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“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 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 note 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.”

Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California, writes regularly on torture and other subjects for TruthoutThe Public Record and Firedoglake. He also maintains a personal blog, Invictus. His email address is sfpsych at gmail dot com.

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