he ingeniosity of the Japanese army in the Second World War has not been very discussed or highlighted, despite their military tactics. I was always impressed by how small nations can have such a huge impact as well as strength whilst going against the biggest nations in the world. The conflict between China and Japan started in 1937 with the Marco Polo Bridge incident which escalated into a war between the two nations. In all fairness, the timing for the war could have not been better, as the Germans would start to cause their own havoc in the western world.
Despite China having a large population they were still recovering from the civil war, therefore their army was not something that you would call strong for the biggest population in the world. This was also because their focus was more on the economy of the country and not the army. The Japanese were in the opposite circumstance, as they were after the war in order to gain much-needed resources for infrastructural development. However, numbers do count and have counted especially in the Second World War as the Japanese army had the weaponry but not enough manpower for their conquering plans.
A different type of biological weapon
It was time for the Empire of Japan to devise some sort of plan that would speed up the process of winning the Second Sino-Japanese War. What I find interesting is how the Empire of Japan looked at war from a different perspective in 1938 recognizing that firearms and gunpowder, in general, are not the only things that can kill. Looking at this I am reminded of an excellent quote by Bertolt Brecht, “Hungry man, reach for the book: it is a weapon” in the sense that with knowledge of different resources that have the ability to kill you are seen as a more powerful combatant.
The way that you get rid of an enemy is by using his most powerful attribute against him, Japan thought that if they spread a disease that is very contagious in a densely populated region it would ease their efforts in the Second Sino-Japanese War and get rid of China in an efficient way.
Scientists worked on infesting fleas with the bubonic plague, one of the worst plagues that humankind has seen on this Earth, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. The plan was to spread the fleas over major cities in China via low-altitude bombers and let the epidemic handle the rest.
It was the Imperial Japanese Air Service that bombed China with those bubonic plague-infested fleas. They used bombers such as the Mitsubishi G3M to spread the insects across many different regions of China, however, strategically hitting the more populated zones such as cities so that the plague would spread even quicker. Some historians argue that this strategy of using the bubonic plague may have not been as effective as the Japanese would have thought, as China had faced this plague before in the 17th century.
By 1940 over 30 raids with the aim of spreading the flees had taken place, and at the end of the year, major epidemics had been reported with a death count of already over 50,000. These raids lasted until 1941 and the epidemic spread even after the end of the Second World War as the eradication was only complete in 1947. In all these years it was reported that over 500,000 people died from the bubonic plague.
It is quite sad that the Second Sino-Japanese War was overshadowed by the Second World War with many people not being aware of these cruel incidents. In my eyes, I see this action as against humanity because there is a difference between killing a civilian with a bullet or an explosion and using a plague that offers a torturous death. We need to inform others of such historical events as every death counts, no matter if in vain or not.
You may also be thinking that this was a very irresponsible action by Japan as this could have potentially started a pandemic, however, by 1937 antibiotics existed which were good at combating the bubonic plague. The first type of antibiotic, known as penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by British scientist Alexander Fleming.