Anne McLellan   Letter 18   22-Apr-1998   Japanese cannibalism
There was absolutely nothing to eat, and so we decided to draw lots.  The one who lost would be killed and eaten.  But the one who lost started to run away so we shot him.  He was eaten.  You probably think that many of us raped the local women.  But women were not regarded as objects of sexual desire.  They were regarded as the object of our hunger.

April 22, 1998

The Honourable Anne McLellan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Room 360, Justice Building
239 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0H8

E-mail: [email protected]

Dear Ms. McLellan:

I bring to your attention information concerning Japanese cannibalism during World War II, particularly in the Philippines and New Guinea.

Source of information

All of the evidence presented below is taken from Yuki Tanaka, Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II, Westview Press, Boulder Colorado and Cumnor Hill Oxford, 1996, ISBN 0-8133-2717-2.  Yuki Tanaka is a lecturer in Japanese studies at the University of Western Australia.  Of the five blurbs on the back cover of his book, I reproduce the first two:

The first major work on Japanese war crimes by a Japanese writer, Hidden Horrors is a compelling look at brutality, individual duty, and collective responsibility.  (The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Tanaka has done a superb piece of investigating work that will surely make this book the definitive book on Japanese war crimes in World War II.  (Robert A. Lynn, Editor of Military and BRAVO/Veterans Outlook Magazines)

Tanaka points out that the evidence concerning Japanese cannibalism comes from diverse sources and is incapable of being doubted:

The 1987 Japanese documentary film Yuki Yuki te Shingun (Onward Holy Army) contains interviews with Japanese war veterans who confessed to engaging in cannibalism during the New Guinea campaign.  Several autobiographies by Japanese veterans of that campaign also make explicit references to cannibalism.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 112)

My recent discovery of extensive reports of the Australian War Crimes Section and records of war crime trials by the Australian military has made it possible to undertake a more comprehensive analysis of the practice of cannibalism committed by the Japanese in New Guinea.  I also obtained U.S. National Archives documents that refer to Japanese cannibalism in New Guinea.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 115)

I emphasize that of the many categories of Japanese war crimes detailed in Tanaka's book, I focus in the present letter only on cannibalism.  It is important to note, furthermore, that I do not attempt to give a rounded and balanced synopsis of Tanaka's data and arguments concerning Japanese cannibalism, but only to bring to your attention a few key passages which support the view that widespread and heinous Japanese war crimes possibly exceed any of the crimes currently under investigation by your war crimes unit, and certainly far exceed all war crimes that have been alleged against Ukrainians by responsible sources.

Information concerning Japanese cannibalism has been largely kept from public view

During the war, information about cannibalism in the Southwest Pacific was heavily censored within the military, and no information was released to the public about such incidents.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 130)

Judge Webb was involved in three separate investigations of war crimes throughout the latter stages of the war.  In the first two (March 1944 and October 1944) he acted alone, and in the last (1945-1946) he was one of three judges, participating until 1946 when he went to Tokyo as the president of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.  Each investigation report contains many references to incidents of cannibalism, and there can be no doubt Webb was well aware that the phenomenon existed.  It is probably because of his influence that this information was not released, despite the fact that the high command wanted to release it for propaganda purposes.  Both in the latter stages of the war and at the Tokyo tribunal, it is probable that he wished to preserve the privacy of the victims and to avoid the undesirable psychological effects upon the relatives of the dead.  Furthermore, the Tokyo tribunal of 1946 received an enormous amount of worldwide press attention, and he may well have wished to avoid the inevitable sensationalism that would accompany reports of such testimony as well as the upheaval that would occur in Australia when the news was reported.  Thus there was no mention of cannibalism in the A Class war crimes tribunals, the high-profile trials that were receiving the majority of press attention.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 131)

The first problem is that this information was never made available to the public, and so the civilian public never became informed of the existence and degree of Japanese cannibalism.  Yet many Australian soldiers had seen the evidence of cannibalism in the form of mutilated bodies, mess tins containing human flesh, and so on, and the existence of the practice was discussed throughout the armed forces.  Inevitably this issue continued to be discussed after the war, and reports of it filtered back to the civilian population by word of mouth.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 132)

In turn, the incidence of cannibalism was never revealed to the Japanese public as a whole but instead circulated as a series of rumors, anecdotes, and disconnected facts.  ...  Thus the Japanese people had neither the evidence nor the structures within which prosecutions for the responsibility for the starvation of the New Guinea garrison soldiers and their acts of cannibalism would be feasible.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 134)

Field reports leave no doubt of the existence of Japanese cannibalism

I make no attempt here to reproduce the many examples provided by Tanaka, but merely offer portions of two passages out of the many available.  Blanks below indicate material deleted by Tanaka to preserve privacy.

The following is a typical example of a report on an Australian victim recorded on May 20, 1945:
...  On the morning of the at 0900 hours ... the late Sjt Sewell, and myself recovered the body of who had been killed by enemy action on the .  We found the body in the following condition:
(a) all clothing had been removed
(b) both arms had been cut off at the shoulder
(c) the stomach had been cut out, and the heart, liver and other entrails had been removed
(d) all fleshy parts of the body had been cut away, leaving the bones bare
(e) the arms, heart, liver and entrails could not be found
(f) the only parts of the body not touched were the head and feet
A Japanese mess tin which appeared to contain human flesh was lying four to five yards from 's body between two dead Japanese soldiers.
(Tanaka, 1996, p. 116)

Many other cases refer to the fact that Japanese cannibalism extended to the entrails and the genitals of the victims; in some cases the brains were taken out, and therefore in such a case it was difficult to identify the soldier, as the face was disfigured beyond recognition.  That intestines were cooked is confirmed by a report dated May 22, 1945, from which the following is an excerpt.  ...

...  Further search revealed scalp which was easily recognised as that of , by the .  Entrails were strewn across a log and pieces of flesh which had been partially burnt were nearby whilst in one of our own basic pouches were pieces of what appeared to be liver.
(Tanaka, 1996, p. 117)

Japanese battle tactics routinely included the retrieval of the wounded or dead for purposes of cannibalism

The condition of the scalps indicates that the Japanese soldiers tried to remove the brains of the victims but were interrupted by the advance of the Australian forces.  In the cases mentioned here there was neither time nor opportunity for the Japanese soldiers to hide the evidence of cannibalism.  In fact, the vast majority of incidents in which Australian soldiers were victims had a similar pattern in that the Japanese soldiers had no time to dispose of the mutilated and cooked remains.  The following U.S. report also seems to support such an interpretation:

1st Lieut. H.F. was killed in action 8 January 1943.  Statement made by Sgt. Roy G. Mikalson ... and S/Sgt. Gordon F. Meager ... state that they were within ten and two yards respectively of Lieut. F when he was killed by a Japanese bullet.  These witnesses further stated that when the platoon withdrew, Lieut. F's body was not mutilated in any way.  At that time it could not be removed as the enemy fire was too intense.

On 11 January 1943, the body was recovered.  The left arm had been cut away and was not found with the body.  Slices of flesh had been cut from the calves of the legs and the body had been disembowelled, the heart and liver being also missing.

Later, on 11 January, the bones of the left forearm were found in a Japanese perimeter 400 yards north east of the US perimeter Musket.
It seems clear that Japanese soldiers removed the bodies of Allied soldiers from the area in which fierce combat was occurring and carried them to a safe area to be cooked and consumed, while others held back the Allied forces in order to prevent them from recovering the bodies.  This indicates that these incidents were not isolated or sporadic acts but part of an organized process.  (Tanaka, 1996, pp. 118-119)

Japanese cannibalism was not only of the dead, but sometimes involved the murder of the victim

This is a terrible thing to remember.  There was absolutely nothing to eat, and so we decided to draw lots.  The one who lost would be killed and eaten.  But the one who lost started to run away so we shot him.  He was eaten.  You probably think that many of us raped the local women.  But women were not regarded as objects of sexual desire.  They were regarded as the object of our hunger.  ...  All we dreamt about was food.  I met some soldiers in the mountains who were carrying baked human arms and legs.  It was not guerillas but our own soldiers who we were frightened of.  ...
...  Ogawa Shoji noted that toward the end of the war, Japanese soldiers referred to the Allies as "white pigs" and the local population as "black pigs."  (Japanese army lieutenant higher above in Tanaka, 1996, p. 114)

Japanese soldiers would kill other Japanese soldiers and consume them....  Indeed, one of the U.S. reports contains affidavits made by several U.S. soldiers who saw the mutilated body of a Japanese soldier, the condition of which clearly indicated that he was murdered by his comrades for the purpose of cannibalism.  ...

...  We observed a Jap walking from a brush pile just outside the shack.  We shot him and three others inside the shack.  The former had blood on his hands which we found had come from a corpse lying under the brush pile.  We lifted the brush and found a corpse of a Jap and it was crudely butchered.  The flesh was cut from the legs from the knee to the hips.  The calves of both legs were cut clear to the bone.  The Jap had his hands tied and a rope around his waist.  We checked the inside of the shack and found bloody mess gear and a bloody knife, the crude instrument used in the butchering.

(Tanaka, 1996, p. 127)

There was no medical treatment and all prisoners who fell ill were immediately killed by the Japanese.  Later, due to Allied attacks and activity, the Japs also ran out of rations.  We prisoners were made to eat grass and leaves and due to starvation we even ate snakes, frogs and other insects.  At this stage the Japanese started selecting prisoners and everyday 1 prisoner was taken out and killed and eaten by the Japanese.  I personally saw this happen and about 100 prisoners were eaten at this place by the Japanese.  The remainder of us were taken to another spot about 50 miles [away] where 10 prisoners died of sickness.  At this place the Japanese again started selecting prisoners to eat.  Those selected were taken to a hut where flesh was cut from the bodies while they were alive and they were then thrown into a ditch alive where they later died.  When flesh was being cut from those selected terrible cries and shrieks came from them and also from the ditch where they were later thrown.  These cries used to gradually dim down when the unfortunate individuals were dying.  We were not allowed to go near this ditch, no earth was thrown on the bodies and the smell was terrible.  (Pakistani POW Hatam Ali in Tanaka, 1996, p. 121)

The murder of victims for Japanese cannibalism sometimes involved extreme cruelty

It is possible that the Japanese soldiers faced with the problem of the rapid rate of putrefaction in the Tropics cut the flesh from living prisoners as a way of ensuring that they would survive for a period and that their internal organs would then be available for later consumption.  Hence the ditch in which these prisoners were dumped was not covered with earth.  There seems to be no other explanation for the adoption of such hideously cruel methods, unless of course the whole business of systematic cannibalism had brutalized the Japanese soldiers to such an extent that an increasing degree of sadism became incorporated into the process.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 121)

Japanese cannibalism was widespread and systematic, and not merely isolated or sporadic

It is clear from these reports that the widespread practice of cannibalism by Japanese soldiers in the Asia-Pacific War was something more than merely random incidents perpetrated by individuals or small groups subject to extreme conditions.  The testimonies indicate that cannibalism was a systematic and organized military strategy, committed by whole squads or by specific soldiers working within the context of a larger squad.  This is particularly so in the case of the Indian POWs and Formosan workers, who had outlived their usefulness as laborers and were now regarded by their captors as human cattle, as a food supply.  The moral and psychological bearings of the Japanese soldiers and guards were transformed to such a degree that the act of cannibalism and even the murder of prisoners for the purpose of cannibalism became a normal occurrence rather than an extreme and grotesque activity.  The fact that such activities were committed by whole groups, working within the normal military structures, resulted in a situation in which the act of cannibalism ceased to be horrific and became instead a part of everyday life.  As was noted in the account of the cannibalistic consumption of Australian and American soldiers killed in battle, the gaining of bodies for this purpose was often carried out in the midst of battle, with one section of the Japanese squad continuing the fighting while another section removed the bodies from the battlefield to a safe area where they could be prepared for consumption.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 126)

However, the reports of the Australian War Crimes Section clearly demonstrate that acts of cannibalism were not always the product of a collapse in morale and organization of Japanese forces.  To the contrary, cannibalism was often a systematic activity conducted by whole squads and under the command of officers.  Throughout periods of starvation and cannibalism, discipline was maintained to an astonishing degree.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 127)

Whatever the reasons for cannibalism, it was expressly forbidden within the Japanese Imperial Army, as was the act of murder for the purpose of cannibalism whether of one's own troops or of enemy troops.  Both were regarded as the most serious war crimes.  Despite this official position, high-level army officers were well aware that cannibalism was a frequent occurrence in the field of battle in the Southwest Pacific, but because it was so widespread, they had little choice but to turn a blind eye to its occurrence.  Indeed, documents exist demonstrating that the Japanese command took steps to accommodate the practice of cannibalism.  For example, a captured Japanese soldier interrogated by the Australian military forces in December 1944 stated that orders had been given making it a crime punishable by death to eat the flesh of other Japanese soldiers but permitting consumption of flesh of the enemy.  On December 31, 1944, Australian forces captured a secret order form that clearly supported the soldier's statement.  The order, issued by Major General Aozu on November 18, 1944, stated that Japanese soldiers who knowingly consumed human flesh would be guilty of a crime punishable by execution; however, it was stated in parentheses that the consumption of enemy flesh was excepted.  In this order Major General Aozu stated that he had issued many similar orders but that such incidents continue to occur.  It appears, then, that orders permitting cannibalism were given by troop leaders in order to accommodate practices they knew to be unpreventable, in direct contravention of the blanket ban on all acts of cannibalism issued by the high command.  (Tanaka, 1996, pp. 128-129)

The Japanese had motives for cannibalism beyond the prevention of starvation

It is undeniable that one of the principal reasons for the widespread occurrence of cannibalism in the Japanese-occupied areas was starvation caused by the lack of a food supply.  Most incidents of cannibalism referred to in the War Crimes Section report occurred from mid-1944 to mid-1945, indicating that cannibalism was a desperate measure by Japanese soldiers whose supplies had been cut off.  Yet many incidents cannot be explained in this way for example, the incidence of cannibalism in the Kokoda campaign in the latter half of 1942.  The first victims of such incidents were Australian soldiers, but incidents in which the bodies of Japanese soldiers were mutilated in a cannibalistic fashion appear as early as February 1943.  How is it possible that such extreme behavior manifested itself at such an early stage, especially when the supply of rations to the Japanese soldiers was adequate, if not plentiful?  Many Australian veterans of this campaign reported finding portions of rice and dried fish among the personal belongings of Japanese soldiers who were captured or killed in the same region that the acts of cannibalism occurred.  These are clearly not cases of cannibalism brought on by starvation.  Another explanation for such incidents must be found.

It is possible that the particular character of jungle warfare in which the enemy is frequently invisible but at close range created a degree of stress that rapidly became intolerable, and that such stress hastened the development of a sort of group madness in which acts of cannibalism and savagery took on a ritual dimension.  It could be argued that gratuitous cannibalism took on different ritual meanings, depending on whether it was exogenous or endogenous.  In cases of exogenous cannibalism (in which Japanese soldiers consumed Australian soldiers), the act of eating a slain enemy had a heroic aspect to it, the spoils of victory.  In fact, one Japanese soldier who was tried after the war for cannibalism of an Australian soldier testified that he ate the human flesh because he hated Australian enemies.  Endogenous cannibalism (in which Japanese soldiers consumed their fallen comrades) probably served to reaffirm group solidarity, to create a bond between the living and the dead within the group.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 128)

Japanese cannibalism has gone unpunished

There was no prosecution whatever for Japanese cannibalism in the high-profile A Class war crimes trials, and almost no prosecution in the B and C Class trials, and what little there was in the latter categories failed.  Thus, one may conclude that Japanese cannibalism has gone unpunished, and for this reason might be a suitable field of investigation for Canada's war crimes unit.

It is clear from this cable that [Judge William F.] Webb was of the opinion that all those accused of war crimes in the B and C class involving murder, grievous bodily harm, cannibalism, or torture should be taken to trial and that there should be no compromise.  However, there is no evidence to suggest that Webb had actually brought the issue of cannibalism to the attention of the A Class tribunal, of which he was president.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 111)

Australia was the only member of the Allied nations to recognize cannibalism and mutilation of the dead as specific war crimes, and this was probably because of the detailed investigations and reports gathered by Webb in the three reports on Japanese war crimes trials over which he had presided in the years 1944 to 1946.  Nevertheless, it appears that Webb had no intention of revealing his knowledge of such crimes while participating in the A Class tribunals.  ...  Australia brought the most representative cases of murder, grievous bodily harm, and torture to the A Class tribunal but not those of cannibalism.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 112)

Yet despite the fact that Australian military officials collected a vast body of evidence to link the actions of Japanese Imperial Headquarters to the occurrence of cannibalism, and despite the fact that Judge Webb and others involved in the War Crimes Tribunal were aware of such evidence, no attempt was made to lay charges for these crimes in the A Class war crimes trials.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 130)

Australian war crimes

If the murder of POWs is a war crime, then Australians were guilty of war crimes in the Pacific Theater along with the Japanese.  Relevant to our discussion is that the Australian war crimes of murdering POWs possibly exceed in magnitude the war crimes under investigation by your war crimes unit, and certainly exceed in magnitude any crimes attributed to Ukrainians by responsible sources.

The commander in chief, General Thomas Blamey, on the other hand, was in favor of allowing such stories [of Japanese cannibalism] to be published, countering that "the effect on Australian troops generally of such occurrences is not one of demoralisation, but induces in them an even greater determination in the discharge of their duties."

The debate was somewhat academic at least in relation to its effect on the soldiers.  They were already well aware that cannibalism was occurring in New Guinea, and in reaction to this a tacit agreement of sorts had developed that they would take no prisoners.  Although there is no explicit reference to this in official documents, certain expressions and turns of phrase indicate that the Australian high command was very likely aware that the no-prisoners unofficial rule was in place.  (Tanaka, 1996, pp. 130-131)

War criminals may also be war victims

In several of my previous letters to you, I have argued that the Ukrainians who you choose to view as war criminals were also victims of war crimes, and that the Jews who you choose to view as victims of war crimes were also war criminals.  Below, Tanaka presents a similar conclusion with respect to the Japanese and the Australians.  The relevance of this view to Canadian war crimes proceedings is as follows: that all people offer opportunity for both prosecution and forgiveness; if the guilt of one people is to be prosecuted, so should the guilt of other people be as well; and if the victimization of one people is accepted in excuse for their crimes, so should the victimization of other people be accepted in excuse for their crimes as well.

Those who are guilty of war crimes are often the victims of war crimes themselves.  The case of cannibalism in the South Pacific clearly demonstrates that some Japanese soldiers were perpetrators of war crimes in their murder, mutilation, and cannibalism of enemy soldiers, POWs, and local civilians, but they also were victims of war crimes in that they were abandoned and starved by their high command.  The same might be said of those Australian soldiers who decided to take revenge for such acts by instituting a no-prisoners rule.  War creates situations in which the moral framework of peacetime ceases to be of any practical use.  In looking at the acts of individuals caught up in such extreme situations, it is imperative to remember that guilt and innocence, the status of the perpetrator and that of the victim, are often indissolubly intertwined.  (Tanaka, 1996, p. 134)

Is Japanese cannibalism culpable?

Although I have been speaking immediately above of the innocence of the guilty and of the guilt of the innocent, I do not suggest that all groups are equally guilty of war crimes, or equally innocent either.  I do hold, rather, that the magnitude and frequency of the crimes committed by some groups greatly exceed those committed by others.  Japanese cannibalism presents a particularly heinous war crime that is particularly deserving of punishment for at least the following seven reasons:

(1) Japanese cannibalism started before the Japanese supply lines were cut, thus being sometimes motivated not by hunger but by hatred of the enemy being eaten, or solidarity with the friend being eaten.

(2) The Japanese were not innocent victims whom starvation drove to cannibalism.  Rather, the cannibalism was perpetrated during the commission of the crime of aggression for purposes of imperialistic conquest.

(3) The Japanese had the choice of avoiding starvation and cannibalism by surrendering.  Instead, they chose the path of relying on cannibalism so as to be able to continue their war effort.

(4) Japanese cannibalism was not the sporadic acts of isolated individuals, but was rather the deliberate policy of a disciplined army.

(5) Japanese cannibalism was not restricted to eating people who were already dead, but included the murdering of people in order to eat them.

(6) Japanese murders for the sake of cannibalism were sometimes conducted with bestial cruelty.

(7) In some jurisdictions, the mutilation of the dead is defined as a war crime, and cannibalism necessarily involves mutilation of the dead.

Maintaining morale within the Canadian war crimes unit

With war crimes of the magnitude and volume of Japanese cannibalism available for investigation and action, it must be frustrating for your war crimes unit to be bound by your instructions to restrict their attention to locating immigration infractions among non-Jewish east Europeans who are suspected of being simultaneously guilty of some non-culpable war misdemeanor such as membership in a police auxiliary or in a camp guard detachment.  I wonder if it is not difficult to attract and to keep good people for work that is so unworthy, and that is also so out of keeping with the designation of "war crimes unit."  I wonder whether not a few employees of your war crimes unit have not had their motivation sapped by seeing an implicit immunity from prosecution granted to certain groups while seeing at the same time prosecutorial energies concentrated exclusively on other groups.  I wonder how much dedication can be evoked within employees who arrive at the realization that the work they are asked to do is in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Shouldn't you resign?

I call to your attention that this is my eighteenth letter to you, the first dated 14 Nov 97, and that you have not answered, or even acknowledged receipt of, any of them.  I call to your attention yet again that the impression given by your war crimes proceedings is that they are discriminatory, and thus in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a possibility I first broached explicitly in my letter to you of 25 Feb 98, and which I have reminded you of more than once since that time.

And finally, I call to your attention the inescapable conclusion that you appear to be the worst of all possible Ministers of Justice yourself in violation of the law, unaware that you are in violation of the law, having placed the Department of Justice at the service of narrow political interests, and to top it all off, contemptuous of your obligation to remain accountable to the people.  Thus I ask you once again to consider the possibility that you are unfit to hold the office of Minister of Justice, and I ask you once again to consider resigning.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak