Doctors, Murderers: Shūsaku Endō’s The Sea and Poison – Episode 24

In The Sea and Poison, we find one Japanese author’s perspective on the horrific human experimentation carried out by Unit 731 “doctors” in World War II.

A small addendum to my comment in this episode, that there were “no Nuremberg trials, to speak of.”  The Soviets actually staged their own show trials for some of the Unit 731 personnel.  However, sources indicate that the sentences were light and may also have been exchanged for data.  To me, this is hardly the equivalent of the Nuremberg trials, where several nations (not only the USSR) took part in the trial and the sentences included 12 executions and seven imprisonments.

Sources / Further Reading:
“Unmasking Horror — A special report.; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity” – NYT article, 1995
“Unit 731: Japan’s biological force” – BBC article, 2002
“Japanese veteran admits vivisection tests on PoWs” – Guardian article, (2006)
“Department of Justice Official Releases Letter Admitting U.S. Amnesty of Japan’s Unit 731 War Criminals” – Jeffrey Kaye blog post, 2017
Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45 and the American Cover-Up – Sheldon H. Harris, 2002





6 responses to “Doctors, Murderers: Shūsaku Endō’s The Sea and Poison – Episode 24”

  1. Five Short Stories by Shūsaku Endō – Classics Considered Avatar

    […] being haunted by The Sea and Poison a couple of years ago, I have been meaning to read more by this Japanese author. The Japanese […]


  2. Thou Shalt Not Kill: Sachiko by Shūsaku Endō – Classics Considered Avatar

    […] and meandering, more “tell” than “show,” without the brilliant brevity of The Sea and Poison or the pithy structure of Silence. But just like those two novels, Sachiko will inspire and haunt […]


  3. Carol Avatar

    Hi Marian, I clicked on one of your links ‘Axes’ and found this page. Not long ago I finished Iris Chang’s, ‘The Rape of Nanking’ where I first heard about the Japanese biological experiments. Japan’s involvement in these and other atrocities has been called the ‘Asian Holocaust’ but it was the first I’d ever heard of it. Awful stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marian Avatar

      Hi Carol – I’ve heard of Chang’s book… Will you be writing a review for it? I am not sure if I can ever find the mental strength to read the book, but yes… these are important topics that need to be surfaced, not for retribution but for prevention of future atrocities. It also helps us have a better understanding of East Asia. Often, people (both Westerners and those of us Americans with Asian heritage) lump all East Asians together, but knowing the history clarifies why, for example, there is a complex relationship between Korea and Japan, or between China and Vietnam, etc.

      I just realized my podcast review is broken since I ended my hosting service. I’ll have to re-upload it to YouTube one of these days. In a nutshell – Endo’s novel illuminated history I barely knew about before, and it also led me to learn of the apparent cover-up by US authorities (see the Jeffrey Kaye blog post linked-to above). I finished The Sea and Poison close to Independence Day 2018, and the timing was extremely ironic as I experienced an intense “book hangover” afterwards, deeply shaken by what I had read. The lack of justice for the young men who were murdered completely destroyed my trust of our military institution. That research in biological warfare was more important to our leaders is something I find very cold and loathsome. It is fair to say every military in the world takes a pragmatic approach, but I had naively thought our own would rise above such a thing to hold true to the values we are supposed to be fighting for. These lesser-known events from history undermine that narrative.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. journey & destination Avatar

        I think I probably will write some sort of review, Marian & if I do I’ll link to your post here. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute is a novel that touches on the Australian experience with the Japanese during WW2 & the death marches. My husband’s grandmother refused to buy anything Japanese after the war. A couple of her younger brothers fought in East Asia so she had some idea of the atrocities. It’s awful to think that pragmatic politics has let all this be hidden.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang | journey & destination Avatar

    […] Iris Chang’s research uncovered the reasons why even China had gone quiet on the massacre. It was all about politics and involved the Chinese Communist Party, the Japanese and the Americans. Even human experimentation by the Japanese was covered up by all parties – this post at Classics Considered goes into that. […]


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