War Crimes

Nicholas Quirke was reminded for the second day in a row on 15 July 2021 of a grammatical error Peta Taylor had once pointed out to him when he had accidentally penned the words ‘them Japanese’ instead of a more correct ‘the’, though the thought was generated with more venom than the amusement he normally associated with the phrase. He had chosen to start the day in Harbin with a visit to Unit 731 which during the occupation of China had been built for the purpose of biological warfare research. The evidence he had seen the day before of mans inhumanity to man had been distressing enough and after his visit why he’d felt the need to pick at an already exposed wound was beyond him. He had stepped of the train onto Harbin soil in the province of Heilongjiang at 6.35am having managed to get about four hours restless sleep and then spent over an hour trying to find somewhere he could deposit his suitcase, which he eventually was able to leave at a branch of a hotel he was a member of. He was then able to start his day with a walk to a subway station and a long journey across the city to Unit 731, short for Manshu Detachment 731. It was a covert research unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War of World War II and was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo (now Northeast China), and had active branch offices throughout China and Southeast Asia. They routinely conducted tests on human beings, who were referred to internally as “logs” ‘Maruta’ as they were ‘raw material’ using more than 50 kinds of bacteria and viruses including plague, anthrax, cholera in their experiments. Germ contamination tests and pathological anatomy were carried out as conventional methods including the inhuman test of vivisection. Additionally, biological weapons were tested in the field on cities and towns in China. Estimates of those killed by the Unit and its related programs range up to half a million people. At the end of the war the researchers involved in Unit 731 were secretly given immunity by the United States in exchange for the data they gathered through human experimentation as they had done with German researchers in Operation Paperclip. Though the Soviet Union did capture and try some of the criminals victim accounts were largely ignored or dismissed in the West as communist propaganda. The evidence as it was laid out in the museum including testimony from Japanese soldiers, researchers and Chinese victims was overwhelming and heartbreaking and touring the remains of the site, the prisons, the labs, the burn pits which had been blown up by the Japanese as they departed, left him wondering how such cruelty and inhumanity to others could exist. It was not a happy place and coloured his mood for the rest of his day. Tired and in distress was not a good combination and as he retraced his journey back to the subway to go and visit the famous green-domed Saint Sophia Cathedral, an former Eastern Orthodox church, the blazing sun and its accompanying humidity added to his feelings of discomfort. Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang China’s northernmost province was developed in the late 19th century with the influx of Russian engineers constructing the eastern leg of the Trans-Siberian Railroad and much of the old architecture is Russian. Inside of the church a recital was taking place and he momentarily relaxed and enjoyed the faded grandeur of the surroundings. He was thirsty and next to the cathedral was a cafe which he went to and had long cold iced tea. He was occupying a table and when a large family came in he gave up his seat for them and moved to a high stool the family, who were all quite large were very grateful and he had a broken short conversation with one of the girls and their daughter. Though he had only spent a small period of time in the city he did notice on the subway and in the streets that there was a large proportion of very obese citizens. He was not staying in Harbin as he was on his way further north to the Scenic Spot of Wudalianchi which means “five joint ponds” and refers to a set of interconnected lakes formed after the eruption of the volcanoes of Laoheishan (老黑山, means “Old Black Mountain”) and Huoshaoshan (火烧山, means “Fire Burn Mountain”) in 1720–21, he had a flight to catch and as all of his technology needed a recharge he went back to the hotel who had held his bag for him and he sat in their foyer with a cold drink and recharged for an hour before going to the airport. Travelling dominated the rest of his day and when he arrived at his destination he was collected by the hotel owner and endured an hour long drive to where he was staying in the remote countryside. He’d had very little sleep, it was raining and the WiFi in the hotel was virtually non existent and after a very short walk to buy some water for the next day where the staff were thrilled to see a laowai he retired for the night to try to get some sleep.

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