A Dubious Crime

 Cover - A Dubious Crime 53014

 

Chapter One

 

The initial meeting of the major project took place in the middle of the summer of 1935. The meeting room was steamily hot in the late afternoon. Dust could be seen floating in the room. The shades had been drawn to prevent snooping eyes and not allowing for any breeze. This was a secret planning meeting.

The man who was in charge of the meeting stood at the head of the conference table. He remained at rigid attention as the other men filed into the room. He had not moved a muscle nor acknowledged anyone as they took their seats. He stared at the wall at the end of the long narrow room. To him, this was the beginning of a glorious path and he wanted to show everyone he was in control.

Before the meeting, he had ritualistically shaved his head. He thought it made himself look wiser and tougher. He saw himself as a man of heavy discipline. He did, however, sport a small black mustache like many leaders of his day, like one of those leaders whom he admired. He was dressed in an immaculate, freshly pressed, army uniform with several decorations adorning his small chest. Around his torso hung a huge sword, secured around his waist by a red sash. The long samurai sword almost reached the ground. But the leader made up for his short, five foot stature by attempting to radiate divine authority. He believed his will was stronger than everyone in the room. He displayed a perpetual scowl on his oval face and stood as rigid as possible. The small round eyeglasses made him look intelligent, but he did not expect to impress the men attending the meeting with his knowledge. His goal was more important than that. His goal was to intimidate everyone in the room.

To ensure his success, once the chairs were filled, he had ordered three armed guards to stand inside the locked room, with bayonets attached to their rifles. They stood at attention, with their rifles at the ready. It was not lost on the men in the room.

He surveyed the room and counted the men sitting at attention around the big conference table. Today, there were sixteen concerned men, all with medical degrees. Just a few months ago the men were common, every day doctors spread throughout the “Land of the Rising Sun”, but today they were all members of the celebrated Kwantung division of the Imperial army. They had all been drafted into the organization.

He knew these men were more comfortable sitting on the floors of their homes, and comforting sick and injured people, but their expertise was now needed by the Imperial government. Their future roles and lives would be more difficult. He needed to teach the men the discipline which was required for them to achieve their destiny. As a result, his invitation letter demanded they sit at attention around the conference table in the center of Tokyo, Japan. Talking was forbidden, until called upon. Discipline was the cornerstone of the modern Japanese army and the leader was considered a battle hardened veteran. He knew he could mold them into loyal military personal. He held the power to bend the men in the room to his will. After a few minutes to create drama he spoke softly to the men in the room.

He said that he went by the name of Hiroki Mura and he wore the decorations of a Colonel in the Kwantung Army. He told the men he was twenty-nine years old, but not everyone believed that. He said that he had not gained his rank because of social position as his commander had done. He told them he was proud to have earned it on the battle field, but was vague about where he had fought. He said he did not hold a medical degree like the men in the room; he was a man of the people.

What he didn’t say was that he relished in the power he now had over other seemingly more educated and experienced doctors. He cared not that he had a title; he only cared about having people to follow his demanding orders. He was very much a controlling person. The doctors would all follow his orders or not leave the room alive.

His climb up the military hierarchy had begun by accident, he said. It was fate, but he had taken full advantage and had worked himself into the number two position for the top secret assignment they were about to discuss during the meeting.

“This same fate has fallen on you.” A satisfying smirk now crossed his face as he relived his glorious past with his comrades.

 

Hiroki Mura recalled that he was born in the Chiba prefecture of Japan, just across the large bay from modern Tokyo. He was just a common man. Mura had a high school education and joined the army to get away from his oppressive longshoreman father, who beat him regularly. In the summer of 1931, Mura, who was a lowly corporal at the time, was sent to Manchuria, China to help protect the extensive Japanese owned railroad systems that provided vital raw materials to the emerging Japanese industrial complex. Japan was void of most natural resources and depended upon trade partners to keep its economy growing.

The military influenced government wanted to ensure the flow of the precious resources from China so they sent more troops then necessary to guard the railway system. It was actually a buildup of Japans military strength in China. A new division of the army was then created to guard the railways in China. It was called the Kwantung Army and they even had a secret police section called the Kempetai. It was set up to emulate the admired German Gestapo. The members were brutal, self-serving, vicious and merciless. Mura said he had become one of them. He didn’t tell the men in the room that he was then able to direct his pent-up rage on defenseless Chinese citizens. That was a secret that only his master knew.

Mura explained that the opportunity had presented itself when Japan won the concession to lease the South Manchurian Railway Zone in China as a point granted in the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 just after the first Sino-Japanese war. The resource rich province of Manchuria, China became the largest supplier to the Japanese and Japan was allowed to provide security for the railroad system which delivered the goods to ports to ferry over to Japan. The ever efficient and cunning Japanese soon began expanding their economic and political interests in the area.

Mura didn’t tell the truth, he only told them what he wanted them to hear. Actually, by 1931, several powers in the Japanese military in China believed that they needed to annex Manchuria just as they had annexed Korea twenty-five years earlier. It would ensure their long term economic growth. They petitioned the Emperor for approval to invade the nearly defenseless Manchurians, but were turned down. The Army was told to wait for an incident by the Chinese army, or by dissidents, so that world opinion would not turn against Japan.

The Army didn’t want to wait. On September 18th, 1931, officers of the Kwantung defied orders from the Imperial government to wait for an incident and manufactured their own. It was called the Mukden incident.

The incident started when several men from the Kwantung set charges along a stretch of the railroad tracks. The charges were not meant to do damage to the railways, but were set to give the opportunity to blame the Chinese for sabotage and the provocation. There was a Chinese garrison very near where the men planted their explosives. When they set the charges off, the Chinese soldiers from the garrison came running to investigate. The Japanese conspirators blamed them for setting the explosives.

The Kwantung opened fire on the garrison the next morning and the invasion of Manchuria began. By early 1932, The Northern section of China belonged to Japan. The area was renamed Manchukuo and a puppet government was established that lasted until the end of World War II.

Mura claimed he fought in many battles and gained a reputation as a successful leader of fighting men. But he admitted his real break came when he was transferred to a special secret research group known as the “Tōgō Unit”. It was located near the city of Harbin in Manchukuo. The men in the conference room would work for the same people.

Hiroki Mura said that his stock rose rapidly in the special secret unit. He had a knack for organization, he blustered. By the time he was recalled to headquarters in Tokyo in 1935 he had risen to the rank of Major. Mura explained that when he returned to China he would be made a Colonel and that was why he wore the uniform today. He told the men in the conference room that the same opportunity could happen to them.

 

The time to get to the heart of the meeting had arrived. Suddenly a fire blazed in Colonel Mura’s close set, weasel like eyes and he spoke from deep in his small frame. His announcement was more like a command when it left his mouth. “The Emperor has approved our plan,” he said with finality. He then assumed an aggressive position as he glared at each man looking for a sign of non-acceptance.

The men at the table knew nothing about a plan, but were afraid to admit it. They were just told to report to the conference room. Several sets of eyes quickly searched the faces of the man across from them, only to find complete confusion. No one said anything for some time. They were all afraid of a reprisal. Finally, an older doctor who was over forty years old asked, “What plan?”

“The plan to make medical history,” Colonel Mura replied with a smile on his face. “Nothing like this has ever been attempted, and each of you is going to be part of this glorious history.”

“But we are doctors; we heal sick and damaged people. Who will we be healing?” another doctor asked.

“Your calling, from now on, is to do research. Research that will strengthen the Imperial Japanese Army,” Colonel Mura tersely replied and held his fist in the air. “The Emperor has dictated it.”

“Please tell us about the plan to make medical history,” another suddenly interested doctor asked.

Before he answered the question, Colonel Mura told them what was required. “Everyone in this room is sworn to secrecy. You can never talk about our secret medical facility. Not even to loved ones, under penalty of death. Are you in agreement?” he demanded as he slammed his fist on the table.

In unison, sixteen men all said “hai”.

Colonel Mura now spoke softly again. “Our plan is to build the largest, most secure, medical research facility in the world,” he said with fanatical glee.

“We are not builders,” a doctor objected.

“No, you will not be building the facility, moron. You each have been chosen to head up different sections of the research center. You will all report directly to my commander. His name is Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii.”

“I have heard of him,” one of the doctors spoke, nodding his head. “He is a doctor like us. I have read some of his research. But, aren’t you…” He was cut off.

“What will we be researching?” another doctor asked.

“You will be studying the effects of disease, chemicals, weather, and weapons on the subject matter,” Colonel Mura announced with a sinister smile. He didn’t tell the men that biological warfare, weapons testing, chemical agents, medical experiments, and various surgeries would be used to gain research.

“If it will ultimately save lives, I’ll be happy to do research. Too many of our men are dying in these wars,” the older doctor remarked. All the men in the room nodded their heads in agreement.

“How big will the facility be?” Another man asked.

“The compound, according to the plans, will cover over six square miles and contain more than one hundred and fifty buildings,” Colonel Mura informed them. “It will be the largest research facility in the world.”

The men at the table were stunned by the magnitude of the project. “But that will require thousands of workers,” the older doctor exclaimed.

“Most of the workers will be Japanese nationals,” Mura said. “There will be a large number of scientists and doctors. You will manage them.”

“A facility that large will require many test subjects. Will you be able to provide the necessary number of subjects?”

“Oh, I think you will find we have an unlimited supply of test subjects,” the Colonel replied with a smirk.

“What will they be, rats, mice, rabbits?” A doctor at the back of the conference table inquired.

“The experiments will be conducted on humans,” Colonel Mura said with a challenge in his voice.

“But that is not legal,” screamed one of the men. “Japan signed the agreement at the end of World War I preventing the use of human subjects for experiments.”

“The Emperor has approved the plan,” screamed back Colonel Mura. “Do you defy the Emperor?”

“Why would he agree to such an immoral act?”

“We will be studying the effects of diseases and weapons on people to use against our enemies. Would you rather our enemies use them on our troops or your family?”

“I would not like that,” the man admitted.

An eerie silence fell over the conference table as each man contemplated the impact of the plan. Finally, someone asked a question. “When will the facility be operational?”

“We start building the research center immediately. You will be transferred to the facility before the beginning of 1936. You are needed there to conduct early experiments,” the Colonel replied. “Some of you will be sent to satellite units in the surrounding countryside. We plan on having several.”

“But where are we being transferred to? I thought the facility would be here in Tokyo.” One doctor asked.

“The secret facility will be built in Manchukuo, in a town called Pingfang, near the city of Harbin. We will have our own airstrip and the use of the nearby existing Zhongma fortress there,” Colonel Mura added. “We already have a small unit in the fortress.”

“Can we bring our families?” Another doctor asked.

“You can bring them, but I do not recommend it. There is much fighting in China and we wouldn’t want them harmed,” the Colonel replied.

“Does this new unit have a name?” A doctor asked.

“It is officially called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung army,” the colonel said. But to those of us who will be working there, we will simply call it “Unit 731”.