And who was the American convicted of being Tokyo Rose?

It has been more than sixty years since Iva Toguri was convicted of treason: convicted of being the Japanese propagandist whose radio broadcasts tried to undermine the morale of Allied troops in the Pacific theatre of World War II.  It has been more than fifty years since she left prison, and over thirty years since President Gerald Ford pardoned her.

Yet a Google search today for “Tokyo Rose” yields more than 600,000 hits, including a Wikipedia article about an album by that name concerning “the intersection between Japanese and American cultures,” a record company and a Japanese restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It is the primary thrust of Frederick Close’s penetrating book, Tokyo Rose: An American Patriot, that not only was Iva Toguri not guilty of being Tokyo Rose, but that there was no Tokyo Rose;  and that the American authorities who convicted Iva Toguri knew it—and prosecuted her, convicted her, and opposed her parole anyway.

It is a distinctive story, and yet not unique. Dreyfus comes to mind, as does the interning of West coast Japanese Americans during World War II (which ensnared Toguri’s family).  The national wave of intolerance, the prejudice-addled perception of danger or guilt, the unjust calumniation or conviction, the lost years, and the ultimate exoneration of the unjustly accused.

There is something satisfying about contemplating outrages perpetrated by other people in other times.  The historical perspective provides the distance necessary to recognize how baseless was the hysteria that drove events now decades in the past.  It also affords us the distance we need to wonder how otherwise good people— Earl Warren, then a hard-charging California attorney general and later one of the nation’s greatest chief justices, pushed for Japanese-American internment aggressively; and Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the greatest of American presidents, imposed it–could have acted so irrationally and unjustly. Historical distance also allows us to congratulate ourselves on how far we have evolved from those long-past prejudices.

Why then does so much of the story of Tokyo Rose, not just the story of Iva Toguri’s unjust prosecution and conviction but the entire historical and social context in which it took place, sound so familiar?

Full disclosure: I am not a stranger to this book; I am mentioned in its acknowledgements.  Its author, Fred Close, is a close and longstanding friend.  I knew he was working on this book for a considerable time.  Through him, I met his subject, Iva Toguri.  And I gathered that his theme was the injustice of her conviction.  But I was not prepared for the book’s depth, its evidentiary meticulousness, or the author’s ability to balance the historical record with his friendship with Ms. Toguri.

For although it is Close’s thesis that Iva Toguri was not guilty of treason or any other crime, it is not his proposition that she was innocent of error, of dissimulation, or of having done things she shouldn’t have.

The facts are fairly simply stated: Iva Toguri was the Nisei (born of Japanese immigrant parents) daughter of a Los Angeles merchant.  When she failed to find permanent employment a year after graduating from UCLA at the age of 23, her family decided that she should go to Japan for six months to assist her mother’s ailing sister.  While she was there, the attack on Pearl Harbor triggered war between Japan and the U.S., and Toguri was stranded in Tokyo.  Her family’s evacuation and internment in a central California camp prevented them from providing her with financial support and forced her to look for employment in wartime Tokyo.  Among the jobs she found was as one of several announcers—what would come to be known as disc jockeys–for a Radio Tokyo news and music program called “Zero Hour,” which was beamed to Allied soldiers in the Pacific.  With one exception, which I will come to momentarily, nothing in the scripts that survive seems directly calculated to undermine sailors’ morale but rather to put a human voice on a demonized—and often demonic–enemy, softening sailors up for distorted news reports and other overt propaganda.

Meanwhile, however, the legend of Tokyo Rose took root and flowered.  Close traces it to its roots:

1) An unnamed woman broadcast on Radio Tokyo for 15 minutes on December 14, 1941 [more than a year-and-a-half before Iva Toguri began work at Radio Tokyo during the late summer of 1943] and for fifteen minutes again on December 21.  She said nothing about Pearl Harbor.  2)  On January 5, 7, and 8, 1942, an unknown male broadcast from Tokyo the sentence, “Where is the United States fleet?”  That’s the extent of the factual basis.  From these two tiny seeds…the entire Tokyo Rose legend grew.

So Close finds Iva Toguri not guilty of being Tokyo Rose.  But he does not find her entirely innocent in her own ensnarement.  In the first place, she probably broadcast a taunt that was the only substantive act referred to in the federal indictment against her: “You fellows without ships.  What are you going to do about getting home?  Orphans of the Pacific.  You really are orphans now.”  Ordered to speak the line by the program’s military overseer, “She had no choice about broadcasting the taunt,” Close writes.

She also contributed to her own predicament by giving media interviews after the war in which she characterized herself as “the one and original Tokyo Rose.”  Why?  Money played a part; Toguri was paid $2,000 for one interview—a fortune in a nation impoverished by war and for a woman who needed funds to return to the U.S. and her family.  Ambition played a part as well.  “Iva had suffered hardship for four years,” writes Close, “and suddenly she had the chance to make it all good, even to find the career she had original journeyed to Japan to seek.”

Close anticipates that his conclusion that Iva Toguri, though not guilty of the charges of which she was convicted, was complicit in her own conviction, will “irritate, if not infuriate, Iva’s supporters… [who] presume that the absence of legal guilt must mean that Iva did not perform the act of which she was found guilty.  [But their misguided view] fails to help us understand how twelve of her peers voted to convict her.”

How indeed?  Why would a federal prosecutor jury bring a case against an innocent woman? How could a jury convict her of broadcasting anti-war taunts—that were never spoken?  How could it convict her of being a notorious traitor—who never existed?

Next: How a federal prosecutor brought a case he didn’t believe in, and why a jury voted to convict? 


  1. May 17th, 2011 | 11:50 am

    […] This is the second of a two-part story.  The first part is here. […]

  2. June 18th, 2012 | 2:49 pm

    My deceased wife’s brother Hiroshi Niino was an American attending school in Japan when WWII started. He was forced to broadcast propaganda via Toyko Radio during the war. He apparently was spying for Austriala during the war. We know little about the Niino family as my wife Lois Kiyoko Niino and her sister Bertha were raised in a Honolulu orphanage. She had 2 brothers who served in the US Army in WWII George and John. That generation has all passed.

    If I can be of any assistance contact me I know of cousins and nephews.

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