Before December 7th, 1941, the United States had never been in a significant military conflict with an Asian enemy. There had been battles in the Philippines vs Spain during the Spanish-American War, and a few other skirmishes. But the U.S. had never experienced full-scale war in the far east. To say the soldiers, sailors, and Marines of our armed forces did not know what they were going up against is an understatement.
The US military had been receiving warnings and stories out of China in the 1930’s concerning Japanese aggression and brutality while they attempted to conquer this nation. Until our troops began to experience it themselves, they could not fully understand the depths the Japanese soldiers could sink to.
Simple beatings were so common amongst prisoners of war (POWs) that it barely requires mentioning. However, slave labor, cruel and unusual torture, dismemberment, forced marches and other disgusting treatments were on the menu for any man imprisoned in the battle against Japan. This included Americans, Brits, Greeks, Aussies and Chinese.
Presented here are some of the extreme examples of atrocities committed by Japan during the second World War.
Starving humans eating other humans is not an unheard of practice. From The Donner Party to the Uruguayan rugby team which crashed in the Andes as seen in the movie Alive, it has occurred, albeit under the direst circumstances. But stories of Japanese soldiers eating the remains of dead prisoners and, far worse, cutting chunks off of live men and eating them are hard to accept. Japanese prison camps were isolated, desperate places that were often in deep jungles and almost as much a hardship for the guards as for the prisoners. Guards were at times starving right alongside the inmates and resorted to this disgusting method of sustenance as a necessity. However, there are also tales of it being done by guards who were not starving, instead only seeking to ultimately desecrate their enemies. A report done by Melbourne University explained it this way:
“One statement by an Australian lieutenant describes how he found the remains of a number of bodies, including one ‘consisting only of a head which had been scalped and a spinal column’. ‘In all cases, the condition of the remains were such that there can be no doubt that the bodies had been dismembered and portions of the flesh cooked…”
14. Inhuman Experiments On Pregnant Women
Dr. Josef Mengele was the most famous Nazi “scientist” to come out of the Second World War. His experiments on Jews, twins, dwarves and others were deemed war crimes by the international community and he was pursued by the allies after the war to answer for them. But the Japanese had their own institutions for a scientific study which were just as bad.
In a place called Unit 731, female prisoners, mostly Chinese, were forcibly raped and impregnated in order to study them. They were intentionally infected with diseases such as syphilis to see if the child would contract the disease from the mother. The mothers were often dissected alive with the babies still in them in order to study the effects of the disease on the womb. No anesthesia was used as these women and children were seen as nothing more than animals to be used and discarded.
In 1944 on a desolate volcanic island named Peleliu, a Marine sergeant was eating his C-rations with his men when he saw a figure walking toward him across an open space on the battlefield. As the man got closer it became clear that it was another Marine. The man was bent over and struggling to move his legs to walk. He was covered in blood. The sergeant figured this was just a wounded man who had been left behind on the battlefield and he and a few others ran to him to help. When they reached him, they were staggered by what they found. His mouth was sewn shut and the front of his uniform pants were cut open. His face was racked with pain and horror. After getting him to an aid station, they were later told by doctors what had happened. He had been captured by the Japanese, beaten and then tortured. The evil soldiers then cut off his genitals and sewed them into his mouth. It is unknown if the man survived the horrifying ordeal. It is known that instead of scaring his Marines as it was intended, it filled them with a hatred and resolve that aided them in the conquest of the island.
12. Sadistic Curiosity
Men in Japan who practiced medicine did not always do so to the betterment of their patients. During WWII Japanese ‘doctors’ often performed deviant procedures on enemy soldiers or even civilians in the name of science or simply to satisfy their own twisted and morbid curiosity. One thing they apparently wondered was what would happen to the human body if it was spun at a high speed for a long time. In that vein, they placed people into centrifuges where they were spun sometimes for hours at a time. The force would pin the person against the wall of the cylinder and the faster it went, the more pressure the internal organs would have forcing them against the spine and skin. Most died within hours and were simply disposed of. But some were left in the machine until their bodies literally exploded or fell apart.
When the Japanese Army suspected you were a spy, they were not going to forgive and forget. And lest we think only enemy soldiers were targeted for their barbaric practices, consider the Filipino civilians who were accused of performing espionage for American and British forces. A favorite punishment was to simply cut them up while alive. First one arm, then maybe a leg. Fingers. Ears. Never doing too much damage so as to kill them. Sometimes they would take off an arm, then they would cauterize the wound so the victim could not bleed out and could be kept for a few days to further torture. Men, women, and children all endured this at the hands of these animalistic people. This speaks volumes as to the bravery of those conquered peoples who heard these terror tales and went ahead and resisted the Japanese anyway.
10. Worse Than Waterboarding
Much discussion of waterboarding as a torture method was had in the U.S. during the Iraq war. The country’s detention of prisoners who may provide useful intelligence was seen as unconstitutional and waterboarding cruel and unusual. Waterboarding may or may not be torture. It certainly is horrible for the victim. But it does not really endanger the prisoner’s life. The Japanese reportedly did use waterboarding as a means to interrogate. But they also went much further. Prisoners would be strapped down at an incline and hoses forced down their throat or into their nostrils. Water was then pumped directly into their lungs. This not only gave the same drowning feeling as waterboarding, but the prisoner would actually drown if the treatment went on long enough. He may be able to spit enough water out to survive or he may not. Death by water was incredibly common into Japanese POW camps and was possibly second only to physical beatings as the most common method of man-made death there.
9. Freezing And Burning
In yet another inhuman attempt at a scientific study, the Japanese would commonly study the effects of frostbite on human skin by freezing the limbs of prisoners until solid. Then they would remove the frozen skin–all the way down to the bone–and thaw it to see what happened. Of course, they did this to living, breathing people who lived the rest of their lives with the skin and muscle stripped off of their arm or leg. And why would they only study extreme cold? They similarly burned the skin from victims as well. Imagine having a torch run up and down your arm until the skin simply fell away. Each time this was done it left an eviscerated human being with little left of his life, cowering in fear and misery.
X-rays were not as common in the 40’s as they are today and their usefulness and effectiveness as diagnostic tools or even as a weapon was still being ascertained. Especially at places like Unit 731. Having an ample supply of helpless victims at their disposal, the monstrous Japanese researchers would place prisoners in tents where they would be showered with X-rays. At intervals, they would be removed to observe the effects on the skin and the mental state of the subjects. Eventually, they would receive horrific radiation burns over most of their bodies and the skin would literally melt off. It was similar to slow exposure to the radiation levels Japanese civilians themselves would later experience at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
7. Buried Alive
The Japanese soldiers which inhabited the small islands in the Solomon and Mariana chains in the South Pacific were hardened, brutal men. They lived harsh lives in caves with little to eat, little to occupy their time and plenty of time to build hatred for the enemy which was approaching. So, when they captured American troops, they were often cruel and inhuman to them, as has been seen above. One of the worst treatments an American Marine could receive was burial while still alive, or partial burial. Several Marines were found beneath piles of rocks where their captors left them to suffocate. When the earth was muddy, a man could be tied hand and foot and thrown into a hole while his captors slowly covered him up. Perhaps worst of all, a vertical hole could be dug and the man’s head left outside the hole to be urinated on or eventually eaten at by animals.
Members of ISIS are very fond of slowly beheading Christians and other infidels when they capture them. For the Japanese, it was actually a sign of respect to an enemy to take his head off with a sword. Enemies they wished to degrade were tortured brutally. So, it was preferable for a captive victim, based on the means of tortures listed here, to have his life ended so quickly. It was different during battle. Most Japanese officers carried a sword. When Americans ran out of ammunition, they used their rifle with a bayonet fixed to it to fight. These Japanese would draw the long blade of a lengthy, normally curved and always sharpened sword and attack. The soldier would be fortunate if he was beheaded rather than sliced in the shoulder or chest. Once on the ground an enemy was then often hacked until dead rather than beheaded.
5. Death By Rising Tide
Since Japan and its occupied islands are almost entirely composed of oceanic coastlines, this form of torture has been around since man inhabited them. Drowning is a terrifying way to die. More terrifying, though, has to be the anticipation of drowning over several hours. When taken imprisoned, POWs would often be interrogated for days in an attempt to gain military secrets. Some gave in, but many resisted the beatings and torture and gave only their required name, rank and serial numbers. For these stubborn victims, often a special death was arranged. Taken to a beach at low tide and staked to the ground, the soldier was forced to lie awake and listen to the ever encroaching sound of waves as they grew nearer and nearer. Soon, water would begin to cover the man and it would take many excruciating minutes of coughing and gagging before it covered them entirely and filled their lungs until their death.
4. Impaling prisoners: the slowest of deaths
Bamboo. It is a strange type of wooden plant which grows most commonly in hot tropical areas in the orient. It also grows quickly relative to other plants, even as much as a few inches a day. So, when diabolical minds were trying to figure out the vilest ways for their enemies to die, some of them came up with the idea to impale them in such a slow manner using bamboo, that they would take days to die. The Japanese soldiers would suspend their victims over sharpened bamboo shoots which would grow and penetrate the men’s bodies. They would suffer unimaginable pain as the wood crawled into their muscles and organs, only dying after an organ was punctured or they bled to death.
3. Cooked from the inside out
Another depraved activity the scientists at Unit 731 engaged in was exposing their victims to low doses of electricity. Done in the short term, this is painful. Done slowly over many days it can actually burn and cook a human’s organs. The odd thing about organs such as intestines and gall bladders is that they have no nerves themselves. Therefore, when stressed, the brain sends pain signals to other parts of the body. It was like being cooked from the inside. Imagine swallowing a red hot iron to give you some indication of the sensation being conveyed. The pain would radiate everywhere until the poor soul’s body would give out.
2. Forced Labor And Death Marches
Thousands upon thousands of POWs were sent to Japanese prisoner camps where they spent their lives basically as slaves. The sheer amount of POWs created a huge problem for the Imperial army, in that it was impossible to provide enough food and medical attention for them. Therefore, when placed into forced labor camps, the prisoners were starved, beaten and worked basically to death. It was simply a matter of using an ‘asset’ until it was used up. The lives of the men meant nothing to the guards and officers placed in their charge. In addition, when labor was needed elsewhere– on an island or in another part of the country–the workforce was marched in lines of thousands, under staggering heat and often for hundreds of miles. Untold numbers died on the way, their bodies either thrown in a ditch or left where they dropped.
1. Forced To Kill Their Friends And Allies
Beating prisoners was a very basic part of most interrogations. Reports state that the prisoner was often talked to and asked questions pleasantly at first. Then, if and when the interrogating officer became frustrated, bored or just angry, they would beat the prisoner with fists, sticks and other items. Often this went on until the officer himself became physically tired. To make things more interesting, another prisoner might be brought in and, by the threat of his own death by beheading, forced to continue to beat a prisoner, often until death. There were very few things in war more mentally painful than to hurt one of your own, sometimes even someone you knew. This was the point, of course, and stories of this treatment making it back to the allied forces filled them with more resolve than ever.