The Japanese Propaganda Machine of World War II and Tokyo Rose

Although the moniker Tokyo Rose was used by Allied forces to describe any of the English speaking female Japanese broadcasters of propaganda during World War II, the name became most closely associated with Iva Ikuko Toguri.

Toguri was a first generation American of Japanese descent. Her Methodist parents Jun and Fumi Toguri cared only to instill American traditions, values, culture and language in their four children. Wanting their children to become true Americans, the couple frowned upon learning the Japanese language and culture.

Iva, ironically born on July 4, 1916 had a normal American upbringing. Iva played sports, joined the local Girl Scouts and had crushes on popular Hollywood heartbeats. After high school, Iva attended Compton Community College, before obtaining her degree in zoology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

Her life as a normal American girl was turned upside down with the ill health of her aunt in Japan. In 1941, the naïve Iva was shipped off to Japan to care for her ailing aunt. Unfamiliar with the food, language and culture, Iva passed her time in a fog. Unaware of what was happening outside Japan; Iva lived in a state of oblivion, until the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, Iva was unable to return to the U.S. Essentially kicked out of her aunt’s home by neighbors angry at her refusal to give up her passport; Iva found sanctuary in the rented room of a boardinghouse.

Eventually, Iva found employment with the national news agency, Domei Tsushin Sha, where she transcribed English language radio broadcasts. There, she met her future husband, Portuguese born Felippe D’ Aquino. However, by 1943, Iva herself took ill and landed in a hospital, where she was treated for malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. Borrowing the money to cover her medical expenses, Toguri immediately began looking for full-time employment to pay her debt.

Taking a job with Nippon Hoso Kyoka (NHK) radio, Iva would make her first foray into the world of Tokyo Rose. Introduced to the captured Australian officer, Major Charles Hughes Cousens, Toguri soon learned that authorities were interested in her English speaking skills. Cousens had been coerced into developing a propaganda program called Zero Hour. Not understanding the nuances of American culture, Cousens was able to circumvent Japanese authority and create a program that was heavy on entertainment.

Major Cousens is the one who actually recruited Toguri for the program. He was looking for someone who would understand the sarcasm he built into the propaganda. Two other fellow prisoners of war were in on the act. After complaining about grammar, Japanese authorities allowed them to write their own material. Iva took the name of Orphan Ann for her fifteen-minute broadcasts. The Allied plan was to sabotage the propaganda. Later, after her trial, former prisoners came forward to tell how Toguri was a model American and she did her best to sneak food and supplies to fellow prisoners.

Unfortunately, after the war ended the U.S. did not see Toguri as a member of the Allied forces. Instead, they persisted in persecuting her for her role as a broadcaster. Her mistake was in offering to give an exclusive interview to Cosmopolitan magazine. On October 17, 1945, the now Mrs. Iva D’Aquino was arrested and charged with treason.  Her identity as a Tokyo Rose was instigated by another member of the NHK radio station, who had married one of the other women, who participated in the dissemination of propaganda. For an entire year, Iva Toguri languished in a small cell. She was finally released and led to believe that the case against her had been dropped.

D’Aquino had tried to talk his wife into leaving with him to Portugal, but she steadfastly refused, holding out for a U.S. Passport that would never come. Suffering from the stress of the situation and the stress of pregnancy, Iva gave birth to a boy who lived only one-day. On July 5, 1949, Iva went on trial for treason. The evidence was sketchy to say the least, and the jury came back with a 1:10 vote in favor of acquittal. Yet, the trial judge would not accept this decision and he ordered the jury back into deliberation. The judge did not want to see a costly trial end in acquittal, so the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on one charge of treason. This charge was made because Iva had used a microphone to reference the loss of ships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.

D’Aquino was ordered to leave the U.S. and never come back. Iva served six years of her ten-year sentence in a federal prison. She never saw her husband again and lived most of her remaining years working in her father’s small shop. In 1977, she received a pardon from President Gerald Ford.

In retrospect, her moniker Orphan Ann should have been a clue to her status. Iva Toguri was a casualty of war, trapped in a foreign country, where she did what she could to survive. Unlike other Japanese-Americans in her situation, who relinquished their U.S. passports, Iva Toguri held out until the end. Instead of being honored for her courage to keep her American identity in a country at war with the U.S., she was branded as a traitor.

In her broadcasts, listeners can detect the sarcasm and absurdity she tried to insert into the show. Iva Toguri attempted to fill the 15-minute program with so much absurdity that it would never be taken seriously. Ironically, World War II servicemen looked forward to the broadcasts and found them to be a momentary humorous distraction from the realities of war.

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