OSAKA – A former medic in the Imperial Japanese Navy says he carried out vivisection on about 30 prisoners, including women and children, in the Philippines during World War II.
It is the first time anyone in the wartime military has admitted that experiments were conducted on human beings in the Philippines, said Keiichi Tsuneishi, a professor of science history at Kanagawa University.
Such experiments are known to have been conducted in northern China by the notorious germ warfare Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army and at a Kyushu University hospital.
The former naval medic, Akira Makino, 84, of Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, offered the revelation in a recent interview despite opposition from wartime friends. After keeping it to himself for nearly 61 years, he decided to come forward.
“The souls of those who died would not be soothed if the story remained buried,” he said.
Makino belonged to the medical corps of the navy’s No. 33 patrol unit and was assigned to Zamboanga air base on Mindanao Island in August 1944.
The experiments on live prisoners began that December, according to Makino. He was 22 at the time.
Ordered by a doctor in his 30s, Makino took two Filipino men captured as U.S. spies to a hospital that had been converted from a school. The doctor told him that vivisection would be performed on them.
The prisoners were undressed and tied to operating tables. Their faces were covered with an ether-soaked cloth so they fell unconscious, he said.
Makino inserted a surgical knife into their bodies as the doctor told him, “You will have to treat patients if I die.” Makino said his hands were trembling.
The doctor pointed out the liver of one of the two prisoners, but Makino barely remembered what it looked like, he recounted.
“I thought ‘What a horrible thing I’m doing to innocent people even though I’m ordered to do it,’ ” he said.
The experiments included amputating arms and legs, suturing blood vessels and conducting abdominal dissections. They continued until February 1945 and resulted in the deaths of about 30 people, including women and children, according to Makino.
After the experiments, medical corps personnel strangled the captives with rope to make sure they were dead, Makino said, adding the bodies were buried and the deeds were kept secret.
“I would have been killed if I had disobeyed the order,” Makino said. “That was the case in those days.”
U.S. forces landed on Mindanao in March 1945. The Japanese soldiers, including Makino, went into hiding in the jungle.
Kanagawa University’s Tsuneishi said the experiments signified the deterioration of morale among the Japanese forces.
“But I have never heard of (such experiments) in the Philippines, especially by the navy,” he said.
Little in the way of Japanese testimony has emerged about what happened in Southeast Asia during the war because few military units survived, Tsuneishi said.
“With such new testimony as a start, I think we need to re-examine history by interviewing those who survived the war,” he said.
Makino has talked about his war experiences while visiting elementary and junior high schools in Hirakata for the past several years, but he did not tell the students about the human dissections because of their graphic nature.
But that may now change.
“We should not let this horrible thing happen again,” Makino said. “I want to tell the truth about war to as many people as possible. If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll continue to testify in atonement.”
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