The Case of Tokyo Rose

By Melia Wong (CMC ’19)

On the evening of August 30th, 1945, reporters crowded the Overseas Bureau of the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and demanded to meet the infamous “Tokyo Rose.”[1] The few employees who remained at the station were bewildered to see the Americans—with automatic weapons at their sides—storming in to the small network office before the war had officially ended.[2] “We had scores of newspapermen coming into our offices asking for Tokyo Rose,” said Kenkichi Oki, who worked at the office. “We had no particular reason to know, so we evaded the questions about Tokyo Rose as much as possible. We said we don’t know what you mean by Tokyo Rose.”[3]

According to wartime myths, Tokyo Rose was a radio siren whose broadcasts dashed the morale of American soldiers during WWII.[4] No individual Tokyo Rose ever existed, and it is difficult to trace the origin of the legend. Americans may have borrowed the name from WWI, when they referred to foreign women as “roses” in song: “The Rose of Picardy,” “My Belgian Rose,” and the like.[5] During the trial, witnesses attested to hearing the name as early as 1942.[6] The legendary Tokyo Rose evolved into a kind of vocal pinup girl, a seductive and malicious femme fatale who had eyes everywhere.[7] In reality, the broadcasts served as a source of familiar comfort to the American soldiers, who found her broadcasts unintentionally funny.[8] The broadcasts may have even boosted rather than hurt American morale.[9]

By the end of WWII, print journalism reached an astonishingly large audience. Many cities boasted two or more newspapers, and daily papers published morning, afternoon, and evening editions.[10] Sensational stories and eye-catching headlines lured readers from one paper to another, and competition for scoops proved intense—even among reporters for the same publication or company.[11] In the days following Japan’s surrender, over 230 journalists arrived on the island, each chasing after three stories in particular: an eyewitness report of how the demolished capital looked, an exclusive interview with General Hideki Tojo, and a profile of Tokyo Rose, the radio siren who headed wartime propaganda broadcasts.[12]

Two reporters identified Iva Toguri, an LA born, second generation Japanese-American citizen (or Nisei) as Tokyo Rose. Harry Brundidge, an associate editor of Cosmopolitan, wanted to relive his glory days as a crime-busting reporter. Masayo Duus, author of Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific, described Brundidge as a “has-been, flamboyant leftover from the freewheeling journalism of the Prohibition era.”[13] He made his name in journalism by exposing the murderous Egan gang in St. Louis. Brundidge wrote a slew of articles that eventually helped solve the kidnapping of Adolphus Orthwein in 1931.[14] The second reporter who exposed Toguri was Clark Lee. At the time, Lee was a correspondent for the International News Service. (The Hearst Corporation owned both INS and Cosmopolitan.) Lee—tall, dark, and handsome—fulfilled an almost cinematic ideal of a dashing war correspondent. The two reporters met while reporting on the Japanese invasion in China and again in Okinawa.[15] Brundidge and Lee agreed to work together to uncover the real Tokyo Rose.

Lee took Brundidge to meet Leslie Nakashima, a Hawaiian Nisei who had worked for the United Press at the outbreak of the war.[16] Nakashima led them to his contact at NHK, Kenkichi Oki. At first evasive, Oki said that a number of announcers covered the “Zero Hour” broadcasts.[17] When Nakashima asked for a list of their names, Oki gave him only one[18]—Iva Toguri D’Aquino.*

Lee was prepared to offer Toguri $2,000 for an exclusive interview. The staggering sum translated to about 30,000 yen. At the time, most Japanese households lived off an income of 100 yen a month. [19] Lee and Brundidge had their scoop, and without meeting Oki or Toguri, cabled a dispatch to INS identifying Iva as Tokyo Rose.[20]

On September 1st, a bold article carried by the Los Angeles Examiner read: “Propagandist Tokyo Rose No. 5, one of the Japanese radio sirens who used to amuse Yanks with clumsy propaganda, was revealed yesterday to be Iva Toguri d’Aquino, L.A. born.”[21] Along with naming her as a graduate of UCLA in zoology, the paper ran her graduation photograph and identified her as “No. 5,” implying there were at least four more radio hosts who could claim the name.[22] Nakashima urged Toguri to speak to Lee and Brundidge, saying the interview would end the interest from other reporters. The money also tempted Toguri, who nonetheless protested that she was not the radio siren, just one of dozens of announcers.[23] Toguri agreed, and signed a contract that identified her as the “one and only” Tokyo Rose.[24] Later, the reporters reneged on paying Toguri.[25]

After Lee and Brundidge reported that Toguri was Tokyo Rose, the U.S. Army arrested her. The FBI conducted an investigation and decided that the evidence against Toguri did not merit prosecution.[26] A year after her release, Toguri requested a U.S. passport. The media coverage was swift and merciless. Toguri had no place on American soil, and should be tried for treason.[27] Walter Winchell, the influential newspaper and gossip commentator, railed against “Japanazis” like Tokyo Rose’s Toguri.[28] When he started talking about Toguri on his radio show, many gold star mothers wrote to President Truman to condemn her alleged treason.[29] Ann Elizabeth Pfau, author of GIs, Gender, and Domesticity during WWII, goes so far as to write that the Department of Justice bowed to the combined weight of public pressure and Winchell.[30]

Whatever the cause, DOJ reopened the investigation into Toguri’s actions during the war. The agency sent an attorney and Brundidge back to Japan to look for witnesses.[31] Brundidge enticed one witness to perjure himself and label Toguri a traitor.[32]

Toguri’s trial began on July 5th, 1949. On September 29th of that year, the jury found her guilty on one count out of eight in the indictment.[33] The jury ruled that she “did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships” in the war, and sentenced her to ten years in prison and $10,000 in fines.[34] Neither Brundidge nor his tainted witness testified at her trial because of the accusation of perjury. DOJ never prosecuted Brundidge, as they believed it came down to a case of Brundidge’s word against that of the witness.[35]

Toguri was only the seventh person tried for and convicted of treason in U.S. history. Lasting nearly three months and costing the government half a million dollars, her trial was the longest and costliest on the books in 1949.[36] The prosecutor and most of the public deemed the verdict just, but Toguri’s family, the reporters who covered the trial, and the jury foreman believed in her innocence.[37] The jury deliberated until past midnight, when they told the judge they could not reach a verdict. He admonished them, citing how long and expensive the trial was, and told them they needed to do their civic duty.[38] The judge had lost a son in war fighting against the Japanese, and was insistent on conviction.[39] The liberal media did not protest her treatment as they had protested Alger Hiss; she did not garner sympathy like the Rosenbergs. Even the Japanese American community shunned her, regarding her imprisonment as a blot on the record.[40]

In 1976, a Chicago Tribune journalist named Ronald Yates revealed that the witnesses in Toguri’s trial—two U.S. born men who worked with Toguri on the Japanese radio station—had lied under oath.[41] DOJ’s case rested almost entirely on the testimony of Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, who later stated that the FBI and U.S. occupation police had coached them for a number of weeks on what exactly to say on the stand.[42]

I spoke with Yates over the phone to hear his side of the story. He and Toguri had planned to write a book together on her experience before she died in 2006. “I just wish I could tell the story in my own words,” Toguri said to Yates before she suffered from a serious stroke. Many years after Toguri’s imprisonment, the Chicago Tribune sent Yates to Japan, where he met a number of reporters from his press club, including Oki and Mitsushio. When the two men agreed to a meeting with Yates, he got right to the point.

“Did you know Iva?” he asked Oki and Mitsushio. They agreed that they had. He asked them for the real story behind Tokyo Rose. Yates remembers the men exchanging a look that spoke of a “mutual unspoken covenant” between the two.[43] Oki cleared his throat. He agreed that Toguri had not “done anything wrong.” Mitsushio added, “That’s right, she’s innocent. We didn’t exactly tell the truth.”

“You mean you lied, you perjured yourself?” asked Yates. There was a moment of silence, and the journalist wondered if he had pushed the two men too far. Shio looked up, met Yate’s eyes, and said, “We had to do it.” The FBI and Occupation Forces had threatened Oki and Mitsushio, saying that if they refused to cooperate, Uncle Sam might arrange a trial for them, too.[44] According to Yates, the two men were terrified. The threats took place during U.S. occupation of Japan, and the Nisei who had filed for Japanese citizenship were genuinely afraid about what DOJ could do to them.

Yates cleared the record, writing a series of articles in 1976 that disclosed Oki and Mitsushio’s perjury. “President Ford saw my pieces, and soon enough I got a call from the White House. I told them what I knew—that the FBI had pressured and coached Oki and Mitsushio on what to say—and I was glad to be a journalist who helped make things right for her.” He paused. “Of course, nothing could ever make things completely right, but I was glad to do my part.” An official pardon from President Ford followed shortly.

Yates also disparaged Lee and Brundidge’s behavior. “Both guys got caught up in the moment, and focused on the big scoop and big money,” Yates said. “They were in this mindset where they felt like anything was okay as long as it made you famous. That’s how they proceeded. Lee wrote only one nasty story for INS, and the headline was something like ‘American Woman Betrays Country for $7.90 a month,’ which is how much Iva’s salary was at the time.” I can hear the frustration in Yates’s voice. “I was a little disappointed in him. Brundidge was a different story. He worked for a salacious magazine, which in the end didn’t even want the story. They said there was nothing there. He was just looking to revive his career.”

When they met in 1991, Yates told Toguri that Lee and Brundidge were to blame for her suffering. “It was a couple of journalists who got you into trouble in the first place,” he confided. “When I taught journalism, I use this story, and tell my students that journalism can do a lot of good, and journalism can do a lot of bad. This is a case of the latter. But this shows that history isn’t dead—I got these two men to go on the record and resurrect this history.” Yates thinks for a moment. “I’d like to say that I was a journalist who, at the end of the day, righted a wrong.”

 

* It is worth noting that, at the time, Japanese women kept their father’s last name. I shall refer to Iva as Toguri rather than d’Aquino, as that is how she signed her name, even after marriage to Felipe d’Aquino.

[1]Masayo Duus, “Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific,” (Harper & Row, 1979), 13.

[2] Duus, 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Iva Toguri d’Aquino and ‘Tokyo Rose,’” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/iva-toguri-daquino-and-tokyo-rose.

[5] Duus, 8-9.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 10.

[8] Ann Elizabeth Pfau, “Miss Your Lovin: GIs, Gender and Domesticity during World War II,” (Columbia University Press, 2008). http://www.gutenberg-e.org/pfau/chapter5.html

[9] Richard Goldstein, “Iva Toguri D’Aquino, Known as Tokyo Rose and Later Convicted of Treason, Dies at 90,” New York Times, September 28, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/28/world/asia/28rose.html

[10] Duus, 7.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 8.

[13] Ibid, 4.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Russel Warren Howe, “The Hunt for Tokyo Rose,” (Madison Books, 1990), 66.

[16] Duus, 15.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Howe, 67.

[21] Duus ,16.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Howe, 67.

[24] Duus, 16.

[25] “Iva Toguri d’Aquino and ‘Tokyo Rose,’” Federal Bureau of Investigation.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Pfau, “Miss Your Lovin.”

[29] Yates

[30] Pfau, “Miss Your Lovin.”

[31] “Iva Toguri d’Aquino and ‘Tokyo Rose,’” Federal Bureau of Investigation.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Duus, 1.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ronald Yates in discussion with author, November 2017.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Duus, 1.

[41] Adam Blenford, “Death ends the Myth of Tokyo Rose,” BBC, September 28, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5389722.stm.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Yates in discussion with author, November 2017.

[44] Ibid.

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