War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: A Case of Murder by Medicine

War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: A Case of Murder by Medicine

War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: A Case of Murder by Medicine

War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: A Case of Murder by Medicine


Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia. A deceitful campaign promoting Asian brotherhood recruited and coerced young Indonesian men to support the Japanese occupation with the sinister outcome that several million of them were worked to death or summarily killed as expendable slave laborers, or romusha, as they were called.

While many romusha disappeared from the record, nine hundred were known victims of a brutal and immoral medical experiment perpetuated by an increasingly desperate Imperial Japan. In anticipation of a land assault, the Japanese needed a means to protect their troops from tetanus, and they used these nine hundred men as human guinea pigs to test an insufficiently vetted vaccine. Within days, all nine hundred suffered the protracted, agonizing death of acute tetanus.

With the Allied forces poised for victory, the Japanese needed a scapegoat for this well-documented incident if they were to avoid war-crimes prosecution. They brutally tortured Achmad Mochtar, a native Indonesian and renowned scientist, along with his colleagues at the Eijkman Institute in Batavia (now Jakarta), until Mochtar signed a confession to the murders in exchange for the liberty of his fellow scientists. The Japanese beheaded Mochtar weeks before the war ended. War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia unravels the deceit of the Japanese Army, the reasons for the mass murder of the romusha, and Mochtar's heroic role in these tragic events. The end result finds justice for Mochtar and reveals the true extent of one of the least recognized war crimes of World War II.


Mark Harrison

History is not a science. It is never entirely objective. But historical accounts can be verified or falsified by empirical evidence. When set against the archival record or even the memory of those who witnessed events, some versions of history appear far more plausible than others. Only a handful of die-hard racists would now deny Nazi atrocities and the industrialized slaughter in the death camps, for example. the only real matters for debate in such cases are how many people knew about or willingly participated in these killings. These are questions that cannot easily be answered, but it is important to ask them, and many— including those who inherited the disgusting legacy of Nazi rule— have shown a passionate commitment to the truth. But the same cannot always be said of similar wartime atrocities in Asia. Much of what happened during the Japanese occupation of Asia remains obscure— sometimes deliberately so. There has been reluctance in some quarters to examine allegations and also an attempt to erase the historical record. This began even before the war had ended. We know from American code breakers that on August 15, 1945, the Japanese army was ordered to destroy any potentially incriminating evidence. the next day, a similar order was issued to the navy. Furthermore, on August 24, the Japanese army in Indonesia, and no doubt in other places, was ordered to destroy its caches of chemical weapons and dumdum bullets— articles prohibited by the Hague and Geneva Conventions.

This remarkable book throws a beam of light into a cavern left intentionally dark. J. Kevin Baird and Sangkot Marzuki show how one of Indonesia’s most eminent scientists— Professor Achmad Mochtar— . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.