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butchered human body on New Guinea
Butchered human body in Papua New Guinea, 1943

On the consumption of human flesh

cookpot with human meat These photographs (sent to me by the late Roger Mansell) were evidently taken near Sanananda Point, on the east coast of Papua New Guinea, after the Allied invasion that began in January 1943. The one at the top of the page bears the notation GQH - SWPA - 43 - 2001, for the headquarters of the Allied Southwest Pacific Area command. There's no identification of the victim, who has been thoroughly butchered from the waist down, and perhaps including the arms as well. Nearby lay this cookpot filled with human flesh. There's a "covering shot," not published here, that shows the body and the cookpot in relation to one another.

Not confirmed by such evidence, but likely to be from the same series, is the photo below. It bears this caption: "The ... photograph shows an American and an Australian officer holding the forearm bones from the body of an American officer who was killed in action near Sanananda Point. All of the flesh had been stripped from these bones and other parts of the body were also missing."

human forearm

There was indeed cannibalism in this area, to judge by a review of a book by a Japanese historian, Yuki Tanaka, translated as Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II. Wrote the reviewer: "Accounts on cannibalism ... are probably the most painful to read, in spite of the lack of direct witnesses. The existing reports make clear that its practice 'was something more than merely random incidents perpetrated by individual or small groups subject to extreme conditions' (p. 126) and Tanaka classifies it as a sort of general 'group-survival cannibalism' driven by starvation, although there are some references to cannibalism during the first months of the war, on the so-called Kokoda Trail in present Papua New Guinea. Tanaka highlights the fact that 'discipline was maintained to an astonishing degree' (p. 127), this being the reason for some soldiers to participate in order to avoid being seen as traitors to the group solidarity or even, in some cases, to avoid being eaten themselves by their own companions."

See also the incident in which Colonel Tsuji Masanobu apparently had an American pilot killed, butchered, and his liver cooked for the officers' mess. "The more we consume," Tsuji proclaimed, "the more we shall be inspired by a hostile spirit towards the enemy."

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