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Imaginary Siren
Wartime tale of radio broadcaster convicted of treason

By Vicki L. Beyer

BookA woman known as Tokyo Rose was a famous radio propagandist during World War II, or so the story goes.
However, according to Frederick P. Close, Tokyo Rose never existed. The woman convicted of treason for being Tokyo Rose was Iva Toguri (1916–2006), a Japanese-American caught in Japan when war was declared.

Close’s book, Tokyo Rose/An American Patriot: A Dual Biography, traces Toguri’s life and makes a number of startling disclosures and bold suppositions about Tokyo Rose.

Born in California in 1916 as the child of Japanese immigrants, Toguri grew up an extroverted tomboy. If she hadn’t been born a girl, her father would have brought her into his mercantile business.

Instead, she found herself traveling to Japan in late 1941 in her mother’s stead to care for a maternal aunt who was seriously ill.

Through various administrative glitches, she traveled without a passport and, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, found herself unable to obtain one, or to receive any other form of assistance from the U.S. Embassy Tokyo.

Thus Toguri was trapped in Japan, viewed with distrust by her own government, her Japanese relations, and the kempeitai (Military Police Corps). To survive, she worked a variety of jobs that allowed her to leverage her English language skills.

Eventually, Toguri was recruited to work at the military-operated Radio Tokyo, where two POW broadcasters selected her to introduce musical numbers for one of their programs.

On air Toguri called herself Orphan Annie. There is no evidence that she ever used the name Tokyo Rose. In fact, there is no evidence that anyone ever broadcast under that name, yet countless American sailors and soldiers recalled the taunts and seductive comments of her broadcasts.

The US military so believed in Tokyo Rose that they arranged to drop over Tokyo a package addressed to her containing a selection of albums and a requested play list.

At the end of the war, the press and the US military wanted to identify Tokyo Rose, and became convinced that Toguri was she. Toguri denied it, but ultimately capitulated to being called Tokyo Rose for a number of reasons.

This led to a roller coaster of investigations, innuendos and, ultimately, a trial in the United States for treason. Toguri was prosecuted based on alleged broadcasts attributed to Tokyo Rose and convicted based on purchased and perjured testimony. It is a sordid tale.

Toguri served seven years in a federal prison, and when she was released on good behavior, the Immigration and Naturalization Service commenced deportation proceedings against her.

Although she successfully fought deportation, Toguri dared not leave the United States again, lest she find herself unable to return. In 1976, she was pardoned by then-President Gerald R. Ford.

Close styles his work a “dual biography” and attempts to draw parallels between Toguri’s life and that of Tokyo Rose. Alas, it is difficult to compare the life of a real person to the life of a fictitious one, and the dual biography device doesn’t quite work.

But that in no way diminishes the value of Toguri’s story, or the demonstration that Tokyo Rose never really existed, except as an amalgamated racial stereotype fostered in collective imaginations in the fervor of wartime hatred.

In the end it is the story of how an innocent but inept individual could find herself convicted of treason on behalf of the imaginary siren. It tells us a lot about attitudes of the time.



Vicki L. Beyer is a vice president of the ACCJ.