In judgment of Unit 731: a comparative study of medical war crimes trials after World War II

Valerie Jeanine Cranmer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The prosecution of the crimes of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731 are often compared to the prosecution of the crimes of the Nazi doctors. These comparisons emphasize immunity for the Japanese, whereas the Nazis were prosecuted for their actions. However, this comparison is an inaccurate one. While both trials look similar on the surface, their composition, scope, and framework were different. Conscious of the fact they were establishing international criminal precedent, the United States’ case against the Nazi doctors relied on military chain of command to prove strong legal responsibility for human experimentation crimes. In contrast, the United States avoided prosecuting Unit 731 because they could not replicate the same clear legal framework used to successfully prosecute the Nazis. The Soviet Union recognized the strategic implications of the United States’ decision not to try Unit 731 and saw an opportunity to strike a moral blow, not only by convicting Japanese military members at the Khabarovsk Trial, but also by immediately publishing the court’s proceedings internationally. Rather than focusing on the morality of who was punished by whom, understanding the military structures as identified through these different court proceedings could enable prevention of crimes against humanity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-60
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of American-East Asian Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2023


  • Imperial Japanese Army
  • World War II
  • War crimes
  • Nuremburg
  • Tokyo trials
  • Medical Case
  • Nazis, medical experiements
  • Soviet Khabarovsk trial
  • International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE)
  • International Military Tribunal (IMT)
  • Nuremburg Military Tribunal (NMT)
  • Biological warfare
  • Doctor's Trial
  • Chemical warfare
  • Human experiementation


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