The strange affair of ‘Tokyo Rose’

Iva Torugi

Iva Torugi

TOKYO — I would not be writing this column today about wartime intrigue, deceit and treachery if it had not been for a chance meeting here with a half-dozen total strangers.

During our stay in Tokyo, my wife and I had lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, or FCCJ, which has welcomed non-member, visiting overseas journalists since its founding after the defeat of Japan and the end of World War II in August, 1945.

A waiter seated us at a table occupied by six FCCJ members, all Americans whom we had never before met, and after greeting us, they resumed their conversation the about the “Tokyo Rose” affair, one of the great mysteries of WW II.

Of course, I had heard about Tokyo Rose, the California-born young woman of Japanese descent who, at war’s end, was tried and found guilty of broadcasting anti-American propaganda and sentenced to a long prison term.

But because my knowledge of the case was sketchy, one of our lunch seatmates put me in touch with long-time club member Charles Pomeroy, who edited the 1998 book “Foreign Correspondents in Japan” which contains a gripping section about the Tokyo Rose affair and its surprising conclusion.

I purchased Pomeroy’s book and was able to locate Pomeroy, who came to Japan in the 1950s as a U.S. Navy pilot and has stayed on in Tokyo as a foreign correspondent, and both he and his book have provided me with a great amount of information as to what the Tokyo Rose case was all about.

Tokyo Rose was the collective nickname given by WW II U.S. and allied GIs to female, English-speaking radio announcers whose broadcasts from Japan, that were heard throughout the Pacific during the war, included not only American “big band” dance music but allegedly treasonous propaganda messages meant to erode the troops’ morale and convince them to surrender.

There were more than 20 of these Japanese-American “radio girls” compelled by Japan’s wartime government to make the broadcasts, but, for some reason, the spotlight fell upon hapless Iva Torugi, who was born in Los Angeles to Japanese parents on Independence Day, 1916.

A studious child who played the piano, joined the Girl Scouts and worshipped in a Methodist Church, she was awarded an undergraduate degree in zoology from UCLA and registered as a Republican.

In July of 1941, five months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Torugi’s parents sent her to Japan to visit her maternal aunt who was on her deathbed. But after Pearl Harbor, Torugi found herself stranded in Tokyo unable to return to the U.S., so she got a secretarial job at Domei, the Japanese news agency.

Soon, she was pressured to become a Radio Tokyo announcer and was given scripts to read, one of which said, in part...”Hello, boneheads, this is your favorite playmate and enemy. How are all you orphans in the Pacific? Are you enjoying yourselves while your wives and sweethearts are running around with draft dodgers in the states?”

The unsophisticated Toguri later claimed she thought the scripts were facetious, funny and meant to entertain the allied troops. Many of her listeners agreed, stating the music she played was delightful and that the propaganda messages written into her scripts by the Japanese were outrageous, clumsy, laughable and unthreatening.

But after Japan’s unconditional surrender, Toguri, who had married a man of Japanese-Portuguese descent and had borne his child who died in infancy, was arrested by U.S. military police in Yokohama after she supposedly confessed to committing treason to two American newspapermen. She spent a year in a U.S. military prison in Tokyo, but was released with no charges pending after investigations by the FBI and Army counterintelligence officers on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff concluded she had committed no crimes and that her alleged confession had been coerced upon her by unethical journalists eager to make headlines.

However, following her return to California in 1948, she was again arrested on charges of treason, found guilty by a U.S. District Court jury in San Francisco after several prosecution witnesses testified she had been an agent of the Japanese government during the war, fined $10,000 and sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison in West Virginia. She served six years and two months before released on parole in early 1956.

In 1976, separate investigations led by the Chicago Tribune, the CBS-TV program “60 Minutes” and several noted American authors indicated that many key witnesses who testified against Toguri had lied under oath and that she, in fact, had been compelled by the Japanese to make the broadcasts and had not purposely made treasonous statements on the air.

On Jan. 19, 1977, President Gerald Ford granted her a full and unconditional pardon, during his last full day in office.

Ford’s pardon was unanimously endorsed by both houses of the California legislature, the Japanese American Citizens League and S.I. Hayakawa, at the time a conservative Republican U.S. senator from California.

Further honors came in early 2006, when the WW II Veterans Committee, which sponsors the annual Washington, DC Memorial Day Parade and the National War Memorial, awarded Torugi its yearly Citizenship Award “for her indomitable spirit, love of country and the example of courage she has given her fellow Americans.”

Six months later, Iva Torugi died at the age of 90 in Chicago, where she had worked for 30 years as a store clerk.

David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.


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