THE LEGEND OF TOKYO ROSE
By Ronald E. Yates
During a 27-year career with the Chicago Tribune, much of it as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Latin America, I encountered my share of remarkable and unforgettable stories.
Some came out of the horrendous suffering I witnessed while covering the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. Others were generated by the bloody revolutions in Guatemala and El Salvador. Still others sprang from the wrenching political upheavals I reported on in places like The Philippines, Brazil, China and South Korea.
But there is one story in my journalistic career that I treasure above all the others. That is the story of a Japanese-American woman named Iva Toguri. You probably don’t recognize the name and if you don’t, that is perfectly understandable.
You and millions of other Americans know her by another name: “Tokyo Rose.”
That’s right, “Tokyo Rose.” The so-called “Siren of the Pacific” who sat before a microphone in Tokyo and told GIs on a 25-minute show called “The Zero Hour” that their homes, their girl-friends and even apple pie weren’t worth fighting for. Tokyo Rose, the legendary “seductress of the short wave,” whose broadcasts between 1943 and 1945 for Radio Tokyo were meant to demoralize the American fighting man and undermine his will to fight.
Remember all those World War II era movies with GIs gathered around short wave radios listening to a sultry “Tokyo Rose” intone such phrases as: “Come on boys, give up. You haven’t got a chance against the Imperial Japanese Army. Why throw your lives away?”
There’s just one problem. There was no “Tokyo Rose.” Nor were there ever any treasonous broadcasts like the ones described above. At least not by Iva Toguri.
Following is her remarkable and poignant story and my involvement in it.
It was the summer of 1941 and for a young California woman named Iva Toguri it was a time filled with promise and endless possibilities.
The previous June Iva had graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in zoology, she had a shiny Chrysler, and she was planning on attending graduate school in the fall so she could begin a career as a medical researcher or perhaps even a doctor.
The daughter of hardworking Japanese immigrants, Iva had been brought up to be a confident, optimistic American. And why not? After all, she was born in Los Angeles on the 4th of July–and you can’t get more American than that.
But in the summer of 1941 the world was not a place that could easily match the hopes and expectations of a 25-year-old UCLA graduate.
In Europe, a war was raging and the forces of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich occupied or controlled most of the continent. In Asia, Imperial Japan, under the leadership of a clique of hardcore militarists, was in control of China, the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and a segment of the South Seas ceded to it after World War I.
Conflict and discord were the prevailing truths of the day, and as Iva Toguri stood on the brink of her future an ominous cloud of world war hung in the warm summer air.
Thus it was not without some trepidation that Toguri’s ailing mother asked Iva to represent the American side of the Toguri family at the bedside of a dying aunt in Tokyo. It was a bit risky, but someone had to go; and on July 5, 1941, one day after her 25th birthday, Iva was on a slow boat to Japan. She spoke no Japanese, had never been to Japan and had never met her aunt.
It would be a fateful journey, one that would alter Iva Toguri’s life forever and eventually introduce to the world one of its most enduring and erroneous myths: The Legend of “Tokyo Rose.”
Less than five months after arriving in Japan and not long after her sick aunt had recovered, Japanese warplanes swooped down on a place called Pearl Harbor. For Iva Toguri and millions of others, the future went from bright to black in a matter of moments. And the lights would not come back on until August 1945, when Japan surrendered.
But for Iva Toguri, the war did not end in 1945 as it did for so many others. Four years later Iva Toguri would stand in a San Francisco courtroom, one of only a few American women ever convicted of treason. In the minds of millions of Americans Iva Toguri was the one and only “Tokyo Rose,” the name American GIs in the Pacific had given to several women radio announcers who played scratchy Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman records during propaganda radio shows broadcast in English from Tokyo and elsewhere in Asia.
Iva’s conviction on just one of eight counts of treason came despite the testimony of G.I.s who called the Radio Tokyo “Zero Hour” broadcasts she made morale boosters and despite evidence which showed she was just one of 13 English-speaking women announcers broadcasting from Tokyo at the time. Another 14 women had broadcast from cities throughout Asia and the Pacific that were occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. Interestingly, not one of them called herself “Tokyo Rose.” (The only radio alias Iva Toguri ever used during her 15-minute segment of popular music was the name “Orphan Ann” because, as she often said during her broadcasts, she was an announcer who had been orphaned in Tokyo by the war.)
Not even the absence of a written record or an electronic recording of the single “treasonous” broadcast she was supposed to have made stopped her conviction. That broadcast came after a crushing U.S. Naval victory in Leyte Gulf of the Philippines in which she allegedly said:
“Orphans of the Pacific, you really are orphans now. How will you get home now that all your ships are sunk?”
Most Americans listening to that would have seen through the facetious tone of those words, no matter who said them, and understood that it was a broadcast meant more for members of the defeated Imperial Japanese Navy than for the victorious U.S. Navy. Even more important, however, was the fact that Iva never said those words.
Nevertheless, in 1949 in a San Francisco Federal courtroom as she, her family and her corps of defense attorneys led by the late Wayne Mortimer Collins looked on, Iva was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She served six years and two months of her sentence in the Alderson Federal Reformatory in West Virginia which would much later house Martha Stewart. But more importantly her conviction sentenced Iva Toguri to a life of disgrace and deep inner pain that only those falsely accused and convicted can ever understand.
Some vindication came in a series of exclusive stories I reported and wrote in 1976 while serving as the Chicago Tribune’s Tokyo Bureau Chief and Chief Asia Correspondent.
Two key prosecution witnesses, after 27 years of silence, wanted to ease their consciences. They admitted to me that they were forced by U.S. Justice Department and FBI officials to lie, tell half-truths and withhold vital information at the trial. It was on the basis of their coerced and false testimony that the jury had found Iva guilty. (Article 3 of the Constitution states that treason shall consist only in levying war against the United States or in giving aid and comfort to its enemies and that conviction may be had only on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or on confession in open court).
The two witnesses, Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio—both California-born Japanese-Americans—were Iva’s superiors on Radio Tokyo’s “Zero Hour” radio program. Oki was the show’s production manager and Mitsushio was program director. Oki and Mitsushio testified they had heard Iva make the so-called “Orphans of the Pacific” broadcast about Leyte Gulf in October 1944 when in fact she never did.
The “Zero Hour” was produced under coercion by Allied prisoners of war, and while the Imperial Japanese government saw it as a way to broadcast propaganda to American GIs fighting in the Pacific, the POWs and Iva saw it as a way to sabotage the Japanese war effort.
That’s the way the occupation forces of Gen. Douglas MacArthur saw it too when on April 17, 1946, following 11 months of Iva’s incarceration in Tokyo’s Sugamo prison along with such Class A Japanese war criminals as former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, the U.S. Army Legal Section issued the following report:
“There is no evidence that Iva Toguri ever broadcast greetings to units by name and location, or predicted military movements or attacks, indicating access to secret military information and plans.”
Then, in October 1946 a U.S. Justice Department investigation of Iva concluded:
“Iva Toguri’s activities, particularly in view of the innocuous nature of her broadcasts, are not sufficient to warrant prosecution for treason.”
It was obvious that the U.S. authorities in Tokyo were willing to let bygones be bygones. And they were willing to accept the reasons for Iva Toguri’s voluntary participation in the Zero Hour show: that like most of the 10,000 Japanese-Americans stranded in Tokyo during the war, she had taken the job to sustain herself while she was basically a hostage in a hostile environment.
Furthermore, she had been assured by the American and Australian POWs who wrote the scripts she read, that she was doing nothing unpatriotic–and indeed that what they were doing might even help the allied war effort.
That was especially important to Iva, because unlike all the other Japanese-Americans who participated in the Zero Hour broadcasts, she had steadfastly refused to give up her American citizenship, despite being threatened and pushed to do so by Imperial Japan’s dreaded “kempeitai” secret police. In fact, her pro-American sentiments often got her into arguments with Japanese members of the Zero Hour staff. On several occasions she risked arrest and even death to smuggle food and medical supplies to Allied POW’s in Tokyo.
In 1948, Iva petitioned to return to the United States and Chicago, where her family had resettled following the war.
When word leaked out that the notorious “Tokyo Rose” was trying to reenter the United States, much of the U.S. press took exception. Radio columnist Walter Winchell unleashed a series of broadcasts attacking then U.S. Atty. Gen. Tom Clark for “laxness” in dealing with “Tokyo Rose.” Pressure steadily built on the Truman administration to “make an example” of somebody. That “somebody” was to be Iva Toguri.
It made no difference that Iva Toguri bore no resemblance in appearance or deed to the fictitious and seductive Oriental woman American G.I.s fantasized about while sitting in their jungle foxholes. Nor did the fact that U.S. Occupation forces already had investigated Iva and cleared her of any activity that could be construed as treasonous.
It was an election year and the administration of President Harry S Truman could not afford to be seen as being soft on alleged wartime spies and turncoats. Atty. Gen. Clark dispatched investigators to Tokyo to look into the Tokyo Rose case. They found that Iva Toguri was the only person associated with the “Zero Hour” show who was still an American citizen and hence, still subject to U.S. law. So Clark began to build a case against Iva and told justice department attorney Tom de Wolfe to “prosecute it vigorously.”
In 1945 Iva had married Filipe J. d’Aquino, who was born in Yokohama of a Portuguese father and a Japanese mother. In 1948 the couple’s child, who Iva desperately wanted to be born in the United States, died at birth. The two remained together until her conviction and then, following decades of forced separation, they divorced in 1980. After Iva’s release from prison, she could not get a U.S. passport to travel and d’Aquino, while in San Francisco for the trial, had been told by the FBI never to return to the United States, “or else.”
The case against Iva Toguri was flimsy at best. Something had to be done to strengthen it. So FBI agents in Tokyo rounded up all of those involved in the “Zero Hour” broadcasts and applied the kind of pressure that most any Japanese-American at the time could understand.
“We had no choice,” Oki told me in 1976 after I had convinced him and Mitsushio to meet me in Tokyo. “The FBI and U.S. Occupation police told us we would have to testify against Iva or else they said Uncle Sam might arrange a trial for us too—or worse. We were flown to San Francisco from Tokyo and along with other government witnesses, we were told what to say and what not to say two hours every morning for a month before the trial started.
“Even though I was a government witness against her, I can say today that Iva Toguri was innocent: she never did anything treasonable…she never said the words that got her convicted,” Oki said. “It was all a lie. Iva never had a chance. And all I can say now is that I am truly sorry for my part in her conviction. I hope she can find it in her heart to forgive us.”
My stories containing details of Oki and Mitsushio’s confession of perjury, as well as interviews with her former husband Phil d’Aquino and others who had worked with Iva on the Zero Hour, appeared in March 1976 and were carried around the world.
On January 19, 1977, President Gerald Ford, in his last official act in office, granted Iva Toguri a full and unconditional pardon. While the historic pardon was an attempt to correct the injustice done to Iva Toguri, the individual, it also served to raise awareness of the unfair treatment Japanese-Americans received at the time from the federal and some state governments.
The fact Iva Toguri became the first person in American history to be pardoned following a treason conviction, speaks volumes about her own indomitable spirit and the determination of those who supported her crusade for justice, say leaders in the Japanese-American community.
Others say the pardon also says something about the deeply-ingrained sense of fair play that permeates American society and which manifests itself, albeit sometimes belatedly, in the media, the courts and, in Toguri’s case, the White House.
July 4, 2006 marked Iva Toguri’s 90th birthday and for almost 65 of those 90 years she had to live with the myth that she was “Tokyo Rose.”
Some vindication came in January 2006 in a quiet, private ceremony held in a restaurant on Chicago’s north side when Iva received the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award from the World War II Veterans Committee. (Herlihy was a radio broadcaster who was known as the “Voice of WW II” for his narration of Universal Newsreels). It was a twist of irony not lost on those in attendance.
I was privileged to be one of those invited to the ceremony, along with members of Iva’s family and a handful of close friends like former CBS news anchor Bill Kurtis, who has known Iva since the late 1960s, and Hollywood producer Barbara Trembley, who is working to produce a major feature film about Iva and her struggles.
Iva pushed back tears as she accepted the award.
“This is such a great honor,” she said. “For so many years I wanted to be positive about this whole thing. I wanted to honor my father and my family. They believed in me through all the things that happened to me. I thank the World War II Veterans Committee for making this the most memorable day of my life.”
In 1991 Iva and I met in the same restaurant. She had invited me to dinner to thank me for the series of stories I had written that resulted in the Presidential pardon. Incredibly, even though Iva and I were linked by the stories I had written we had never met face to face.
“You know, if it hadn’t been for your stories I never would have received my pardon,” Iva told me. “I would still be a criminal. You started the ball rolling. And now, after all this time, I just want to say thank you. It’s long overdue.”
I hadn’t come to dinner in search of any recognition or thanks. I just wanted to meet the woman whose story had fascinated me years before and sent me on a search for the truth. I wanted finally to separate the woman from the myth; to detach Iva Toguri the person from “Tokyo Rose” the World War II caricature. I wanted to meet the woman that fertile G.I. imaginations had turned into some torrid kimono-clad Mata Hari.
The woman sitting across from me was certainly no Mata Hari. Here was a woman with kind eyes, a gracious smile and an admirable ability to put things into perspective.
“I’ve put all that behind me now,” Iva said, speaking of her ordeals in wartime Tokyo, in San Francisco’s federal court, and in prison.
“I’m only sorry that my father never lived to see me pardoned. He died in 1972. But he believed in me until the end.
“‘I’m proud of you Iva,’ he used to tell me. You were like a tiger…you never changed your stripes…you stayed American through and through.’”
“Am I bitter? No, what good does it do to be bitter?” Iva said. Then she thought for a moment. There were exceptions to that blanket forgiveness.
“In your stories Oki and Mitsushio asked for my forgiveness. But how could I ever forgive them for what they did to me?”
Both Oki and Mitsushio are dead now, as is Iva, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 90.
During one of our many meetings, Iva told me that her biggest wish was to have her story told accurately someday in a film or play. There have been a few books written—most of them unauthorized—about Iva’s ordeal, but they have done little to set the record straight.
“People tend to remember a story when it is dramatized and told in a theatrical way,” she said. “As for a book, I would like to tell my story in my own words.”
Iva may finally get her wish. A play about the Legend of Tokyo Rose is currently in the works and I plan to write a book using Iva’s first person narrative based on hundreds of hours of recorded interviews and my personal notes.
Finally, after years of disappointment and heartbreak, Iva’s story will be told the way she wanted it told—truthfully and conscientiously.
But most important, the Legend of Tokyo Rose will finally be put to rest along with other historical myths and deceptions such as Big Foot, the Piltdown man, and the Loch Ness Monster.
My only regret is that Iva will not be here to experience her vindication.
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