Judith Miller: When Germ Warfare Happened

Roundup: Talking About History

[Judith Miller is a contributing editor of City Journal, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and a FOX News contributor.]

Jiang Chun Geng’s poisoned right leg, with its suppurating wounds, hangs limply over the gray wooden bench in the medical clinic here in Dachen, a village in China’s province of Zhejiang. Twice the size of his left leg, the limb is too tender to touch during my visit. Instead, Dr. Zhu Jian Jun gently dabs the putrid wounds with an alcohol-drenched swab. Jiang’s heavily lined face tightens as Zhu wraps the fiery stump with a white bandage and unhooks an intravenous antibiotic drip. Another treatment is over.

Jiang, a 70-year-old farmer, can’t remember a time when flesh-eating ulcers didn’t cover his legs. “They never go away,” he tells me. “They just get drier. Sometimes they hurt less.” He doesn’t know for sure how he got them, but his father told him that the wounds first appeared in July 1942, soon after the Japanese army passed through his village. His entire family developed the festering sores. His mother and younger brother died in unbearable pain a decade later as the untreated, mysterious infection crept up their legs.

Jiang is one of 15 elderly Chinese men and women whom Zhu is treating in his simple village clinic for what locals label “rotten leg disease.” A definitive diagnosis is no longer possible so many decades after the initial exposure and secondary infections. But Chinese, American, and other Western physicians who have examined the survivors, documented their histories, and photographed their wounds claim that they are victims of the most gruesome biological warfare attacks in modern history.

These attacks, orchestrated by Japan’s infamous Unit 731 between 1932 and 1945, are the only documented mass use of germ weapons in modern times. Scholars say that we will never know exactly how many were killed. Sheldon H. Harris, the late American historian, estimated in a pioneering work that between 10,000 and 12,000 Chinese prisoners perished in the bloodcurdling experiments that Unit 731 performed in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. Another 300,000 to 500,000 civilians died, he wrote, as a result of Japan’s massive germ assaults on more than 70 Chinese cities and towns. China itself has disclosed no official tally. In fact, for many years, Japan’s use of biological weapons in China was largely forgotten. Only recently has a resurgent China begun to remind Japan—and the world—of the atrocities....

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