Written by Gillian Hand (George Washington University), Student Correspondent CET Harbin Summer 2019
Unit 731, ever heard of it? Many haven’t, and honestly, it’s a shame. For those of you who don’t know, Unit 731 is a unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that set up a base located in Harbin, China. But this base was anything but an ordinary base. From 1933 to 1945 this base was used to conduct inhumane atrocities. At this site, mass human experimentation and biological warfare testing were carried out. The former site of Unit 731 is the largest military base used for research, experimentation, and production of biological weapons to date.
At this site the Japanese Imperial Army, manipulated several diseases such as syphilis and meningococcal and then infected several “test subjects” with these diseases. Most of the victims were of Chinese or Russian decent, but some were of Korean and Mongolian decent. Victims were often put in gas chambers as well as frozen to death. Pregnant women were even vivisected. At the site Unit 731 tested a large-scale bacteria bomb on numerous victims.
Today I visited this site, and my feeling there were anything but comfortable. In school we all learn about the atrocities of the Nazi Regime, but until today I had never heard of Unit 731. In Washington, D.C. I have had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum which lays out all the War Crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Today I had the same feeling visiting the former Unit 731 site as I did visiting the Holocaust Museum, disturbed and dismayed.
Visiting sites like these make you think of the power human beings have in life. We have the choice to go through life trying to build a cohesive and harmonious society. But we also can commit atrocities, and ruin lives.
Seeing and reading about how the victims of Unit 731 were treated baffled me. The victims were not even given a name, they were referred to as “Maruta”, which means wood or raw materials. These victims were robbed of their individual liberties and treated nothing more than dirt.
It is important to discuss topics like this, no matter how uncomfortable they can be. In order to move on from the past, you must acknowledge it which can be done by creating museums and memorials, just like the ones I saw today. At George Washington University I took a class on the reunification of Germany, we discussed the Nazi Regime, the German Democratic Republic Regime, their atrocities, but most importantly how Germany has overcome their dark history. Germany has used education as a main tool to ensure atrocities such as the Holocaust never happen again.
Despite my uncomfortable emotions at the former site of Unit 731, I am extremely glad that it has been preserved and that a museum has been created. For society to successfully develop we must learn from our mistakes. By educating yourself by going to places such as museums you become an educated world citizen. As human being we have a strong power which can be seen through injustices such as the human testing by Unit 731. But, if we are all educated and can understand the consequences these injustices have, we can prevent these crimes from happening.
Atrocities like these happen all over the world but chances are you haven’t heard about most of them. If you have the opportunity to travel or study abroad, I encourage you to go to local museums and historical sites, they can truly open your eyes and teach you something new.
Currently we are living in a very interesting international situation. As technology develops new opportunities arise, good and bad. However, at the end of the day we must all remember we are humans, each with a life and a story, something that can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
Today’s trip to the former site of Unit 731 gave me a lot to think about and reflect on. Until today, I knew nothing about Japan’s biological warfare tactics. Until you read this blog, most of you probably didn’t know about these atrocities either. I encourage you to educate yourself and take the time to expand your knowledge through museums and memorials like the former site of Unit 731. Studying different historical events will only take a few hours, but those few hours can have a big impact on your outlook of life.