Unit 731, as very few Americans, and very few others but the Chinese, was a unit of the Japanese occupation force in what used to be known as Manchuria, now the area of Heilongjiang Province in northeast China, within the city of Harbin. Unit 731 is infamous for their focus on bacterial, biological and ecological warfare studies. Unit 731 experimented on primarily Chinese peasants and prisoners of war, but some English and quite possibly American prisoners as well. There is little doubt that these experiments were as despicable as those conducted by the Germans during the war. So, how does this fit with American exceptionalism? Click the "read more" link beneath the picture of me standing in front of what remains of the complex.
For me, American exceptionalism has been about living up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In some respects, it pretty much comes down to the Golden Rule, to do as to others as you would have them do unto you. Seems easy enough. But that's where America failed when it comes to Unit 731. Only the most stringent Japanese nationalists and their apologists dispute what happened at Unit 731: the development and testing of biological weapons, the vivisection of infected prisoners to study the progress of disease and/or frostbite, and much more along these lines. That these crimes were committed is beyond dispute. That the American and Russian conquest, for lack of a better word off the top of my head, of Japan in 1945 put an end to these experiments.
And this is where American Exceptionalism comes in. After the defeat of the Japanese, General Douglas MacArthur, perhaps with the permission of then President Harry Truman, granted the Japanese involved a free pass from war crimes prosecution, if they would give America the materials showing what they learned. That's bad enough in and of itself. What's worse is that some see evidence of America using what was learned on Koreans during that war. I know war is ugly and it sucks and all of that, but when we stoop to the level of those we demonize, as we have done with more recent torture of prisoners in our so-called War on Terror, we further diminish what makes America a nation to emulate. That's the part that disheartens me, that we have become the thugs who operate outside the law, arguing that the ends justify the means. If that's the road we go down, then we lose that what makes America exceptional and we become too much like those we are supposed to be better than.