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The story of United States research into and use of biological weapons remains a huge blank spot in the known history of this country. There have been attempts to document this history, but much remains classified or has been destroyed. The use of biological weapons dovetails with U.S. research into drugs and mind control against prisoners, as the revelations about MKULTRA or the Edgewood Arsenal experiments make clear (see this fascinating story by Michael Ignatieff in the New York Times Magazine, April 2001).
This posting is the first in a series I hope to publish over time looking at the controversial question of U.S. use of biological weapons, and its links to MKULTRA and other covert CIA or military programs. It examines the origins of the U.S. program in biological weapons research, as it grew out of the ashes of the horrific program in the same, started by the Japanese Imperial government in the 1930s. It is best known by its bureaucratic moniker: Unit 731.
As I will explain further on, I intend to write more in the future about this subject. But first watch this fascinating documentary on a terrifying subject. We need to know about this.
Warning: the embedded videos below have some extremely disturbing footage.
Unit 731… was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel. Officially known by the Imperial Japanese Army as the Kempeitai Political Department and Epidemic Prevention Research Laboratory, it was initially set up under the Kempeitai military police of the Empire of Japan to develop weapons of mass destruction for potential use against Chinese, and possibly Soviet forces….
After Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, Douglas MacArthur became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, rebuilding Japan during the Allied occupation. MacArthur secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731 in exchange for providing America with their research on biological warfare. The United States believed that the research data was valuable because the allies had never publicly conducted or condoned such experiments on humans due to moral and political revulsion. The United States also did not want other nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to acquire data on biological weapons, not to mention the military benefits of such research. [Emphasis added]
Japanese experiments in biological weapons utilized barbaric research, including the use of vivisection on human subjects, amputations, the use of human targets, radiation exposure, starvation, and the deliberate inoculation of diseases such as plague, anthrax, cholera and botulism. From a complex of approximately six square kilometers, and a number of satellite facilities, Unit 731 is thought to have produced almost a quarter million casualties. Captured by the Soviets, many of those involved in Unit 731 were put on trial as war criminals. But as noted above, some of the primary leaders surrendered to the U.S. and were protected in exchange for information on biological experimentation.
The link between U.S./Japanese collaboration on biological weaponry after World War II and charges of United States use of biological weapons in the Korean War (denied by the U.S.) is something I’ve covered before. Here’s the conclusions of a researcher from Baylor University Medical Center, Stefan Riedel, MD, PhD, published in 2004 (numbers in parentheses are footnotes in the original — please refer to linked article for the references to these footnotes):
During the years immediately after World War II, newspapers were filled with articles about disease outbreaks caused by foreign agents armed with biological weapons (2, 18). During the Korean War, the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea accused the USA of using agents of biological warfare against North Korea (1, 18). In later years the USA admitted that it had the capability of producing such weapons, although it denied having used them. However, the credibility of the USA was undermined by its failure to ratify the Geneva Protocol of 1925, by public acknowledgment of its own offensive biological warfare program, and by suspicions of collaboration with former Unit 731 scientists (1, 18).
In fact, the US program expanded during the Korean War (1950-1953) with the establishment of a new production facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In addition, a defensive program was launched in 1953 with the objective of developing countermeasures, including vaccines, antisera, and therapeutic agents, to protect troops from possible biological attacks. By the late 1960s, the US military had developed a biological arsenal that included numerous biological pathogens, toxins, and fungal plant pathogens that could be directed against crops to induce crop failure and famine (1).
The U.S. cover-up of the atrocities of Unit 731, and the embrace of its top leadership in the name of anticommunism and military research rivals the scandals that exposed the post-World War II collaboration of Washington, D.C. with fleeing Nazi war criminals (see Operation Paperclip).
The reality behind our country’s history is disturbing and horrifying. But if we do not come to terms with where we have been, we will not, even in an Obama-era, be able to go where we need to go — to a world free of militarism, of imperial conquest-lust, of inequality and injustice and racism. The CIA famously has the words “the truth will set you free” written in the lobby of its headquarters in Langley. They distorted those words in an Orwellian ironic twist that decimates our language and our moral integrity. Still in the end, the truth will set us free, but first, we must reclaim it.