Today’s post comes from National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications staff writer Rob Crotty.
The story of Tokyo Rose is the stuff of legends—an English-speaking Japanese woman who seduced the airwaves of the South Pacific with tales of Japanese success, Allied failures, and honest encouragement to give up the fight and return home. The trouble is, there never was a Tokyo Rose, the name was a GI term used to refer to a variety of female Japanese broadcasters. But that didn’t stop one American woman from being convicted of treason following the war for being the fictitious Tokyo Rose. Her name was Iva Toguri, and she broadcast under the name “Orphan Anne.”
After graduating from UCLA in 1941, Iva Toguri left the United States to visit a sick aunt in Japan. She was set to return to the United States, but didn’t make it before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
She became an American stuck in enemy territory. Many Japanese Americans renounced their U.S. citizenship after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to prevent harsh treatment from Imperial Japan. Toguri was a proud American and refused to renounce her citizenship.
She paid the price. Her neighbors threw stones at her and called her a horyo (“POW”). Food rations were so meager she was hospitalized in 1943 with malnutrition.
News from the home front was no less reassuring. In 1942, she discovered her family back in the United States had been sent to an internment camp. She was truly an orphan in a strange land.
By 1943, a California nisei who had renounced his U.S. citizenship offered her a job on the radio, performing in a broadcast directed at Allied troops. She accepted, after being assured she wouldn’t have to say anything detrimental to the United States.
“The Zero Hour” was a 75-minute broadcast that was part news, part entertainment. The program was directed by an Australian prisoner of war, and Toguri read scripts written by a U.S. prisoner of war, Maj. Ted Ince, along with a Filipino prisoner of war. They played music introduced by Toguri, read news, and the team tried to introduce double meaning and entendre into scripts to convey POW messages. Toguri’s radio name may have even been a tip-of-the-hat to Aussies who were separated from their units and called “orphans.” (Listen to a Zero Hour broadcast.)
Following Japan’s unconditional surrender, it was American media hype that led to Toguri’s arrest. Though no “Tokyo Rose” existed—the term never appeared in a Japanese broadcast during the war—the American media was anxious to capitalize on the legend and sought to label Toguri as Tokyo Rose, luring her to “confess” she was the fictitious character with a huge payout. Poor, and thinking she was being awarded for her patriotic work, she agreed to the interviews. The money never materialized, and she was soon arrested without cause and held in a U.S. prison in Japan. A year later, the FBI, Army, and Department of Justice found she had done no wrong, and she was released.
Finally, it was time for Toguri to return home. When news spread that “Tokyo Rose” was returning to America, a publicity firestorm ensued. Led by broadcaster Walter Wintchell and reporters from Hearst, the public demanded “Tokyo Rose” be tried for treason. Toguri returned to her home country under military escort and was arrested by the FBI upon arrival.
In a San Francisco Federal court, Toguri was convicted of treason because of a single broadcast where she relayed information “concerning the loss of ships” in 1944. The Constitution requires “two witnesses to the same overt Act” to convict someone of treason. The prosecution found these individuals in the Californian nisei who had renounced his U.S. citizenship and another American nisei who renounced his citizenship following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Her Australian and U.S. counterparts testified that Toguri had subverted Japanese propaganda and helped the Allied war effort. Both signed affidavits stating she had smuggled encouraging news across the airwaves and provided food to POWs in Japanese war camps, but to no avail. On this day in 1949, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime of treason.
Toguri was released in 1956. In the 1970s, both of the individuals who testified against her admitted they lied under oath under pressure from Federal prosecuters, vastly undermining her conviction. This swell of information soon reached the White House: on his last day in office, President Gerald Ford pardoned her, fully restoring her citizenship that had been abrogated due to her conviction.
Iva Toguri was an orphan no more.