Just a few weeks ago, my friend Azkhat and I visited the Japanese Germ Warfare Museum in Harbin, a city known for its bitterly cold winters and beautiful ice and snow sculptures. Even though I had read about this museum, I was still unprepared for what I saw inside.
First a brief history lesson. A few years before WWII, Japan conquered the northern part of China, which included Harbin, and built experimental, medical facilities that tested the effects of viruses, poison gas, and other harmful matter on Chinese civilians and prisoners of war. I tried watching one of the videos that recorded the atrocities committed by Japanese forces, but I couldn’t stomach the video. It was violently gruesome. And I think the fact that people actually did this to other human beings nearly caused me to vomit.
Needless to say, the museum excursion was a sickening, sobering experience, which chronicled the establishment of Unit 731, an experimental facility that is now a museum. It also had comprehensive details of the experiments carried out on people and the effects of those experiments. At the last leg of the tour, I walked through a hall listing those who died in Unit 731from the bottom of the wall to the top. I couldn’t read the Chinese names, but I grieved for all those innocents who had died for the sake of war. These were real people, not nameless victims.
As I walked through the museum, I thought about why the Japanese did this to fellow human beings. Their acts were despicable and evil. But then I realized that none of us are above committing such evil acts. We may think we would never commit such atrocities, but that would be dismissing our own human nature. We are all naturally proud, selfish people who love ourselves. And war is simply the outflow of those emotions. From war comes extreme nationalism and from extreme nationalism comes a dehumanization of the enemy. When the enemy is evil and faceless, we can treat them like animals, because that’s how they would treat us.
And so we become the monsters we so abhor. We kill our enemy or make them our prisoners. And when we imprison these evil animals, we experiment with them. Because, after all, they’re only animals, and we’re the superior ones. We are the superior race who spreads our enlightenment to the world and forces our values upon the populace. Yes, what the Japanese did was reprehensible, but we are not so far away from doing the same.
As a Christian, the only thing that would prevent me from acting like the Japanese is the Holy Spirit. Without it, my moral idealism would inevitably crumble during war, and my self-preservation would take its place. All countries have had their sordid pasts: Americans nearly eliminated Native Americans from our land, the Germans almost exterminated the Jewish race, the Japanese brutally maimed their prisoners of war.
Will these atrocities happen again in the future? I pray not. But are we above committing such horrific crimes as the Japanese? I think not. If we think we all came from animals, then I think naturally we will act like animals when it suits us. But if we believe a greater, more powerful being created this world and us, then we are responsible before him for our actions. And that may seem oppressive and over-bearing to some. But for me it is liberating and sobering. I am free to serve this Creator, and one day I will be judged by Him.
There will always be evil. It will never go away. So we must fight it by showing love and compassion to others. Because the Creator loved his wicked creation and gave us life. And we must do the same.