How Japanese Doctors Who Dissected Live American POWs Ended Up Working for U.S.
This week’s news that Japan was excavating a site believed to been used for horrific human medical experiments on prisoners during WWII re-opened old wounds for those victimized by Imperial Japan’s shocking atrocities. While most of the world is aware that the Nazis in Germany carried out incredibly heinous experiments on concentration camp prisoners, knowledge of Japan’s equally barbaric Unit 731 is much more limited. Even less known is the story of how some of the Japanese war criminals who performed these experiments, including the dissection of living American prisoners of war, ended up working for the United States after the war.
On May 29, 1945, an American B-29 Superfortress had finished a bombing run over southwestern Japan and was flying back to Guam when it was rammed by a Japanese fighter plane. The surviving crew bailed over hostile territory and nine American airmen were subsequently captured and handed over to Japanese doctors. Toshio Tono was one of them. “Since they could see white smocks… they didn’t struggle,” recounted Tono. “They never dreamed they would be dissected.”
But that’s exactly what happened to them. They were dissected alive, without anesthesia.
One doctor removed one of the American’s lungs while he was fully conscious to study the effects of surgery on the respiratory system. Dr. Tono says they also gave this airman a saltwater IV to see if seawater was a viable alternative to traditional saline solution. It was not. The next victim had part of his liver removed so the Japanese could learn if a human being can survive such an ordeal. He could not. They cut out part of another American’s brain to see if they could control epilepsy. They could not. Every one of the prisoners died in agonizing pain. “There was no debate among the doctors about whether or not to do the operations,” said Dr. Tono, “that is what made is so strange.”
As awful as Dr. Tono’s experiments were, there was an even bigger catch for the Americans. Dr. Shiro Ishii was the head of Imperial Japan’s military bio-warfare division, the notorious Unit 731, that performed experiments that would make the Nazi doctors proud. Or faint.
After the war ended, thirty people were brought before a war crimes tribunal. Of these, 23 were charged with vivisection and wrongful removal of body parts. Some were even charged with cannibalism– the Japanese allegedly ate the prisoner’s livers. Various sentences, ranging from death to imprisonment, were handed down.
Then something funny happened. Actually, it wasn’t funny at all; by 1958 all of the convicted Japanese had been freed. Not a single one of the death sentences was carried out. General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the post-war occupation of Japan, personally ordered the reduced sentences. Why on earth would he do such a thing? Because members of Unit 731 and other Japanese war criminals possessed immense knowledge of biological warfare and medical research. The United States wanted to harvest the fruits of their twisted labor for its own purposes. Dr. Shiro Ishii and many others like him were granted immunity in return for their knowledge and expertise. The past was forgotten and these vile criminals found new homes and new fame in an America that welcomed them with open arms. After all, the Cold War was on and there was some very dirty work to be done.
Tagged Brett Wilkins, dissecting live american pows, general douglas macarthur, japanese ate american livers, japanese atrocities, japanese war crimes, japanese war criminals freed, shiro ishii unit 731, shiro isii, Toshio Tono, toshio tono american POWs, toshio tono vivisection, Unit 731