THE MERCIES OF CHOICE
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
October 11, 2004
"We know," wrote George Steiner in 1963, "that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day's work at Auschwitz in the morning." And what if history turned out differently and someone - or many - managed to hide the horror of the Holocaust? Who would have been the greater criminal? The perpetrators or those who covered up the deed? Good question.
America already had in its possession all the proof it needed to convict Japanese war criminals of waging biological warfare in the tribunals held in Tokyo just after the Second World War. Yet not one individual was charged in the trials with biological warfare crimes. 
It was called Japan's "Secret of Secrets" - a nightmare program of human experimentation that known to some as Unit 731, the name of the program's central headquarters near the city of Harbin in China.
From 1932 to 1945, Unit 731 carried out its ghastly work - mostly on Chinese peoples but also on Russians, Mongolians, Koreans, and prisoners of war from Britain, Australia and the US. Fortunately, Japan's inhuman warfare program was brought to a close when Japan was defeated. Sort of.
Led by the head of the Allied occupation forces in Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself, the American military gathered after the war a grisly river of evidence that showed in detail the work of Unit 731. After America's officials - led by MacArthur - promised the veterans of Unit 731 immunity from the Tokyo war crimes trial, an ocean of evidence flowed.
America acquired documents. US military personnel interviewing and interrogating Unit 731 members "received a flood of information," wrote the scholar Daniel Barenblatt. The information included "autopsy reports of Chinese and Russian vivisection victims, and thousands of slide samples of human tissues and germ warfare pathogens." Said Lieutenant Colonel Murray Sanders, a microbiologist working for the US army and a member of MacArthur's Unit 731 investigative team, "The data came in waves. We could hardly keep up with it."
America received testimonies. An April 29, 1946 affidavit submitted to American lawyers of the IPS titled "Certificate of Crimes of the Japanese Army" written by Hasane Hari, a Unit 731 program veteran: "the epidemic prevention unit outwardly maintained the health of soldiers as its mission, but actually manufactured germs of cholera, typhoid, bubonic plague [and] dysentery to be used to attack Chinese soldiers and civilians."
America received more and covered up more. Why? As MacArthur advised Washington: "Request for exemption [from prosecution] of Unit 731 members. Information about vivisection useful."
Inside Unit 731 laboratories, Japanese doctors prepared plague-infected people to be cut up alive "so that the unit could study the progress and potency of their biological weapons. Samples removed from the prisoners were used to produce more bacteria."
"The first time, my legs were shaking so badly I could hardly stand up," recounted Yoshio Shinozuka of his first live vivisection. Shinozuka knew the person on the operating table. "I'd seen him a few times," he said. "He seemed like an intellectual. He wasn't even 30. But by the time he was brought in to the dissection room, he was so black with the plague that he looked like a different person. He was clearly on the verge of death."
Another man used a stethoscope to make sure the victim was still alive and then assisted a third man, who quickly but methodically cut the victim open and removed his organs.
"We were told, said Shinozuka, "that it was crucial to extract the specimens before putrefaction had time to set in and contaminate our research . . . We called [our] victims 'logs.' We didn't want to think of them as people. We didn't want to admit that we were taking lives. So we convinced ourselves that what we were doing was like cutting down a tree.
The consequences of America's choice of silence of course meant a different fate for many. "In a just and rational world," Barenblatt tells us in his book, The Plague of Humanity - a work of immense pain and impeccable scholarship - "one would expect the physicians of Unit 731 to serve prison terms or be executed for their genocidal atrocities, as were many of the Nazi criminals. Yet in the years after 1945, they headed not for a courtroom dock to face their victims, or a jail cell, but instead for plush, influential positions in the dean's offices of major universities or the corporate boardrooms of pharmaceutical companies."
But not all Unit 731 veterans chose the nourishments of delusion and forgetting. Some preferred the oblivion of suicide. A few, like Yoshio Shinozuka, chose to devote the remainder of their days to making amends, despite knowing that he "will never be forgiven."
Shinozuka has testified on behalf of his Chinese victims and has written a book for schoolchildren. In 1998, he tried to speak at peace conferences in the United States and Canada - but immigration inspectors turned him away as a war criminal. It is a label he accepts.
"It took me a long time to get beyond the excuse that I was just following orders," Shinozuka tells those who wish to listen. "I was doing what I was told. And I might very well have been killed had I disobeyed. But what we did was so terrible that I should have refused, even if that meant my own death. But I didn't do that."
Shinozuka has visited China often in recent years and has been back to Unit 731's former headquarters, which is now a museum. "The Chinese have been very generous with me," said Shinozuka. "They tell me that I, too, am a victim."
Shinozuka has not granted himself the clemency of forgetfulness. And perhaps because of this his fate is no longer indentured to the evil he once nurtured in his heart. An evil he now feeds daily with two poison pills called memory and conscience.
 "The past as prologue," Renato Redentor Constantino, Today, October 4, 2004. Can be considered the first part of this article but was really written separately. Both delve on different themes.
 A plague upon humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's Germ warfare Operation, Daniel Barenblatt, 2004, HarperCollins. Really as I described the book - a painful read, tremendously interesting, written with impeccable scholarship.
 "Horrors of war haunt old soldier," China Daily, September 18, 2004.
 There was another more public trial, Barenblatt tells us, held in 1949 in the Soviet city of Khabarovsk - one which actually bore results. According to Barenblatt, "twelve Japanese bio-war complicit officials were convicted" in proceedings that could not be considered mere show trials. In the same year, when the Soviet newspaper Izvestia reported the guilty verdicts of the Khabarovsk tribunal and called for the leader of Unit 731, Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii, "to be apprehended and tried by US occupation forces in Japan as the ringleader of the secret Japanese program," Gen. MacArthur's office in Tokyo "denounced both the Khabarovsk trial and Izvestia's charges of Japanese biological warfare and a U.S. cover-up as false communist propaganda."