Tokyo Rose Dies

Here's a blast from the past: The only woman ever accused and convicted of being Tokyo Rose, an anti-American radio announcer during World War II died this week. She was later pardoned by president Gerald Ford after word got out that some of her accusers were lying. Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post's story:

Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino, 90, an American woman branded "Tokyo Rose" during World War II, imprisoned for making treasonous radio broadcasts and decades later exonerated with a presidential pardon, died Sept. 26 at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. No cause of death was reported.

Although nearly a dozen female broadcasters were given the moniker during World War II, Mrs. D'Aquino was the one most tarred by the name Tokyo Rose, which, along with the name of Japanese War Minister Hideki Tojo, came to personify Axis infamy in the Pacific.

Taunting millions of servicemen with stories of infidelity on the home front, false reports of battle outcomes meant to demoralize them and frequent spins of pop songs to keep them listening, the broadcasts of Radio Tokyo were notorious instruments in the propaganda war. Many American sailors and soldiers found the broadcasts cartoonishly incredible, which Mrs. D'Aquino said was exactly her intention.

The name Tokyo Rose was an American invention. On air, Mrs. D'Aquino called herself "Orphan Ann," a reference both to her favorite radio program as a child and her lonely status as an American trapped in enemy territory. She refused to renounce her U.S. citizenship during the war, and many described her as a victim of her own courage and naiveté.

Having landed in her ancestral homeland at precisely the worst moment to care for a sick aunt, she had been forced through circumstance to broadcast propaganda for the Japanese. [...]

After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that December, she could not leave Japan. In the face of pressure by the Japanese government, she refused to renounce her U.S. citizenship. Japanese authorities labeled her, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans in Japan at the time, an enemy alien and denied her a food-ration card.

The authorities declined to place her with other foreign nationals, as she had requested, and instead, she found herself under constant surveillance and harassment by the Kempeitai, or military police.

She also was without help from her aunt and uncle, who threw her out of their home when she began voicing pro-American sentiments. She found clerical jobs at the Danish Embassy and taught piano. She endured hospital stays for malnutrition, beriberi and gastrointestinal disorders. She borrowed money from friends, including a sympathetic Portuguese national named Filipe d'Aquino, whom she married in 1945.

She became a typist at Radio Tokyo and soon went to work in an office with, among others, Australian broadcaster Charles H. Cousens, who had been captured in Singapore and forced into duty reading the most revolting propaganda on a program called "Zero Hour." In exchange for following the Japanese-approved script, Cousens arranged to read the names of prisoners of war, which he hoped would be of help to Allied families.

Meanwhile, Mrs. D'Aquino brought food and clothing to the starving Allied broadcasters. When radio authorities insisted on a woman's presence on the radio, Cousens recommended Mrs. D'Aquino, whom he came to admire after realizing that she was not a secret agent of the Kempeitai.

After she went on air in November 1943, she and Cousens tried to make a farce of the broadcasts. Hiring Mrs. D'Aquino, with her "gin fog voice," was ideal, Cousens later said. "In view of my idea of making the program a complete burlesque, it was just what I wanted," he added.

Propaganda officials, who were largely incompetent, had little feel for their nuance and double entendres.

Mrs. D'Aquino's average time on each program was about 20 minutes, during which she introduced popular records of the day, sometimes with an aural wink: "So be on guard, and mind the children don't hear! All set? Okay! Here's the first blow to your morale -- the Boston Pops playing 'Strike Up the Band!' "

To Japanese ears, she was highly effective, and station officials rebuffed her several attempts to leave the job. Ecstatic at the war's conclusion in 1945, she again found herself desperate to survive in a miserable postwar economy. She applied for a U.S. passport, because she had not renounced her citizenship, but she made an error of judgment by trying to capitalize on her "Tokyo Rose" fame.

A writer with Cosmopolitan magazine offered to pay her $2,000 -- a fortune at the time -- if she would sign a contract as "the one and only 'Tokyo Rose.' " But the magazine's editors duped her into holding a large press conference that effectively scuttled the "exclusive" and freed Cosmopolitan from any financial obligation.

Mrs. D'Aquino was pleased by all of the attention, at first. She thought the gregarious reporters were admirers who understood her intentions to deliberately undermine the propaganda she was told to broadcast. She did not know that the Cosmopolitan reporter had taken his story to the Army and claimed that it was Mrs. D'Aquino's "confession."

Earlier this year, the Washington Times covered a ceremony where D'Aquino received an award from the World War II Veterans Committee.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013