WASHINGTON - The United States paid money and gave other benefits to former members of a Japanese germ warfare unit two years after the end of World War II to obtain data on human experiments conducted in China, according to two declassified U.S. government documents.
It has been known that the Allies offered to waive war crime charges at the tribunal for officers of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731 in exchange for experiment data.
But the latest findings reveal Washington’s eagerness to obtain such data even by providing monetary rewards, despite the horrific nature of the unit’s activities, in an attempt to beat the Soviet Union in the arms development race.
Historians believe that some 3,000 people died in the experiments conducted in China by the unit led by military doctor Shiro Ishii before and during the war.
The total amount paid to unnamed former members of the infamous unit was somewhere between 150,000 yen to 200,000 yen. An amount of 200,000 yen at that time is the equivalent of 20 million yen to 40 million yen today, based on an initial salary comparison for central government employees now and then.
The two declassified documents were found in the U.S. National Archives by Keiichi Tsuneishi, a professor at Kanagawa University and an expert on biological and chemical weapons.
One of the top secret documents was a “report on bacteriological warfare” compiled for the chief of staff of the Far Eastern Commission, dated July 17, 1947. It was compiled by Brig. Gen. Charles Willoughby, head of the G2 intelligence unit of the Occupation forces in Japan.
The other was a letter dated July 22, 1947, that Willoughby sent to Maj. Gen. S. J. Chamberlin, director of intelligence of the U.S. War Department General Staff, to illustrate the need for continued unrestricted use of confidential funds to obtain such intelligence.
In the documents, Willoughby described the achievements of his unit’s investigations, saying the “information procured will have the greatest value in future development of the U.S. BW (bacteria warfare) program.”
Citing a U.S. War Department specialist in charge of the investigation, Willoughby wrote in the report that “data on human experiments may prove invaluable” and the information was “only obtainable through the skillful, psychological approach to top-flight pathologists” involved in Unit 731 experiments.
The U.S. provided money, food, gifts, entertainment and other kinds of rewards to the former Unit 731 members, according to the report.
“All of these actions did not amount to more than (150,000 yen to 200,000 yen), netting the (United States) the fruit of 20 years’ laboratory tests and research,” the report says.
Willoughby described the cost as a “mere pittance” in his letter to Chamberlin.
“I contend that with new restrictions on the use of (confidential) funds we shall find it successively more difficult to induce these people to disclose information,” Willoughby wrote.
Kanagawa University’s Tsuneishi said it had been thought that the U.S. had gathered the information by making unit members choose between cooperating and facing war crime charges, “but it has become clear that this was done by winning (unit members’) hearts with money and rewards.”
The documents reveal that the two sides — the United States which had initially overlooked the existence of the human experiments and Japan which had been trying to hide the truth — “ended up trading information through monetary benefits without any regard for their behavior,” Tsuneishi said.