Tokyo Rose: American Scapegoat

On October 6, 1949, an American woman named Iva Toguri d’Aquino was the seventh person to be convicted of treason in the United States. She was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and fined $10,000 for her crimes. What exactly was her crime? Broadcasting a radio show to American troops during WWII.

Iva Ikuko Toguri was born in Los Angeles in 1916. Her parents were immigrants from Japan who had settled in California. Toguri attended school, earned her degree from UCLA, and worked with her father in his shop. A normal American girl, Toguri soon found herself living a nightmare when, in 1941, she traveled to Japan to visit her aunt. Before she could return home to the US, Japanese troops attacked Pearl Harbor, and Toguri found herself stuck in Japan, far from her family, who had been forced into an internment camp.

As she waited out the war, Toguri got a job as a typist at Radio Tokyo where she met Australian POW Major Charles Cousens. He and several other captured Allied soldiers had been brought to Radio Tokyo to be the voices of a Japanese propaganda show intended to discourage US troops posted in the Asia Pacific area. Cousens asked Toguri to be an announcer on the show, Zero Hour. She and dozens of other women who announced on the show became collectively known as “Tokyo Rose” by US troops who listened to it. However, the announcers of the show claimed to be trying to sabotage the propaganda program. Toguri repeatedly joked with her listeners that the show was Japanese propaganda, saying, “Be on your guard, and mind the children don’t hear!”

As the war ended, the US media set its sights on now-married Iva Toguri d’Aquino. Two reporters traveled to Japan, promising d’Aquino money for an exclusive interview. Desperately in need of funds, she agreed to the interview. Once her name was published by the American media, the government moved in to investigate. d’Aquino’s name became synonymous with treason, and years of American upset and aggression were heaped upon her. A year’s investigation yielded no evidence that her show was anything other than “innocuous entertainment.”

It was unfortunate then, that famous radio host, Walter Winchell, was unwilling to let it go. He continued to insist that charges of treason be brought against her. In 1949, the government capitulated to pressure from the media and American public and brought her case to trial. Despite people who testified on her behalf, she was declared guilty, sentenced to a decade in federal prison, and stripped of her American citizenship.

d’Aquino served about six years in prison before being released on good behavior. She fought the government’s deportation efforts and moved to Chicago. In 1976, two of the key witnesses from her 1949 trial came forward to say they were pressured into giving false testimony against d’Aquino. Shortly after, the jury foreman from d’Aquino’s trial said that the jury was pressured by the judge to deliver a guilty verdict. In 1977, President Gerald Ford pardoned Iva d’Aquino and restored her citizenship.

In the decades since the Tokyo Rose debacle, many reasons have been given for the obvious scapegoating of d’Aquino. There were certainly politics, racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, and media bias at play. Iva herself said, “I supposed they found someone and got the job done; they were all satisfied. It was eeny, meeny, miney, and I was moe.”

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