The atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War Two are so brutal that it is almost impossible to comprehend them. In some ways, it may be better to forget this terrible history, yet to do so would dishonor those who suffered and died. A look at the worst of Japan's crimes in WW2 also helps us understand today's world a little better, especially the animosity Korea and China still have for Japan. Moreover, it is important that we learn and remember the horrible crimes in our recent history so that we can make sure they never happen again.WARNING: This list contains extremely disturbing content.
The scale and savagery of the Rape of Nanking defy explanation. All one can do is recite the facts. In 1937, at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War—the conflict between Japan and China that would eventually become the Pacific branch of World War Two—the Japanese invaded Nanking, the capital city of Nationalist China. The atrocities began in December of '37 and continued into '38. As many as 300,000 Chinese civilians were killed, and as many as 80,000 Chinese women were raped.
The Japanese bayoneted infants, forced family members to rape one another, beheaded children, threw bodies into wells to poison the water supply, and buried civilians alive. It was the first of many similar massacres, though none took place on the same scale as that at Nanking.see more on Nanking Massacre
Japanese-Run Internment Camps
The Japanese ran myriad internment camps throughout east Asia. POWs who ended up in these camps faced deplorable conditions that included starvation, forced labor, and exposure to disease and extreme weather.
In camps like Mukden, in the far north of China, prisoners of war slaved for companies such as Mitsubishi while fearing starvation and death-by-freezing in the harsh winters. In tropical camps such as the infamous Sandakan, in Borneo, POWs faced tropical disease, jungle rot, relentless heat, infected water, and imprisonment in tiny enclosures exposed to the brutal midday sun.The Kempeitai, a Japanese secret police group analogous to the Gestapo, ran these camps, and would subject prisoners to beatings, torture, and death by beheading, bayoneting, and machine-gun execution.
Over the course of the Sino-Japanese and Second World Wars, the Japanese army forced as many as 200,000 women into prostitution. Called “comfort women," some as young as 16 years old, these predominantly Korean sex slaves were sent throughout east Asia to work in brothels catering to the Japanese military. The brothels operated long hours and women were rarely granted time off, meaning they were raped repeatedly every day for years.
In 2015, the prime minister of Japan officially apologized for the practice and agreed to pay a sum of 1 billion yen, or about $9 million, to the 46 surviving comfort women.
Death by Railway
During their occupation of southeast Asian territories, the Japanese decided to build a railroad connecting Thailand and Burma. The railroad would run through incredibly dense jungle, and was to be built largely by hand, without assistance from large industrial tools.
This was not the dignified vision of war found in Bridge on the River Kwai. The Japanese gathered 60,000 POWs and 200,000 enslaved local laborers and forced them to work day and night through monsoons and sweltering heat. Laborers were given nothing but rice to eat, and those who were injured were left to die. Dangers included dengue fever, cholera, tropical ulcers, and an extreme vitamin B deficiency that led to paralysis.
In the end, it's estimated more than 110,000 people died building this railway.