So what or who is a Tokyo Rose and how are they/it a traitor?
Spoiler alert- Tokyo Rose is not a new racially appropriated perfume from a global beauty powerhouse who should know better, the return of Gwen Stefani and her Harajuko Girls or even the ill advised name of a garage band (sorry, but my schools’ ska trio; Thomas The Skank Engine has all naff teen band names beat).
Tokyo Rose is the name of a mysterious figure, who was at once propagandist, traitor and victim; it’s a dark, unsung and ever twisting chapter of modern history-let’s dive right in!
American soldiers stationed in Japan during WW2 were too far from home to be able to tune into US radio and thus were at the mercy of Japanese entertainment. This was something that was quickly capitalised on and soon American GIs were able 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. This voice became known as Tokyo Rose and would become a notorious and hated symbol of the war.
Post war the myth of Tokyo Rose lived on; there was even a 1946 film, Tokyo Rose, featuring a ‘heroic’ GI hunting down the poisonous woman behind Tokyo Rose, hoping to kill her after his friend is killed following one her broadcasts (it’s in the public domain, but i would advise not watching it, though a popular post war film – its a bit of a convaluted mess)
But Tokyo Rose wasn’t one woman. She was many. 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
Born on Independence Day 1916 in LA, Iva Toguri D’Aqiino grew up speaking only English, in an effort for the native Japanese family to put down roots in their new home. Iva grew up to be a smart and popular high school student who loved dancing and swing music and dreamed of one day going to college. A somewhat inconspicuous start for someone who would one day be considered one of Americas greatest traitors
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 went, but she didn’t fit in and was soon homesick. Though she wanted to care for her ailing aunt she couldn’t wait to go home. So after a few months Iva 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. And then Pearl Harbour happened
Iva Toguri D’Aqiino was now trapped. An American citizen in enemy waters.
But Iva 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. She was now homeless, branded an enemy alien and denied rations (she was having by all accounts a shit holiday) But Iva still 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 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. Iva’s low husky voice quickly helped Cousens pick her out again in the Radio Tokyo offices and he requested that she come and work on Zero Hour.
Cousens and his team were covertly working together to undermine Zero Hour, filling the show with in jokes and mocking the propaganda the show was meant to be broadcasting. Cousens felt that Iva’s ‘comedy’ husky growl would be the final touch needed to turn Zero Hour into a full farce.
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. Iva also continued to try and work out how best to get passage back to America, but still branded an enemy alien by the Japanese Government her financial situation was dire. 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 so the magazine did whatever it could to get out of its exclusive contract, duping Iva into giving a press conference to other journalists-thus making her violate her exclusive contract and lose the money. Not only that but 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. She want back to life with her husband. They 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.