“Tokyo Rose”, was a mythical figure created by U.S. newspapers around 1943 in reference to ALL the various female English-speaking radio announcers who broadcasted Japanese propaganda to Allied troops in the south and central Pacific.
They portrayed her as the highly sexualized, manipulative, intelligence-leaking personification of Japanese evil. She became so internationally famous that someone had to be held to account after the war, and as soon as possible.
Consequently, American-born Iva Toguri D’Aquino emerged in 1945, and she was arrested for being the one and only ‘real’ Tokyo Rose. She was accused of treason, and A possible death penalty.
(Above: After the war Hollywood couldn’t resist expanding upon the legend of “Tokyo Rose”, and cashing in on it. In 1946, the film “Tokyo Rose” starred Lotus Long; many years later sold albums of her broadcasts as entertaining nostalgia…)
Iva Toguri D’Aquino was born in Los Angeles on the 4th of July, a daughter of Japanese immigrants. She was raised as a Christian, joined the Girl Scouts, graduated from UCLA in zoology, had a crush on Jimmy Stewart, and was registered as a Republican voter. She was the quintessinal American girl…
The day after her 25th birthday, on July 5th 1941, she sailed for Tokyo to visit a sick aunt. Passports were not required for travel by either the United States or Japan back then — imagine such a time — but all that would soon change after her arrival in Japan.
Witnessing rising tensions inside Japan, she applied for a passport in August with the U.S. Vice Consul in Tokyo stating she wished to return home as soon as possible… But the State Department took its time.
September passed with no word. October passed. Each time she checked on her application’s status, she was mysteriously turned away. Panic bloomed; day after day she felt it in her stomach, and ran from it in her dreams.
Then Pearl Harbor was attacked, trapping her in Japan.
The State Department then refused to certify her citizenship. At the same time, the much-feared Japanese secret police (the Kempetai) pressured her to renounce her U.S. citizenship but shesteadfastly refused.
Japanofficially declared her an enemy alien. Consequently she was neither allowed to leave Japan nor to continue staying with her family there. She couldn’t use a ration card any more, nor receive mail or money from her parents.
Then her own family was interned by the U.S. government; forced to leave everything behind to live behind barbed wire and guard towers in the Arizona desert.
But Iva Toguri D’Aquino was an American to be proud of: she was tough, adaptive, hardworking, and resourceful. She persevered under the watchful eyes of the terrifying Kempetai, found a sympathetic boarding house, and then got a job as a typist at a leading Tokyo news agency, Radio Tokyo (NHK).
In 1943, the Imperial Japanese Army began the common practice of forcing, sometimes torturing, prisoners of war to broadcast propaganda, and because of her native English skills, D’Aquino was coerced into hosting a one-hour radio show called “The Zero Hour”.
She agreed to participate, but only on the condition that she would never be asked to broadcast any anti-American propaganda, and in fact she never did.
Instead, she and other Allied POWs worked together to effectively undermine the Japanese agenda by producing nuanced farcical broadcasts featuring inside jokes, American slang, and double entendres their Japanese handlers weren’t likely to understand. In one such broadcast in 1944, Iva said:
“Greetings, everybody! This is your little playmate—I mean your bitter enemy—Ann, with a program of dangerous and wicked propaganda for my victims in Australia and the South Pacific. Stand by, you unlucky creatures, here I go!”
“So be on your guard, and mind the children don’t hear! All set? Okay! Here’s the first blow at your morale—the Boston Pops playing ‘Strike Up the Band!’”
In another broadcast, Toguri called her listeners “my favorite family of boneheads, the fighting G.I.s in the blue Pacific.”
The news delivered was consequently received by Allied troops as comical entertainment; it actually boosted morale. Had the Japanese ever suspected as much, there is no doubt about what the consequences would’ve been for Iva.
Iva was known on The Zero Hour as “Orphan Annie” — Ann, being short for announcer. The show was mostly live comedy sketches and playing recorded music; she never participated in any newscasts.
Her pay was just $7 per month (as opposed to an American buck private’s pay of $50 monthly), but she regularly risked her life using some of the money to smuggle food and medicine into a nearby POW camp. She married a Portuguese-Japanese man…
Finally, in the heady chaotic closing days of the war, Hearst Publishing went on a witch hunt for finding the real “Tokyo Rose”, offering $2,000 for an exclusive interview.
Iva was so desperate to raise enough money for getting back home, she stepped forward in Yokohama just three days after the surrender before anyone else could accept the offer.
Hearst got their interview all right, but then turned her over to the American occupation authorities. And she was never paid. Instead, Hearst Publishing sold the transcript of her “exclusive” interview to the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) as a “confession” and she spent a year in an occupation prison being interrogated and awaiting trial.
But after hundreds of interrogations, and after reviewing tapes of all her shows, and revisiting testimonies from her American and Australian POW scriptwriters, there was absolutely no evidence she had ever aided the enemy or broadcast anything harmful or demoralizing.
Nevertheless, the FBI and Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters continued to hold her indefinitely anyways. As the charge was treason, day by day she lived with the possibility she might hang soon.
Then one day, without any warning or explanation she was released in Japan. Suddenly she was free, but homeless, destitute, stateless, and more desperate than ever to find a way back home. And then she became pregnant.
Once again, she sought help from the U.S. State Department. More than anything she wanted to give birth on American soil and in the safety of her home with family. Her plight made the news back home and Walter Winchell spoke angrily against her to his nationwide radio audiences.
It was an election year during the Cold War and Harry Truman needed to show he was tough on traitors.
(The supposedly “stolen confession” J. Edgar Hoover referred to below was the Hearst Interview that was sold to the government; he clearly knew it wasn’t really stolen… )
There would be no rescue. She gave birth in 1948, in Japan, and her baby died shortly thereafter. Then, on September 25th that year, she was charged again with 8 counts of treason for giving comfort and aid to the enemy during the war.
Now, finally, she was shipped back to her home country, and imprisoned there for another year until her trial began in September of 1949. It played out as one of the longest and costliest trials in U.S. history.
D’Aquino was found guilty on one count of treason — only the 7th American in history to ever be so convicted.
She was fined $10,000 ($102,000 in 2018 dollars), stripped of her citizenship, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The alleged comment which convicted her — not found on any recordings or in any hard evidence — was supposedly made after a bulletin about a sunken American ship:
“… Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?”
She had never said anything like it but she still served 6 years and two months in a West Virginia women’s prison for that single phrase.
Then she was paroled and allowed to reunite with her family in Chicago as an “alien immigrant”.
Next she had to fight a government deportation order. But she prevailed and finally, and very quietly, felt she could start her life all over again.
For years she wrote to the president of the United States asserting her innocence and asking for a full pardon.
Then a break appeared. American attitudes had changed. A 1976 investigation by the Chicago Tribune discovered that two key witnesses against her had been threatened and coached by the FBI and occupation police in Japan.
The witnesses had perjured themselves. The story received wide news coverage and a treatment with Morley Safer on “60 Minutes”.
President Gerald Ford was so moved, he granted her a full and unconditional pardon, and also restored her American citizenship.
The witnesses who had perjured themselves, however, were never prosecuted.
Iva forgave them though — she felt vindicated and victorious. Then she faded back into privacy, continuing to live out the rest of her life in Chicago until she passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.
According to an NPR broadcast about her life that year, “…she was known as a shrewd businesswoman in Chicago, owning neighborhood real estate and restaurants.”
In the end, Iva Toguri “Tokyo Rose” D’Aquino proved herself to be a genuine American hero who always loved her country, prejudices, injustices and all; good with the bad.She persevered with dignity and integrity.