That's the number that's generally cited.
And they had one hundred percent mortality rate among prisoners.
There no one survived Pingfon. Not a single person survived
ping Fon. If you went in there as a prisoner,
you died just at ping Fon. That was three thousand.

When it goes to the actual experiments that they carried
out trying to deliver biological weapons in Manchuria, it expands,
by some estimates into the hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Speaker 1 (28:59):
Yeah. Yeah, And we should point out too when you
say that there were no survivors of ping Fan when
they closed down, and you know, we're skipping toward the end,
but when they did shut it down, whoever was still living,
they just murdered straight up to cover up any sign
of evidence, and then just dynamited the place beyond recognition.

Speaker 2 (29:20):
Yeah, and then they destroyed all the records and then
all of the people there took a last order from
General Ishi that was never talk about this and never
implicate anyone that's ever worked here. They basically took a
vow of silence about it.

Speaker 1 (29:36):
Yeah. So you mentioned, you know, using actual biological weapons
that was mainly against Chinese civilians, and this is some
of the stuff that you know, they had sort of
considered when they dropped like cotton or wheat or rice
infested with disease carrying fleas on different Chinese cities, and

they testified in court later on civilians did about like
what happened to their community communities, these illnesses that spread
through there. It's just it's hard to fathom that this
was going on and largely gotten away with, you know.

Speaker 2 (30:16):
Yeah. Yeah, there were a couple more that I found, Chuck,
that I were just reprehensible. They would infect dogs with cholera,
I believe, and release them into villages and colera outbreaks
would start. They gave local children chocolate lace with salmonella.
The one thing that was super effective they found was

mixing wheat grain with plague infested fleas or infected fleas
and dropping it from airplanes and then the villagers would
feed the grain to their chickens and plague outbreak would
start and again. Like over time, at least tens of
thousands of people in Manchuria died from these plague and
collar outbreaks. Colera is no oh joke. Apparently there was

a researcher who was a pathologist at Unit seven thirty
one who boasted that they produced enough calera to kill
every single person in the world. And they didn't succeed
in that, thankfully, but they definitely killed a significant number
of people in Manchuria with things like cholera and the
plague from just trying to figure out how to get

that to those people. Fortunately, that was something they really
failed at. They never really figured it out.

Speaker 1 (31:29):
Yeah, I mean, mainly we've been talking about like people
that they arrested and you know, practice on or when
it was like you know, actual biological weapons, it was
on civilians, but they also did this on prisoners of
war in different places outside of Unit seven thirty one,
specifically Singapore and the Philippines. You mentioned US prisoners of

war early on. There was one documented case, at least
one documented case in May of nineteen forty five when
there was a down US plane where they captured eight
airmen and in May of nineteen forty five, they were
basically medically tortured. There was one medical student later on
that said, you know what was going on was just

torture at this point, there was no scientific value happening.

Speaker 2 (32:17):
Yeah, and that wasn't even Unit seven thirty one. That's
how badly like this whole German infected Japanese military. Essentially,
the military is like, hey, we got these POWs. We
want to we want to do a number on them.
So basically just operate on them until they're dead. And
that's what it would be dressed up as is like
practice surgeries. Like I want to learn how to remove

an arm, so that's what they would practice on. Or
I want to learn how to remove an appendix, so
I'm going to practice that, and like eventually the patient
would just die because they didn't have enough organs left
to sustain themselves, or they lost so much blood that
they died, but they died from surgery. That was how
they died.

Speaker 1 (32:58):
Well, and if they happened to live through this, they
would strangle them till they died.

Speaker 2 (33:02):
Yeah. I heard one other thing. It's kind of unrelated
to this, but it's just stuck out to me, and
it's kind of haunted me. Actually, that there was a
group of POWs, American POWs that were being held in Japan,
and hours after the surrender had taken place and where
it had spread that Japan surrendered. Rather than release these POWs,

this group of Japanese soldiers took them to this hillside
and decapitated them, killed them, just completely wasted their lives
for nothing after a surrender. Somehow, It's bad enough to
do that in the context of war, but within hours
of surrendering, it makes it exponentially worse. It's way worse
than even if that happened five years later, Like they

just held them for five years and then killed them
somehow within hours of surrendering. It just makes it worse
to me. And I can't really get that one out
of my head, so I wanted to make sure it
was in everybody else's head.

Speaker 1 (33:59):
I guess. I guess you want to think that after
something as horrific of a war has ended, then everyone
just wants to go home and have it be over,
you know, And that you know clearly isn't always the case.

Speaker 2 (34:16):
Well, I remember also just kind of tied into it.
The Nazis did that too, Like the truest believers would
just walk around executing people who, like at the end
of the war, like they knew, like Hitler was dead
and the war was over, but they were executing people
who were like trying to go home or running away
or whatever. Just a complete waste of life. Yeah, yeah,

I don't really have anything else to add to that.
Maybe we'll edit that part out, but it just has
stuck with me.

Speaker 1 (34:41):
Yeah, all right, we'll take our last break, and we're
going to come back and finish up with the investigations
and kind of what happened afterward, and prepared to be
unsatisfied right after this. All right, we are back. We promised,

talked of investigation and you know kind of what happened afterward,
it you know, became pretty clear that the war was ending.
So general is she e like you said earlier, said,
you know, no one can ever speak of this. Beginning
on August ninth, they started destroying everything, started blowing that
place up, killed everyone else who was there, which, as

we'll see, is you know, one reason they got away
with some of these atrocities is because there were no
surviving people to testify. So the US started investigating this
at a place called Camp Dietrich in Maryland. It was
an army base, a pretty new one, and when they
started questioning, they kind of realized what was going on.

And Japan said, you know, the Cold War is sort
of taking hold now, and you know, we're really afraid
that some of this stuff might get into the hands
of the Soviets. So America made a decision to rather
than pursue prosecution, was like, hey, let's work with them,
just to get as much much data and information as

we can from them that is useful to us, and
that in itself is a pretty horrific thing.

Speaker 2 (36:29):
Yeah, we actually paid them. We paid them, We paid
the unit seven thirty one scientists like, general, is she
money to work with us? And it's weird. There's like
a lot of papers. I read one from the Cambridge
Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics in twenty fourteen that compared like

the two prongs that were taken like two different two
different approaches, one toward the Nazis and their medical atrocities,
one toward the Japanese and their medical atrocities. And there
was one guy in particular named John W. Thompson, who
was Canadian, who really led the charge to prosecute the
Nazi doctors who carried out these horrible experimentations as war criminals.

There wasn't a guy like that dealing with the Japanese
in the tribunal for war crimes in the Far East,
and so the US military and intelligence was able to
keep a lid on the whole thing. The Russians were
talking about it because their people had been killed, the
Chinese were certainly talking about it because their people had
been killed, And people as high up as Douglas MacArthur
were publicly saying this is communist propaganda, This isn't true,

knowing full well it was true, because he was collaborating
and the people under him were collaborating with the very
people who had performed these atrocities in order to get
their medical data. We paid them for it, and we
gave them immunity. Some of them apparently even visited Fort
Dietrich to help with America's own biological warfare program that

we essentially lifted from the Japanese after World War Two.

Speaker 1 (38:01):
That's what happened, yeah, I mean, that is that's blood
on the hands of the United States because what they're
basically saying, they're basically you know, they wouldn't outright say that,
but they're justifying these experiments by saying that the data
was useful.

Speaker 2 (38:18):
Well, yeah, they said that Americans couldn't possibly ever get
data like this because we have scruples, but apparently the
Japanese don't, so we'll just take their data because they
don't have scruples. But that means that by proxy, you
don't have scruples if you're willing to use this, And
that's what happened with the Nazi stuff like that. Guy
John W. Thompson wanted to make an example out of

those Nazi doctors, like attention all scientists everywhere in the world.
Even the cover of World War two can't save you
like you like you were going to be hung if
we ever catch any of you doing something like this, hanged.
I guess that that message wasn't given to the Japanese doctors,
and in fact, because a lid was kept so tightly

on what had happened and was just relegated to rumors
as far as America and Japan was concerned, they were
allowed to re enter Japanese society and actually become fairly
prominent and celebrated in their fields in a lot of cases.

Speaker 1 (39:17):
Yeah, absolutely, there were some tribunals from over the course
of a couple of years from forty six to forty eight.
Other countries were involved, including China and the Soviet Union,
but they did not talk about Unit seven thirty one.
There was a separate tribunal in Yokohama in nineteen forty
eight that convicted twenty three military figures, some medical personnel

that were in the Kyushu University torture, and these were
specifically of uspows only, and they got death or life sentences,
but those sentences were dropped or commuted, I guess because
the US was trying to build a friend in Japan
at that point and an ally at the start of
the Korean War, and then the Soviet you know, eventually

in nineteen forty nine said you know, we have to
expose some of this. So they put and this is
by themselves, they put twelve members of Unit seven thirty
one on trial and you know, accusing them of everything
that they did, and this is where a lot of
like information was brought out. They were sentenced between two
to twenty five years in prison, and the US, because

we were now in a Cold war with Russia, said
that this is propaganda. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (40:29):
So this trial where essentially all of the information, the
fact factual information we had for decades about what Unit
seven thirty one did came out of this trial. But
it was just in the USSR. And it wasn't until
nineteen eighty two that a journalist named John W. Powell
got his hands on it and published an article on

what Unit seven thirty one had done during the war
and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists journal And it was
through those court transcripts, so they came back to haunt
them thirty years later, and that's when it really became
started to become knowledge among historians, the military, the government

in the West, in the United States, and among allies
that the Japanese had actually done these things that they'd
long been accused of by the Soviets and Chinese, and
here was evidence of it by the testimony by the
very people who were there, who'd been captured by the Soviets.

Speaker 1 (41:24):
Yeah. I mean, most of this stuff has come out
at an alarmingly slow rate, and over the course of decades,
I believe in nineteen eighty two, there was a museum
in China at that ping Fan site obviously that China established,
But it took all the way until nineteen eighty eight,
you know, forty plus years after the war ended, that

the Japanese government finally admitted that it even happened. But
they still wouldn't release any information, like most of the
stuff that we know. Like you said, if we had
done this episode, you know, at the beginning of our run,
and we probably wouldn't have known what we know now
because a lot of it came out in the nineties,
the early two thousands. Well I guess by that time
we were around. Yeah, but that's neither here nor there.

The point is, it took a long time for this
stuff to come out, and you know, we can't go
over everyone. You did mention that, you know, many of
them went on to have just great lives and careers,
but we should highlight a few of these. The second
in command that I mentioned earlier, Masaji Kaitano. He co
founded a green Cross, a very large Japanese pharmaceutical company,

with two other colleagues from Unit seven thirty one. So
they did well.

Speaker 2 (42:38):
They did, and green Cross went on to infect eighteen
hundred people with hemophilia with HIV because they were selling
them unsterilized blood clotting agents in the nineties.

Speaker 1 (42:50):
Yeah, that was what about is she?

Speaker 2 (42:53):
She became one of the most celebrated doctors in all
of Japan. He supposedly, according to one British historian named
Richard Drayton, went to Fort Dietrich to advise the US
on the bioweapons program. There. He died in nineteen fifty
nine at age sixty seven, never having even been publicly

accused of what he had done in Japanese society. He
was just a celebrated doctor by that point when he died.

Speaker 1 (43:26):
Yeah, the Guyjsato, That the guy who led those frostbited experiments.
He became president of the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine.

Speaker 2 (43:37):
This one gets me though, This last one. You gotta
say that one.

Speaker 1 (43:40):
Yeah, the communicable disease researcher Amatani Shogo. He won the
Asahi Prize for outstanding contributions to the field of communicable
disease research. And part of that was some of the
stuff that he got from Unit seven thirty one.

Speaker 2 (43:58):
Yeah, and I looked all over like, hey, how did
he disguise that or how did the Asahi Prize people
miss that? I didn't see anything like that. Apparently his
research came directly from medical experiments on unwilling participants got
him the Asahi Prize. Yeah, that's insane, man.

Speaker 1 (44:16):

Speaker 2 (44:18):
So there's no clear evidence that the United States gained
much of anything from the deal it made with the
Unit seven thirty one leaders for all of their research.
Other people say, no, actually it's not true at all.
And in fact, the Chinese accused the US of using
the same kind of germs for germ warfare in Korea,

and the US of course it's like, no, he didn't.
But Fort Dietrich is well known as being like a
biological research facility. They're like, it's not biological warfare. We're
just using gain of function research to see what happens
when we make this virus do this, you know, not
for biological warfare. It's very bizarre, but it exists. It's
definitely there, and it's a strange place. Apparently that's where

a lot of MK ultra experiments were carried out.

Speaker 1 (45:05):
Yeah, wouldn't that where the men stared at goats?

Speaker 2 (45:09):
I think so? Yeah, I mean that was definitely about that,
but I don't remember if that was at said at
Fort Tetrick or not. I got a funny story about that.
I got to tell you sometimes.

Speaker 1 (45:18):
Oh well, how about now we could use it.

Speaker 2 (45:20):
No, I can't really tell you here on the podcast.

Speaker 1 (45:23):
Ah, copy of that, all right?

Speaker 2 (45:24):
And then just one more thing, Chuck, This has not
revelations that Unit seven thirty one carried out these experiences
has not exactly been like embraced in Japanese society, right.

Speaker 1 (45:37):
Like, there's a real divide on whether to teach this
horrific but very true history of their own country because
of the obvious sort of effects that this could have
on children and how they feel about their country.

Speaker 2 (45:51):
Yeah, I've seen that they're worried that they might make
Japanese children ashamed of their country. So you can't teach
them that kind of stuff. So that's it. That's the
last thing I've got. All Right, you got anything else?

Speaker 1 (46:04):
I got nothing else. I'm glad that one's over.

Speaker 2 (46:07):
Same here, Thanks a lot, Amy, Yeah, thanks Amy. If
you want to know more about you in seven point
thirty one, Okay, there's plenty of stuff you can read
on the internet. And since I said that it's time
for listener mail.

Speaker 1 (46:22):
Yeah, this is a little further explanation about backdraft from
our Arts and Investigation EP. Hey guys, it's a fan
of your work. I was excited to listen to the
episode on an Arson Investigation because I'm a firefighter and
I've learned about some of what you guys covered and
got some cool new information from you. I want to
let you know that you were so close on backdraft,
but just a little bit off. The way backdraft works

is when you have a working fire that does not
have access to fresh oxygen. At a certain point, the
fire will have consumed all of the oxygen in a
space and basically begin to smolder, so it will create
a turbulent smoke in a very high and very high temperatures,
but not actual flames. So the backdraft occurs when oxygen
is suddenly added to the situation, if by say opening

a door or a window. The sudden addition of oxygen
to the superheated gases can create a pretty violent explosion,
and that explosion itself is the backdraft. I figured I've
learned so much from you guys, I thought it'd be
cool to share some info back Hope this receives you
well and that is from Lindsey.

Speaker 2 (47:24):
Thanks Lindsay. That was very cool. Apparently the only way
to fight a backdraft is to love it too. I'll
let that part out, Linda.

Speaker 1 (47:31):
That's right, you got to joke in there.

Speaker 2 (47:32):
Very nice. If you want to get in touch with
us like Lindsay did and let us know something cool
that we didn't know, you can do it. Send it
via email to stuff podcast at iHeartRadio dot com.

Speaker 1 (47:47):
Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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