The west's dismissal of the khabarovsk trial as 'communist propaganda': Ideology, evidence and international bioethics [Book Review]

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 1 (1):32-42 (2004)
In late 1949 the former Soviet Union conducted an open trial of eight Japanese physicians and researchers and four other military servicemen in Khabarovsk, a city in eastern Siberia. Despite its strong ideological tone and many obvious shortcomings such as the lack of international participation, the trial established beyond reasonable doubt that the Japanese army had prepared and deployed bacteriological weapons and that Japanese researchers had conducted cruel experiments on living human beings. However, the trial, together with the evidence presented to the court and its major findings — which have proved remarkably accurate — was dismissed as communist propaganda and totally ignored in the West until the 1980s. This paper reviews the 1949 Khabarovsk trial, examines the West's dismissal of the proceedings as mere propaganda and draws some moral lessons for bioethics today. As an important historical case, set in the unique socio-political context of the Cold War, the West's dismissal of the trial powerfully illustrates some perennial ethical issues such as the ambivalence of evidence and the power of ideology in making (or failing to make) cross-national and cross-cultural factual and moral judgments.
Keywords Human experimentation  Japanese war crimes  Khabarovsk Trial  ideology  cross-cultural bioethics
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