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 GIs 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 America's fall and the imment deaths of the listening GIs. 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 toward this war criminal who had alluded justice. Hollywood even turned its attention to this villainess in 1946 with the aptly titled movie Tokyo Rose: the film's hero is a GI on the hunt to kill the venomous Tokyo Rose.
But here's the thing...Tokyo Rose wasn't just one woman. She was many.
The voice of "Tokyo Rose" belonged to 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’Aquino.
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, the now-25-year-old traveled to Japan at the request of her parents 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 setback, but Iva was determined to get another ticket, eager to return to the US.
And then Pearl Harbor happened.
Iva Toguri D’Aquino 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 the radio program, 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 Cousens. Iva and Cousens already knew each other, because Iva had 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 program! 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 all, Iva took part on several hundred broadcasts over three years. During her spell as a presenter on Zero Hour, she also met her husband, Felipe D’Aquino, who, like her, was trapped in enemy land. (D'Aquino was a Portuguese citizen with Japanese ancestry.)
Iva and Felipe tried continuously to get passage back to America, but Iva was 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 until 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. (That's 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, the American citizenship Iva had worked so hard to keep meant that she was dragged back to US soil and, under great public pressure, was promptly put on trial for treason.
In 1949, Iva went on trial. She was 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 eight 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 2,000 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 shisp 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 six years in a Virginia woman’s prison. Once again deportation loomed, but Iva battled to stay in America. Working with her husband, she successfully argued for her right to stay, citing her father's valid US citizenship. Her stay was granted. Her husband's 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 honored her with an award for her bravery, patriotism, and spirit. She described it as the most memorable day of her life.
This post originally appeared on F Yeah History and is reprinted here with permission.
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