Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics / Volume 23 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 220-230
Brody H, Leonard SE, Nie J-B, Weindling P.
In 1945–46, representatives of the U.S. government made similar discoveries in both Germany and Japan, unearthing evidence of unethical experiments on human beings that could be viewed as war crimes. The outcomes in the two defeated nations, however, were strikingly different. In Germany, the United States, influenced by the Canadian physician John Thompson, played a key role in bringing Nazi physicians to trial and publicizing their misdeeds. In Japan, the United States played an equally key role in concealing information about the biological warfare experiments and in securing immunity from prosecution for the perpetrators. The greater force of appeals to national security and wartime exigency help to explain these different outcomes.
Moral blindness becomes a virtue and necessity
US scientists were “accomplices after the fact” in Japanese doctors’ war crimes
All of contemporary bioethics springs from the Nuremberg Doctors Trial in 1947. Seven Nazi doctors and officials were hanged and nine received severe prison sentences for performing experiments on an estimated 25,000 prisoners in concentration camps without their consent. Only about 1,200 died but many were maimed and psychologically scarred.
So what did the US do to the hundreds of Japanese medical personnel who experimented on Chinese civilians and prisoners of war of many nationalities, including Chinese, Koreans, Russians, Australians, and Americans? They killed an estimated 3,000 people in the infamous Unit 731 in Harbin, in northeastern China before and during World War II – plus tens of thousands of civilians when they field-tested germ warfare. Many of the doctors were academics from Japan’s leading medical schools.
Doctor put conscience on hold until war atrocity confession time came
The Japan Times
Donning the crisp, Imperial Japanese Army khakis gave Ken Yuasa a sense of power, as a superior being on a mission to liberate China from Western colonialism.
“The uniform made me feel incredibly sharp. Once I put it on, I was convinced Japan would triumph,” recalled the wartime surgeon, who was deployed to Changzhi (then Luan) in Shanxi Province in February 1942.
His fervor, and the nationalist indoctrination of his schooling, quickly subordinated any sense of conscience. By his second month at Luan’s army hospital, Yuasa was aggressively performing vivisections on live Chinese prisoners, and diverting dysentery and typhoid bacillus to Japanese troops for use in biological warfare.
“I was in denial of the things I did in Luan until the war was over. It was because I had no sense of remorse while I was doing it,” Yuasa, 90, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
“We believed that the orders from the top were absolute. We performed the vivisections as ordered. We erased any sense of culpability by doing so, even though what we did was horrendous.” [Full text]