Shiro Ishii was born on 15 June 1892 in Shibayama in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, the fourth son of Katsuya Ishii, a local landowner and sake maker. Ishii attended the Chiba Imperial School in Chiba City and the Fourth High School in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture before studying medicine at Kyoto Imperial University. In 1921, Ishii was commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Army as a military surgeonwith the rank of Army Surgeon, Second Class (surgeon lieutenant). In 1922, Ishii was assigned to the 1st Army Hospital and Army Medical School in Tokyo, where his work impressed his superiors enough to gain him post-graduatemedical schooling at Kyoto Imperial University two years later. During his studies, Ishii would often grow bacteria”pets” in multiple petri dishes, and his odd practice of raising bacteria as companions rather than as research subjects made him notable to the staff of the university.In 1925, Ishii was promoted to Army Surgeon, First Class (surgeon captain).
Biological warfare project
By 1927, Ishii was advocating for the creation of a Japanese bio-weaponsprogram, and in 1928 began a two-year tour of the West where he did extensive research on the effects of biological warfare and chemical warfaredevelopments from World War Ionwards. Ishii’s travels were highly successful and helped win him the patronage of Sadao Araki, the Japanese Minister of the Army. Ishii also received the backing of Araki’s ideological rival in the army, Major-General Tetsuzan Nagata, who was later considered Ishii’s “most active supporter” at the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials. In January 1931, Ishii received promotion to Senior Army Surgeon, Third Class (surgeon major).
In 1935,Shiro Ishii was promoted to Senior Army Surgeon, Second Class (surgeon lieutenant-colonel). On August 1st, 1936, Ishii would be given formal control over Unit 731 and its research facilities. In these facilities Ishii and his men would perform heinous experiments on the living, including but not limited to, breeding of plague rats and subsequent infection of living subjects, forced pregnancies, counteraction of frostbite by inducing and trying to cure without anesthetics, and open vivisections on fully aware subjects with little to no pain medication. Towards the end of the war Shiro Ishii would develop a plan to spread plague fleas along the populated west coast of the US, known as Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night. This plan was not realized due to the surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. Ishii and the Japanese government attempted to cover up the facilities and experiments, but ultimately failed with their secret university lab in Tokyo and their main lab in Harbin, China. The Japanese Army’s Unit 731 War Crimes Exhibition Hall (731罪证陈列馆) in Harbin stands to this day as a museum to the unit and the atrocities they committed.
War crime immunity
Ishii was arrested by United States authorities during the Occupation of Japan at the end of World War II and, along with other leaders, was supposed to be thoroughly interrogated by Sovietauthorities. Instead, Ishii and his team managed to negotiate and receive immunity in 1946 from Japanese war-crimes prosecution before the Tokyo tribunal in exchange for their full disclosure. Although the Soviet authorities wished the prosecutions to take place, the United States objected after the reports of the investigating US microbiologists. Among these was Dr. Edwin Hill, the Chief of Fort Detrick, whose report stated that the information was “absolutely invaluable;” it “could never have been obtained in the United States because of scruples attached to experiments on humans,” and “the information was obtained fairly cheaply.”On 6 May 1947, Douglas MacArthur wrote to Washington D.C.that “additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as ‘War Crimes’ evidence.”
Ishii’s immunity deal was concluded in 1948 and he was never prosecuted for any war crimes, and his exact whereabouts or occupation were unknown from 1947.Richard Drayton, a Cambridge Universityhistory lecturer, claimed that Ishii later went to Maryland to advise on bioweapons.Another source says he stayed in Japan, where he opened a clinic where he did examinations and treatments for free.Ishii kept a diarybut it did not make reference to any of his wartime activity with Unit 731.Ishii resurfaced in Japan on 17 August 1958 when he appeared for the first and only time at the gathering of the former members and delivered a farewell speech.
Shiro Ishii died on 9 October 1959 from laryngeal cancer at the age of 67 at a hospital in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Ishii’s funeral was chaired by Masaji Kitano, his second-in-command at Unit 731. According to his daughter,Ishii converted to Catholicism shortly before his death.