Who was real Tokyo Rose? No one, despite 1949 conviction

Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino, unfairly dubbed “Tokyo Rose,” looks out the bars of her cell during a 1945 investigation that later cleared her of being the infamous Japanese propagandist, who never actually existed.  Despite this, Aquino was later convicted of treason in 1949 and spent six years in prison.

Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, unfairly dubbed “Tokyo Rose,” looks out the bars of her cell during a 1945 investigation that later cleared her of being the infamous Japanese propagandist, who never actually existed. Despite this, Aquino was later convicted of treason in 1949 and spent six years in prison.

Associated Press file

American soldiers fighting World War II in the Pacific called her “Tokyo Rose.”

Each night, a woman’s voice came over the airwaves to announce US ships supposedly sunk and units allegedly wiped out by Japanese forces in between songs then popular in the United States.

Intended to lower morale, the English-language broadcasts couldn’t stop US troops from rolling up the Empire of Japan island by island until its surrender in 1945.

A reckoning with those who had aided the enemy seemed due.

On Oct. 6, 1949, a San Francisco court convicted Iva Ikuko Toguri D’Aquino, a Japanese American born in the United States, of treason, the FBI reported.

A judge sentenced D’Aquino, dubbed Tokyo Rose, to prison for 10 years and fined her $10,000.

But Tokyo Rose — at least as depicted by the US press — never existed.

A long history

Wartime propaganda dates back to ancient times, when kings and emperors commissioned great monuments to their supposedly glorious victories.

But it took the printing press and advent of volunteer armies to bring wartime propaganda into its own, the American Historical Association reported.

As the Revolutionary War wound down in 1782, Benjamin Franklin distributed a pamphlet with a faked message from a British agent tallying the number of scalps taken from soldiers, women, children and even infants by Native American allies, Johns Hopkins University Press reported.

It was all “gross propaganda” intended to induce the British to more generous peace terms.

Lurid descriptions of supposed enemy atrocities remained part of propaganda efforts on both sides of the Civil War, but so did songs praising the bravery of volunteers intended to bolster recruiting efforts, War History Online reported.

In 1898, blaring newspaper headlines urged readers to “Remember the Maine,” an American warship allegedly blown up by Spanish perfidy in Havana — but most likely the victim of a coal bunker fire, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

The nationalist fervor stirred up by the campaign led to the Spanish-American War.

And propaganda efforts exploded during World War I, including the famous “I want you!” poster featuring Uncle Sam.

The rise of Tokyo Rose

The woman who would one day come to be known as Tokyo Rose was born July 4, 1916, as Ikuko Toguri in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1940 with a degree in zoology, the FBI reported.

In 1941, Toguri moved to Japan to care for an ill relative and study medicine. She remained in Japan after World War II broke out and became a typist for Radio Tokyo, but she did not become a Japanese citizen.

Toguri later served as a broadcaster on the “Zero Hour” propaganda show aimed at US troops. Introduced as “Orphan Ann” or “Orphan Annie,” Toguri read propaganda and played music for about 20 minutes each night, the FBI said.

She made about 150 yen, or $7, a month for the job.

But Toguri, who in 1945 married Felipe D’Aquino and took his last name, was only one of about a dozen women nicknamed Tokyo Rose by US troops who heard the broadcasts.

Lord Haw Haw

The best-known German counterpart to Tokyo Rose was “Lord Haw-Haw,” in reality William Joyce, born in Brooklyn, New York, before his family moved back to Ireland, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans reported.

Joyce joined the British Union of Fascists in 1932 but was later thrown out, briefly forming his own fascist party before moving to Germany just before the outbreak of World War II.

He later became known as Lord Haw-Haw on Nazi English-language propaganda broadcasts, adopting a snide British tone and opening with the words, “Germany calling, Germany calling,” the museum said.

The broadcasts urged British soldiers to desert and blamed Jewish people for the war. As the war drew to a close, Joyce signed off his final broadcast with “Heil Hitler and farewell.”

A British intelligence officer arrested Joyce hiding in a German village, the museum reported. Convicted of treason against Britain, he was hung Jan. 3, 1946.

A coerced confession

Following the end of World War II, two US reporters began hunting the infamous Tokyo Rose in occupied Japan, eventually tracking down D’Aquino, the FBI reported.

They offered her $2,000 to confess to being the “one and only” Tokyo Rose for an interview — but never paid her, The Washington Post reported.

Nevertheless, the interview marked D’Aquino as the notorious master Japanese propagandist in the eyes of many Americans, even though no single Tokyo Rose ever existed.

Investigations in Japan by the FBI and the Army Counterintelligence Corps found no evidence that D’Aquino played a major role in spreading propaganda.

In fact, D’Aquino had purposely subverted the propaganda efforts with help from other Allied citizens stranded in Japan during the war, The Washington Post reported.

“So be on guard, and mind the children don’t hear! All set? OK! Here’s the first blow to your morale — the Boston Pops playing ‘Strike Up the Band!’” she cheerfully announced during one broadcast, the publication said.

“In view of my idea of ​​making the program a complete burlesque, it was just what I wanted,” said Australian broadcaster Charles H. Cousens, who had been captured in Singapore and forced to manage the propaganda program.

But after the 1946 investigations, much of the evidence and many recordings exonerating D’Aquino were destroyed, the FBI reported.

The decision would have ominous consequences for D’Aquino.

Baghdad Bob

During the US invasion in 2003, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf became known as “Baghdad Bob” for his seemingly ridiculous propaganda efforts.

Even as US tanks fought their way into Baghdad, Sahaf appeared at daily television briefings to insist the Americans were being driven out of Iraq, The Atlantic reported.

“He’s great,” then-President George W. Bush said of him. “Someone accused us of hiring him and putting him there. He was a classic.”

He inspired T-shirts, mugs, a pop song and an action figure, and lives on in memes.

Unlike his less lucky World War II counterparts, Sahaf managed to resign his post and vanish into obscurity after the war.

The end of Tokyo Rose

D’Aquino, who had never relinquished her US citizenship, later applied for a passport to return home, reignited the Tokyo Rose furor.

Egged on by radio host Walter Winchell and others, authorities again investigated D’Aquino, this time in concert with one of the reporters who had interviewed her, who coerced a former contact to perjure himself, the FBI reported.

She was brought back to the United States on a troop ship and a San Francisco grand jury indicted her for treason for aiding the enemy as Tokyo Rose.

At her trial, a “Zero Hour” colleague testified against her but later told reporters he had been forced to do so under threat of being tried himself, The Washington Post reported.

D’Aquino became the seventh person convicted of treason in the United States, serving six years of a 10-year prison sentence, the FBI reported.

“I supposed they found someone and got the job done, they were all satisfied,” she later said, The Washington Post reported. “It was eeny, meeny, miney and I was ‘moe,’”

Her husband was forced to sign an agreement never to return to the United States after coming to her defense during the trial, the publication said. They later divorced.

After her imprisonment, D’Aquino lived quietly in Chicago until former President Gerald R. Ford, convinced she had been railroaded, pardoned her in 1977 and restored her US citizenship.

She died in 2006 at age 90, The Washington Post reported.

Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.


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