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The Media and Tokyo Rose

When a teenager, Walter Winchell began in vaudeville in New York City, and he was to use his connections with the theatre in becoming a "gossip" columnist. He made himself popular by also speaking up for law and order and "Old Glory." As a reporter for the New York Daily Mirror he lavished praise on the FBI and became a friend of J. Edgar Hoover, and Hoover fed him information which helped him as a journalist. His popularity made him someone to be feared. Franklin Roosevelt is said to have treated him with caution to an extent that he pretended to solicit his advice.

In 1930, Winchell moved to radio. His Sunday night broadcast reached millions, while his newspaper column was syndicated to over 2,000 newspapers worldwide. He began his broadcasts with a burst of sound from a telegraph key, and he would continue the sense of urgency by reading each story in sharp and fast staccato style. Pursuing his habit of gossip on paper, he is rumored to have responded whenever a friend reproached him for using their friendship by saying, "I know – I'm just a son of a bitch." Another rumor holds that some of his journalist colleagues, perhaps better trained and more professional than he, called him Walter Windbag.

Walter Winchell

Walter Winchell, a devoted opportunist.

Iva Toguri

Iva Toguri, a devoted American.

Winchell was on a course that would involve him with a young UCLA graduate with a degree in Zoology – Iva Toguri. On 5 July 1941, Toguri left Los Angles for Japan, sent by her parents to visit a sick aunt. The US State Department issued her a Certificate of Identification. And in September in Japan, Toguri applied to the US Vice Consul for a passport, stating she wished to return to her home in the United States. Her request was forwarded to the State Department, but Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December, and Toguri received no reply. She was stuck in Japan. She renounced the Japanese citizenship that Japan conferred on her. She was placed under surveillance and was viewed with suspicion in American dress and with less than fluent Japanese. She was asked to renounce her US citizenship. She refused and was declared an enemy alien and refused a war ration card. Toguri suffered hunger and malnutrition. She was to describe herself as having been different from others caught in Japan who sheltered themselves behind dual citizenship.

Iva Toguri answered an ad for an English-language typist at Radio Tokyo. She started work in November, 1943, while Japan was already losing the war in the Pacific. Her bosses at Radio Tokyo transferred her from typing to joining others in radio broadcasting. She worked with an Australian Prisoner of War on programs that involved reading scripts prepared by POWs and playing recorded music. The POWs were trying to make the programs obviously absurd to their countrymen who might be listening, and, according to Ramsey Clark in a forward to Russell Warren Howe's book, The Hunt for Tokyo Rose, the POWs "acknowledged they trusted her with their lives." Clark describes her as feeling a bond with the POWs and believing that she was "doing the right thing." Howe adds to Clark's description, writing that she would bring the POWs "fruit, vegetables and other food she needed herself, aspirin, quinine and other medicine and news from the Danish mission." The Danish minister was to confirm her pro-American commitment, as would other POWs. Toward the end of the war she converted to Catholicism and she married a Portuguese Eurasian, Felippe d'Aquino.

At the end of the war, US reporters arrived in Japan and, looking for a story, tried to find "Tokyo Rose." Harry Brundidge, a Hearst reporter, did some sloppy reporting and identified Toguri as "Tokyo Rose."

Meanwhile, Iva Toguri was interviewed by friendly US intelligence officers and friendly military personnel. Believing they were in the presence of a celebrity, they asked for an autograph, and naively she agreed to put "Tokyo Rose" under her signature. The first time she had heard of "Tokyo Rose" was when the US Army entered Tokyo.

A Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) report was made (in the US National Archives today). Toguri's innocence was not questioned and Toguri was maneuvered to return home to California. Then politics mixed with wartime passions became involved. The Occupation authority in Japan responded and imprisoned her. An ambitious US attorney, Charles C. Carr, called for Toguri to stand trial in Los Angeles. Carr was quoted in the Los Angeles Examiner (a Hearst newspaper) as saying,

This infamous woman, born and educated here, used myriad artifices and devices to spread discontent and dissension among American troops.

Walter Winchell and J. Edgar Hoover were interested in Toguri. In October, 1947, the State Department approved the issuance of a passport for Toguri. American veterans groups and Walter Winchell expressed outrage that “Tokyo Rose” wanted to return home. They labeled her a traitor. The Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution opposing her return to Los Angeles. Toguri's parents meanwhile had been released from the internment of Japanese Americans in California.

Journalists were intimidated. This was when President Truman was being accused of being "soft on traitors."

Iva Toguri d'Aquino was sent home to the US in a military plane. In July, 1949, at the Federal District Court in San Francisco, she was charged with eight "overt acts" of treason.

It was Attorney General Tom C. Clark, who had ordered the arrest of Toguri – Clark under pressure, writes Russell Warren Howe, from Congress, J. Edgar Hoover, Winchell and others.

About the trial, Tom Clark's son, Ramsey Clark, writes:

In a desperate effort to develop evidence of guilt, investigators threatened witnesses until they perjured themselves. Exculpation evidence was destroyed. Witnesses and evidence favorable to the defense were not permitted to be brought from Japan. Statements she made there which would benefit her defense were classified secret and she was denied copies. At least one witness committed perjury before the grand jury. An important witness brought to the US by the prosecution was spirited out of the country when he insisted on testifying truthfully.

The judge in the trial was convinced that Toguri was guilty. Privately he confessed his surprise that his son – a veteran who had been stationed in the Pacific – felt no animosity toward her.

She was convicted of treason and sent to prison. In 1977 she was pardoned by President Ford.

Alternative Reading and Viewing

The Hunt for 'Tokyo Rose', by Russell Warren Howe, Madison Books, 1990.

Tokyo Rose – Victim of Propaganda, DVD of a television documentary, available at Christopher M. Clark, 2000.

They Called Her Tokyo Rose, by Rex B. Gunn, 2008

Wikipedia: Iva Toguri D'Aquino

Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.