Author : Harry Wood
War Crimes Records
JAPANESE WAR CRIMES COMMITTED IN ASIA and the Pacific between 1931 and 1945
concerned few Americans in the decades following World War II. Japan’s crimes against
Asian peoples had never been a major issue in the postwar United States, and—with the notable exceptions of former U.S. prisoners of war held by the Japanese—even remembrance of Japanese wartime atrocities against Americans dimmed as years passed.1
American attitudes about Japanese war crimes changed markedly following the 1997 publication of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking.2 Chang’s moving testament to the Chinese victims of the sack of Nanjing in 1937 graphically detailed the horror and scope of the crime and indicted the Japanese government and people for their collective amnesia about the wartime army’s atrocious conduct. 0e bestselling book spurred a tremendous amount of renewed interest in Japanese wartime conduct in China, Korea, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific.
The Rape of Nanking raised many issues that demanded further explanation. Why were the Japanese not punished as severely as the Nazis for their crimes? Did the United States suppress evidence of the criminal responsibility of activity by the emperor to ensure a smoothly running occupation of Japan? Did the U.S. government protect Japanese medical officers in exchange for data on human experimentation? Chang also charged the U.S. government with “inexplicably and irresponsibly” returning confiscated wartime records to Japan before microfilming them, making it
impossible to determine the extent of Japan’s guilt.3 Others were convinced that the U.S.
government retained highly classified documents that would prove Japanese guilt beyond doubt and implicate the highest levels of Japanese government and society in the crimes.
I am indebted to Carol Gluck and Gerhard Weinberg for their insightful comments on this essay.
These issues led concerned parties to investigate Japanese wartime records among the holdings at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland, and at other U.S. government agencies. 0orough documentation of Japanese war crimes and criminal activities among these holdings seemed unavailable, leading to speculation of an official cover-up. Suspicions that the U.S. government was deliberately concealing dark secrets were fueled when, instead of finding the records they sought, researchers encountered a card stating the records had been “withdrawn for security reasons,” as well as when they received a notice that requested information could not be located.
Motivated by Chang’s assertions, disparate groups who had struggled to raise
awareness of Japanese crimes and win justice for the victims were galvanized in their
pursuit of answers and documentation. Armed with this latest evidence and capitalizing
on a heightened consciousness in the United States about Japanese wartime crimes,
victims and advocates pressed their cases with more determination and with greater
popular and political support than had been the case in years prior.
American veterans who had been held captive by the Japanese renewed claims for
justice and recompense, and wanted an official apology from the Japanese government
for the institutionalized brutality under which they suffered during their long years
in captivity. Others asserted that they had been the victims of diabolical human
experiments conducted under the auspices of the Japanese Army’s notorious Unit 731,
whose military medical doctors and specialists, under the command and direction of Lt.
Gen. Ishii Shiro,4 carried out army-sponsored experiments on humans for the purpose of
developing effective biological warfare weapons.5
The controversy over the Japanese Army’s system of coercing young women to
work as prostitutes in army field brothels, the so-called “comfort women” issue, had
been simmering, especially in South Korea. 0e 1994 publication of George Hicks’ !e
Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War
presented the issues in the English language and described the coerced women’s attempts
to gain restitution from Japan.6 By the late 1990s, the plight of “comfort women” had
erupted into front-page news in the United States and became a lodestone for women’s
rights advocates and other groups demanding the Japanese government acknowledge
responsibility for these wartime abuses of human rights.
0e People’s Republic of China, which unquestionably suffered the worst depredations
during the Japanese occupation and war from 1937 to 1945, was a persistent critic of the
Japanese government’s attitude toward the plunder, arson, and widespread killing that
characterized Japan’s occupation of vast sections of China. In the 1990s, Chinese victims
of Japanese experiments, American veterans held in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in
Manchuria, and Chinese-Americans also found their pent-up grievances expressed in
Japan was also called to account for its wartime use of slave labor or coerced workers.
During the war years, the Japanese government forcibly removed workers from Korea,
China, and elsewhere in Asia and shipped them to Japan as unpaid labor for dangerous
work in coal mines and for heavy construction. American POWs were also subjected
to brutal labor details that were illegal according to the Geneva Convention protocols
governing the rights of prisoners. Filipino, Indonesian, and Dutch victims added their
voices to a swelling protest against the Japanese government’s refusal to acknowledge
When confronted by advocacy and human rights groups, the Japanese government
insisted these issues had been settled by stipulations of the peace treaty signed in San
Francisco in September 1951.7 Nothing more needed to be said on the matter. Not only
did Japanese authorities refuse to acknowledge any wartime responsibility, but several
conservative politicians and senior bureaucrats went so far as to publicly denounce the
accusations as groundless historical revisionism and Japan bashing. 0ere was, of course,
a domestic political dimension to the accusations (no candidate from the conservative
ruling party could win an election by blaming Japan for a war of aggression), but the hardline
official Japanese position created the impression in the United States that Japanese
war crimes and related subjects such as war guilt or the role of Emperor Hirohito in the
war were taboo subjects in Japan.
Ian Buruma’s the Wages of Guilt (1994) compares responses to war crimes in postwar
Germany and Japan.8 According to Buruma, Germany publicly accepted responsibility
for the evils perpetrated by the Nazi regime and educated future generations by discussing
its sordid Nazi history in school textbooks and classes. Germany apologized to various
European nations and Israel. Conversely, Japan rejected responsibility, downplayed the
historical evidence of aggression and atrocity in its schools with sophistry and euphemism,
and apologized to no one. Worse yet, ultra-conservative Japanese commentators insisted
the war crimes, if they happened at all, were exaggerated to embarrass the Japanese
Although the Japanese have not confronted their wartime conduct as the Germans
have, there has been a popular and an academic reaction to the Japanese government’s
denials. As Daqing Yang points out in chapter 2, scholars and special interest groups in
Japan have pursued the topic of Japanese war crimes with academic rigor, fervor, and
commitment. Such views appear regularly in mainstream Japanese publications, although
most of this work has had little impact in the West because it remains untranslated.
A notable exception is Honda Katsuichi’s graphic and highly controversial description
of Japanese Army atrocities in central China, which was published in 1972 in Japan,
but not translated into English until 1999. Japanese writers, historians, and authors
freely publish their work in mass circulation media where it is widely read and openly
commented upon in a wide variety of opinion journals and the press.
The rise of concern about Japanese war crimes in the 1990s reinforced the notion that
most Japanese war criminals escaped punishment, either because the U.S. government
needed their cooperation against the Soviet Union during the early days of the Cold War,
or to appease current Japanese economic and commercial interests. Unfortunately, some
Japanese war criminals were not punished. Perhaps the most notorious was Gen. Ishii
of Unit 731, who escaped postwar prosecution in exchange, apparently, for supplying
the U.S. government with details of his gruesome human experiments. Other suspected
Japanese war criminals who were never indicted include three postwar prime ministers:
Hatoyama Ichiro (1954–1956), Ikeda Hayato (1960–1964), and Kishi Nobusuke
(1957). A convicted Class A war criminal, Shigemitsu Mamoru, a senior diplomat and
foreign minister during the war years, regained the foreign minister portfolio in 1954.
0e controversial treatment of Emperor Hirohito by occupation authorities was a subject
of debate in Japan and elsewhere since the late 1940s, and especially since the early 1990s
in the United States.
Although many notorious war criminals went unpunished and lived prosperous
and prestigious lives, it is important to recognize that thousands of Japanese war crimes
were prosecuted. Twenty-eight Class A war criminals accused of crimes against peace,
conventional war crimes, and crimes against humanity included many of Japan’s wartime
leaders, such as Prime Minister Gen. Tojo Hideki. 0e Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal,
the counterpart of Nuremberg, began in May 1946 and ended in November 1948 with
the conviction of twenty-five of these defendants. Seven, including Tojo, were hanged,
sixteen were sentenced to life imprisonment (of whom four died in prison), and two
received lesser terms. Of the three remaining, two died during the proceedings, and
one was declared unfit for trial. 0e Japanese government paroled all those imprisoned
by 1956 and the Foreign Ministry released them unconditionally in April 1958. Allied
nations also held war crimes trials throughout Asia and the Pacific. Americans, British,
Australians, Dutch, French, Filipinos, and Chinese held trials at forty-nine locations
between October 1945 and April 1956. 0e British prosecuted numerous Japanese for
war crimes in Southeast Asia, including those involved in the construction of the 0ai-
Burma railway of death, immortalized as the Bridge over the River Kwai. Australian
prosecutors worked in conjunction with British and American courts to bring Japanese
to justice and tried large numbers of Japanese at Amboina, Dutch East Indies, and at
Rabaul, New Britain. China tried at least 800 defendants, including some involved in
the Nanjing massacre. France and the Netherlands tried several hundred more.
The French brought to justice a Japanese civilian on Java who forced dozens of women into
prostitution for the military authorities, and the Dutch condemned Japanese to death
for the murder of indigenous people and Dutch prisoners.9 In late 1949 at Khabarovsk,
the Soviet Union also put twelve Japanese on trial for biological warfare crimes—six
were members of Unit 731, two of Unit 100, an independent biological warfare entity,
and four from elsewhere—and later transferred several hundred Japanese ex-servicemen
suspected of war crimes to the People’s Republic of China, where Chinese authorities
judged them in the mid-1950s. Of 5,379 Japanese, 173 Taiwanese, and 148 Koreans
tried as class B and C war criminals for conventional crimes, violations of the laws of
war, rape, murder, maltreatment of prisoners of war, about 4,300 were convicted, almost
1,000 sentenced to death, and hundreds given life imprisonment.10
Documentation of these trials has never been compiled into one source, or at one site.
The Allied nations naturally gathered Japanese documents for their respective tribunals,
resulting in the disbursement of Japanese records among the various nations of the Allied
World War II coalition. Japanese unit records and documents held by the People’s
Republic of China or the former Soviet Union were, with few exceptions, unobtainable
in the West because of Cold War realities. Even the handful that reached the West
during this period was so encumbered with communist Cold War propaganda that many
questioned their veracity. For example, when the Soviets published the official court
proceedings in 1950 of the December 1949 trials in Khabarovsk, they included Unit 731
related documents, but many in the West dismissed the verdicts along with the evidence
as another in a series of long-running Stalinist show trials.11 With the dissolution of the
former Soviet Union in December 1991 and positive change in United States–China
relations, information about war crimes became somewhat more accessible, but still very
limited. Diligent efforts in Japan have uncovered extensive documentation related to
Unit 731 and other war crimes, but the amount of material still remaining classified is
unknown. By the late 1990s, many people focused on whether the U.S. government still
had classified material about Japanese war crimes, and, if so, whether it would implicate
other Japanese who had escaped justice.
Declassifying U.S. Documents on Japanese War Crimes
Responding to these concerns, on December 6, 2000, Congress passed the Japanese
Imperial Government Disclosure Act (Public Law 106-567), which put to rest any
doubt that U.S. records relating to Japanese war crimes were included under the aegis of
the 1998 Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act (Public Law 105-246). 0e implementing
directive ordered the Interagency Working Group (IWG) “to locate and disclose, subject
to the statute’s exceptions,” any classified U.S. government documents pertaining to
Japanese war crimes and to recommend their declassification and release to the public.
President Clinton appointed IWG members from the major government agencies holding
classified records as well as three outside members to represent the public. 0e Japanese
Imperial Government Records Disclosure Act provided for a fourth public member, but
none was appointed. IWG public members, 0omas H. Baer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and
Elizabeth Holtzman, gave willingly of their valuable time. 0eir shared characteristic was
a determination to make the record available to the American people. It is in large measure
thanks to their efforts that the work of the IWG met with cooperation and success. It was
due to their persistence that the CIA redoubled its search efforts and released additional
information on Japanese war criminals. Special acknowledgment is due to Senators Mike
DeWine and Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who supported
the IWG’s work in Congress and worked with the IWG to elicit the full cooperation of
the CIA in the search effort. 0e NARA staff members who worked on the Japanese
portion of the IWG project under the able direction of David Van Tassel were responsive
to authors’ queries, unfailingly provided requested materials, and searched collections
meticulously to identify still-classified items. In particular, without the professional
expertise of Senior Archivists William Cunliffe and Richard Myers and their superior
working knowledge of the massive collections, the IWG could not have accomplished
its goals. 0e distinguished IWG Historical Advisory Panel (HAP), chaired by Gerhard
Weinberg, always provided sound guidance as the IWG navigated among record groups,
constituencies, and politics. Professor Carol Gluck, a member of the HAP, provided
insight into Japan’s wartime experience and also suggested the substantive approach of
this volume. Steven Garfinkel, chair of the IWG, unfailingly identified sensitive issues
during the search period, brought them to the attention of the public members and HAP,
and acted to ensure they were expeditiously addressed. Larry Taylor, IWG executive
director, skillfully managed the multiple day-to-day administrative responsibilities of the
IWG, ensuring it functioned smoothly.
The government agencies that reviewed their classified record holdings for
documents pertinent to Japanese war crimes were the CIA, the Department of the Army,
the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Air Force, the FBI, NARA, the
Department of State, the National Security Agency, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well
as the non-FBI components of the Department of Justice, the U.S. Information Agency,
and the National Security Council.
An estimated 8 million pages of documents were declassified under the Nazi War
Crimes Disclosure Act, whereas significantly fewer pages—100,000—were released
under the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act. 0ere are many reasons for this
discrepancy, most of which fall under two overarching explanations. First, the United
States originally confiscated fewer documents pertinent to Japanese war crimes than to
Nazi war crimes. Second, by the time the disclosure laws were signed, far fewer World
War II Japanese documents than Nazi documents remained classified by U.S. agencies.
Factors Influencing the Number of Documents in U.S. Possession
U.S. government agencies held far fewer records pertaining to Japanese war crimes than to
Nazi war crimes. A major reason is that at war’s end, the Japanese destroyed or concealed
important documents, which dramatically reduced the amount of evidence available
for confiscation by U.S. authorities. How could this happen? At the time the 0ird
Reich surrendered in May 1945, Allied armies occupied almost every inch of Germany.
Document collection teams and specialists were on the scene and already confiscating
Nazi records for use in announced war crimes trials. While the Germans, beginning
in 1943, did engage in substantial efforts to obliterate evidence of such crimes as mass
murder, and they destroyed a great deal of potentially incriminating records in 1945, a
great deal survived, in part because not each one of the multiple copies had been burned.
0e situation was different in Japan. Between the announcement of a ceasefire on August
15, 1945, and the arrival of small advance parties of American troops in Japan on August
28, Japanese military and civil authorities systematically destroyed military, naval, and
government archives, much of which was from the period 1942–1945. Imperial General
Headquarters in Tokyo dispatched enciphered messages to field commands throughout
the Pacific and East Asia ordering units to burn incriminating evidence of war crimes,
especially offenses against prisoners of war. 0e director of Japan’s Military History
Archives of the National Institute for Defense Studies estimated in 2003 that as much as
70 percent of the army’s wartime records were burned or otherwise destroyed.12
A report filed by the 27th Marines,
5th Marine Division, on September
24, 1945, documents the systematic
destruction of records by the Japanese
after the initial surrender to the Allies
but before Allied troops arrived. NA,
RG 127, entry 1011, box 23, folder:
Nevertheless, some important records survived by chance. Documents discovered in
an old safe in the burned-out Navy Ministry turned out to be Imperial Navy planning
and policy papers from the 1930s. 0e salvaged materials reposed with the Metropolitan
Police Agency in Tokyo, which transferred them in 1955 to the cabinet archives. 0ey
remained there until 1968, when the Defense Agency’s National Institute for Defense
Studies took control of the collection.13
Japanese authorities also willfully concealed other wartime records. During the Allied
occupation, former Col. Hattori Takushiro, a wartime senior staff officer at Imperial
General Headquarters, ordered subordinates to conceal key policy and operational
documents from occupation authorities. Once the occupiers departed, Hattori intended
to write a factual history of Japan’s war based on the important concealed materials.
Individuals also hid official documents or personal diaries, some of which came to light
only decades later. For example, in 1989, Kaikosha, the association of former Imperial
Japanese Army officers, published a history of the Nanjing operations together with a
two-volume collection of contemporary military documents pertinent to the campaign.14
0ese had not been previously available to the public. Disturbing excerpts from December
1937 entries in the diary of Lt. Gen. Nakajima Kesago, commander of the 16th Division
at Nanjing, were published in a mass circulation monthly magazine in the early 1980s,
with permission of the family.15 0ese enormously valuable documents, however, had
never been in the possession of U.S. authorities.
The compartmentalization of the war in Asia also diminished the possibility that one
nation would end up with the lion’s share of Japanese documentation. Unlike the German
case, there was no one central repository for Asia-specific war crimes documentation.
British Empire forces, for example, took charge of Japanese materials in Southeast Asia.
Returning colonial authorities in Indochina and the Dutch East Indies gathered material
for their war crimes trials. As many as 40,000 U.S. Marines garrisoned transportation
centers in north China from October 1945 into 1947 and accepted the surrender of
Japanese units, but otherwise there was little U.S. presence in the huge country, and U.S.
units collected relatively few Japanese documents from China. 0e continuation of the
civil war between the central government and the Communists complicated efforts to
secure documentation in China. 0e Chinese central government confiscated Japanese
material in 1945; the victorious Chinese Communists, in turn, seized it from them
in 1949. 0e Soviet Union also captured important records about Unit 731 and the
Japanese Army when it overran Japanese forces in Manchuria in August 1945. Sixty
years later some of this documentation was still coming to light. In August 2005, for
instance, the Chinese publicized detailed research findings based on previously unavailable
Unit 731 documents, and in Japan two of Gen. Ishii’s notebooks with brief entries for
August 1945 and January through November 1946 were made public.16 0us, archival
material remains fragmented, and while the United States might hold a large amount
of Japanese navy or government archival material, many Japanese Army files apparently
remained in the possession of other Allied nations or in Japanese hands concealed from
the Occupation authorities.
Factors Influencing the Number of Documents Still Classified
Many records relating to the war in Asia were declassified long before the Disclosure Acts
were passed, leaving fewer classified records to review. Because much of the material from
the European 0eater dealt with the former Soviet Union or its eastern European satellites,
it was regarded as useful after the War; records that concerned intelligence sources and
methods were considered indispensable during the Cold War. As a result, an enormous
number of these documents remained security classified until the IWG’s review. 0e case
in the Asia-Pacific 0eaters was different. 0e United States perceived no immediate
threat from the region in 1945. By the time perceptions changed with the Chinese
Communist victory on the mainland in 1949 and the North Korean invasion of South
Korea in 1950, the great bulk of the Japanese records had already been declassified.
A second reason is that declassification agreements with foreign governments affected
the ease with which documents could be opened. 0e Office of Strategic Services
(OSS) gathered intelligence in the European 0eater, often in cooperation with Allied
governments. Before declassifying these documents, the CIA, as successor to the OSS,
had to obtain agreement from the nations that had equities in them. However, the U.S.
military—not the OSS—had control of most of the Asian 0eater records. It created,
captured, or confiscated records without the involvement of Allied foreign governments,
which enabled the United States to declassify documents unilaterally. Most of these
Japan-related records, including wartime intelligence records, were routinely declassified
in the 1970s and 1980s by the Army, Navy, and other Department of Defense entities in
the course of their regular review programs. In short, the United States could declassify
and release Japanese records much earlier than it could German records, but the quantity
and quality of the Japanese cache was also inferior to the German.
Furthermore, there were few still-classified postwar records relating to Japanese war
criminals because there was not a continuing hunt for Japanese perpetrators as there was
for Nazis; therefore, the Army Counterintelligence Corps, CIA, and FBI did not create
dossiers on large numbers of Japanese individuals as possible intelligence assets, suspected
spies, or prospective immigrants. 0is is not to say the U.S. Army did not employ unsavory
characters in Japan, but for intelligence about the Soviet Union the U.S. government relied
less on ex-Imperial Japanese Army officers than it did on former Nazis in Europe.
Finally, the United States focused on its war against Japan at the expense of other
major combat theaters in Asia, especially China. 0is emphasis resulted in less scrutiny
of Japan’s treatment of fellow Asians and the Imperial Army’s conduct on the Asian
mainland. One might compare the situation to the attention given to the Holocaust,
the genocidal campaign against Jews and other “undesirables.” 0e enormity of these
Nazi crimes stamped an indelible mark on the collective consciousness, yet Americans
displayed only vague awareness of the even larger scale of the Nazi barbarities inflicted
on the people of the Soviet Union beginning in June 1941. Both the Chinese and the
Soviets dealt with Nazi and Japanese war criminals as they saw fit, and the United States
demonstrated little concern about how they did it, unless Washington complained that
the tribunals were being used as propaganda forums to embarrass the West for complicity
in Axis crimes.
In sum, the U.S. government acted quickly to declassify Japanese wartime documents
in its possession. By the time the IWG began its work, there were relatively few postwar
records related to Japanese war criminals that remained classified.
Disposition of Japanese Documents
While the Japanese destroyed sensitive documents at the end of the war, during the first
half of 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army relocated many of its records to an underground
government storage facility in the Minami Tamagawa suburb of Tokyo. 0e purpose was
to protect the documents from destruction by enemy air raids, but the unintended result
was that the records cache of an estimated 7,000 cubic feet (18 million pages) fell intact
into American hands. 0e bulk of these materials, however, predate the 1931–1945
period specified in IWG guidelines.
Elsewhere in the operational areas of the Pacific and Southwest Pacific 0eaters, U.S.
forces captured hundreds of thousands more pages of Japanese military materials. 0e
U.S. government returned all of these documents to Japan beginning in the late 1950s.
Once back in Japanese hands, the Japanese government returned the records to
their respective ministries of origin; that is, the Defense Agency received confiscated
Imperial Army and Navy documents, the Foreign Ministry diplomatic records, and so
forth. Before returning the confiscated documents, 5–15 percent were microfilmed, at
the expense of either the U.S. government or private foundations. At least six major
collections of Japanese-language materials were microfilmed:
(1) !e Archives of the Imperial Japanese Army, Navy, and other government
agencies. 0is collection from the Tamagawa storage complex comprises 163 reels of microfilm, roughly 400,000 pages. Many of the records (57reels) predate 1931; the material runs to mid-1942. Materials from “other government agencies” are mainly police records of the Interior Ministry.
The original military records form the basis of the Defense Agency’s military archives in Tokyo, and are today open to public researchers, although this was not always the case. Microfilm sets are available at the U.S. Library of Congress and the Japan National Diet Library, among other institutions. Non-readers of Japanese may obtain a sense of the collection from James W.
Morley, “Check List of Seized Japanese Records in the National Archives,” Far Eastern Quarterly, IX:3 (May 1950). There is an English-language finding aid to the collection, John Young, comp., Checklist of Microfilm Reproductions of Selected Archives of the Japanese Army, Navy, and Other Government Agencies, 1868–1945 (Georgetown University Press, 1959).
On behalf of the IWG, researchers with Japanese language proficiency examined documents in this collection with titles suggestive of possible war crimes. Among those investigated were archives relating to Jewish activity in Manchuria and to maintaining internal security in occupied zones, and a technical report on Soviet chemical warfare. One collection contains Japanese rules and regulations pertaining to prisoners of war captured in the Philippines, but it consists mainly
of administrative instructions and has no evidence of war crimes.
(2) 0e Japan Foreign Ministry Archives are more than 2 million pages on 2,116 reels of microfilm. Included in this set is the complete file of documentary evidence produced for the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. 0e originals are available to the public at the Japan Foreign Ministry Archives in Tokyo. A microfilm edition is available at the U.S. Library of Congress and at the Japan National Diet Library.
(3) Another collection is comprised of documents used to support the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS), documents related to the Pacific War (1941–1945), and records pertaining to the so-called Fifteen Years War (1931–1945) that U.S. government historians used to write the official account of the war in the Pacific. 0ese Japanese-language documents were discovered
in a warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia, in the early 1960s. The originals form the basis of the Japan National Archives in Tokyo and are available to researchers, subject to privacy restrictions. Microfilm copies of the USSBS (46 reels) and the Pacific War (34 reels) are available at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, while the Fifteen Years War materials (138 reels)
are available at the U.S. Library of Congress. 0e entire microfilm collection is also available in unexpurgated form at Waseda University in Tokyo.
(4) 0e South Manchurian Railway Company (SMRC) original documents were not returned to Japan, and about 70 percent of all SMRC records remain at the Library of Congress. Others are scattered among six American and fortyfour Japanese institutions.17 0e Japan National Diet Library has microfilmed the Library of Congress holdings. 0ese materials include Japanese studies of Manchurian terrain, natural resources, geography, geology, and so forth, as
well as analytical papers on political and economic affairs.
(5) International [Military] Tribunal for the Far East (The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) exhibits are indexed. 0e Library of Congress Law Library has a microfilm copy of “Prosecution documents which were either not offered or were rejected” (1952) and “Rejected defense documents,” produced by Harvard University. In 1975, the National Archives and Records Service (predecessor of NARA) compiled “Preliminary inventory of the records of the International Military Tribunal Far East: record group 230,” a copy of which is available at the Library of Congress as well as at College Park. The documents themselves are found on microfilm in Record Group 331 at College Park.
(6) Japanese documents seized by the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS) amounted to 350,000 captured documents of which 18,000 were fully translated. ATIS relied on Japanese-language documentation to produce Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s official report of his wartime operations in the Southwest Pacific. Some 13,800 files of original documents were returned to Japan by MacArthur’s headquarters via the Japanese Demobilization Bureaus,
but the disposition of others, such as the original Japanese-language Unit 731 reports of human experimentation that were translated into English, remains unknown. In addition, Japanese-language documents held by the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Service (PACMIRS) were returned to the Japanese government. For the most part, these were operational and technical reports. English-language translations of the originals are available in record group 165 (P-File) at College Park. The U.S. Navy also confiscated thousands of Japanese naval operational documents and reports. 0ese are available on microfilm (about 230 reels) at the Naval Historical Center. The originals of all of the above military documents repose in the Defense Agency archives in Tokyo, Japan.
Topics of Special Interest
In addition to adhering to the IWG’s guidelines when conducting their searches for
classified records pertinent to the Disclosure Acts, agencies also paid particular attention
to records that might contain information about Japanese atrocities perpetrated on
civilians, such as the Rape of Nanking, “comfort women,” the mistreatment of POWs and
civilian internees, medical experimentation on humans, Unit 731, and records related to
the U.S. decision not to prosecute Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal. It is important
to note, however, that during World War II and its immediate aftermath, not all areas
of Japanese war criminality were explored in depth. For example, while the “comfort
women” issue is of great current importance, the U.S. government did not systematically
collect or create records related to the topic during or after the war.18 As a consequence,
there are very few documents pertaining to the topic in the archives. 0e same is true for
records related to the Rape of Nanking.
The atrocities at Nanjing occurred four years before the United States entered the war.
At that time, the U.S. government did not have a large military or diplomatic intelligence
network in China. A handful of trained military or embassy personnel reported on
events, sometimes second-hand; compared with the sensational press coverage, the official
U.S. documentation was scant. As a result, with the exception of the records produced
during the postwar Class A war crimes trial of the commanding general of Japanese forces
deemed responsible for the Rape of Nanking, there are few materials on this subject at
the National Archives.
Immediately after the war, American attention focused on the Japanese responsible for the Pearl Harbor attack, those involved in mistreatment of U.S. prisoners of war, and Japanese military and civilian officials implicated in war crimes, including rape (especially of Filipina women) or forced prostitution of Caucasian women. There was also knowledge of the Imperial Japanese Army’s field brothel system, as shown in scattered reports declassified during the 1960s. However, the scope of the brothel network (particularly in China) and the Japanese Army’s official sponsorship of the system were not well understood. Licensed prostitution was legal in prewar Japan, and Allied officials viewed the small part of the overseas system they uncovered as an extension of homeland practices. Prosecuting Japanese soldiers for rape, a notorious crime everywhere the army set foot, took precedence over investigating the circumstances of “comfort women,” who
were seen as professional prostitutes, not as unwilling victims coerced into brothels by
employees of the Japanese military. For instance, a significant document that linked the
Japanese government with the military field brothel system, “Amenities in the Japanese
Armed Forces,” was translated in November 1945 by ATIS and declassified in the 1960s.19
Although available to the public for years, it received little attention until the “comfort
women” issue focused attention on these wrongdoings in the 1990s.
As for Unit 731, researchers found no new classified evidence related to Gen. Ishii’s experiments or the unit’s treatment of POWs. The small amount of newly released material adds more evidence to the already well-documented facts about Japanese abuse of prisoners. As for the primary question of Unit 731’s alleged experimentation on captured American servicemen, multiple government agencies conducted exhaustive searches in intelligence, military, and diplomatic records but found no definitive evidence.
This was not surprising, because repeated Congressional inquiries about Japan’s alleged
use of American prisoners in experiments resulted in extensive examination of U.S. Army
and other government agency records in the 1970s, 1980s, and again in early 1990s. In
other words, Congressional interest in Japanese war crimes, especially those perpetrated
against American POWs, had already opened the existing Unit 731 documents in the
possession of the U.S. government and made them available to the public.
Finally, allegations arose that the U.S. government engaged in a cover-up to conceal
incriminating documents pertaining to war crimes in order not to embarrass the Japanese
government. Exhaustive searches by several agencies for classified materials, conducted
independently of outside political interference of any sort, followed the guidelines imposed by the IWG. 0ey found no evidence to support such assertions. There were miscarriages of justice—Ishii’s case being the most obvious and disturbing—and the question of Emperor Hirohito’s war responsibility remains a source of controversy in the United States and elsewhere. U.S. government archives, however, yielded no new information on these controversial topics. 0is result may not satisfy those who insist incriminating or embarrassing documents remain hidden, but disinterested parties will appreciate that the IWG has managed to open the remaining classified files pertinent to Japanese war crimes and to make that evidence available to the public. Archival holdings in Japan, China, and the former Soviet Union also offer the possibility of files that may clarify or lead to reinterpretation of our understanding of Japanese atrocities.
Exploiting the Records
During the search for classified records, it soon became apparent that historians, researchers, and concerned parties have not fully exploited the many records about Japanese war crimes previously declassified and made available at the National Archives. 0e fault lies less with the public, however, than with the organization of the massive collection. Records came from more than a dozen U.S. government agencies, each of which employed diverse filing systems and exercised multiple functions between 1931 and 2005. 0is led to a divestiture of central records into smaller agency collections, a standard archival practice that unintentionally complicated the
researcher’s task. Captured or seized Imperial Japanese military and naval records are found in at least twelve separate record groups at NARA and fill thousands of boxes.
Furthermore, except for the records pertaining to war crimes trials (none of which remains classified), there was no one central finding aid to help researchers navigate the Japanese collection. Moreover, for whatever reasons, records reasonably expected to be at NARA are not
there and turn up in unlikely places. 0ree important documents, translated from Japanese to English and each more than 100 pages long, detail Unit 731’s clinical observations of the day-by-day spread of various pathogens through the bodies of helpless prisoners whom Japanese doctors subjected to experiments. 0e U.S. government declassified these key documents, titled “The Report of A” (anthrax), “The Report of G” (glanders), and “The Report of Q” (bubonic plague) in 1960. They are available to the public at the U.S. Library of Congress. With relevant documents interfiled among a dozen record groups and others available—but not at the National Archives—the researcher’s task is a formidable one.
Greg Bradsher’s 1700-page finding aid on the CD that accompanies this volume remedies this problem. His searchable finding aid brings coherence to the collections, enables researchers to consult a single reference to begin their search, and introduces first-time users to the variety of materials available at NARA on Japanese war crimes.
The hope of all those involved in this project is that introducing the available material and making it accessible will stimulate new interest in these underused collections and encourage historians, advocates, writers, researchers, and citizens with an interest in these important issues to make use of the collections. Study of the mass of unclassified material will undoubtedly turn up documents relevant to Japanese war crimes and perhaps resolve some outstanding issues.
The huge number of documents declassified under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act allowed the IWG’s first book on the records, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis, to take the form of historical case studies based on the newly released documentary material. But the comparatively small number of Japanese documents declassified, coupled with the larger problem of open Japanese records being underused, mandated a different format.
Contributors to this volume adopted an approach to make the enormous number of heretofore underused Japanese wartime documents more user friendly. Their purpose throughout the volume is to make us aware of how much is available by introducing these records to readers and explaining where the records are located. 0eir goal is to stimulate interest in these records in the hope that researchers will be encouraged to exploit them efficiently and produce a fuller record of the Asia-Pacific War.
Daqing Yang’s interim assessment of documentary evidence and Japanese war crimes discusses the destruction of wartime Japanese documents and surveys the changing treatment of Japan’s war crimes in Chinese, English, and Japanese literature. He explains reasons for the heightened interest in crimes committed against POWs, the forced prostitution of “comfort women,” and Unit 731’s nefarious activities. Yang concludes with a plea for sustained and intense international collaboration to improve the level of research on Japanese war crimes.
James Lide summarizes the war-crimes–related materials located in the recently declassified records at NARA. His focus is on the limited number of documents pertinent to war crimes and their often vague or incomplete information. No large corpus of documentation remained classified on the Nanjing massacre, the “comfort women” issue, or Unit 731, although scattered references to bacteriological/chemical warfare and the kidnapping of women and girls by Japanese troops were noted.
NARA staff writers offer starting points for future research. The authors describe in general terms the availability of archival material spanning twelve record groups on the subject of Japanese war crimes, and then illustrate the scope of the collections by highlighting documents pertinent to their three case studies: Japanese treatment of Allied prisoners of war in Manchuria, Unit 731 activities, and Japanese atrocities committed against U.S. airmen on Chichi-Jima in 1945.
Robert Hanyok’s illuminating essay explains the U.S. military communications intelligence system during World War II, noting its successes and limitations. He devotes most of his essay to National Security Agency materials available to the public at NARA and offers an explanation for their organization, detailing different types of records:
army, navy, diplomatic, military attaché, and so forth. He pays special attention to communication intelligence attempts to discover the fate of American POWs held by the Japanese. He also describes how eavesdropping on Japanese military and naval radio communications unintentionally produced evidence of Japanese war crimes and hints of the biological and chemical warfare programs.
Greg Bradsher’s two chapters are part of his larger study to be published separately.
His first essay explains the wartime system for gathering documentation concerning alleged Japanese war crimes. 0rough the experience of the Southwest Pacific Area’s ATIS, he shows how the system developed and expanded, how it exploited captured Japanese documents, and how this material was employed during war crimes trials. His second essay examines the disposition of Japanese-language records in U.S. control. He describes the process for returning the confiscated or captured records, the extensive interagency cooperation to establish a policy for the return of records to Japan, and Congressional approval for the restitution of documents. Together with his finding aid on the enclosed CD, Bradsher has given unparalleled ease of access to those interested in serious historical research of U.S. records on Japan. The book concludes with a chapter by Michael Petersen on the topic of U.S. use of former Japanese enemies for intelligence purposes. Petersen’s chapter, based on recently
declassified CIA material, provides an example of the kind of historical interpretation that can arise from a study of the new and previously released materials.
The work of the IWG has made it possible for the public to access a wide variety of documents related to Japanese war crimes committed in Asia and the Pacific. Subsequent investigation and study of these materials will provide a clearer appreciation of the claims and allegations surrounding Japanese war crimes. Noteworthy is the fact that the previously declassified documents corroborate much that is already known about Japan’s wartime record. Furthermore, the material goes beyond the subject of war crimes and provides a wealth of historical information about the Axis nations. 0e range of Japanese-related documents, U.S. government as well as translated and original Japanese documents, merits extensive exploitation by academics, researchers, writers, veterans, and others interested in history. 0e files are filled with stories waiting to be told.
1. A few researchers (such as Professor Sheldon Harris) investigated the activities of the Japanese
Army’s Unit 731 during the 1980s.
2. Iris Chang, !e Rape of Nanking: !e Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York:
3. Chang, 177.
4. Japanese names are rendered as given name followed by surname.
5. Sheldon Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932–1945, and the American
Cover-up (New York: Routledge, 2002 rev ed). Harris published his original volume in
6. George Hicks, !e Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the
Second World War (New York: Norton, 1994).
7. 0e treaty was formally implemented on April 28, 1952.
8. Ian Buruma, !e Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan (New York: Farrar
Straus Giroux, 1994).
9. Robert Barr Smith, “Japanese War Crime Trials,” World War II (September 1996).
10. Philip R. Piccigallo, !e Japanese on Trial (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1979)
covers the B- and C-class war crimes trials.
11. Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged with Manufacturing
and Employing Bacteriological Weapons (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House,
12. Conversation with author, 2003.
13. Peter Wetzler, Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar
20 I Researching Japanese War Crimes
Japan (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), 19.
14. Kaikosha, ed., Nankin senshi shiryo-shu (Nanjing campaign chronology primary source
collection) (Kaikosha, 1989).
15. Kuninori Kimura, “Nankin koryakusen ‘Nakajima dai 16 shidancho nikki’” (0e capture
of Nanjing: Diary of 16th division commander Nakajima) (Zokan Rekishi to jimbutsu,
December 1984), 252–71.
16. “Identities of Unit 731 Victims Unearthed,” 3 August 2005, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://english.chosun.com/w21data/html/news; “Nana san ichi butai chomei no-to hakken,”
(Unit 731 commander’s notebook discovered) Asahi shimbun, 4 August 2005.
17. Sadao Asada, ed., Japan & !e World, 1853–1952: A Bibliographic Guide to Japanese
Scholarship in Foreign Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989), 41–42.
18. In February 1948, the Dutch tried twelve Japanese for the forced prostitution of Dutch
women held in internment camps in the Dutch East Indies. Narrelle Morris, review of
Yuki Tanaka, Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II
and the U.S. Occupation” (New York: Routledge, 2002), http://wwwsshe.murdoch.edu.au/
19. Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, Supreme Command for the Allied Powers,
“Amenities in the Japanese Armed Forces,” Research Report 120, 15 Nov. 1945, 9–20,
Formerly Security-Classified Intelligence Reference Publications (“P” File) Received from
U.S. Military Attachés, Military and Civilian Agencies of the United States, Foreign
Governments and Other Sources, 1940–1945, NA, RG 165, Records of the War Department
General and Special Staffs, entry 79, box 342.
You have been LIED to for CENTURIES! WHITE, BLACK or BROWN it dosen’t matter! ALL politicans are LIARS.
Abraham Lincoln was a BASTARD JEW, born out of wedlock!
His wife was a DRUG ADDICT!!
His ASSASSIN was his wife’s supplier!!!
DECLASSIFIED! Why the FUCK do they hide the FILES?
To keeo you STUPID AMERICANS in the DARK!!!!
Japan admits dissecting WWII POWs
By Thomas Easton
The Baltimore Sun
UKUOKA, Japan “I could never again wear a white smock,” says Dr. Toshio Tono, dressed in a white running jacket at his hospital and recalling events of 50 years ago. “It’s because the prisoners thought that we were doctors, since they could see the white smocks, that they didn’t struggle. They never dreamed they would be dissected.”
The prisoners were eight American airmen, knocked out of the sky over southern Japan during the waning months of World War U, and then torn apart organ by organ while they were still alive.
What occurred here 50 years ago this month, at the anatomy department of Kyushu University, has been largely forgotten in Japan and is virtually unknown in the United States. American prisoners of war were subjected to horrific medical experiments. All of the prisoners died. Most of the physicians and asistants then did their best to hide the evidence of what they had done.
Fukuoka is midway between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, cities that are planning elaborate ceremonies to mark the devastation caused by the United States’dropping the first atomic bombs. But neither Fukuoka nor the university plans to mark its own moment of infamy.
The gruesome experiments performed at the university were variations on research programs Japan conducted in territories it occupied during the war. In the most notorious of these efforts, the Japanese Imperial Army’s Unit 731 killed thousands of Chinese and Russians held prisoner in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, in experiments to develop chemical and biological weapons.
Ken Yuasa, now a frail, 70-year-old physician in Tokyo, belonged to a military company stationed just south of Unit 731’s base at Harbin, Manchuria. He recalls joining other doctors to watch as a prisoner was shot in the stomach, to give Japanese surgeons practice at extracting bullets.
While the victim was still alive, the doctors also practiced amputations.
“It wasn’t just my experience,” Yuasa says. “It was done everywhere.”
Kyushu University stands out as the only site where Americans were incontrovertibly used in dissections and the only known site where experiments were done in Japan.
On May 5, 1945, an American B-29 bomber was flying with a dozen other aircraft after bombing Tachiaral Air Base in southwestern Japan and beginning the return flight to the island fortress of Guam.
Kinzou Kasuya, a 19-year-old Japanese pilot flying one of the Japanese fighters in pursuit of the Americans, rammed his aircraft into the fuselage of the B-29, destroying both planes.
No one knows for certain how many Americans were in the B-29; its crew had been hastily assembled on Guam. But villagers in Japan who witnessed the collision in the air saw about a dozen parachutes blossom.
One of the Americans died when the cords of his, parachute were severed by another Japanese plane. A second was alive when he reached the ground. He shot all but his last bullet at the villagers coming toward him, then used the last on himself.
Two others were quickly stabbed or shot to death.
At least nine were taken into custody.
B-29 crews were despised for the grim results of their raids. So some of the captives were beaten.
The local authorities assumed that the most knowledgeable was the cap! tain, Marvin Watkins. He was sent to Tokyo for interrogation, where was tortured but nonetheless survived the war.
Every available account asserts that a military physician and a colonel in a local regiment were the two key figures in what happened next. What happened cannot be easily explained. Perhaps caring for the Americans was an impossible burden, especially because some were injured. Perhaps food was scarce.
Whatever the reason, the colonel and doctor decided to make the prisoners available for medical experiments, and Kyushu University became a willing participant.
Teddy Ponczka was the first to be handed over to the doctors and their assistants. He had already been stabbed, in either his right shoulder or his chest. According to Tono, the American assumed he was about to be treated for the wound when he was taken to an operating room.
But the incision went far deeper. A doctor wanted to test surgery’s effects on the respiratory system, so one lung was removed. The wound was stitched closed.
How Teddy Ponczka died is in dispute. According to U.S. military records, he was anesthetized during the operation, and then the gas mask was removed from his face. A surgeon, Taro Torisu, reopened the incision and reached into Ponczka’s chest. In the bland words of the military report, Torisu “stopped the heart action. ”
Tono remembers events differently. The first experiment was followed by a second, he says. Ponczka was given intravenous injections of sea water, to determine if sea water could be used as a substitute for sterile saline solution, used to increase blood volume in the wounded or those in’shock. Tono held the bottle of sea water. He says Ponczka bled to death.
Then it was the turn of the others.
The Japanese wanted to learn whether a patient could survive the partial loss of his liver. They wanted to learn if epilepsy could be controlled by removing part of the brain. According to U.S. military records, physicians also operated on -the prisoners’ stomachs and necks.
All the Americans died.
“There was no debate among the doctors about whether to do the operations – that is what made it so strange,” Tono says.
Word of the experiments eventually leaked out.
Thirty people were brought to trial by an Allied war crimes tribunal in Yokohama, Japan, on March 11, 1948. Charges included vivisection, wrongful removal of body parts and cannibalism – based on reports that the experimenters had eaten the livers of the Americans.
Of the 30 defendants, 23 were found guilty of various charges. (For lack of proof, the charges of cannibalism had been dismissed.) Five of the guilty were sentenced to death, four to life imprisonment. The other 14 were sentenced to shorter terms.
But the attitude of the American occupation forces began to change largely because of the start of the Korean War in June 1950. The United States had less interest in punishing Japan, an enemy-turned-ally.
In September 1950, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, as supreme commander for Allied Forces, reduced most of the sentences. By 1958, all those convicted were free. None of the death sentences was carried out.
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