The Persecution of Iva Toguri D'Aquino as Tokyo Rose

"Tokyo Rose" mug shot
"Tokyo Rose" mug shot | Source

My original title for this article was to be “Whatever Happened To Tokyo Rose?” She was the infamous American-born radio personality who made propaganda broadcasts for the Japanese that were intended to destroy the morale of Americans fighting in the Pacific during World War II.

I had happened upon mug shots taken when the woman most closely associated with that name was prosecuted after the war, and wondered what the rest of her life had been like. Knowing she had been convicted of treason, I had a rather hazy impression that she had been executed, as had been her German counterpart William Joyce, known on the air as "Lord Haw-Haw."

So, I started doing some research. What I found was, for me, a total shock. And that’s when the title of this article changed. The story it has to tell is nothing like what I thought it would be.

What happened to Tokyo Rose?

Let’s start by answering my original query. What did happen to Tokyo Rose? Here is the short answer to that question:

  • She was convicted of treason in 1949 and stripped of her US citizenship.
  • She served more than six years of a 10 year term in federal prison, being released early for good behavior.
  • After her release she successfully fought attempts by the government to deport her, and went to work in her father’s import shop in Chicago. She toiled for years to pay off the $10,000 fine that she had been assessed in addition to her prison sentence.
  • In 1977 she was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, and her citizenship restored.
  • She died September 26, 2006 at the age of 90.

If we were to do one of those quizzes that ask “which item in this list doesn’t fit with all the others,” the one that stands out would be the next to last, "pardoned in 1977." After imprisoning this woman, taking away her citizenship, and doing everything it could to ban her permanently from the country in which she was born and raised, the US Government some years later quietly said, “oops,” and in the person of the President of the United States, moved to undo the actions it had taken against her. What happened?

What happened was that her true story was finally revealed and, more importantly, believed. Let’s follow her saga from its beginning.

Tokyo Rose wasn’t really Tokyo Rose

The woman most Americans came to know and hate as “Tokyo Rose” was Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino. She was actually one of about a dozen women who were given that moniker by the Americans who listened to their propaganda broadcasts. The name “Tokyo Rose” was strictly an invention of the American troops who heard these women, and was never associated with any one particular individual. It was never mentioned in any Radio Tokyo broadcast. Significantly, American service members in the Pacific theater were talking about Tokyo Rose many months before Iva Toguri made her first appearance on air. In essence, there simply was no Tokyo Rose.

An All-American Girl

Born Ikuko Toguri in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, but using the first name Iva, the woman who would become known as Tokyo Rose was a 1941 graduate of UCLA with a degree in zoology. In July 1941 her family asked her to go to Japan to care for a seriously ill aunt. Not having anticipated leaving the country, Iva Toguri did not have a passport, but was given a certificate of identification from the U.S. State Department that allowed her to travel.

When she arrived in Japan, Iva could not speak the language, and could not stand the food. In every way, except for her ethnic heritage, she was quintessentially American. By September of 1941 she was preparing to return home, and applied to the American Vice Consul in Japan for the passport she had been forced to leave the US without. But the wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly. Her application was forwarded to the State Department for action, and by December, Iva Toguri was still waiting for her passport to be issued.

Then, on December 7, 1941 everything changed. Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and suddenly Iva Toguri found herself an enemy alien, without a passport, in a country at war with her homeland. It was too late for her to leave Japan.

An American trapped in war-time Japan

According to the Washington Post, Iva quickly came to the attention of the Kempeitai, the Japanese military police, which kept her under constant surveillance. She was put under intense pressure to renounce her American citizenship. She refused. Her plight was further compounded when, because of her pro-American sentiments, the aunt and uncle she had come to Japan to help threw her out of their home. As an enemy alien she was denied a ration card, and ended up being hospitalized for malnutrition, beriberi and gastrointestinal disorders.

Finally, Iva was able to find work as an English-speaking typist at Radio Tokyo, working in an office with foreign prisoners of war who were being forced to make propaganda broadcasts. She received word in 1942 that her family back in the US had been snatched from their homes, and along with other Japanese-Americans, sent to an internment camp. Yet, according to an article on forejustice.org, republished from the Spring 2005 issue of Justice:Denied magazine, Iva Toguri was the only Japanese-American working at Radio Tokyo who never renounced her U.S. citizenship. (Ironically, the witnesses whose testimony would eventually convict her of treason were American-born men of Japanese descent who did renounce their US citizenship).

Although she was an enemy alien, Iva was not a prisoner of war, as were the other foreigners in her unit at Radio Tokyo. This allowed her the freedom to scavenge for food and medicine, which she smuggled to her POW co-workers. One result of this was that she gained their trust that she was not a Kempeitai agent planted there to spy on them.

Iva Toguri becomes a broadcaster

One of the POWs was Australian Major Charles Cousens, who had been captured in Singapore and was now being forced to produce a propaganda program called “Zero Hour.” When the Japanese decided they needed to add a female presence to these broadcasts, Cousens recommended Iva, believing her to be the only English-speaking woman he could trust. She began broadcasting in November 1943, using the on-air moniker “Orphan Ann,” both for her favorite comic strip, and also as a reflection of her own situation as an American in war-time Japan.

Far from being enthusiastic propagandists, both Iva and Cousens said their purpose was to make their broadcasts so outlandish that they would be totally ineffective at lowering the morale of listeners. They played music the American troops actually enjoyed listening to. But they tried to make their commentary, based on scripts written by an American POW, what Cousens called “a complete burlesque.”

Iva D'Aquino broadcasting
Iva D'Aquino broadcasting | Source

And it appears they succeeded. The FBI’s account of Iva’s story on its Famous Cases & Criminals website notes that “Army analysis suggested that the program had no negative effect on troop morale and that it might even have raised it a bit.” In addition, according to forejustice.org some US military personnel credited Iva with slipping warnings of coming attacks into her broadcasts, with comments such as,

Hi, boys, this is your old friend, Orphan Annie. I've got some swell records just in from the states. You'd better listen to them while you can, because late tonight our flyers are coming over to bomb the 43rd group when you are all asleep. So listen while you are still alive.

For her efforts as a supposed mastermind of propaganda, Iva received a salary equivalent to about seven US dollars per month.

In April of 1945, as the war continued, Iva Toguri married Portuguese citizen Felipe Aquino, thus becoming Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino. The FBI notes that “the marriage was registered with the Portuguese Consulate in Tokyo; however, Aquino did not renounce her U.S. citizenship.”

SeaBees in the Pacific listen to news of Japan's surrender
SeaBees in the Pacific listen to news of Japan's surrender | Source

Iva D'Aquino is arrested as Tokyo Rose

When the war ended and Americans began their occupation of Japan, two reporters, Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan magazine and Clark Lee of William Randolph Hearst’s International News Service, began trying to track down the notorious “Tokyo Rose.” It didn’t take them long to identify Iva D'Aquino. They offered her $2000 if she would sign a contract to give them her exclusive story as “the one and only Tokyo Rose.” Out of a job and desperate for funds to return to the US, Iva signed.

She never received a penny of the promised money. Instead, Harry Brundidge went to US Army authorities and presented the signed contract as Iva’s “confession” to being the infamous Tokyo Rose. The Washington Post graphically describes what happened next:

In October 1945, Army officials arrested her and held her for a year in a 6-by-9-foot cell at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. She was permitted a 20-minute visit with her husband every month and to wash every three days.

During her imprisonment, she received word that her mother had died. She was abused by guards who kept lights on in her cell until she would sign an autograph. However, no charges were brought against her, and she was released.

The investigation, including reports from Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the Army's Counterintelligence Corps, officially concluded that Iva had done nothing treasonable in her broadcasts.

Walter Winchell
Walter Winchell | Source

A media rush to judgment

After her release from detention in October 1946, Iva renewed her request for a passport to return to her home in the US. But now, in the wake of reporter Harry Brundidge’s scheme to have her imprisoned, the US media stepped in again. Superstar radio broadcaster Walter Winchell heard of Iva’s application, and was incensed that “Tokyo Rose” was seeking to return to the US. He began an on-air campaign not to just have her passport application denied, but to have her tried for treason.

As the presidential election of 1948 approached, with the Truman administration fearful of being called soft on treason, the pressure to try Iva D'Aquino became intense. The FBI’s own account on its website of what happened next is indicative of the climate at the time:

The Department of Justice initiated further efforts to acquire additional evidence that might be sufficient to convict Aquino. It issued a press release asking all U.S. soldiers and sailors who had heard the Radio Tokyo propaganda broadcasts and who could identify the voice of the broadcaster to contact the FBI. Justice also sent one of its attorneys and reporter Harry Brundidge to Japan to search for other witnesses.

To me it’s unbelievable that the Justice Department was so desperate to convict “Tokyo Rose” that they solicited US personnel who heard the radio broadcasts in the Pacific theater to come forward to identify Iva D'Aquino’s voice! (Remember there were a dozen different “Tokyo Roses” on those broadcasts). But, an even greater scandal is revealed in the next sentence of the FBI’s report. They admit, with the most delicate phrasing:

Problematically, Brundidge enticed a former contact of his to perjure himself in the matter.

In fact, not only Brundidge’s source, but two other witnesses, D'Aquino’s superiors at Radio Tokyo, were prevailed upon under pressure to testify falsely against her. All later recanted their testimony. Neither Brundidge nor his source were allowed to actually testify at the trial because of what the FBI terms “the taint of perjury.” But perjury or no, Iva D'Aquino was again arrested in September of 1948, and brought to the US for trial later that month.

Iva D'Aquino is tried for treason as Tokyo Rose

In the trial, which commenced on July 5, 1949, Iva D'Aquino was charged with eight counts of treason. Fellow Radio Tokyo broadcaster Charles Cousens, who had himself been exonerated in Australia of the charge of treason, testified in her behalf, paying his own travel expenses from Australia to San Francisco to do so.

The National Archives notes that,

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.

The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of the two co-workers at Radio Tokyo. One of them, Kenkichi Oki, later told the Chicago Tribune that he had no choice but to testify against D'Aquino because of FBI threats to put him and his co-worker on trial if they did not.

The pressure to convict D'Aquino continued to manifest itself. The forejustice.org article notes that,

When the defense uncovered evidence the government relied on the perjured testimony of a grand jury witness to obtain Iva’s indictment, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Roche ruled it was harmless error because the witness wasn’t a trial witness. Judge Roche also barred the jury from being exposed to any evidence about Iva’s efforts on behalf of allied POWs, ruling it was irrelevant to the treason charges.

A guilty verdict and its aftermath

Still, it was tough sledding for the prosecution. At the end of the trial, the jury deadlocked. Citing the length and expense of the trial (millions in today’s dollars), the judge sent the jury back to continue deliberating. They finally returned a verdict. Of the eight counts in the indictment, they convicted Iva D'Aquino of one: that she “did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.”

The foreman of the jury later told reporters that he had felt pressured by the judge, and wished he "had a little more guts to stick with my vote for acquittal."

So, Iva served her time, fought and won her battle against deportation, and finally settled into the obscurity of working in her father’s shop in Chicago. She twice applied to be pardoned, once to President Dwight Eisenhower in 1954, and again to President Lyndon Johnson in 1968. Both applications were ignored. It must have seemed to her that her story had reached its conclusion. But there was still another chapter to be written.

After decades, the perjury that convicted Iva is revealed

According to forejustice.org, in 1976 new light was shed on the proceedings that had convicted Iva. The Tokyo correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Ron Yates, took an interest in her case. He was able to find the two former co-workers at Radio Tokyo whose testimony was the basis for the only charge of which Iva was convicted. Both men admitted to Yates that Iva never broadcast the statements they had testified to, and that they had perjured themselves because of pressure from prosecutors.

Yates began writing articles in the Tribune about Iva’s case. That led to the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes airing a report about her on June 24, 1976. As more and more information about her trial was exposed, it became clear that not only had Iva been convicted only because of perjured testimony, but that a compelling case could be made that prosecutors were well aware of her innocence even as they conspired to put her in prison.

Iva is finally pardoned, and her citizenship restored

In November 1976 a third and final petition for a presidential pardon was filed in Iva’s behalf. On the recommendation of US Attorney General Edward Levi, President Gerald Ford, as one of his last acts in office, granted a pardon to Iva D'Aquino. Her rights as an American citizen were fully restored.

Iva’s ordeal cost her immeasurably. Not only did she spend years in prison, and pay a fine that she was never compensated for, but she lost a child that died soon after birth, presumably due to the physical and emotional stress Iva endured. She also lost her husband, who was never allowed by the government to come to the US to be with his wife. (Iva understood that if she ever set foot outside the US, she would not be allowed to return).

But perhaps Iva’s biggest regret was that her father died in 1972, five years before she was finally exonerated. The Washington Post quotes her as describing her father’s reaction to what she had gone through this way:

You were like a tiger, you never changed your stripes, you stayed American through and through.

The tragedy and triumph of Tokyo Rose

Iva D'Aquino’s father was a man whose entire family had been rounded up and interned in a concentration camp entirely because of their Japanese ancestry. His daughter endured hatred and oppression because she was seen as more Japanese than American. That the two of them, after all the US government had done to their family, could still celebrate the fact that Iva “stayed American through and through” is, to me, an amazing and priceless example of all that is best in the American spirit.

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Comments 14 comments

phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 3 years ago from United Kingdom

Awesome. They don't teach much history in school and I'm grateful to writers like you for giving us the whole story.


USHISTORY4YOU profile image

USHISTORY4YOU 3 years ago from Lemoore California

Excellent!


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks , phoenix2327. I wonder how many young people today have any idea who "Tokyo Rose" was. Well, time marches on.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

I appreciate that, USHISTORY4YOU. It's a compelling story that I think is too little known.


humanitiesmentor profile image

humanitiesmentor 3 years ago from New England

Absolutely fantastic hub!


Thamisgith profile image

Thamisgith 3 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Thanks for sharing a very interesting tale. I had no idea about this. Great read!


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Many thanks, humanitiesmentor.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Thamisgith. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Ron, I am "speechless". This is a fantastic article, well-written and full of information new to me. Ironically, the "traitor" Tokyo Rose is the embodiment of an American Patriot, while those who persecuted her, wrapped tightly in their American Flags, are revealed as self-serving rabble-rousers. Voted up, interesting and awesome.


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, UnnamedHarald. What is so distressing to me is the number of people, like Harry Brundidge, who deliberately railroaded Iva for personal gain.


phoenix2327 profile image

phoenix2327 3 years ago from United Kingdom

I think most students would be hard-pressed to tell you who 'Hanoi Hannah' was. Is there an equivalent for the ongoing conflict?


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Interesting question, phoenix2327. In the age of the internet, probably people like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American terrorist propagandist killed in a drone strike, are the closest equivalents. I think the difference is they only get an audience among those already predisposed to receive their message, rather than having an impact on general public opinion or morale.


Edward J. Palumbo profile image

Edward J. Palumbo 2 years ago from Tualatin, OR

I enjoyed your well-written and interesting Hub!


RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Edward. I appreciate that.

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