War Crimes Revisited – The Japanese Cannibals

There are some wars, which are terrible, some that are atrocious and then there is the Second World War. No other point in human history had so much blood been shed, with such cold-hearted efficiency, in such a short time period. Entire cities bombed to a cinder, civilians taken from their homes, transported and culled like cattle, political ends becoming entwined with genocides.  Lest we repeat history, the crimes nations committed must never be forgotten. The Japanese Cannibals

Described as the Asian Holocaust, the crimes the forces of Imperial Japan committed during its occupation of East and Southeast Asia included but was not limited to: human experimentation, use of torture, execution of prisoners of war, biological and chemical warfare, forced labor and systematic extermination of civilians. However, most shocking and inhuman perhaps was the practice of cannibalism by the Japanese military. With the Allies on the offensive and supply lines both overstretched and under attack, starvation began to set in within Japanese ranks. This, the absence of empathy for the perceived ‘other’ and a culture of extreme brutality, all played a part in breaking what had been before a taboo.

Practices of cannibalism were not isolated incidents, it was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads under the command of their officers. Civilians and war prisoners alike were murdered, cut into pieces and consumed. Medical officers would routinely visit villages and prisoner camps and select the healthiest of men for the purpose. In some cases, the flesh was cut from their bodies while they were still alive. Their still conscious selves were then thrown into ditches to die a painful death. John Baptist Crasta, a serviceman within the Royal Indian Army,  in his memoir wrote of witnessing the Japanese eating Indian prisoners. His testimony was corroborated by many others who survived the Japanese prisoner camps. After the war, Crasta was part of the Allied investigation into Japanese war crimes.

.. the Japanese started selecting prisoners and every day one prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the soldiers. I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese. The remainder of us were taken to another spot 50 miles [80 km] away where 10 prisoners died of sickness. At this place, the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat. Those selected were taken to a hut where their flesh was cut from their bodies while they were alive and they were thrown into a ditch where they later died –  Lance Naik Hatam Ali, Royal Indian Army

Yuri Tanaka the Japanese historian, through his extensive study of wartime documents and memos, concluded that starvation was not the prime motivation in most cases. He opined that partaking in cannibalism was a morbid form of a bonding ritual as ‘the whole troop broke the taboo together’. However, he wrote of his findings two decades ago and in the years since more research has presented us with an even more sinister picture.

James Bradley, in this book – Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, details the events of the Chichi-Jima incident. 10 U.S airmen escaped from their planes after they were shot down over the island.  Subsequently, all but one was captured by the Japanese military. Barbarically tortured, beaten and executed, four of the airmen were not even given the dignity of an honorable burial; their bodies cleaved open and their livers sent over to the chef to be served as a ‘delicacy’ at a party for senior officers. As for the tenth crewman who had evaded capture, he was rescued by the lifeguard submarine USS Finback. After the war, he went on to have a successful business and political career; he was George H. W. Bush.

Perhaps the worst of excesses were reserved for the Chinese, who the Japanese saw as ‘worth less than animals’. In his documentary – Japanese Devils, Minoru Matsui interviewed 14 Japanese veterans of the Second Sino-Japanese War to recount the crimes they committed. One of the interviewed, Masayo Enomoto, a former sergeant major admitted “raping a young woman, slicing her up with a meat cleaver, cooking her in a pot and distributing her as food to his troops, who were short of meat”.

It was a message to the enemy, but it was also entertainment for us – Masayo Enomoto

Most Japanese who perpetuated such crimes and other atrocities were never tried. The post-war desire to quickly rebuilt Japan as to counter the growing communist influence in East Asia meant that many, save for a few select group of military leaders and diplomats, were never prosecuted at the Tokyo War Crimes trial. By 1958, virtually all Japanese war criminals were released from prison and politically rehabilitated. Unlike post-war Germany, Nationalist groups continued to retain significant influence within the government. Many details of war atrocities remain omitted from school textbooks and as a result, entire generations have grown up ignorant of the sins of their forefathers.

The Japanese Cannibals

A. R. Usmani

Historian | Researcher | Likes to live in the past because housing is much cheaper

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