2006-09-28

A Tokyo Rose by any other name.

Iva Ikuko Toguri, who died this week at the age of 90, was probably the most infamous female disc jockey in American history. Born in Los Angeles in 1916, Toguri was forced to broadcast propaganda for Japan during World War II after the U.S. abandoned her there just days before the Pearl Harbor attack.

In 1941, Toguri made an untimely trip to Japan to visit an ill relative, leaving the U.S. without a passport. Her attempt to return home without documentation was stymied: she applied for a passport from the U.S. Vice Consul in Japan, but the paperwork was still being processed when war was declared. Physically and culturally stuck, Toguri learned Japanese and held typist positions with various news agencies during the war.

Chosen out of the NHK/Radio Tokyo typing pool to be a disc jockey on The Zero Hour program by the very Allied POWs being beaten and starved into writing her shows, Toguri became adept at sabotaging her own broadcasts. Though employed to broadcast pro-Japanese propaganda, Toguri's outspoken support of the Allies off-mic (while cleverly concealing it within her message and delivery on-air) resulted in numerous arguments, fisticuffs, and sometimes daily 3 am harassments thanks to the Kempeitai Thought Police. She helped keep American soldiers alive (at mortal personal risk) with food, medicine, clothing, and hope during her almost daily visits to their cells.

As an American unwilling to denounce her citizenship, Toguri was not to be trusted by the Japanese, and as an American woman of Japanese extraction broadcasting for the Japanese, she was considered a traitor in her own country.

Iva kept her position at Radio Tokyo until the war ended, meanwhile the U.S. caught wind of the fact that American citizens were employed by the Japanese propaganda machine. The myth of "Tokyo Rose" (a general term applied to all English-speaking female broadcasters in Japan at the time) spread, and when American reporters arrived in Japan, they were eager to snag an interview with the Tokyo Rose. Led to Toguri by bribing a coworker at Radio Tokyo, a reporter from Cosmopolitan coaxed Iva into holding a press conference. She told her story, imagining that her 15 minutes of fame had finally arrived. Little did she know that her admission to broadcasting for the enemy would lead to an arrest for treason when she later attempted to return to California.

In spite of Iva's commitment to her American citizenship and the help she offered Allied POWs while employed by Radio Tokyo, Toguri was to be only person ever tried or sent to prison for Japanese WWII broadcasts. Her trial, based wholly upon perjured evidence that U.S. authorities fabricated by threatening two NHK workers, was the most expensive trial in American history up until that time. All of this for being an entirely mythical non-existent figure, for neither she nor anyone else had ever broadcast for the Japanese under the name "Tokyo Rose", although tales of such a "Tokyo Rose" that arose from the imaginations of Allied soldiers in the Pacific resulted in Iva Toguri paying the price as a scapegoat.

Long since pardoned by President Ford, himself a veteran of the Pacific War and survivor of many kamikaze attacks, controversy over Toguri's supposed guilt continues even to this day. Of her own broadcasts, during which she actually used the name "Orphan Ann," all that remains are a smattering of scripts, and a precious few recordings that can barely be counted on two hands.

Thanks to J.C. Kaelin of the radio propaganda site EarthStation, who wrote parts (all) of this obit. http://www.earthstation1.com/Radio_Propaganda.html If you cut and paste this link, you can hear a few of her broadcasts.

Here's a still from a cartoon called "Tokyo Woes" made around 1945 by Bob Clampett for the U.S. Navy. As with most 40's cartoons, the gross stereotyping was really overdone.

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