Jan. 19, 2022

The Pardon of "Tokyo Rose"

The Pardon of

January 19, 1977. A Japanese-American radio broadcaster known as the mythical “Tokyo Rose” is pardoned after being falsely convicted of treason following World War Two.

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Cold Open

It’s August 14th, 1944, and a US Navy vessel cuts through the choppy waters of the South Pacific.

On deck, a young sailor fiddles with a shortwave radio. He and a small group of his fellow seniors are looking for something to alleviate the monotony of another day aboard ship. As he turns the knob in search of a signal, the sailor tells his friends that he hopes they get to hear his favorite show: The Zero Hour. It’s a Japanese propaganda broadcast meant to demoralize American and other Allied soldiers, but this sailor loves The Zero Hour because of the good music; and the personality of the playful announcer, an English-speaking Japanese woman who goes by the handle: Orphan Ann.

The young sailor hears the crackle of band music and a song nearing its end. He grins instructing those around him to: listen up, it’s her show.

ANNOUNCER: Hello, you fighting orphans of the Pacific. How’s tricks? This is after-her-weekend Annie back on the air strictly under (inaudible.) Is everything okay? It better be because this is all request night. And I’ve got a pretty nice go-around for my favorite little family, the wandering boneheads of the Pacific Islands.

The sailor and his friends laugh at Orphan Ann’s description of them as wandering boneheads. They like her teasing voice, and American accent. To their ears, she doesn’t sound like a malicious foreign enemy. She sounds like the girls they grew up with back home. The Zero Hour is not the only Japanese propaganda show coming out of Japan, and Orphan Ann is not the only host. There are as many as 20 female English-speaking hosts like her. American servicemen begin referring to them collectively with one now infamous nickname: Tokyo Rose

When the program ends, the young sailor flips off the radio smiling, thankful for a moment of levity.

But back in the United States, the media’s attitude towards these anti-American propaganda shows, and their English-speaking hosts, is far less tolerant. Tokyo Rose becomes a mythical character that appears in cartoons, movies, songs, and American propaganda films as a symbol of Japanese villainy.

And in the end, one host will pay the price for the supposed sins of Tokyo Rose: Orphan Ann. Her real name is Iva Toguri. She is a 28-year-old American citizen of Japanese descent. After the war, she will be charged with treason and thrown in prison. But the question of her guilt or innocence will not be officially answered until decades later on January 19th, 1977.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is January 19th: The Pardon of Tokyo Rose.

Act One: The Zero Hour

It’s December 8th, 1941, near Tokyo.

Through a tinny radio at her aunt’s home, Iva Toguri listens to the voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. Iva tries her best to translate his words to her non-English speaking relatives even though her mastery of the Japanese language is far from perfect. But as she conveys what FDR is saying, she confirms their worst fears. America has declared war on Japan.

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise airborne attack against the American naval base in Pearl Harbor. Iva’s aunt trembles as she imagines a revenge bombing strike against Japan in the coming days. And Iva places her arms around the older lady to comfort her. Iva is an American. But she’s been in Japan for a few months visiting her aunt who has fallen ill. But now, with war on the horizon, she’s anxious to get back to Los Angeles and be with her parents. She’s concerned about how they might be treated as Japanese immigrants now that hostilities have erupted between Japan and the United States.

As soon as she can, Iva visits the American Consulate in Tokyo and tries to book an immediate passage back to California. But the official behind the desk explains that this will not be possible. Iva traveled to Japan without a passport, instead using a certificate of identification issued by the US State Department. But now that global events have shifted so violently, the official is suspicious of her documentation and skeptical that she is actually an American citizen. Iva pleads, declaring that she is a full citizen born in America, she majored in zoology at UCLA. But it’s no use. The official refuses to acknowledge her citizenship. She won't be allowed to return home.

But the Japanese suspect she is an American and soon Iva is visited by some intimidating officers of the Kempeitai, the Japanese secret military police. These officers pressure her to renounce her American citizenship. If she does not, they warn, she will be declared an enemy alien and denied a war ration card. Without this, she will have to buy food on the black market at extortionate prices. But Iva refuses. She knows that renouncing her citizenship means she will never be able to return to land she loves. In America, Iva is considered a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese immigrant. Culturally, she feels she belongs more in California than in Japan. Iva misses American food, American movies, and her American friends. Most of all, she misses her parents.

But Iva is desperately short on money and she needs a job. One of the few advantages she has in Japan is that she speaks fluent English. And soon, she finds work at a news agency, translating intercepted broadcasts from US radio stations.

Then in November 1943, Iva gets a second job at Radio Tokyo, a broadcasting corporation that produces, among other things, propaganda. Initially, Iva is hired to be a typist but, one afternoon, her superiors unexpectedly ask her to audition to be the announcer on a brand new show called The Zero Hour. Iva learns that this show will be primarily aimed at American troops stationed in the Pacific and is designed to sap their morale, and unsettle their loved ones back home. Much to her surprise, the team of English-speaking writers and producers come from a nearby Allied POW camp. Many of them were tortured into agreeing to work on the shows.

Iva is chosen to be the announcer by an Australian Army Major named Charles Cousens who will write and produce the show. Before the war, Major Cousens was a professional broadcaster. He picks Iva because of her perfect English, her charming American accent and playful speaking style. But Iva tells Cousens that she doesn’t want to participate in Anti-American propaganda. She’s nervous about saying something treasonous against a country she intends to return to after the war.

Privately, Major Cousens assures Iva that he has no intention of committing treason either, for his sake as well as hers. Cousens tells her that they will simply perform an entertaining show that Americans will enjoy. They will play popular records and, in between, she will make provocative but harmless comments. The Japanese propaganda officials will not understand that they are being undermined. Cousens explains that they will call the troops silly names, like boneheads, and tell their Japanese handlers that this is an outrageous insult in America. 

Liking Cousen’s plan, Iva agrees to be the voice of The Zero Hour. Cousens names her Orphan Ann, short for announcer. Soon, she is in the studio with the microphone inches away from her lips.

Tokyo Rose, Tokyo, Japan, 09/20/1945

IVA: Greetings everybody, this is your number one enemy, your favorite playmate Orphan Ann of Radio Tokyo. (inaudible) We’re ready again for a vicious assault on your morale. 75 minutes of music and news for our friends - I mean, our enemies in the South Pacific.

Over the next two years, Iva will speak on 340 broadcasts, rarely saying anything antagonistic and often just introducing songs. And yet, once the war is over, she will find herself in the sights of the media, and federal law enforcement.

Act Two: Treason

It’s late August 1945, in downtown Tokyo.

The city is now under American control, and it’s been all but demolished by bombing raids during the final weeks of World War Two. Two American reporters, Clark Lee, and Harry Brundidge walk through the dusty, rubbled streets on the hunt for a story.

These two reporters, employees of Hearst publications, are working together to find the one and only Tokyo Rose. It’s an impossible task because the one and only Tokyo Rose doesn't exist.

She was invented by American soldiers and sailors as a catch-all nickname for female radio hosts like Iva. But on the home front, Tokyo Rose is morphed into a single treacherous character used in American propaganda. These reporters have heard rumors that the soldiers who listened to Tokyo Rose became so distraught they committed suicide. And though the rumors are unfounded, the reporters believe Tokyo Rose is real, and are determined to find her. 

The two reporters pay one of their contacts in Japan a healthy sum to find Tokyo Rose. Eventually, they're pointed in the direction of Iva Toguri.


Soon, they approach Iva with an offer: if she agrees to sit down for an interview, they will pay her $2,000, the equivalent of a year’s wages in Tokyo. Iva tells them she needs time to think it over. She goes to ask her husband’s opinion.

Iva recently married Phillippe D’Aquino, a Portuguese citizen and pacifist living in Japan. When she tells Phillippe that the reporters have approached her, he advises against the interview, warning: the Americans might try to paint you in a negative light. But Iva is desperate to get back home to her parents who she hasn’t even been able to contact since the outbreak of the war. Her husband encourages her to give up on America and become a Portuguese citizen instead, which her marriage to Phillippe entitles her to do. But Iva is determined to see her parents again. And to do so, she'll need money. She agrees to the interview.

On September 1st, at the Imperial Hotel in downtown Tokyo, Iva talks with reporters for three hours. As Iva tells the story of her time at Radio Tokyo, she doesn’t realize she is putting herself in harm’s way. In her mind, she was forced to take the job at Radio Tokyo to survive. And while there, she did her best to undermine Japan’s propaganda efforts. Her goal was simply to make money and entertain the US troops.

But the reporters have a different perspective. During the interview, they ask Iva to sign a 17-page confession that includes, among other things, confirmation that Iva is the one and only Tokyo Rose. Without scrutinizing it too much, Iva signs the document.

Two days after the interview, one of the reporters writes a column that appears in US newspapers. In it, he accuses Iva of being The Tokyo Rose, of poisoning the minds of American troops, and betraying her country.

The article launches an Army and FBI investigation into whether or not Iva committed treason, a crime that carries the death penalty. By late November, Iva is arrested in Japan and driven straight to an American base in Yokohama for questioning before being taken to a prison for Japanese war criminals.

During her incarceration, Iva learns that in 1942, her parents were forced into an internment camp by the US government. While detained there, her mother passed away. The news breaks Iva’s heart. The hope that she would one day be reunited with her parents has been her north star throughout the war. That hope is now dashed.

During the course of the investigation, American officials find that Iva’s broadcasts were innocuous and she is cleared of wrongdoing and released. Her husband, Phillippe, meets her at the prison gates carrying a bouquet of flowers. Couple is keen to put this unpleasant episode behind them and move on. 

But Iva’s troubles are only just beginning. Soon, she will get pregnant and apply for a passport so she can reenter the United States and raise her child there. But when this news reaches American shores, it provokes a new wave of hatred.

Walter Winchell, an influential American radio broadcaster, begins an on-air campaign to encourage officials to deny her application and try her for treason. Exploiting Anti-Japanese sentiment among his listeners, Winchell drums up such intense support that the FBI is prompted to renew its investigation and soon, Iva will be arrested in Japan again. And this time, she will be extradited to America to stand trial.

Act Three: Perjury 

It’s July 5th, 1949 at the Federal District Court in San Francisco.

Harry Brundidge sits anxiously in the dock of the courtroom, waiting for Iva Toguri's treason trial to begin. Brundidge was one of the reporters who extracted Iva’s original confession. It was easy to do; Iva was an ebullient young woman who happily told them about her career as a wartime broadcaster. She looks much different now, a broken figure who’s seen hardship.

Brundidge knows, back in Japan, Iva’s baby died shortly after birth. Soon afterward, she was transported in a navy troopship to America, where her husband is not allowed to visit her.

But these are the wages of treason, Brundidge thinks. He’s here to see Iva face justice. And Harry Brundidge has made sure she will. He’s enticed a witness to perjure himself.

During the trial, the defense calls Iva’s former producer Major Charles Cousens, who has recently acquitted himself on similar charges in his native Australia. He testifies that, in over 300 broadcasts, Iva never said anything treasonous. The defense challenges the prosecution to produce one instance of Iva saying anything illegal.

But a number of witnesses are called against her, including two of Iva’s American co-workers at Radio Tokyo, who testify that she did knowingly broadcast treason against America.

After a week's deliberation, the jury finds Iva guilty on one of eight charges. She is sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $10,000; the equivalent of over $100,000 today.

Iva serves six years in prison before being released on good behavior. Separated from Phillippe, she moves to Chicago to work in a shop owned by her father to pay off her heavy fine. But she never stops fighting to clear her name. She applies for a pardon to President Eisenhower in 1954, and then again to President Johnson in 1968. Both applications are ignored.

But over time, several of the prosecution's witnesses come forward to recant their testimony. They claim they were enticed to commit perjury by various government and media officials, including the reporter Harry Brundidge.  In 1977, the CBS program 60 Minutes airs a story on Iva’s life that catches the attention of officials in Washington.

On January 19th, 1977, during his final day in office, US President Gerald Ford issued Iva a full and unconditional pardon. She was 61 years old. For decades, she endured unwarranted hatred and oppression, all because of her association with a name that became synonymous with treason. She was demonized by the media and prosecuted by her government. And yet, despite these injustices, all Iva wanted was to spend the rest of her days as an American citizen. Her father once said that Iva was like a tiger [who] never changed [her] stripes. She stayed American through and through. In the end, Iva found justice and cleared her name, in America and all across the world, thanks to the pardon she fought for and received on January 19th, 1977.


Next on History Daily. January 20th, 2009. After a divisive campaign, Barack Obama is inaugurated as America's first African American president.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Music and sound design by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by James Benmore.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.