During World War II, radio propaganda was running rampant, but perhaps no more prevalent than Japanese Broadcaster Iva Toguri aka Tokyo Rose. Toguri was born July 4th, 1916 in Los Angeles California and grew up in the States. Toguri attended college at UCLA and graduated with a degree in Zoology. After graduating college in 1941, her parents sent her on a trip to Japan to help take care of an ailing aunt.
Problems started for Toguri in December 1941, when a paperwork problem saw her denied her a place on the ship headed back to the States and only a few days after, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. With the United States and Japan at war, Toguri was trapped in Japan. Japanese military police try to persuade Toguri to renounce her citizenship from the USA to Japan but Toguri refused. Toguri spend the next several months living with family and taking a secretarial job. By 1943, Toguri was working as a typist at Radio Tokyo. While working at Radio Tokyo, Toguri met Major Charles Cousens. Cousens, an Australian military officer who was captured. Before the war, Cousens was a successful radio announcer but now he was being forced to produce a propaganda show called “Zero Hour”. Cousens hatched a plan to use her on air as a radio announcer.
Toguri was initially hesitant to get behind the microphone, she eventually became a key participant in Cousens’s scheme. Starting in November 1943, her voice was a recurring feature on the “Zero Hour” broadcasts. Toguri adopted the radio handle “Orphan Ann” and sometimes even warning her listeners that the show was propaganda. “So be on your guard and mind the children don’t hear!” went one introduction. “All set? Okay! Here’s the first blow at your morale—the Boston Pops playing ‘Strike Up the Band!’” In another broadcast, Toguri called her listeners “my favorite family of boneheads, the fighting G.I.s in the blue Pacific.” Robert White, one of the aerial gunners says “he use to listen to Tokyo Rose and he would listen to her, and she would always start the “Zero Hour” and she would start out by saying “Hey Boys! This is your old friend, Orphan Ann, I have some swale records just in from the states, you better listen to them while you can, because our flyers are coming over to bomb the 43rd group while you all are asleep, so listen while you are still alive!
The surviving recordings and transcripts of Toguri’s programs indicate that she never threatened her listeners with bombings or taunted them about their wives being unfaithful—two favorite strategies of wartime propagandists. Toguri performed her “Orphan Ann” character on the “Zero Hour” for roughly a year and a half, but she appeared with less frequency in the lead-up to the Japanese surrender in August 1945. While still in Japan, two American reporters arrived in Japan and offered $2,000 for an interview with the famous “Tokyo Rose,” she naively stepped forward to recount her story. It would prove to be a disastrous decision. Once her identity became public, Toguri was made into the poster child for Japan’s wartime propaganda and was arrested on suspicion of treason. Toguri made an attempt to return home after her release, yet anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States remained high. Several influential figures—among them the legendary radio commentator Walter Winchell—began lobbying the government to reopen the case against her. The campaign worked, and in 1948 Toguri was rearrested and charged with eight counts of treason.
At her trial in San Francisco, Toguri stressed that she had remained loyal to the United States by working to make a farce of her broadcasts. Charles Cousens even came to the United States to testify on her behalf, but the prosecution produced a series of Japanese witnesses who claimed to have heard her make incendiary statements on the air. In October 1949, a jury found her guilty of one count of treason. She was stripped of her American citizenship, given a $10,000 fine and sentenced to ten years behind bars. Toguri ultimately spent six years in a women’s prison in West Virginia before being released early in 1956.
It was nearly two decades before there was a fresh development in her case. In 1976, two of the key witnesses from her trial admitted that they had been threatened and goaded into testifying against her. “She got a raw deal,” one of them said. “She was railroaded into jail.” Around that same time, the foreman of her jury said that the judge in the case had pressed for a guilty verdict.
On January 19, 1977, in one of his last acts in office, President Gerald Ford granted the request. Toguri, who was then 60 years old, was exonerated of treason and restored her American citizenship. The woman once known as “Tokyo Rose” later returned to private life in Chicago, where she died in 2006.