Addressing Japanese Atrocities

Oxford University Press Blog, April 11, 2016

3 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2016 Last revised: 28 Aug 2016

See all articles by Zachary D. Kaufman

Zachary D. Kaufman

University of Florida Levin College of Law; Boston University - School of Law; Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law; University of Houston Law Center; Stanford Law School; Yale University - Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: April 11, 2016


After decades of tension over Japan’s failure to address atrocities that it perpetrated before and during World War II, the island nation’s relations with its regional neighbors, China and South Korea, are improving. Six weeks ago, for the first time in years, representatives of Japan’s Upper House resumed exchanges with Chinese parliamentarians. And in December, after the Japanese government long denied its coercive role in the abuse, the country’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, apologized and offered financial compensation for Japan’s exploitation of tens of thousands of Korean “comfort women” (a euphemism referring to Japanese military sexual slaves during the country’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945).

Although these recent developments are welcome, Japan’s reconciliation with its neighbors and with its own dark past will remain incomplete and insincere unless and until it acknowledges a lesser known but no less grotesque category of its wartime offenses: human experimentation. Just as Europe would not countenance German refusal to own up to the Holocaust atrocities of Josef Mengele, so too should East Asia expect Japan to offer a full, genuine account of and apology for the “scientific” barbarities it perpetrated. Some of the human guinea pigs were American soldiers, so Washington should help lead the campaign to demand Japanese responsibility. The United States, however, must make amends of its own: prioritizing military development over justice, the government sought to cover up and benefit from these bio-experiments, and has never properly accounted for its shameful calculus.

Keywords: Transitional Justice, World War II, Cold War, Japan, United States, China, South Korea, Korea, Soviet Union, USSR, Human Experimentation, Biological Weapons, Shinzo Abe, Shiro Ishii, Josef Mengele, Sexual Slavery, Unit 731, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, Aggression, Auschwitz

Suggested Citation

Kaufman, Zachary D., Addressing Japanese Atrocities (April 11, 2016). Oxford University Press Blog, April 11, 2016, Available at SSRN:

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