Ping Fan, China
We turned Manchuria into a gigantic chemical and biological warfare laboratory. Nearly eighty buildings were constructed on the compound including an administrative building to house laboratories, dormitories for the civilian workers, barracks for the military, and a collection of barns and stables to house test animals.
Masaru was proud of the special prison that would house our human subjects and I was tasked with overseeing construction of a facility that could conduct frostbite experiments year round.
There was a power plant, a group of furnaces used to discard human and animal carcasses and a recreational facility that Masaru himself oversaw. I wasn’t surprised when I learned it would be staffed with what Masaru described as “a healthy collection of comfort women.”
A railroad connected the facility to the city of Harbin and a private airfield was constructed where newly developed chemical and biological weapons could be tested.
I would later learn that the facility’s perimeter rivaled that of our German ally’s Auschwitz.
“Japan needs to expand in order to survive as a great nation,” Masaru told me as we stood in a corner watchtower and surveyed the completed facility. “The Home Islands are simply too limited in resources.”
Total war with China was underway and our government believed Manchuria to be the most obvious place to fill our needs.
“This is the most advanced weapons research facility in the world,” Masaru proclaimed, his arms opened wide and his face frozen into a grin like a father admiring his beautiful children. “It is time we started to experiment.”
Our prisoners were mostly Chinese, yet we didn’t call them prisoners. We never referred to any of them by name. “Logs,” Masaru decided they would be called. Nothing more than a word used by the military to dehumanize each of our test subjects. As far as we knew, these prisoners never even had names. Only numbers.
Log 741. Log 622. Log 881.
We fed them biscuits laced with anthrax and measured how long it took them to die. We tied them to poles on the bombing range and detonated cluster bombs filled with plague-infected fleas, observing the ability of the fleas to survive and infect our human subjects.
When a log reached the end of its use, it was terminated, then either burned or dissected.
I trembled during my first dissection. I could hear Masaru whispering into my ear. “Remember, it is an honor to be serving the Emperor,”
I wanted to discuss the honor in testing poison gas and contagious diseases on human subjects. Or was their sacrifice also an act of honor?
“Remember,” Masaru said. “We would not have this facility if not for your research.”
I thought back to the demonstration in Tokyo, when Masaru had purified and downed his own piss in front of Prince Hirohito. Afterwards I was swarmed with handshakes and accolades.
“Remarkable work, Captain,” one general had said to me.
Another patted my shoulder. “Your work on this water filter will halt the spread of encephalitis which has already claimed too many lives.”
I bowed politely. Honorably.
Masaru named me his second-in-command and I was promoted to Major, given a raise and a generous bonus. I moved my wife and child into a newer, roomier home in Nagasaki.
I kept my mouth shut and did my work.
Log 321 was brought into the operating room by a pair of Japanese guards. A middle aged Chinese man, shirtless, with gaunt, pale skin textured with a boney ribcage. Log 321 did not fight. He had already tried fruitlessly to escape form captivity weeks ago. He was weak, malnourished, his eyes were blank and seemed to accept that his life would end here. But when he saw the flat, aluminum operating table, the overhead lights, Masaru and I wearing smocks and latex gloves, his eyes came to life and flickered with fear. Honorable fear.
Log 321 used no words. He made no sound as he thrashed pathetically, unable to break the grasp of the guards. He was laid on the table on his back, his hands and ankles fastened in leather straps – the ultimate symbol of honor.
I studied Log 321, his bony torso, the scrawny arms and legs. His face was a skull wrapped in skin already dead. I would later learn to never look them in the eye. There was nothing to see. These were not humans, they were numbers.
Masaru would lead the dissection. He said to me, “We must time the first incision just right to control the amount of blood loss.”
I felt sick to my stomach. There would be no anesthetic for this man; we wouldn’t even put him out before we cut him open. His heart still beat, his lungs still breathed.
I reminded myself: my research had made this possible. I reminded myself: do not look him in the eye. Focus on the dissection itself. This is a test subject. This is a science experiment. This is for the good of your country.
I swallowed hard and handed the scalpel to Masaru.
Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Montage Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.