By Tim G.W. Holbert

She was the “Siren of the Pacific,” a silky-voiced young radio announcer broadcasting from Japan brandishing sharp wit and sharper propaganda. She lured American GI’s to listen with music from home, only to crush their morale by taunting them with stories of the infidelity of their wives and sweethearts back home and gleefully promising Japanese victory. She was rumored to be friendly with General Tojo, was perhaps even his mistress, and seemed omniscient, accurately predicting American troop movements before they even happened. Along with figures like Hitler, Tojo, Goebbels, and “Axis Sally,” she was one of the enduring symbols of infamy from World War II. She was Tokyo Rose. But unlike Hitler, Tojo, Goebbels, and Axis Sally, she did not exist.

This is not to say that there were no female radio announcers employed by the Japanese to broadcast to Allied troops in the Pacific. In fact, there were many. And, in large part, their purpose was to demoralize American GI’s, to make them long for happier times back home in the States. A number of broadcasts were also made that very closely resembled those attributed to Tokyo Rose, which spoke of unfaithful wives and urged the troops to surrender. But unlike her counterpart in Europe, the radio announcer known as “Axis Sally,” there was no one person who called herself “Tokyo Rose.” She was, in fact, a mythical creation of American soldiers and sailors, based upon a combination of actual broadcasts from a number of female announcers out of Japan and its territories, and stories that circulated among the troops that created a legend that was, and still is, larger than life. Searching for Tokyo Rose in World War II-era Japan would be akin to traveling to medieval England to search for King Arthur: though there were a number of people who embodied the description, some better than others, there were none who singularly fit the bill. They were, instead, composites of factual people clouded in legend and myth.

Still, many veterans of the Pacific can remember to this day hearing Japanese radio broadcasts, and many swear that they heard Tokyo Rose herself. Her scurrilous attacks were made all the more revolting because she was an American citizen, born and raised in the United States. And those old enough to remember will recall that following the war, “Tokyo Rose” was arrested, charged with and convicted of treason, and sentenced to a ten-year prison term. In fact there was a woman arrested and convicted of treason for her role as “Tokyo Rose.” Her name was Iva Toguri, she was an American citizen, and she did broadcast to American servicemen in the Pacific from Tokyo during World War II. But as so often happens in the fog of war, not everything was as it seemed. Iva Toguri never once betrayed the United States, and was only eligible to be tried for treason because she had refused to renounce her American citizenship, as many other Japanese Americans living in Japan during the war had done. Unfortunately, due to a combination of media-generated hysteria, the American public’s desire for revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor, the government’s determination to not appear weak on traitors, and Iva’s own naiveté, the label of “Tokyo Rose” came to be pinned on her. Her story is sad and unfortunate, and her conviction was a gross injustice. Yet there is something inspiring in it, as well. Through it all, no matter how twisted the truth became or how hated she was, Iva Toguri’s loyalty to her country endured.

An American Stranded

The long and confusing saga of “Tokyo Rose” began, ironically, on the Fourth of July in 1916, when Iva Toguri was born in Los Angeles. She was the eldest daughter of Jun and Fumi Toguri, recent Japanese immigrants to the United States, and was the first Toguri to be a citizen of the United States. Jun was a devoted father who believed in the American Dream and worked hard to provide a good life for his family. He ran a store that sold Japanese imports and groceries, and was very successful. However, unlike many Japanese immigrants of the time, he made it a point to keep a certain distance between his family and the Japanese American community, believing that the best way for his family to prosper was to assimilate into American culture. The family lived in a predominately white neighborhood, and English was the language of choice in the Toguri household.