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Pacific FrontAugust 1941

Japanese Doctor

Ken Yuasa
As a doctor serving in the Imperial Army in China he personally committed a series of atrocities against Chinese civilians.

Ken Yuasa’s words are read by Michael Burrell.

Testimony Transcript

Laurence Rees: One of the most disturbing aspects of human behaviour during the Second World War was the ease with which many doctors working in the various totalitarian regimes were prepared to commit war crimes. No more so than in Japan. It was here that Ken Yuasa qualified as a doctor in 1941, and then almost immediately afterwards became a medical officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, serving in China.

Words of Ken Yuasa: I was an officer. An officer was in a direct line from the Emperor. So I'm directly connected to the Emperor, and like other officers I had special authority. My feeling was that we would win this war. We should persevere a little bit more and then this war would end sooner or later. And when we went into a town, of course the young soldiers salute me, and of course that really put me in a position where I felt I was great. I was sort of enjoying my youth. So whenever I heard negative news, I couldn't, well, I just couldn't take it seriously.

Laurence Rees: Soon after his arrival in China he was told to attend what was called a ‘vivisection’ experiment. Where operations were carried out on perfectly healthy people in order to train Japanese surgeons.

Words of Ken Yuasa: That really shook me. It hit me. I thought, now the time has come. And I felt uneasy, but of course I couldn’t do anything. If I did the authorities would say I had committed the crime of disobedience and then my parents at home would be in a difficult situation. I would become a source of shame for them. I tried to look confident and went into the operating theatre and I looked at the two Chinese standing there. One person was taller than me - quite big face, well built. He was around 30. The other one was 40 or 50 years old. He was crying. He looked like a farmer. Beside them were two operating tables. At that time we used to call the Chinese pieces of wood – pieces of timber. Of course they really were human beings, but after several operations I began treating them as things.

Laurence Rees: The older of the two Chinese men wouldn’t get up onto the operating table. So Dr Yuasa forced him to.

Words of Ken Yuasa: I had never beaten anybody in the military, but because of the military training, the military education, I was completely indoctrinated. So I held my feet strongly on the ground and pushed this farmer, and then he got up and moved forward. Then I was very proud. That's really terrifying. A terrifying mental situation.

Laurence Rees: Dr Yuasa then watched carefully as the medical procedure started.

Words of Ken Yuasa: The first operation was the removing of an appendix because there were many appendix cases among Japanese soldiers – we didn’t have any antibiotics and there were quite a few cases of soldiers dying as a result of that operation. The medical officer doing this operation was not very experienced and a healthy appendix is quite slippery so I think he had to make the incision three times. After that the intestine was removed, then the Chinese man had his arms amputated and then the doctor practiced injecting him in the heart. This man was still breathing until the very end. Eventually another officer and myself tried to hold his neck, whilst a more experienced doctor injected him and eventually he passed away, his breathing stopped. I didn't think much about it at the time because I wanted to finish the work. I felt this was my task. I was told to do this. I felt I was working for the hospital, so I didn't have any emotion, any feeling. I didn't have any sense of feeling sorry for them either.

Laurence Rees: Shortly after he had participated in this horrendous operation, Dr Yuasa was told to travel to another medical establishment nearby, in order to learn how to treat battlefield injuries. But first, of course, before the training could start, Japanese soldiers had to inflict battlefield type injuries on two healthy Chinese men.

Words of Ken Yuasa: The soldiers actually took pistols and shot two bullets each into them. In front of me. Like two metres away. They shot these two men and shot them in their abdomen. I still don't remember very well - I was like a devil. And in front of others I didn't want to be criticised as a coward so I tried to be very courageous and gallant. And so the Chinese men were crying and they were put onto the operating table and we started the operation. This operation was to practise taking bullets out. So until the bullets were taken out, we tried to keep them alive. But there was no anaesthesia, so they were actually suffering, so I think they died in great pain, during the operation. I feel those people must have suffered so much.I still remember their cries, but I didn't pay much attention because we actually treated them as things. I didn't have any sense of guilt because the absolute order was to win the war. I lost all sense of guilt. I had a sense of guilt when I was informed that Japan had lost the war.

Laurence Rees: After the war Dr Yuasa was imprisoned by the Chinese for war crimes, and returned to Japan only in 1956. And ultimately he reached the conclusion that a terrible mistake was made by the Allies in not removing Emperor Hirohito – Japan’s wartime monarch – from the throne.

Words of Ken Yuasa: He was manipulated, but he should be considered the number one war criminal, because so many people believed in him. So many people committed wrong deeds in the name of the Emperor. They couldn’t oppose the Emperor. The consciousness at times is still there in Japan, that this war was a just war, and it was a war for the Emperor. In Germany people actually felt responsible for the war, but in Japan the Emperor was not accused of being a war criminal. When we remember something about the war, that's the association. Most Japanese people didn't feel they were guilty.