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Google Books is to be congratulated for shining a light on one of the most heinous and yet still largely unknown episodes of World War II, via the free publication for the general public of the English language version of the materials released on the 1949 Khabarovsk War Crimes trial. Published originally by Moscow's Foreign Languages Publishing House in 1950, the trial documents the examination of the use of biological weapons and illegal human experimentation, including thousands of "terminal" experiments, by members of the Japanese military unit most closely identified with this program, Unit 731.
Written off by some as a Stalinist "show trial" -- and there undoubtedly are some elements of that here -- the facts examined at Khabarovsk have been established to be true by Western historians. The book is divided into pages of documentary proof, testimony by the accused and various witnesses, the state prosecutor's case, statements by the defendant's attorneys, and of course the verdict itself. I have personally found the reading of this trial material to be one of the most amazing and emotional experiences I've ever had. You cannot read this book and be unaffected.
The question remains: why has the worst use of biological weapons and illegal human experiments, even dwarfing the crimes of the Nazis, gone mostly unremarked for almost three generations?
The ramifications of the decision by the Japanese government to research bacteriological or "germ" warfare on prisoners, killing thousands of them via inoculation of biological toxins, and then wage biological warfare across China and parts of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, are still resonant in Asia today. It is not unusual to hear in Chinese or North Korean propaganda references to the crimes of Unit 731.
The actions of the Japanese emperor and his Army to unleash biological warfare -- led by the infamous general Shiro Ishii -- went unremarked during the Toyko War Crimes trials at the end of World War II. The reason for this was likely due to the established fact that the U.S. made at the time a secret agreement to amnesty all the personnel involved in Japan's Unit 731, "Detachment 100," and other assorted BW experimental and operational units, with the aim of gathering all the data gathered by Japan's illegal human experiments and operational experience with biological weapons for itself.
The Soviets, stymied in their attempt to get the matter brought up at the Tokyo trials -- the U.S. dragged its feet on even letting the Soviets interview BW chief Ishii, who was under house arrest by the Americans -- turned to their own separate trial of captured personnel from Unit 731 and the Kwantung Army, spurred on by popular resentment against the Japanese imperialist army and the dreaded Kampetei, who had kidnapped hundreds of Soviet and Chinese citizens for terminal use as guinea pigs in the Unit 731 dungeons at Pingfan, Manchuria. At moments, the anger of those in attendance at trial is even noted in the proceedings.
Some of the documentary material regarding the decision by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE, or Tokyo War Crimes trials) not to pursue biological warfare charges against the Japanese have been published digitally online at a special site dedicated to the Tokyo trials by the University of Virginia Law Library (URL: http://lib.law.virginia.edu/imtfe/exhibit/biological-warfare).
For historians, both amateur and professional, finding original documents, such as the Khabarovsk trial materials, was next to impossible, unless you had the money and perspicacity to search out rare copies of the printed version of selected materials. Now, thanks to a review of the copyright legality of publishing this material, initiated at my request, Google has published this important historical text for all readers to use.