Within Japanese language sources, Shiro Ishi’s name is written as ‘石井 四郎’ and pronounced ‘Ishi Shiro’. Within Chinese language sources, his name is infamous and written using the same Chinese ideograms – 石井四郎 – but pronounced ‘Shijing Silang’. At the peak of his career, he held the military rank of Lieutenant General, and the post of Surgeon General. He served in the Kwantung Army of the Japanese imperial forces that were tasked with the invasion and subjugation of the Chinese nation. Specifically, he commanded Unit 731 of the Kwantung Army – a ‘secret’ biological and medical experimentation military unit, that specialised in all forms of human experimentation.
Although known to have been active during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) in the Manchurian area of north-east China, there is some speculation that its operations began as early as 1931, when Japanese imperial forces first began to agitate in that area. However, Unit 731 was officially formed around 1935 (under the title of the ‘Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army’), and operated out of a huge 150 building complex situated in Harbin city (present-day Heilongjiang province), with Shiro Ishi being personally in-charge of its development and function.
Generally speaking, the victims of Unit 731 were Chinese men, women and children – estimated by some historians to number around 250,000 – but there is also evidence that a smaller number of Soviet POWs were also used. Shiro Ishi devised a method of vivisection that involved a human subject being dissected alive whilst fully conscious and without any form of anaesthetic. The point of these experiments was to see how long a subject could remain ‘conscious’ as parts of the body were removed, and when finally rendered ‘unconscious’ through shock and intense pain, how long the body could continue to ‘live’ whilst suffering massive trauma and blood loss. Often these highly disturbing sessions were photographed and filmed, whilst Japanese administrators kept meticulous observational notes.
It was not uncommon for Shiro Ishi to insist that pregnant Chinese women be rounded-up from the local area, and subjected to vivisection. This involved their unborn baby being ‘cut-out’ of the womb and then subjected to dissection – as the mother looked-on – waiting for her own demise upon the operating table. In other experiments, Shiro Ishi would induce strokes and heart attacks in his victims, or expose their bodies to very low temperatures. Victims were also exposed to biological weapons to test the effectiveness of various lethal compounds. The effectiveness and range of high-explosives were tested on firing ranges comprised of concentric circles of wooden posts dug into the ground at specific intervals from an explosive device that was detonated at a centre-point. Tied to the posts were men, women and children, whose bodies were damaged to varying degrees, with most severest nearest the detonation, and the least damaged the furthest away. Despite the death-toll and the hideous nature of Shiro Ishi’s War Crimes, he was never put on trial at the end of WWII. Instead, he negotiated immunity from prosecution with the United States government in return for handing-over all the data he had amassed experimenting on, and murdering Chinese people (and others) throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s. He lived-out his life in Japan as a respected war hero.
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