And who was the American convicted of being Tokyo Rose?

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

Sixty years after a federal jury convicted a Chicago woman named Iva Toguri of treason for being a Japanese propagandist called Tokyo Rose, a Google search for “Tokyo Rose” yields more than 600,000 hits.  Yet Frederick Close’s penetrating book, Tokyo Rose: An American Patriot, makes a persuasive case that not only was Iva Toguri not guilty of being Tokyo Rose, but that there was no Tokyo Rose. (The events that led to Iva Toguri’s conviction are discussed in greater detail here.)

How could a prosecutor, a jury, appeals courts and parole boards have perpetrated such an injustice?

It wasn’t for lack of effective counsel.  In Wayne Collins, Iva Toguri had an experienced, principled and aggressive defender, who had handled and won cases on behalf of Japanese American internees.

There was doubtless a residue of anti-Japanese feeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed, despite the fact that no Japanese American had been proven to have betrayed the U.S. on behalf of their ancestral country.

But Close points to two factors not connected to the post-war environment that played critical roles in convicting Iva Toguri, factors intrinsic to our system of justice and indeed to human nature.

One is the testimony of soldiers and sailors who came forward to testify that they had heard “Tokyo Rose” broadcast taunts about American battlefield setbacks and the risk of being betrayed by stateside wives and sweethearts—taunts that took place well before Iva Toguri became a broadcaster.  Close adduces a number of explanations of how well-intentioned servicemen could have testified to broadcasts that never took place. Perhaps they heard some other woman make such broadcasts; there was in fact a Filipina-American broadcaster named Myrtle Lipton who broadcast from Manila and became known as Manila Rose.  Perhaps the servicemen’s recollections were the product of a psychological elixir of fear, anger and loneliness.

But there was something else as well: the inherent unreliability of eyewitness—or in this case “earwitness”—testimony, the inherent unreliability, in other words of human memory

Just before the beginning of my first law school class, while the professor prepared his notes, four students brought a table into the classroom.  The professor told them he had not requested a table, and that class was about to start. The leader of the table-carriers took out paperwork that he was carrying, and showed it to the professor as proof that they had been directed to deliver the table.  Then do it later, the professor said; I’m trying to start a class here.  After some additional haggling they left, taking the table with them.  Six weeks later, the professor announced that he had staged the table delivery, and asked us to write descriptions of the incident.  A week later, he told us that the 125 students in the class had submitted 60 materially different descriptions of the incident. “This was your first class, you had no cases or notes to review before class began, nothing to look at except this incident,” he said.  “I want you to remember this,” he said, “when you’re out in practice, and asking a jury to rely on the memory of someone who saw a car crash out of the corner of their eye six months ago.”

The verdict against Iva Toguri rested almost entirely on the memories of sailors, most of them young and frightened in those early months of war.  They were testifying about things they recalled hearing early in the war eight years before—memories that, like almost all trial testimony, had been thoroughly rehearsed, and thus locked in, before they took the witness stand.  And they had lived through four years of Tokyo Rose coverage.  “The Tokyo Rose legend obviously influenced GIs testifying at the trial such that they truly believed their own testimony,” Close writes.

Another staple of criminal law, doomed Iva Toguri as well: careerism, in the form of a doubting but dutiful prosecutor.  Special Assistant Attorney General Thomas DeWolfe, who was brought in from Seattle after the U.S. Attorney for San Francisco, where Toguri was tried, declined to prosecute, led an aggressive defense team.  But, Close writes, “he knew the defendant was innocent.”

DeWolfe shared his doubts with his Justice Department superiors, Close reports.  “There is no available evidence, he wrote, “upon which a reasonable mind might fairly conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” The recommendation was bucked up the Justice Department’s chain of command, to Attorney General Tom Clark.  “Tom Clark’s reply the next day was terse,” says Close.  “’Prosecute it vigorously.’”  DeWolfe “was a great soldier,” the Associate Press reporter covering the trial said later, “so he did it.”

How many other legally innocent defendants are prosecuted in spite of prosecutors’ misgivings?  Not many, perhaps; the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas.  And fewer yet as the result of the kind of popular demand that led to the Tokyo Rose conviction.  But the number of prisoners freed after the review of DNA evidence, to say nothing of Muslims wrongfully prosecuted since 9/11 suggests either that many careerist prosecutors let their ambition override their obligation to prosecute only the actually guilty.

The fallibility of memory and the willingness to risk career advancement are parts of human nature.  The wise and the scrupulous recognize their ubiquity and attempt to resist their power.  It is one of the many rewards of this book that it avoids the pitfalls that beckon historians in general and biographers in particular: the temptation to whitewash sympathetic subjects and condemn the unsympathetic.  By writing a searching and nuanced account of the Tokyo Rose episode, and of the historical and cultural environment in which it took place, Frederick Close not only informs us, but prompts us to think about the enduring issues raised by the story of Tokyo Rose.

If you’re Interested in learning more about Tokyo Rose, viewing actual case documents, or viewing exhibits about American culture in 1940-41, visit the official web site for Tokyo Rose: An American Patriot.

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply