Stupid Question ™
Jan. 31, 2005
By John Ruch
Q: Who was Tokyo Rose?
—S. Andersen, from the Internet
A: “Tokyo Rose” did not exist; she was a mythical figure invented by World War II Pacific G.I.s to personify a wide range of actual female Japanese propaganda DJs.
Unfortunately, her mythical status did not prevent many G.I.s from convincing themselves of her reality. That in turn led to an apparently innocent woman, Iva (born Ikuko) Toguri (later Toguri d’Aquino), being convicted of treason for being “the” Tokyo Rose. She was pardoned by President Gerald Ford in 1977.
Toguri d’Aquino’s case is a horrifying blend of accident, misunderstanding and patriotic witchhunt. In short, a typical American story.
Toguri d’Aquino, of Japanese-American ethnicity, was born with rich irony on the Fourth of July, 1916, in Los Angeles—a city that would later formally ban her from its domain. She was a registered Republican.
Her bad luck began when she was sent as an emissary to a sick aunt back in Japan in July, 1941. When Japan and the U.S. declared war against each other in December, she was stuck there and branded an “enemy alien.”
She refused to accept Japanese citizenship nor to renounce her status as an American. This made life hard, as one can imagine. Meanwhile, her parents back home were tossed into the racist-paranoia concentration camps the government set up; her mother died there.
As the war dragged on, her money and enormous store of American food (which she generally preferred to traditional Japanese fare) began running out. She was forced to find a job.
A part-time job at the Danish consulate in Tokyo and a typing job at Radio Tokyo put her in contact with Allied prisoners of war who had been coerced into writing English-language propaganda material for government radio. She began sneaking them food and news.
In late 1943, the POWs got her a job on their show “Zero Hour,” a mix of news and music. According to Australian Army Maj. Charles Cousens, who ran and scripted the show, its intent was to be subversive, a kind of knowing wink to Allied soldiers.
In that vein, he hired Toguri d’Aquino as an announcer—because she had a horrible radio voice.
Be that as it may, all she did was introduce jazz and classical pieces, doing nothing worse than referring to her Allied audience as “boneheads.” Her on-air handle was “Ann”—short for “announcer”—which was later expanded to “Orphan Ann,” “Orphan Annie,” “Enemy Ann,” “Your Playmate Ann” and so on.
She was one of nearly 30 known women who did English-language Japanese radio propaganda broadcasts. The shows were largely a failure in terms of demoralization as evidenced by the large numbers of G.I.s who tuned in.
It was soldiers who began referring to this gaggle of female voices collectively as “Tokyo Rose.” Military intelligence during the war established there never was a radio personality who used that name or even mentioned it on the air.
Despite that, many soldiers later convinced themselves they had heard a self-identified Tokyo Rose, and further embellished the accounts with her supposed accurate revelations of forthcoming bombing raids and the like (also completely unsubstantiated by surviving recordings and scripts). There were similar reports of a supposed “Madame Tojo.”
The idea was probably supported by the actual existence of Mildred “Axis Sally” Gillars, the Nazi radio propagandist, who was later convicted of treason virtually simultaneously with Toguri d’Aquino’s trial.
In post-war Japan, U.S. journalists began hunting for “the” Tokyo Rose and eventually found Toguri d’Aquino, who was convinced to claim the title by offers of payment for her story and assurances that G.I.s loved her. She began signing stuff “Tokyo Rose.”
Next thing she knew, she was under arrest for treason and rotted in prison for months without counsel or trial. Eventually, the military authorities found no evidence against her, declared “Tokyo Rose” a fiction once again, and released her.
Unfortunately, she never had a passport, and found herself declared a “stateless person” back in the good ol’ USA. Her attempts to acquire a passport raised her profile, and renewed attempts to find the witch known as Tokyo Rose.
The American Legion began a prominent campaign against her, as did the notorious columnist Walter Winchell, who was intimate with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Soon the FBI and the US Attorney General’s Office produced an obviously contrived case that eventually put Toguri d’Aquino in prison for more than eight years.
The sole crime she was convicted of was saying something like the following (no actual transcript or recording was ever produced): “Now, you fellows have lost all your ships. You really are orphans of the Pacific [she frequently referred to soldiers as “orphans” like herself, “Orphan Ann”], and how do you think that you will ever get home?” As Russell Warren Howe noted in his book “The Hunt for ‘Tokyo Rose,’” this was supposedly in reference to a naval battle the Allies won.
The American, Filipino and Australian POWs who actually ran and scripted “Zero Hour” were never charged with a crime.