USF Libraries | Special & Digital Collections | Exhibits

The Medical Experiments of Unit 731

Iris Chang, Author, The Rape of Nanking

Unit 731 was a secret medical laboratory that was in Manchuria, and it was run by Japanese doctors who performed live medical experiments on Chinese prisoners of war and Chinese civilians, even women and children. It almost boggles the mind. They had a two-floor -- I think a two-story freezer for storing corpses. People were dissected alive. And there were experiments that, to this day, remain classified because the United States government actually entered into a Faustian bargain with the doctors of Unit 731 and with the Japanese government.

The U.S. government actually exonerated these doctors in exchange for their medical data, which was rumored to have been used during the Korean War, but we really don't know. But we do know that there was a cover-up of these experiments, which was essentially conducted not only by Japan but by the U.S. government, and the U.S. government did want that data and they didn't care that it was done at the expense of human life, in particular -- not just Chinese life, but also American life.

Well, the Japanese wanted to see how the military would respond to various conditions. I mean, they exposed many of their human guinea pigs to various diseases to see how they could withstand them. They also subjected many to freezing experiments to see how long the human body can endure this kind of, you know, subzero weather. But you often wonder, what kind of practical value do these experiments really have? It's a little -- you know, it just seems like some of them were so diabolical and so much like torture, as they were, that they really couldn't have any practical scientific value. But the U.S. government apparently thought differently, because they were willing to let those Japanese doctors go in exchange for that data.

About this video

About Iris Chang