The myth of the Tokyo Rose can first be traced back to American soldiers stationed in Japan during WW2. Too far from home to be able to tune into US radio, they were at the mercy of Japanese entertainment. The Japanese quickly cottoned onto this and allowed American GI’s to listen to their favourite songs…at a price.
The music was introduced by the voice of a mysterious woman, she spoke English but also predicted Americas fall and the imment deaths of the listening GI’s. Not exactly ideal dinner guest material. This woman became known as Tokyo Rose and soon became a notorious and hated symbol of the war.
When the war ended Tokyo Rose lived on ; her story now told in hushed tones and with an air of bitter resentment to the this war criminal who has alluded justice. Hollywood even turned its attention to this villainess in 1946 with the aptly titled, Tokyo Rose; with the films hero a GI on the hunt to kill the venomous Tokyo Rose.
But heres the thing…Tokyo Rose wasn’t one woman. She was many.
She was mostly American Japanese women who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and were now stuck behind enemy lines and faced with a choice. The most infamous of these women is Iva Toguri D’Aqiino
Ironically born on Independence Day in 1916, Iva Toguri D’aquino would grow up to be one of America’s greatest traitors.
Iva grew up in LA, where she was a popular but average high school student. In 1941, newly graduated from college, Iva’s parents sent the now 25 year old to Japan to care for her sick Aunt.
Though she had never traveled outside of America, Iva hopped on a plane, keen to care for ailing Aunt. But she couldn’t settle in Japan and grew desperately homesick. After a few months Iva packed up and bought a ticket back to US soil. But her plans were scuppered when a paperwork mix up prevented her from boarding the boat back to America. It was a set back but Iva was determined to get another ticket, eager to return to the US.
And then Pearl Harbour happened
Iva Toguri D’Aqiino was now trapped. An American citizen in enemy waters.
But she was tough, when military police asked her to renounce her US citizenship she refused, even following harassment and her relatives pleas she refused. And so Iva was kicked out of her relatives house.
Now homeless, branded an enemy alien and denied rations, Iva was having by all accounts, a shit holiday. But still she didn’t give in.
By 1943 Iva was living in Tokyo, still refusing to renounce her US citizenship. She supported herself working as a secretary for news companies, eventually securing a job at Radio Tokyo. Along with its usual output Radio Tokyo also produced propaganda programming aimed directly at American troops who had nothing better to do but listen in. These shows were created and hosted by Allied Prisoners of War, who were forced to now work against their own side.
One of these programmes, Zero Hour, was produced by a group of POWs from America, Australia and the Philippines, with the team headed up by Australian Army major Charles Cousins. Iva and Cousens already knew each other, with Iva having smuggled food to POWs on several occasions.
Upon arriving at Radio Tokyo, Cousens quickly picked out Iva, thanks to her unique husky voice and he requested that she come and work on Zero Hour.
Now here’s something to know: Zero Hour wasn’t actually propaganda. It was meant to be but….Cousens and his team were instead covertly working to undermine Zero Hour and fill it in jokes mocking its own propaganda.
It was a pretty ballsy move. But Cousens and his team weren’t happy with just mocking their enemy, they also wanted to produce a quality comedy programme! Which is why they were interested in Iva. Cousens felt her trademark husky growl would be the final touch to tip Zero Hour into full on farce (nice guy that Cousens)
After a lot of persuasion Iva joined the Zero Hour team, donning the persona of ‘Orphan Ann’ she directed messages to her ‘fellow Orphans’, took part in skits and regularly introduced propaganda with more than a telling nod: ‘here’s the first blow at your morale!’ (Iva wasn’t known for subtle satire)
All in Iva took part on several hundreds of broadcasts over three years. During her spell as a presenter on Zero Hour she also met her husband, Filipe D’Aquino, who like her was trapped in an enemy land.
The pair tried continuously to get passage back to America, but still branded an enemy alien by the Japanese Government Iva’s financial situation was dire. Sadly things didn’t change for Iva following The Japanese surrender to America in 1945; she remained broke and far from home.
There seemed to be little hope in sight when one day two American reporters from Cosmopolitan turned up at Iva’s doorstep offering her several thousand dollars for an interview with the real Tokyo Rose.
Now Iva had never referred to herself on air as Tokyo Rose, but the considerable cash on offer would help get her the hell out of dodge; what harm could it really do?
You know the answer here. (it’s a lot.)
You see, the reporter from Cosmopolitan hadn’t actually got editorial sign off on Iva’s pretty hefty fee (whoops!) So the magazine did whatever it could to get out of its exclusive contract. Eventually duping Iva into giving a press conference to other journalists – thus making her violate her exclusive Cosmo contract and lose the money.
Not only that but in the finished article the journalist pretty much left out any mention of Iva deliberately undermining the propaganda she delivered – effectively turning the article into Iva’s confession. And so in 1945 Iva was arrested.
And you thought the worst thing Cosmo did was constant dieting tips
Iva was released without any charges a year later in 1946. (thats right a year later) She want back to life with her husband and hoped for normality. The pair tried to settle in Japan but their hopes for starting a family were shattered when still weakened from prison Iva gave birth to a child who died not long after.
Meanwhile America hadn’t forgotten Tokyo Rose. A campaign against Iva was gaining momentum and in 1948 that American citizenship Iva had worked so hard to keep meant that she was dragged back to US soil and under great public pressure she was promptly put on trial for treason.
In 1949 Iva went on trial, the seventh person in American history to be tried for treason, in what – at the time – was the most costly court case in history, the jury was all white and no actual broadcast evidence was to be shown ; it’s safe to say that things weren’t looking good for Iva.
Over the course of 13 weeks Iva was charged with 8 counts of treason. She pled her innocence throughout, with the Zero Hour crew flying out to the trial in San Francisco to give evidence on her behalf. Charles Cousens even flew from Australia to speak in her defence, outlining the farcical undercurrent of the show. But then the prosecution conjured a series of Japanese witnesses and it was game over.
The witnesses testified to Iva voicing strong anti-American sentiments on the show, with the final nail in her coffin being witness evidence that following the Battle of Leyte Gulf (which saw over 2000 allied casualties and 12,000 Japense casualties) Iva went on air and crowed:
“Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?”
There were of course no transcripts or audio record to back this claim up. Nonetheless in October 1949 Iva was found guilty of treason. She was fined £10,000, sentenced to 10 years in prison and stripped of the American citizenship she had fought so hard for.
Iva was released for good behaviour after 6 years in a Virginia woman’s prison. Once more deportation loomed, but Iva battled to stay in America, working with her husband she successfully argued for her right to stay, citing her fathers valid US citizenship. Her stay was granted. Her husbands was not. This time the distance was too great and the pair amicably split.
Iva went to live with her family in Chicago where she quietly and peacefully lived out much of the rest of her life. Then In 1976 two of the key witnesses in Iva’s trial spoke out and admitted to being forced into giving false testimony.
In 1977 Iva received a presidential pardon. By 2006 the tide had fully turned; That same year was Iva’s 80th birthday and the World War ll Veterans committee awarded her for her bravery, patriotism and spirit-she described it as the most memorable day in her life.