Science has advanced over the years due to the scientific process of which experimentation is a huge chunk of. Scientists throughout time have conducted different experiments to either confirm their hypotheses or learn something new entirely. The excesses of these experiments over the years have been somewhat curtailed by ethics which although hadn’t been set in stone till the 20th century, have been in existence, albeit ambiguous. These rules haven’t really stopped anyone who wants to go dark and evil.

 When we discuss the horrors of medicine and some abominations that science has been a part of, World War II comes to mind. The horrors of Auschwitz have scientists apologizing to the world time without end. One could say the Germans as a people have committed the most heinous crimes using science and the scientific process, right? WRONG!

 There is a crazier story in an island in Asia about a military unit. What makes it more disturbing is that in this Asian military unit, many medical and scientific breakthroughs were made. 

I’m talking about Unit 713 of the Imperial Japanese Army officially known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (Kantōgun Bōeki Kyūsuibu Honbu, sounds cool right?). Well from the premise you’ll see that this was just a cover as the unit operated biological weapon production, testing, deployment, and storage facilities. 

Researchers in this unit published some of the results of their experiments in peer-reviewed journals framing their writings as though the subjects were non-human primates called ‘Manchurian monkeys.’ Well, for a fact said monkeys were prisoners of war which included Chinese soldiers, Russian soldiers, and anyone unfortunate enough to be in any city conquered by the Japanese at the time.

Let’s have a run-through of some of their experiments:

  • Vivisection: If you have a dark mind, there’s a high chance your guess is right. This was done on men, women, and children (without anaesthesia of course), usually after infecting them with some disease. Organs were then harvested to study the effect of these diseases on various organs. Other times they amputated limbs to study the effects of blood loss
  • Frostbite testing: You didn’t read that wrong. Subjects had their limbs dipped in water of different temperatures, at different time frames, with different situations surrounding each (e.g. after a hot bath, after a cold bath, after a heavy meal, after fasting for 24 hours) you get the gist. After which for each situation different methods of treatment were tested (e.g. dipping in hot water, leaving in a hot room). What kind of diet would help for better healing?
  • Biological weapons: Concerning this, I don’t think the Germans were this bad at all. Plague-infected fleas bred in the lab were spread over Chinese cities using low flying planes. Research on Botulism, small pox, cholera enabled them to develop defoliation bacilli bomb. They also made bombs that spread anthrax and plague-carrying fleas. And they did use these weapons.
  • Other experiments: The scientists in this unit injected prisoners with varying amounts of different pathogens so as study how much of the pathogen was safe and how much of it was lethal. The grim part of this whole story is that some of these experiments were done out of simple curiosity. They tested the relationship between temperature, burns and human survival. They tested how lethal doses of x-rays would kill, and what those lethal doses were. And like the Germans, they had their share of poison gas testing. Their experiments were dark enough to give Pennywise a run for his money.
  • Remember I said they tested on babies, now how do you think they got their supply. Well, they forced prisoners to copulate and the fruit of such proceedings would be used for further testing.

You’d think after all these, Japan losing to the USA would mean the strong arm of justice lands on them. Well, karma doesn’t always work. The US government found some evidence of their research and concealed the information because, as crazy as they were, they made some breakthrough. So the scientists were granted immunity by the US government in exchange for the research data while their German counterparts were tried and executed. 

I’m sure you’ll be wondering, ‘What did mankind gain from all these?’ Everything known about frostbite and its treatment is from the research. Currently there’s an ongoing debate among scientists on whether to use data from their experiments on human and disease interaction for better ways to understand the COVID-19 pandemic. This is for the data that the Japanese government has. As for the data in the possession of the US, we have no idea what it was used for. But rest assured, it must have been plenty useful.

Another disturbing fact to note. The project was called “Holzklotz” and test subjects were called ‘maruta’, the former being the German word for log and the latter being the Japanese word for log. With this, there was an inside joke among the Japanese. At the end of each day they would ask each other, “How many logs fell?” 

Many other scientific discoveries were built upon these logs, but I would ask this question ‘Is it really worth it?’ 

Igbo-Obiakor Munachi