Who Was Tokyo Rose?
Iva Toguri, better known as “Tokyo Rose,” was born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916. After college, she visited Japan and was stranded there after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Forced to renounce her U.S. citizenship, Toguri found work in radio and was asked to host “Zero Hour,” a propaganda and entertainment program aimed at U.S. soldiers. After the war, she was returned to the U.S. and convicted of treason, serving 6 years in prison. Gerald Ford pardoned Tokyo Rose in 1976 and she died in 2006.
Iva Toguri, better known as “Tokyo Rose,” was born in Los Angeles, California, on Independence Day, July 4, 1916. Her father was a Japanese-American who owned an import shop. Caught between two cultures, Iva Toguri aspired to be like all American teenagers. She wanted to become a doctor and attended UCLA, graduating in 1941, but then there was a twist of fate.
Her mother’s sister became ill in Japan, so as a graduation gift, Iva was sent back to Japan to visit her sick aunt. She didn’t like the food and felt very alien. The year was, of course, when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred in Hawaii. Tension between the Japanese and the U.S. made it suddenly difficult for her to make it back to America. The last ship bound for America left without her and she was stranded. Japanese secret police came and visited her to demand that she renounce her U.S. citizenship and pledge loyalty to the Japanese emperor. She refused. She became an enemy alien and was denied a food ration card. She left her aunts and moved to a boarding house.
In 1942, the U.S. government rounded up Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps. Iva’s family was relocated to such camps, but she didn’t know about it. The letters between her and her parents stopped, and she was suddenly isolated without information about their lives. She needed a job, so she went to an English-speaking newspaper and got a position listening to short-wave-radio newscasts and transcribing them. Iva then got a second job with Radio Tokyo as s typist, helping to type out scripts for programs broadcast for GI’s in Southeast Asia. Then, she was unexpectedly asked to host a show called the “Zero Hour,” an entertainment program for U.S. soldiers. Her feminine, American voice was meant to reach the U.S. soldiers.
The idea was to demoralize the soldiers, to tell them that their girls back home were seeing other men. She did call the troops “boneheads,” but she never dispersed much propaganda, as was the main goal of the broadcasts. Iva never called herself Tokyo Rose on the air. She called herself Ann and later Orphan Ann. Tokyo Rose was a term created by the lonely men out in the South Pacific who were delighted to hear what they imagined as an exotic geisha-type woman. Iva created 340 broadcasts.
The irony was that Iva wished desperately to return to the U.S. She worked as a radio personality for three years, during which time she fell in love with a Japanese-Portuguese man. They were married in 1945. In August of that year, America dropped two bombs on Japan and their government subsequently surrendered.
Treason and Death
After the war, journalists interviewed Iva, making 17 pages of notes about her radio work, calling her the one and only “Tokyo Rose.” The Army began to investigate her as a traitor, having committed treason for broadcasting Japanese propaganda. She was imprisoned for one year but was released for lack of evidence. Her story was made national news by Walter Winchell. He called for her to be returned to the U.S. so she could be tried. In 1948, President Truman felt moved to act, and she was eventually charged with treason. Her passage back to the U.S. was as a prisoner.
On July 5, 1949, Iva’s treason trial was officially opened. The actual transcriptions of her broadcasts were never shared with the jury. The jury was divided, but the outcome was that she was found guilty. On September 29, 1949, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. It’s now felt that the “witnesses” were pressured to give their testimony, forced to make her a scapegoat.
When Iva was released, she found her family living in Chicago. She lived for 20 years in Chicago as a state-less citizen. In 1976, President Gerald Ford wrote an executive pardon for Iva Toguri. She died on September 26, 2006, as an undisputed American citizen.
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