On Some Animal Experiments

I probably should be a vegetarian for many reasons (health becoming more and more important), but the corporate and wholesale killing of animals for food might be one of society’s great overlooked atrocities. Additionally, cosmetic and chemical companies as well as science and university laboratories often use animals for testing purposes, putting the animals in horrid conditions and subjecting them to terrible deaths. This is one such story, except the animal testing wasn’t done by a corporation; it was performed by a government.

The Japanese Empire of the 1930s began fighting what would become World War 2 as early as 1931 by invading the Chinese province of Manchuria. Japan recognized the effectiveness of chemical and biological warfare from the success of such weapons as poison gas in World War 1. The fact that the world agreed to ban such weapons in the 1920s testified, Japan believed, to exactly how effective they were. So, Japan secretly began testing new and different chemical and biological weapons on animals. The Japanese military unit in charge of this top-secret program was called Unit 731. And it was set up in the recently conquered Chinese territory in Manchuria in a large facility that included not only laboratories and storage areas but also holding units for the testing subjects.

We aren’t sure how many animals were killed in the testing of these weapons by the Japanese, but estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. In an effort to keep their military and scientific staff from becoming too attached to their test subjects, Unit 731 mandated that all testing animals be referred to as “logs.” The reasoning was that these test animals were to be consumed like wood fuel in fires. That way, those involved in the program could distance themselves from the horrors that were involved in the chemical and biological testing done on the subjects.

And the horrors were real. Test subjects were injected with live bioweapons and their deterioration recorded, even sometimes on film, until they died in horrible agony. Some were put in glass rooms where experimental gasses were slowly introduced and had to be observed as they gasped and writhed and slowly, painfully, died. Some were even subjected to pressure chambers until their bodies practically exploded under the pressure exerted upon them. Then, as in all reports, the number of “logs” experimented upon were recorded and details on how they died were documented.

For records keeping, the Japanese Army officially referred to the testing unit by the seemingly innocent name of the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department. But the results of the testing was far from innocent. Using the data extrapolated from their experiments, Unit 731 practiced controlled and limited chemical weapon releases into selected areas of China it didn’t yet control to see how the agents affected population areas outside of the sterile confines of their army laboratories. We don’t know how many people died from those releases, but, again, probably hundreds of thousands of deaths resulted among human populations who never knew what killed them.

After the war, the United States Army was very interested in what Unit 731 had been doing because it wished to have the information gleaned by the years of research for their own bioweapons projects. So, the US hushed up the program. No effort was made to account for or compensate the relatives of the victims of the experimentation performed by the unit.

You might be thinking that it’s impossible to compensate animals who had been experimented upon.

But it’s possible because the hundreds of thousands of testing subject in the program were human animals.

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