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Tokyo Rose: They Called Her a Traitor

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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Cheering and expectant crowds greeted the General Hodges, a United States Army transport vessel, when it docked at San Francisco on September 25, 1948. The ship was filled with servicemen returning home from Japan and South Korea, and they eagerly gathered at the high deck railings, waving and whistling to sweethearts and families on the sunlit quayside below.

Yet before those GIs were allowed to disembark, a small, thin, Japanese-American woman, flanked by a pair of burly FBI agents, slowly descended the gangplank. As a band struck up the bouncy 'California, Here I Come,' the woman–her head bowed, her pale face reflecting days of suffering from dysentery–stepped toward a waiting car. Although many of the people in the crowd knew who she was supposed to be, few found it easy to reconcile the plain and meek-looking prisoner with popular images of the World War II radio propagandist 'Tokyo Rose,' the sultry-voiced siren who had allegedly done her damnedest to demoralize American troops fighting in the Pacific. The United States government, however, seemed not to harbor any such reservations. Before another year ended, it would put Iva Toguri d'Aquino on trial for treason, even though American intelligence agents had already concluded that she was not Tokyo Rose–that Tokyo Rose was, in fact, merely a creature 'of rumor and legend'–and that d'Aquino's broadcasting activities in Japan during the war had been 'innocuous.'

Iva (pronounced Aiva) Toguri hardly fit the mold of an American traitor. Born in 1916–ironically on July 4– she was the second of four children of Jun and Fumi Toguri, Japanese immigrants who had settled in LosAngeles and operated a small import business. Like many immigrants, Jun Toguri wanted his family to be as Americanized as possible, so he discouraged his offspring from learning to speak or write Japanese, rarely took them to Japanese-American events, and fed them a diet that combined Western and Asian dishes.

When Iva was old enough, her parents encouraged her to try out for school sports, despite her small stature. She discovered an aptitude for tennis. She also joined the Girl Scouts, took piano lessons, and developed a crush on film star Jimmy Stewart. Dreaming of a career in medicine, Iva attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and graduated in 1940 with a bachelor's degree in zoology.

If not for a relative's illness, Iva might never have seen the land of her parents' birth. Instead, in the summer of 1941 the Toguris sent their daughter to Tokyo to care for her aunt, Shizuko Hattori, who was bedridden with diabetes and high blood pressure. It was an inopportune time for travel to Japan. Thanks to the island empire's expansionist policies, its relations with the United States were decaying precipitously. Requests by Japanese Americans to visit Japan sparked more than a little suspicion, and Iva's application for a U.S. passport still hadn't been filled by her departure date. When she boarded the Arabia Maru on July 5, 1941, carrying 28 pieces of luggage (filled with gifts for her relations, as well as Western foods to help Iva endure up to a year away from home), she had no visa to enter Japan and only a certificate of identification from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to prove that she was an American citizen.

None of this immediately mattered. Iva's first concern was to fit into Japanese society. Although she looked native-born, she didn't know the language, found the people 'discourteous,' and had difficulty handling chopsticks (her father had forbidden their use). 'I have finally gotten around to eating rice three times a day,' she explained in a letter home. 'It's killing me, but what can I do?' Unable to read local newspapers, she remained in the dark as tensions between the U.S. and Japan mounted. It wasn't until late November 1941 that Iva, frightened by increasing signs of an international crisis, decided to return to Los Angeles. She planned to board the California-bound Tatsutu Maru on December 2. However, a last-minute paperwork snafu caused her to miss the boat. Less than a week later, Japan attacked Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, and Iva was stranded in Tokyo.

Japanese government agents soon approached her and suggested she renounce her U.S. citizenship and become a Japanese national. Iva refused, asking instead to be interned with other 'enemy aliens.' Due to her ancestry and gender, officials denied her request. Instead, Iva remained at her aunt's home until neighbors–fearful of an 'American spy' in their midst–persuaded her to move. Iva then found a room in a boardinghouse and part-time work at the Domei Tsushin Sha, the national news agency, where she transcribed English-language radio broadcasts from around the Pacific. It was at Domei that Iva learned her family back in California had been sent to Arizona's Gila River Relocation Center, like tens of thousands of other Japanese Americans who were incarcerated far away from West Coast defense areas after the Pearl Harbor attack.

While she worked at Domei Iva met Felippe d'Aquino, a Portuguese-Japanese pacifist and fellow radio monitor. Five years Iva's junior, he shared her pro-American sentiments, gave her moral support when police harassed her for remaining a U.S. citizen, and loaned her money when she was hospitalized in the summer of 1943 for scurvy, beriberi, and malnutrition.

Iva didn't like owing money, even to friends, so, following her release, she set off to find additional employment and square her accounts. She answered a newspaper advertisement for English-language typists at Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), better known as Radio Tokyo. As biographer Masayo Duus puts it, this was Iva's 'first step into the legend of Tokyo Rose.'

Helping her to take the next step was British-born Major Charles Hughes Cousens, a tall, dignified, and mustachioed army officer in his late 30s who had been a broadcasting celebrity in Sydney, Australia, before the war. The Japanese captured him in Singapore and sent him to Tokyo, where officials intimidated him into managing English-language broadcasts for NHK. What the Japanese wanted most from him was a professional-style short-wave propaganda program that would help lower the morale of Allied troops in the Pacific, yet still have enough credibility to attract and hold an audience. But what the Australian army officer gave them when he launched Zero Hour in March 1943 was an entertainment-heavy show designed specifically to undermine the propaganda campaign, without his Japanese overseers realizing.

Two fellow prisoners of war joined Cousens in this effort. U.S. Army Captain Wallace Ince and Filipino Lieutenant Norman Reyes had worked together on an Allied propaganda program before being captured in the Philippines. They helped introduce Zero Hour as a 15-minute broadcast featuring jazz recordings interspersed with news segments, largely about disasters back in the States. Although this trio started out at Radio Tokyo reading scripts prepared by Japanese staff members, when they complained about botched English grammar and syntax their supervisors eventually let them pen their own material–which they craftily larded with double-entendres, on-air flubs, and sarcasm.

Iva Toguri joined this sabotage in November 1943 when Cousens recruited her as an announcer. She'd grown friendly with the Australian major and other POWs at Radio Tokyo and had even smuggled food and medicine to them. But inviting her into broadcasting hardly seemed like a favor in return. 'I don't know the first thing about radio or radio announcing or anything about scripts or records,' she told Cousens. Other women announcers already working at Radio Tokyo protested that Iva's voice was raspy and that she sometimes lisped. But Cousens didn't trust those women and didn't want them on his show. He believed that Iva would help keep his private radio war a secret. And he considered her lack of broadcast savvy a plus. 'This,' Cousens testified in a deposition years later, 'combined with her masculine style and deep, aggressive voice, we felt would definitely preclude any possibility of her creating the homesick feeling which the Japanese Army were forever trying to foster.' Although Iva started out as an anonymous presence behind the microphone, the Japanese insisted that all on-air talent have names, so she adopted 'Ann,' from the abbreviation 'ANN'–for 'announcer'–on her scripts. Cousens soon expanded that alias into 'Orphan Ann,' alluding both to the comic-strip character Little Orphan Annie and to a term used by Australians to describe forces cut off from their allies: 'orphans of the Pacific.' He took a still-greater role as Iva's voice coach, slowing down her delivery, making her sound more 'jolly,' and instructing her to mispronounce words. When she referred to her listeners in mock contempt as 'honorable boneheads,' the adjective came out 'onable.' Other times she broadly lampooned Japanese misapprehensions of English, asking her audience, 'You are liking, please?' And far from being a clandestine disseminator of newspeak, Iva openly warned her listeners that Zero Hour contained 'dangerous and wicked propaganda, so beware!'

The results were more amusing than disheartening:

Ann: Hello there, Enemies! How's tricks? This is Ann of Radio Tokyo, and we're just going to begin our regular program of music, news and the Zero Hour for our friends–I mean, our enemies!–in Australia and the South Pacific. So be on your guard, and mind the children don't hear! All set? OK. Here's the first blow at your morale–the Boston Pops playing 'Strike Up the Band!' (Music)

Iva commanded the microphone for only about 20 minutes out of each 75-minute broadcast (Zero Hour had been expanded shortly after she joined). During most of that time, she played records–dance tunes and light classics, many of them British selections, which Cousens reasoned would not make American GIs homesick. The balance of each program was given over to POW messages home, a jazz sequence, and more news briefs about stateside disasters. The choice of 'Strike Up the Band' as the theme song was Iva's–it was the fight song of her old alma mater, UCLA.

Cousens pulled off his subversion by exploiting cultural differences between the captives and captors in Tokyo, convincing his overseers that humor made it difficult for the target audience to dismiss Zero Hour as propaganda. It also helped that the show was popular among U.S. servicemen. GIs were particularly fond of a Sunday program hosted by a Japanese woman disc jockey they knew as 'Tokyo Rose.' It wasn't clear which broadcast this was, however. Although Zero Hour aired daily at 6:00 p.m., Iva didn't come into the studio on Sundays, and she was usually replaced by her more experienced colleague, Ruth Hayakawa. But Hayakawa didn't have the low-pitched, seductive voice attributed to Tokyo Rose, nor did she spread information about impending air attacks or warn her male listeners that their wives and girlfriends back home were being unfaithful, both of which Tokyo Rose was said to do with relish. Cousens reasoned that if there really was a Tokyo Rose, she must have been broadcasting from somewhere other than Japan.

In June 1944, Major Cousens–long dogged by illness and stress–suffered a heart attack and left Zero Hour. By this point, Iva had departed the Domei news agency, due to criticism of her pro-American views, in order to take a full-time typist job at the Danish legation, and she tried to resign from Zero Hour as well. But the NHK brass refused to let her go. Worse, with Cousens gone, there was talk of having somebody more political write the Orphan Ann scripts. Iva headed this off by re-using or rewriting her mentor's old scripts. Once she and Felippe d'Aquino were married in April 1945, Iva started to play hooky from NHK, not showing her face at the studio for weeks at a time. Other women broadcasters filled in, though they lacked her burlesque flair. Iva eventually returned to Zero Hour in May 1945, after Denmark broke relations with Tokyo and left her without her legation job. In early August, American B-29s dropped atom bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and within days, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered to Allied forces. Almost four years after arriving in Japan, Iva Toguri d'Aquino could look forward to going home.

Not long before the Japanese surrender, the U.S. Office of War Information had concluded, 'There is no Tokyo Rose; the name is strictly a GI invention . . . . Government monitors listening in twenty-four hours a day have never heard the words Tokyo Rose over a Japanese-controlled Far Eastern radio.' The sobriquet might have applied to a dozen or more women broadcasters, but to no single one. Nonetheless, the victorious Americans began the search for this propagandist in late August, when reporters stormed Japan's capital. Their editors were eager for interviews with Hirohito, Prime Minister Hideji Tojo, and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, but Tokyo Rose would do.

Two journalists from the Hearst empire, Clark Lee of International News Service and Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan magazine, were the first to fit 29-year-old Iva d'Aquino into the Tokyo Rose frame. The reporters offered a reward to anyone able to put them in touch with the mythical Dragon Lady of the Airwaves, and Kenkiichi Oki–who'd worked at NHK and who had married one of the other English-speaking announcers–pointed them to Iva. Although Iva protested that she wasn't Tokyo Rose, Lee and Brundidge promised her $2,000 for an exclusive interview. Felippe d'Aquino eventually tipped the scales, telling his new wife that by agreeing to this single parlay, she could keep other reporters away. So, on September 1, both d'Aquinos sat down with the Hearst men. Lee asked the questions, but Brundidge told Iva that, in order to receive her money, she must sign a document identifying herself as 'the one and original `Tokyo Rose.' '

Although she agreed, d'Aquino never received her $2,000, because three days later–in violation of her 'exclusive' arrangement with Hearst–she gave a press conference in Yokohama. More than 100 Allied reporters came to hear d'Aquino say, 'I didn't think I was doing anything disloyal to America' and that she had 'never, never broadcast propaganda . . . [or] mentioned wayward wives or sweethearts.' A representative of the Eighth Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) subsequently questioned her, but Iva didn't recognize that as ominous. '[It] all seemed to be a big joke,' she said later, especially since officers and enlisted men wanting her autograph frequently interrupted her CIC interview. She didn't know that the press back in the States was already portraying her as a traitor.

On October 17, 1945, three CIC officers arrested d'Aquino at her Tokyo apartment. They didn't inform her she was being charged with treason, nor did they allow her to consult with an attorney. They took her to a Yokohama brig, where interrogators asked if she had advised the Japanese government on propaganda warfare. A month later, d'Aquino was transferred to Tokyo's Sugamo Prison, which was primarily used to hold alleged Japanese war criminals. She remained there for the next 1112 months in a 6-by-9-foot cell, often gawked at by civilian visitors, including a cadre of U.S. congressmen who were on hand one day to observe the 'evil' Tokyo Rose emerge naked from her shower.

Six months after Iva's arrest, the Eighth Army's legal section reported, 'There is no evidence that [Iva Toguri d'Aquino] ever broadcast greetings to units by names or location, or predicted military movements or attacks indicating access to secret military information and plans, etc., as the Tokyo Rose of rumor and legend is reported to have done.' This should have won her freedom. However, the military feared 'the reaction in the press and in Californian political circles if she was released, after all the hullabaloo in the media about the `capture' of Tokyo Rose,' recalls Russell Warren Howe in The Hunt for `Tokyo Rose.' Not until the U.S. Attorney General's office reiterated 'the identification of Toguri as `Tokyo Rose' is erroneous' was she finally discharged from military custody, on October 25, 1946.

During d'Aquino's imprisonment, her mother had died, and the rest of her family had moved from their internment camp to Chicago. She now hoped to return to the United States and see them, but the same lack of documentation that had trapped her in Japan half a decade before again prevented her from easily acquiring a U.S. passport. As Felippe's wife, she was eligible for a Portuguese passport, but Iva had put up with too much in order to remain an American–she had no wish to become Portuguese. Instead, she waited more than a year for the state department to rule that it had 'no objection at all' to her receiving a U.S. passport.

Rumors of d'Aquino's homecoming sparked protests. The American Legion pushed for her confinement in Japan, and even the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution opposing her return to the United States. Conversely, powerful newspaper columnist and radio commentator Walter Winchell beat the drum for her prosecution in America, while FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called for help in proving, once and for all, that Iva d'Aquino was the voice of Tokyo Rose. Even Iva's old nemesis, reporter Harry Brundidge, now working for the Nashville Tennessean, got into the act. In March 1948, with justice department backing, he flew to Tokyo to secure Iva's signature on the notes that Clark Lee had taken during their interview almost three years before–a signature that would certify the notes' accuracy, including her 'confession' that she was World War II's most nefarious propagandist.

Brundidge found Iva emotionally exhausted. Two months earlier, she had given birth to a boy who had died the next morning. She just wanted to rejoin her family, and the reporter assured her that she'd help her cause by certifying that Lee's notes were correct. Though she protested, 'Most of this is made up,' the still-too-trusting Iva signed. It was the 'proof' her enemies needed. In August, the justice department–giving in to press and political pressure–had Iva arrested for 'treasonable conduct' and shipped to San Francisco for trial.

Judicial proceedings against Iva Toguri d'Aquino began on July 5, 1949, the day after her 33rd birthday, and lasted for nearly three months. Because the government had to import a variety of witnesses from Japan, the trial reportedly cost more than $750,000, making it the most expensive in U.S. history up to that time. The defense was more restricted in building its witness pool, as Iva's father had to cover all the costs with borrowed money. Nevertheless, some important allies came to California on Iva's behalf, including Charles Cousens, the Australian major who'd made her his protg.

Government lawyers intended to show that Iva had maliciously betrayed the United States, had urged GIs to lay down their arms, and had voluntarily remained in Japan after the outbreak of war to make radio broadcasts. In addition, the government hoped to prove that Tokyo Rose was not a myth–no matter what its own justice department believed–but was, in fact, Iva's radio moniker. This last effort was buttressed by Iva's own nave willingness over the years to sign autographs as 'Tokyo Rose' but was undermined in court by several GIs who found it hard to separate the legend of Tokyo Rose from what they actually remembered being said on the broadcasts.

Although the trial began on July 5, Iva wasn't called to testify until September 7. Newspaper reports noted she looked 'pale' and 'haggard.' Her all-white jury was surprised at how unlike the storied temptress she appeared or sounded. Years later, Iva would be quoted in Masayo Duus' Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific as saying she 'wasn't all that worried [about being found guilty of treason]. I did not feel the least bit as though I had betrayed America.' Reporters covering the trial agreed–nine out of 10 of them predicted her acquittal. Yet, after 80 hours of deliberations, the jury surprised everyone. On September 29, it returned a verdict of 'guilty' on one out of eight charges, that of'speak[ing] into a microphone concerning the loss of ships'–a reference to allegations that, shortly after the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, she had broadcast the 'news' of American ship sinkings. (In fact, a Japanese fleet had been destroyed during that confrontation.) On October 6, Judge Michael Roche sentenced d'Aquino to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Only much later did he admit that he'd been prejudiced against her from the trial's inception.

Iva spent six years at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, visited periodically by her family, but not by her husband, who had been forbidden to re-enter the United States after he had testified at her trial. They corresponded about once a month until shortly after Iva was released from prison. 'I wanted to keep up her morale,' Felippe later said in a newspaper interview. 'But then we stopped. It all seemed so hopeless.' The pair divorced in 1980.

When authorities released Iva on January 28, 1956, she told reporters, 'All I ask for is a fifty-fifty chance to get back on my feet.' Instead, she learned that the U.S. government now planned to deport her. It took two years for her lawyers to defeat that effort, but much longer for the country of her birth to offer anything approaching an apology for the turmoil it had put her through. Lawyer Theodore Tamba, who had worked on d'Aquino's defense during her trial, petitioned President Dwight D. Eisenhower for clemency in 1954 but received no reply from the White House. When Wayne Collins, d'Aquino's trial lawyer, wrote to President Lyndon B. Johnson 14 years later with a similar request, again the White House did not respond.

A series of newspaper articles sympathetic to d'Aquino were published in the mid-1970s. Two came from the Chicago Tribune in which two prosecution witnesses from her trial recanted their testimonies, claiming they had been given under duress. In 1976 d'Aquino appeared on television's 60 Minutes in a report sympathetic to her case. During the segment, George Guysi, a former CIC officer who had interviewed d'Aquino, declared that the state department had abandoned her, and John Mann, foreman of the jury from her trial, now said he believed she was innocent and he should have stuck to his guns at the time.

Wayne Merritt Collins, the son of d'Aquino's trial lawyer, filed a petition for a presidential pardon in November 1976, and on January 19 of the following year, President Gerald Ford pardoned Iva Toguri d'Aquino as one of his last acts in office. By then, she was living in Chicago, where she remains today, declining any further press attention at age 86.



This article was written by J. Kingston Pierce and originally published in the October 2002 issue of American History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to American History magazine today!

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6 Responses to “Tokyo Rose: They Called Her a Traitor”


  1. 1
    John C. McCurdy says:

    I released Iva D'acquino from the Federal Reformatory for Women
    in Alderson, WV. I had gotten to know her well in the previous 3-
    4 years. Employed in the prison hospital I had contact with her
    nearly each day. She was a lovely person. After reading her trial
    transcript and other records I became convinced she was a
    victim & innocent of the charge for which she had been
    convicted. apparently share by Gerald Ford who pardoned her.

    It is sad none could give her her life back!

  2. 2
    Herman King says:

    We must guard our civil liberties especially during war time for
    that is when over-zealous patriotism clouds our judgment.

  3. 3
    Kathryn Black says:

    Mr McCurdy,

    I am currently researching a dissertation on Iva Toguri d'Aquino and found your post particularly intriguing. I don't know if you'll even see this, but I am wondering if you may be available to answer some questions for me. Please contact me if you can at blackkg@bc.edu. Thank you very much!

    -Kathryn Black
    PhD Candidate
    Boston College

  4. 4
    RUBI says:

    WTF IS WRONG WID OUR SOCIETY

  5. 5
    Toni McConnel says:

    I knew Iva when I was a prisoner in Alderson in the mid-fifties. McCurdy was not the only prison staffer who was sympathetic to her cause. Iva had the room next to mine, and at night, after lights out and everyone was locked in their rooms, I would hear footsteps coming down the hall, heard Iva's door being unlocked and then closed, and then for various amounts of time I would hear voices through the wall although I couldn't make out what they were saying.

    The visitor had to be one of the guards, who the prisoners called "screws", perhaps the one on duty at night, but it could have been someone else as well.

    Unfortunately, Iva disliked me (I was pretty much a mental case at the time) and I never talked much with her. But what is interesting is that the day I left on parole, I was standing the hall saying goodbye to other prisoners and Iva walked right by me and started down the stairs without so much as looking at me. Unwilling to be snubbed, I called out to her, "Goodbye, Iva", and still without looking at me, she said "There are no goodbyes in this world."

    Years later I published a book about my life on the street and in prison (Sing Soft, Sing Loud) and I found her address and sent her a copy. She never acknowledged it.

    You can read more about political prisoners at Alderson during that period on my blog at http://www.tonimcconnel.com; there is a little more about Iva than I've written here, altho not much. I also knew Axis Sally and Blanca Canales Torresola. We were all in the same residence hall. Click on Scattershot Memoir or My criminal career category.

  6. 6

    [...] was probably the common monicker given to a half-dozen or so English-speaking female DJs in Japan. Debate has simmered for decades over who was, and who wasn't, the "real" Tokyo Rose, but it's [...]



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