Economist Oct 5 Obit: “Tokyo Rose” dies (with replies)


Hi Blog. Been reading back issues of The Economist left fallow during my recent trips, and stumbled across this. Comment at the very bottom follows:

Iva Toguri, a victim of mistaken identity, died on September 26th, aged 90

Oct 5th 2006
From The Economist (London) print edition

MANY years after the end of the war in the Pacific, a former tail-gunner who had been stationed in New Guinea wrote a letter to a veterans’ magazine. He wished to share his memories of a voice. Every night in the spring of 1944, huddled in a tent with his comrades, he would hear a woman speaking behind the crackle and whistling of the Halicrafter radio. “Hi, boys!” she would say, or sometimes “Hi, enemies! This is your favourite playmate.” She would play swing and jazz, introduce “some swell new records from the States” and then, almost as an afterthought, mention that a Japanese attack was coming: “So listen while you are still alive.”

They listened happily, as did American troops all over the Pacific. It was rare and good to hear a female voice, even through several layers of interference and even with the sneer of death in it. Whether it was one woman, or many different women, did not matter. They could picture her: a full lipstick smile, ample curves, perfect skin, part Hedy Lamarr and part the sweetheart left at home. She was a temptress and a vixen, and her name was Tokyo Rose. For even myths must have names and addresses.

After the war American pressmen descended on ruined Tokyo to search for the girl they had invented. The Hearst empire was offering $2,000 for an interview and, after a while, a slight, pale, smiling young woman came forward. She had worked for Radio Tokyo and, for two years, had part-hosted a programme called “The Zero Hour”. Her name was Iva Toguri: an American citizen, born and raised in California, and now in desperate need of money to get home. She had never called herself Tokyo Rose, on air or otherwise, but there seemed no harm in taking the identity when the Hearst men asked her. Yes, she was “the one and only”, the “original”.

For a while it was glamorous to be this person. Troops mobbed her for her “Tokyo Rose” autograph. She was photographed with them, a schoolgirl figure in white blouse and black slacks amid a sea of beige uniforms. But if she was Tokyo Rose, and an American, then she was also probably a traitor. So, after the fun, she was arrested.

For a year she was kept in a military brig while her broadcasts were investigated. The authorities, finding nothing against her, concluded she was not Tokyo Rose and set her free. Others were not so easily robbed of their chimeras. A populist ranter and broadcaster, Walter Winchell, started a campaign to get her rearrested and retried. In 1948 she was indicted on eight counts of treason, one of which stuck: that in October 1944 “she did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.” She was sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

In fact, Miss Toguri’s story was all innocence. She had gone to Japan for the first time in 1941 to visit a dying aunt; the outbreak of war had trapped her there, an “enemy alien” without money and almost without the language. She was forced, like many other Allied prisoners-of-war, to work in propaganda broadcasting. Unlike her mythical persona, however, she had delivered no threats and nothing to demoralise the troops. Her radio manner was jolly rather than sultry. She was “Orphan Ann”, after Little Orphan Annie, and her theme tune, “Strike up the Band”, had been the fight song of her alma mater, the University of California at Los Angeles.

An alien in Japan

Ostensibly she was working for the Japanese. But she and her mentor, Charles Cousens, a major in the Australian army, had found ways of undermining them. Odd pauses or silly asides (“You are liking, please?”) would make nonsense of chilling remarks. And the records Miss Toguri chose were often British rather than American, entertaining the troops without making them think miserably of home.

As a nisei, the daughter of first-generation Japanese immigrants, she looked thoroughly Japanese. Not so. She was American to her fingertips, a Girl Scout, keen on big-band music and a regular at her Methodist church. Her father, though he ran a Japanese-import store, had insisted on that identity, wanting his children to speak and write only English. Iva—the name she had embraced, casting off “Ikuko”—had set off for Japan in 1941 with her trunks full of American food, and her letters home wailed at the misery of three rice meals a day. Stuck in Tokyo, she was pestered by the military police to give up her American citizenship. She clung to it fiercely until in 1949, as part of her treason sentence, it was revoked by her own country.

The mistake was eventually acknowledged. Gerald Ford pardoned Miss Toguri on the last day of his presidency, in 1977: the first-ever pardon of any American convicted of treason. By then, she had been released early for good behaviour, had paid her fine and had moved to Chicago, to live obscurely and to help out sometimes in her father’s Japanese-goods shop, selling bags of the hated rice to midwesterners.

Her pardon seemed an admission that she was not Tokyo Rose. But the American government still considered she was, even if wrongfully convicted. Hollywood, and the public, still thought so. And for many old servicemen “her” voice, and their dream of “her” face, still fill their memories of war in the Pacific, as real as the kamikaze aircraft plunging into the sea.

COMMENT: I think the author of article tries a little too hard to let Ms Toguri off the hook. Unwilling or subversive participant perhaps, the fact that she still participated is something that should be discussed. One should have dealt with her motivations a little more, and instead of merely dismissing Winchell as a “populist ranter”, brought up more of his claims and counterargued them better. Her popularity with the troops and celebrity status does not in my view exonerate her participation in the propaganda, and she herself should have told us a bit more about what went on before she died. If there is any “mistaken identity”, as the article claims in the title, I feel she did an insufficient amount to correct it herself.

The Economist has done this sort of thing before. In an article on the Emperor Hirohito death in 1989, there was a Leader (editorial) dismissing British newspaper claims that he was “truly evil”. The Economist instead made the case that “Hirohito was one of the people in the 20th Century who delivered us” (IIRC–it’s been 18 years). I had trouble buying it then, and, given the revelations of Shouwa Tennou’s wartime involvement (see Herbert BIX’s book on it), I buy it even less today.

Contrast these with what passed as an Obit in The Economist for Leni Riefenstahl, another woman with wartime complicity:


Leni Riefenstahl
Her cinema was unforgettable

Hand-held history
Sep 11th 2003
From The Economist print edition

WITH just two films, made when she was still in her early 30s, Leni Riefenstahl stamped on history the iconography of Nazi Germany. Not even Albert Speer, with all his grandiose architecture cast in marble, came as close to capturing the subconscious allure—at once both devilish and erotic—that represented power to many Germans in the early 1930s. And although being cast as Adolf Hitler’s favourite film-maker later killed off Ms Riefenstahl’s career for good, it is this early work, the first commissioned personally by Hitler, that sealed her reputation as the greatest female film-maker of the 20th century.

She was a dancer and actress, whose films for Arnold Fanck, steeped in the Nietzschean ideology of mountains, purity and a proximity to heaven, were among Hitler’s favourites. So it was perhaps inevitable that he should ask the 31-year-old Ms Riefenstahl, who had recently begun directing, to make a film of her own—not a newsreel but a piece of cinema—about the Nazi victory rally of 1934.

It was a moment that appealed to Ms Riefenstahl’s passion for the Busby Berkeley spectacle and she turned it into a political coronation. “Triumph of Will” opens with the Führer descending from the clouds, like Odin, in his aeroplane to celebrate the might of his troops. She used moving cameras, frequent close-ups of the wide-eyed party faithful and heroic shots of Hitler taken from ground level. “Triumph of Will” has no commentary, only real sound—the Führer exhorting and the crowd roaring approval.

The film won an array of German prizes and led directly to a commission to film the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. To capture the spirit of the early Greek Olympics, she filmed nearly naked athletes in an array of heroic poses. And although the film was less parti pris than its predecessor—it showed Jesse Owens sprinting to victory in a race that enraged Hitler—the power of moving muscle as the pinnacle of human excellence portrayed in “Olympia” had as much to do with Nazi ambition as it did with sport.

As before, Ms Riefenstahl’s filming and editing techniques both broke new ground, and many shots that now seem commonplace had never been seen before. To capture the drama of the pole vault and long jump, she placed her cameras in holes beside the sandpit where the athletes landed. She used four cameras, including one underwater, to capture the movement of high divers from all angles. Then, in the editing room, she turned them into graceful birds that you almost never see hitting the water.

Leni Riefenstahl took up still photography after she stopped making films. A favourite subject was the Nuba of Sudan. Like her athletes, her portraits of the Nuba were far less about the individuals she photographed than what their sculpted, muscular bodies represented. The similarity makes you wonder, if her film-making had not been abruptly cut off in its youth, whether she would indeed have evolved much further as an artist. Although she was 101 when she died earlier this week, there was always something of the James Dean about her.

Maybe this is just something The Economist does: Focus on the output and not on the motivations of the artist. Pity it means glossing over archetypal historical figures in retrospective. I say: Less gush for people with possible complicity in wartime, please. There are issues here which should be discussed. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Hey Debito,
I think you need to read a bit more on Tokyo Rose. The trial was a travesty, with witnesses forced to committ perjury in order to get a conviction. Here are some urls

Identified by the press, however erroneously, as Tokyo Rose after the war, she was detained for a year by the U.S. military before being released for lack of evidence. Regardless, upon return to the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged her with eight counts of treason. Her 1949 trial resulted in a conviction on one count, making her the seventh American to be convicted on that charge. In 1974, investigative journalists found key witnesses had lied during testimony, among and other serious problems with the conduct of the trial. She was pardoned by U.S. President Gerald Ford, becoming the only U.S. citizen convicted of treason to be pardoned
The Department of Justice initiated further efforts to acquire additional evidence that might be sufficient to convict Aquino. It issued a press release asking all U.S. soldiers and sailors who had heard the Radio Tokyo propaganda broadcasts and who could identify the voice of the broadcaster to contact the FBI. Justice also sent one of its attorneys and reporter Harry Brundidge to Japan to search for other witnesses. Problematically, Brundidge enticed a former contact of his to perjure himself in the matter.

Neither Brundidge nor the witness testified at trial because of the taint of perjury. Nor was Brundidge prosecuted for subornation of perjury. According to FBI records available at the National Archives, the Department of Justice thought that the evidence came down to the witness’s word against that of Brundidge.

MY FRIEND CONCLUDES: Equating a film director supplied with resources from the Nazi party and a single woman without documentation trapped in Japan is missing the point on a number of levels. I think you are going to get hammered on this point.

As I should be, then. The Obit to me just didn’t make a sufficiently powerful case to the contrary. Ah well. Live and learn. Thanks for the info. Debito


Hi Debito-san,

…I always enjoy reading your news items through e-mail and in the Japan Times. I noticed this little notice about Tokyo Rose below. It reminded me of a radio show that I hear sometime earlier this year. I have found it on Internet and am sending the URL. If you have some time, have a listen.


Keep up the good work!


Dave, Eva Toguri, the so called Tokyo Rose, was framed–a post-war scapegoat. See
scroll down to page 22. Likewise, see
The Hunt for “Tokyo Rose” (Softcover) ($14.95)
by Russell Warren Howe – $14.95 – 384 pgs. A study of one of World War II’s most hated personalities. One realizes from the evidence Howe presents that the case against Iva Toguri, falsely identified as Tokyo Rose, was contrived and that the furor over her wartime activities while trapped in Japan after the war broke out was a combination of journalists wanting to create news and government officials looking for revenge against the Japanese. Howe includes detailed information from F.B.I. files and the testimony of surviving principals involved in the situation. The book reveals that Toguri’s broadcasting was not in any way detrimental to U. S. troops; in fact, she was forced by the Japanese to broadcast a show with little more than chitchat and music. The book carries a strong message about the vindictiveness of people under the stress of war, the ability of people to use the U. S. justice system for their own profit, and the power of the press. The book will also make readers reflect on American racism, the constitutional rights of the accused, and the immorality of U. S. officials.

Iva Toguri’s story was featured in the Spring 2005 issue of Justice Denied magazine. See, “Iva Toguri Is Innocent! – Iva Toguri was not Tokyo Rose and she was wrongly convicted of treason.”,

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