Tokyo Rose : Iva Ikuko Toguri d’Aquino, or “Tokyo Rose” as she is known, was an American woman of Japanese origin who became famous as the host of a Japanese radio programme aimed at US troops during World War II designed to broadcast propaganda.
Who is Tokyo Rose?
During World War II, it was very common for American soldiers to regularly gather around radio receivers to listen to “Zero Hour”, a music and news programme in English that was produced in Japan and broadcast to the entire Pacific.
The Japanese intended the programme to serve as propaganda that weakened the morals of the troops, but most considered it to be rather a pleasant distraction from the monotony of their duties. Soldiers developed a particular fascination for the show’s husky-voiced female host, who delivered taunts and jokes among the hottest songs of the day.
American soldiers made up a variety of exotic stories about the woman they called “Tokyo Rose,” but none came close to the truth. Her real name was Iva Toguri, and instead of being an enemy agent, she was an American citizen who had come to the radio almost by accident. She would later claim that she had remained loyal to her country by actively working to undermine the message of her propaganda programmes.
Born on July 4, 1916, Iva Toguri was the daughter of Japanese immigrants who ran a small import business in Los Angeles. She had spent her youth serving in the Girl Scouts and playing on her school’s tennis team. Later she graduated from UCLA with a zoology degree. In 1941, her parents sent her on a trip to Japan to take care of her sick aunt. At age 25, she had never been abroad and quickly began to feel homesick, but things got complicated in December, when a bureaucratic problem prevented her from getting a ticket back to the United States. A few days later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
With United States and Japan at war, Toguri was trapped in a country she barely knew. Japanese military police tried to persuade her to renounce her American citizenship and pledge allegiance to Japan, something other Americans residing in Japan did, but she refused. As a result, she was classified as a foreign enemy and closely watched. Toguri spent the next several months living with her relatives, but frequent harassment from neighbors and the military police led her to move to Tokyo, where she worked as a secretary. In August 1943, she found work as a typist at the radio broadcasting organization Radio Tokyo.
It was on Radio Tokyo that Toguri met Major Charles Cousens, an Australian military officer who had been captured in Singapore. Cousens had been a successful radio host before the war, and was now being forced to produce a propaganda programme called “Zero Hour” for the Japanese. In defiance of his captors, he and the other POWs had been working to sabotage the programme by making their message as laughable and harmless as possible. After befriending Toguri, who occasionally smuggled him supplies, Cousens devised a plan to use her as a radio host. For his purpose, her voice was just what he needed. It was rough, almost masculine, nothing to do with a seductive feminine voice.
Although at first she was reluctant to take part, Toguri eventually became a key participant in Cousens’ plan. Beginning in November 1943, her voice was a recurring feature on “Zero Hour” broadcasts. Toguri took on the role of “Orphan Ann” and used to read Cousens’ scripts in a joking tone, sometimes even warning her listeners that the show was propaganda.
Surviving recordings and transcripts of Toguri’s programmes indicate that she never threatened her listeners with bombing or made fun of their wives cheating on them, two of the favourite strategies of war propagandists.
Toguri wasn’t the only Japanese radio host. There were dozens of other English-speaking women reading propaganda, and some of them took on a much more sinister tone. As the war dragged on, the US military began to refer to different female voices with a single nickname: “Tokyo Rose.” None of the announcers, including Toguri, had ever used that nickname, but the character ended up becoming legendary. The myth was such, that to most Americans she was as famous as Emperor Hirohito.
Toguri played her character “Orphan Ann” in “Zero Hour” for about a year and a half, appearing less frequently as the Japanese surrender approached in 1945. By then, she had married a Portuguese, Filipe D’Aquino, and was looking forward to returning home. Finding herself in dire financial straits, when two American reporters arrived in Japan and offered her $ 2,000 for an interview with the famous “Tokyo Rose,” she naively decided to tell her story. It turned out to be a disastrous decision. Once her identity was made public, Toguri became the face of Japanese propaganda and was arrested on suspicion of treason. She remained in custody for more than a year until a government investigation concluded that her broadcasts had been nothing more than harmless entertainment.
Toguri attempted to return to the United States after her liberation, but anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States was still very high. Several influential figures, including the famous radio commentator Walter Winchell, began to pressure the government to reopen the case against her. The campaign worked and in 1948 Toguri was arrested again and charged with treason.
At her trial in San Francisco, Toguri claimed that she had always remained loyal to the United States, working to turn her broadcasts into a sham. Charles Cousens even went to the United States to testify on her behalf, but the prosecution produced a number of Japanese witnesses who claimed to have heard her make inflammatory statements on air. Much of the case centered on a single transmission that occurred after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, when she allegedly said, “Orphans of the Pacific, they are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk? ” Although those phrases did not appear in any of the show’s transcripts, it was a deciding factor in the case. In October 1949, a jury found her guilty of one count of treason. They stripped her of her US citizenship, fined her $ 10,000 and sentenced her to 10 years in prison.
Toguri spent six years in a women’s prison. She reunited with her family, settled in Chicago, and began working as a clerk in her father’s business, but her reputation as “Tokyo Rose” continued. In 1976, two of the key witnesses at her trial admitted that they had been threatened to testify against her. Around the same time, the one member of the jury who convicted her said the judge in the case had pressured them for a guilty verdict.
With public opinion in favour of Toguri, on January 19, 1977, President Gerald Ford granted a full pardon to Toguri, who was then 60 years old, and restored her US citizenship. “Tokyo Rose” died in Chicago in 2006.
Juan José Ortiz Cruz
Bloguero de Historia
Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain
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