A university museum in Japan has broken a seven-decade taboo on
discussing the dissection of live American prisoners of war by medical
The details are revealed in a section of a museum in the grounds of Kyushu University, in the city of Fukuoka.
A US Air Force Superfortress.
PoWs were captured after a US B-29 Superfortress was rammed by a
Japanese fighter on May 5, 1945. Local records indicate 12 of the crew
bailed out, but one died when his parachute cords were severed by
another fighter and two others were stabbed to death by local people
when they landed.
Nine of the crew were taken into custody, with
Captain Marvin Watkins separated from his men and sent to Tokyo for
interrogation. The remainder were handed over to a military physician
and transported to Kyoto Imperial University’s College of Medicine, the
predecessor of the modern day institution.
In testimony against
30 doctors and university personnel presented to a hearing of the Allied
War Crimes tribunal in Yokohama in 1948, it was claimed doctors gave
the prisoners intravenous injections of seawater to test if it could
serve as a substitute for sterile saline solution.
Others had parts of their livers removed to determine if they
could survive. Another experiment determined whether epilepsy could be
controlled by removing part of the brain.
None of the aircraft’s
crew survived and their remains were preserved in formaldehyde until the
end of the war, when the doctors destroyed the evidence.
doctor committed suicide in prison before the trial – but 23 people were
convicted of carrying out vivisection or the wrongful removal of body
Death sentences imposed on five doctors were commuted by
General Douglas MacArthur, the military governor of Japan. By 1958,
every one of the people involved in the case had been released.