Sunday, December 2, 2012

"The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs"

While much has been written about the victims of the Atomic Bombs dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II, very little is known by Americans of the fate of the victims of that bombing.

Known as the Hibakusha, their medical condition for years was the subject of U.S. occupational and later Japanese censorship. Studied and examined by U.S. doctors and scientists organized as the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, in conjunction with staff from the Japanese National Institute of Health (JNIH), researchers withheld medical treatment from the atomic bomb victims, arguably because it interfered with their research goals.

Researcher Susan Lindee wrote about these topics in her excellent 1994 book, Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima. But few others ever took up the subject, and Lindee's book has been largely ignored, especially in recent years (not even one review at Amazon, for instance).

Another barely known essay on the subject was written by Shingo Shibata, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Sociology at Hiroshima University, in Seisen Review (No. 4, 1996). The full essay is nowhere to found on the Internet... until now. (A portion of it -- approximately 8 of its 20 pages -- has been published on this webpage.)

In "The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs,"Shibata relates the history of the early days of ABCC/JNIH cooperation. He highlights the fact that ABCC was subordinate to the General Head Quarters and U.S. occupational authorities. He also documents how the JNIH utilized scientists who previously worked as part of the notorious Unit 731 of Ishii Shiro, a large-scale bacteriological and chemical warfare research center run by the Japanese military. After World War II, the Americans amnestied the Japanese war criminals involved in the biowar and chemical warfare research programs, even though they had experimented on thousands of civilian and military POW victims, killing all of them in concentration camp-like environs.

The latter tale has been told many times, most recently by the late U.S. historian Sheldon Harris in the revised version of his book, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45 and the American Cover-Up (Routledge: 2002). It is an evil tale, as dark as they come, of how Cold War political exigency and hypocrisy was used to cover-up, especially for the American public, an alliance with some of the worst war criminals ever -- all to get access to their data and expertise, honed from over a decade of barbaric experiments on prisoners, including, many believe, U.S. POWs.

Later, according to a number of scholarly researchers, Unit 731 members or data taken from them, was used in a highly secret campaign of bacteriological warfare conducted by the U.S. during the Korean War. When news of the this war crime leaked out, including signed confessions from U.S. pilots, the U.S. government began a propaganda campaign deriding the confessions as the result of Chinese "brainwashing" and torture. A covert campaign to study these techniques was the supposed origin of the CIA's MKULTRA program.

It is not an exaggeration to say that much of our modern history, including even the recent turn (or re-turn) of the U.S. clandestine agencies and military to the "dark side" use of torture and drugs on prisoners, had its origins in this diabolical deal made with war criminals from Japan and Nazi Germany (the latter in Operation Paperclip and other similar programs).

I am pleased to bring this important piece of historical writing to U.S. readers and other with Internet access. Below is a selection from the essay. Note, references and footnotes are not reproduced here but can be read in the original essay (PDF link).
The first order of the U.S. Forces immediately after the occupation was to ban all publication of reports concerning the genocide and destruction caused by the atomic bombs. Thus they wanted to monopolize all information on the bombing. Until the end of the occupation on 28 April 1952, Japanese journalists, writers, cameramen, novelists and scientists were prohibited from reporting on the real situations of the atomic destruction. If they dared to do so, they were threatened with trial before the military tribunals of the Occupation Forces. Many books, including novels, poems and accounts of the events, were censored and often confiscated by American authorities. (Braw, 1986; Horiba, 1995a and 1995b) As a result, the urgent necessity to give medical and other social aid to the atomic victims (the “Hibakusha” in Japanese) was not reported even among Japanese.

Their second step was to prohibit all doctors in Japan from communicating and exchanging, even among themselves, the records of clinical experience and research on the Hibakusha. At that time they, especially in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, tried to do their best to find ways to cure the unheard-of terrible burns and internal disorders caused by atomic heat and radiation. The U.S. Forces further confiscated the samples of burnt or keloid skins, internal organs and blood and the clinical records of the dead and living Hibakusha. (Committee, 1981)

Their third step was to force the Japanese government to refuse any medical aid offered by the International Red Cross.

If a laboratory animal were cured, it would be utterly useless from the standpoint of medical scientific observers. Maybe it was by the same reasoning that the U.S. authorities did their utmost to prevent any medical treatment given to the Hibakusha. “As far as medical aid is concerned, the less the better” was their policy.

Their fourth step was to establish the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) as two institutions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the purpose of observing, not curing, of the hibakusha. Thus, almost all Hibakusha have been treated as if they were only human guinea pigs. Suppose that an assailant continues only to observe a wounded victim for many years after an assault. There is no doubt that such observance itself is nothing but an infringement on human rights.

What did the Japanese Government do to aid the Hibakusha?

I am ashamed to say that the Japanese government did nothing to help the Hibakusha either.

Firstly, its bureaucrats did their utmost to cooperate with the above policy of the U.S. Army toward the Hibakusha. Only two months after the atomic bombing they dissolved the governmental hospitals in charge of medical treatment of the Hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a result, many Hibakusha were left on the streets of the devastated cities without any medical treatment, compounding the many difficult post-war economic and social conditions they had to contend with.

Secondly, by orders of the General Head Quarters (GHQ) of the U.S. Occupation Forces, on 21 May 1947, the Japanese National Institute of Health (JNIH, YOKEN in Japanese abbreviation) was founded with half of the staff of the Institute of Infectious Diseases (IID) attached to the University of Tokyo.

During the period of the Japanese invasion of China from 1931 to 1945, the IID had fully cooperated with the notorious Unit 731, that is, the Army unit for bacteriological warfare. (Williams & Wallace, 1989; Harris, 1994) Most of the staff of the JNIH transferred from the University of Tokyo to the Health and Welfare Ministry were medical scientists who had intimately cooperated with the network of Unit 731 in China and Singapore as well as the Laboratory for Infectious Disease Control (LIDC) attached to the Imperial Army's Medical College. The LIDC in Toyama, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, was the headquarters for the network of the bacteriological warfare program and its institutions, including most of the medical schools of many universities.

The officially declared aims of the JNIH were to make research on pathogens and vaccines and also to screen the safety of biological products (vaccines, blood products and antibiotics), and thereby to contribute toward preventive medicine and public health under the control of the GHQ. However, there were two hidden objectives of the JNIH. The first was to cooperate with the ABCC. The second was to continue, under the guidance and control of the U.S. Army 406th Medical Laboratory,(1) some uncompleted studies of biological warfare program as schemed up by Unit 731. (Shibata, 1989 and 1990)

As for the first hidden objective, only 13 days after the establishment of the JNIH the GHQ asked it to help the ABCC. Dr. Saburo Kojima, then the first Vice-Director and later the second Director of the JNIH, in his commemorative essay, “Memories on the Past Ten Years of the JNIH,” looking back on its initial stage of cooperation with the ABCC, wrote, “We, the intelligent scientists had equally thought that we must not miss this golden opportunity”(2) to record the medical effects of the A-bomb on humans. He was reportedly one of the leading medical scientists who committed vivisection on Chinese prisoners as human guinea pigs in the network of Unit 731 in China.(3) As such a scientist, very positively appreciating the proposal of the GHQ, he never showed humanistic sentiments towards the Hibakusha, still less a counter-proposal for medical treatment of them. He only betrayed such cold-blooded and calculating words as is cited above.
Click here to read the complete essay, "The Atomic Victims as Human Guinea Pigs."

Additional reading:
"Japanese Biomedical Experimentation During the World-War-II Era" by Sheldon Harris, Ch. 16 of Military Medical Ethics, Vol. 2

"The Pentagon and the Japanese Mengele: The Abominable Dr. Ishii" by Christopher Reed, published at Counterpunch, May 27, 2006

Commission and Omission of History in Occupied Japan (1945-1949) by Stephen Buono, Journal of History, SUNY Binghamton, no date (Accessed 12/8/2012)


Zachary Smith said...

I was unable to locate any evidence supporting this claim:

"Their third step was to force the Japanese government to refuse any medical aid offered by the International Red Cross."

Are there any English-language links to corroborate the claim?

Valtin said...

To Zachary Smith:

That is a legitimate question. There are references given, but they are to Japanese sources. Certainly some of the difficulties related to reporting this story in the U.S. is the lack of English sources.

As regards Shibata's claims that scientific and medical findings on the survivors were suppressed, there is documentation in Susan Lindee's book, Suffering Made Real.

On page 47 (paperback) she discusses this censorship, which she wrote caused "anger and frustration" from Japanese scientists.

While I haven't been able to substantiate that the ICRC was "forced" not to help survivors, the fact is, the Red Cross's own documents show no such help, beyond the fact its hospital survived the original bombing in Hiroshima and operated for awhile in the immediate aftermath.

Monica Braw's 1986 book, The Atomic Bomb Suppressed: American Censorship in japan, 1945-1948 (in English), states (pp. 131-32):

"For the most part, both Japanese and American official research ignored the need for treatment of survivors. According to Yukuo Sasamoto, a Japanese researcher, there are no records of the Japanese Army issuing any order to help the survivors immediately after the bombings, although it did send several survey groups to the bombed cities. Although there was extensive and detailed Japanese research, there was no plan to help the survivors later either.136 With the exception of Red Cross relief, sent on order from MacArthur in September 1945, little or nothing was done to help the atomic bomb victims. The Japanese government made no surveys in order to assist them. Because of the destruction, it is unclear how long the government sent disaster relief to the cities. According to remaining records, general relief seems to have been provided for only two months in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because that was all the Wartime Casualties Law provided for. The atomic bomb victims had to pay their own medical expenses after that. There were no funds for rebuilding hospitals. A reconstruction plan for Hiroshima was announced in November 1946, but there were no government measures to aid the atomic bomb victims. When the peace treaty with the United States was signed in 1951, Japan relinquished all rights to press claims on the United States, and this was later interpreted by the Japanese government as including any claims made by atomic bomb victims.137 Sasamoto expressly accuses the Japanese government of cooperating with the United States in surveying the damage, not for the sake of the victims, but in an attempt to win goodwill and achieve better relations. The Japanese government cooperated in researching the results of the aggression while ignoring the victims. This, Sasamoto concludes, makes the Japanese government too an aggressor against the survivors."

I'd say that Braw's book tends to back up what Shibata has written. According to Braw's Wikipedia page, btw, her book originated as her Dissertation in History at the University of Lund.

Valtin said...

To Zachary,

There's also this interesting tidbit from Braw's book (p. 5-6):

"Another person who told me about limits to the spread of information about the atomic bombings was Sueo Inoue, a cameraman for Nippon Eiga-sha ( Nippon Film Co.) In September 1945 he had been sent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to film the destruction:

"'Our plan was to appeal against the inhumanity of the atomic bomb to the Red Cross in Geneva. Our team also belonged to an academic investigation group doing research about the effects of the bomb. We were thirty-two or thirty-three persons. On September 16 we started filming in Nagasaki. We continued until October 24, when we were arrested by American military police. Then all work was stopped. All the film was confiscated. I was told to return to Tokyo.

"'My company protested against the confiscation, but we were told that it was on orders from the American Navy. When the Americans watched our films, they found them useful. So they changed our orders and gave us permission to take more film. We had finished in Hiroshima but returned to Nagasaki. By December we had completed our work. Then we were ordered to edit the films. The films were taken to America--everything we had shot and edited, even the small cuts. All in all it was 30,000 feet of film. The Japanese government had to pay the cost of the raw film.

"'But secretly we copied some film before giving it to the Americans. Only four people knew about this film. If the Occupation authorities had known, they would probably have sent us to Okinawa for hard labor. The reason we made the copy was that we wanted to show proof of the inhumanity of the atomic bomb. We wanted to send the film to the Red Cross in Geneva. But under the Occupation we did not dare to. We thought maybe we would be able to show it when the Occupation had come to an end.'

"Even people who had nothing to do with information, newspapers, or film-making knew about restrictions. Tsukasa Uchida was a Nagasaki schoolboy in 1945:

"'The Americans brought bulldozers to clear up the Urakami area which had been hit by the atomic bomb. There were still many dead under the rubbish. Despite that the Americans drove their bulldozers very fast, treating the bones of the dead just the same as sand or soil. They carried the soil to lower places and used it to broaden roads there. A person who tried to take a picture of what they were doing was approached by the military police. The MP pointed his gun and threatened to confiscate any picture taken.

"'Because of the Press Code there was no possibility for us to write about such incidents. Newspapermen did not tell about them and they did not appear even in the readers' columns.'"

Zachary Smith said...

To Valtin

Thank you for your response. Though I've kept on looking so far I've been unable to find out much about what the Red Cross was or wasn't doing in Japan at the time. But that said, I've got to constantly keep in mind that 'absence of evidence is not evidence of absence'.

Whatever organization the Red Cross had at the time, it was operating in a crippled world with disasters everywhere. At any rate, John Hersey described another reason the A-bomb victims were neglected by their government and fellow citizens - they had become a sort of leper.

Most of the author's claims I can accept because I knew of them from other sources. But I can't see how it would have been in the interests in the Guinea Pig experimenters to leave all of the Hibakusha untreated. I'd have thought they'd have been victims in another way - as in being subjected to all kinds of strange and wacko treatments.

The author Shingo Shibata appears to believe the atomic bombings were a uniquely horrible crime, and that has surely slanted his/her view of matters. Being perfectly cold-blooded about the matter, fewer died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki than in the worst Tokyo fire bombing.

And on the other side of the fence, in the Nanking Massacre the number of murdered Chinese exceeded the A-bombing deaths. Ditto for the rampage the Japanese Army went on after the Doolittle Raid.

"The Japanese killed an estimated 250,000 civilians while searching for Doolittle's men."

It was a very rough time, and I'm afraid the Japanese were the villains more often than they were the vicitims.

Valtin said...


Looking for ICRC materals, one can read the Sept. 2005 article in the International Review of the Red Cross, "The International Committee of the Red Cross and nuclear weapons: From Hiroshima to the dawn of the 21st century".

I believe if ICRC had done much here, they would have mentioned it. Instead, they emphasize the practical difficulties of helping. Still, as you say the absence of evidence is not evidence, but it is circumstantial evidence viz., we can find no evidence for such substantial aid either.

I would be interested in what your interest is, and what your take is on the rest of the material, which is quite damning.

By the way, the issue you've tagged is not the only one I too would want more evidence, and for which I am seeking. A major one involves Shibata's claim that the 406th Medical Laboratory was involved in "some uncompleted studies of biological warfare program as schemed up by Unit 731."

Valtin said...


The question of the uniqueness (or not) of the Hibakusha was taken up in Robert Jay Lifton's book, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, a 1969 National Book Award winner, but a book that today is priced beyond the means of most people's pockets.

Zachary Smith said...

Valtin, I fear I'm pretty cynical about modern legalisms. After all, unrestricted submarine warfare was quite illegal during WW2, and so was the bombing of civilians. Since the Allies did both, I'm not aware of any prosecutions of the Axis doing the same.

I'm sympathetic to what your author wrote, but still disagree. A single airplane destroyed Hiroshima. From the standpoint of the dead people below, does it matter if their deaths resulted from one bomb dropped from the Enola Gay as opposed to 'ordinary' bombs falling from 1,000 B-29s just like it? The only reason Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Kyoto still existed in a pristine condition was to save them for the A-bomb. The inhabitants of Hiroshima were going to die unless Japan surrendered. Whether by fire raids, the A-bomb, or from combat when the land invasion began, they were goners without a surrender.

As for the US protecting the war criminals of the Japanese Unit 731, that still makes my blood boil. But that sort of thing is still going on - BHO has NOT prosecuted any of Bush's torturers. Not a one.

Some things never change.

Valtin said...

For those following this discussion, or interested in this issue, I have not read the full essay as yet, but am passing this on as further secondary scholarly source material:

"Medical Censorship in Occupied Japan, 1945-1948" by Sey Nishimura, Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1989), pp. 1-21.

Nishimura is a member of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto.

Zachary Smith said...

Valtin, I beat the internet tubes black and blue looking for a full account of your link by Nishimura, but at some point it dawned on me that he might have written about this in other pieces. (Duh!)

So I googled his name and found some interesting stuff.

In one of the sections he addresses the issue of censorship: 'SUPPRESSION OF REPORTS ON MEDICAL EFFECTS OF ATOMIC BOMBS'

In a convoluted sort of way there was a rationale for the American action. They wanted the data for US use should WW3 erupt, and they didn't want it to fall into the hands of the Communists. The last part was pure paranoia because the US published the material itself a very few years later. Finally, Nishimura speculated that another objective was to protect the notion that no defense could withstand the A-bomb.

"Another reason for suppressing the reports may have been disclosed by Sams in a lecture he gave at the Navy Medical Officers Class in 1957. He confided that of the 72 000 fatalities in Hiroshima, only 3000 to 5000 had died instantly from the explosion, proving that the atomic bomb was not as efficient a military weapon as the traditional incendiary bombs."

Since Dr. Nishimura didn't speak of any withholding of medical care for the A-bomb victims, I've got to conclude it didn't happen. But there are two reasons Shingo Shibata could have believed it did. First of all, in my link is another thing the occupation authorities did which really P.O.ed the Japanese. It forbade the payment of pensions to wounded Japanese war veterans, and instantly turned a great many of them into beggers. Not very nice, but then MacArthur wasn't a very nice guy. Before they had 'free' health care, such as it was, but now they had to pay. And without any money, they were S.O.L. (IMO if MacArthur was alive today he'd be a big force in the Tea Bagger movement, for he was a heartless and incompetent right-winger. And he might be a torturer too, for one source claimed he was the one who cut the deal with the swine who led that Japanese bio-war unit)

Secondly, the Americans DID have a policy in place which forbade sympathetic medical people from donating their help and supplies to the A-bomb survivors - it was to be strictly a Japanese problem. That's very likely how the "denial of care" claim arose.

When you examine this online copy of the book Securing Health, page 51 describes how all outside help - including the Red Cross - had to go to an "umbrella" organization which distributed the aid within Japan. That's possibly an explanation for the claim the Red Cross wasn't allowed to help.

By the way, that long chapter on Japan vividly tells how horrific the situation was after the war. Most hospitals gone, no medical supplies, and everything had gone to hell in a handbasket.

Valtin said...

Those are great finds, Zachary. I'll be looking more closely at them.

In the meantime, if you're looking for Unit 731 docs online, you can find a bunch of them at "Select Documents on Japanese War Crimes and Japanese Biological Warfare, 1934-2006", published by the National Archives. Those not published are listed by where they can be found at the Archives. Reading the documentary timeline is helpful as well.

MacArthur was certainly central in pushing for immunity for the Ishii gang. Grotesquely, he told the State-War-Navy-Coordinating Committee (which supervised occupation policy in Japan) on May 6, 1947, ""Request for exemption (from prosecution) of Unit 731 members. Information about vivisection useful."

This comes from Daniel Barenblatt's book, A Plague Upon Humanity: The Hidden History of Japan's Biological Warfare Program", 2004.

I don't know if this is online anywhere. I can't find the document. But PBS listed the quote in their timeline on Ishii and Unit 731.

Valtin said...

Of interest, because a rare find from a WWII-era document from the Japanese Army to confirm the biological warfare, see "Document confirms germ warfare by Imperial Japanese Army," The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 29, 2011

"A classified document has been uncovered that provides further evidence that the Imperial Japanese Army used plague-infected fleas as biological weapons in China between 1940 and 1942.

"An operations journal written by a high-ranking army officer found in 1993 had passages related to germ warfare, but the latest discovery is of a public document compiled by the research unit that was directly involved in germ warfare....

The document uncovered is a report by the epidemic prevention research unit of the Imperial Army's medical school....

"The cover of the document is marked 'military secret' and also contains the name of a medical officer belonging to the epidemic prevention research unit and the date of Dec. 14, 1943, when the document was registered.

"The report is about the effects of fleas infected with the plague bacteria and calculates the effects when the bacteria is spread during battle.

"The document includes a list that describes the volume of fleas used and the number of people infected in six missions conducted in China between 1940 and 1942. The total number of infected people, including secondary infection, was 25,946.

"The report appraises the plague bacteria as "the most outstanding weapon" and says about germ warfare, 'it brings about psychological and economic panic.'"

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