BOB GARFIELD: Iva Toguri died this week, and you probably don't recognize the name, but what if I said Tokyo Rose? In the mythology of World War II, that was the notorious radio propagandist who cooed into the ears of Pacific Theater GIs and tried to crush their morale. There were many such broadcasters, and Tokyo Rose is what the GIs called them, though none of them was an American and none of them actually used the name Tokyo Rose. Certainly not the Japanese-American Iva Toguri, who had traveled to Japan on the eve of war to care for a dying aunt and wound up broadcasting to Allied troops in a very different way. Still, after the war, framed by a journalist and two Japanese businessmen, she was tried and convicted of treason. Years later, the two Japanese businessmen confessed to then Chicago Tribune Tokyo Bureau chief Ronald E. Yates that they'd been coached by the FBI for a month on how to implicate Toguri. Yates' 1976 stories led to a full pardon of Iva Toguri but did little to dislodge her infamy, an infamy based on words uttered many times by others – but never by her.
RON YATES: They would say things like, all you poor American Marines who are about to land on Okinawa or Iwo Jima or whatever, I feel very sorry for you because the Imperial Japanese Army is sitting there waiting for you in caves and ready to slaughter you when you hit the beaches – that kind of stuff. Of course, Iva never said anything like that, ever.
BOB GARFIELD: The actual program that she participated in was called "The Zero Hour." And her fellow performers were Allied POWs, producing this under coercion from their Japanese captors.
RON YATES: Right.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about "The Zero Hour." What was it?
RON YATES: She played records of Glenn Miller, of Benny Goodman, of Artie Shaw and whatever, and say things, innocuous things like, hello, my honorable boneheads at the Pacific, this is your favorite number one enemy. I'm going to sneak up behind you with my nail file.
IVA TOGURI [ON AIR]: Greetings, everybody. This is your number one enemy. Get ready again for a vicious assault on your morale, 75 minutes of music and news for our friends – I mean, our enemies - in the South Pacific. Okay, here's the first blow at your morale. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER/BUGLE] Here's him singing and singing, "Hey, Pop, I Don't Want to Go to War." Thanks for listening.
RON YATES: The POWs convinced their Japanese overseers that you didn't want to be heavyhanded. You wanted to be very low-key, and they bought that. Well, obviously, that was a very interesting ploy, because by getting them to buy that, they didn't have to engage in any really hard-core propaganda or say anything treasonous.
BOB GARFIELD: So how did Iva Toguri come to be confused with the Japanese women whose propaganda was so extreme?
RON YATES: In August of 1945, just after the bombs had fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the huge cohort of American and Allied journalists arrive in Tokyo, along with General McArthur and his army, and one was Clark Lee, who was a reporter for Hearst Newspapers. The other one was a man named Harry Brundidge, who was a reporter for Cosmopolitan magazine, in an era when Cosmopolitan was not the same kind of magazine that it is today. And they're looking around. They're trying to find people to interview. They wanted to get to the emperor, Hirohito – they weren't going to get to him – and they wanted to get to Tojo, the prime minister. They weren't going to get to him. So they were thinking, well, we'll get Tokyo Rose. So when they began asking around about Tokyo Rose, the answer they got back was, well, there is nobody. Who's that? I don't know who that is. They said it was an American woman. And they said, well, the only American woman I know who was doing any broadcasting was Iva Toguri, but her name's not Tokyo Rose. And they said, that's okay. Have her come over to the Imperial Hotel. We'll interview her. And they offered to pay her $2,000 for her interview. Two thousand dollars in 1945 is the equivalent of about $25,000 today or whatever. And she was trying to get home, and so she ill-advisedly went to the Imperial Hotel. And, first of all, they're shocked. She walks in the room, and this is not the Tokyo Rose they were expecting. They expected this Asian beauty, this beautiful woman, and she turns out to be this very short, kind of plain looking, nondescript young lady. So right away they were disappointed about that. And then when she starts going into the interview and answers their questions, they begin to see, well, this is not what we were expecting. They wanted to find a spy. They wanted to find this woman who was this Mata Hari of the Pacific, and they weren't getting that.
BOB GARFIELD: So they went back to their editors and said [LAUGHS], sorry, no story here.
RON YATES: [LAUGHS] Well, actually, what happened was Clark Lee did file a story – “American woman betrays country for $6.60 a month.” Harry Brundidge goes back to Cosmopolitan, and Cosmopolitan says there's not a story here. Forget about it. And he says, yeah, but I've already promised her $2,000. And they said to him, that's too bad. You know, you have to deal with that now. So, shrewd man that he was, he calls Iva back and says, would you sign this interview, saying that it's okay, but would you sign it Tokyo Rose for me? And she, not understanding what was going on, she said, sure. So she does it. He runs off to the U.S. Occupation Authorities and says, here, I have Tokyo Rose's confession. And about three days later, she's arrested, and she's incarcerated for a year. And following that year's incarceration, the occupation forces released her, saying she had done nothing wrong. They could find no evidence to hold her on anything, and so she was free to go.
BOB GARFIELD: She thought she was free, but the case reared its head again.
RON YATES: Yes. The case came back because word gets out that she's coming back to the United States, and Walter Winchell, at the time, a huge force in American radio journalism, gets on the air and says, the infamous Tokyo Rose is returning to America. That triggers a huge response from Gold Star Mothers – these are mothers who've lost sons in the war. Gold Star Mothers start writing letters to the Truman administration, saying, how can you let this person come back? She's a traitor, etcetera, etcetera. So President Truman, election year, 1948, decides to reopen this case and sends people back to Tokyo to examine it again. And that's when our two men come into the picture, because then they are pulled into this whole conspiracy to help railroad Iva into prison.
BOB GARFIELD: You mean, the two Japanese men who later told you they lied when they testified against Iva. How many years did she spend in jail?
RON YATES: She spent six and a half years at Alderson Women's Penitentiary, and she was released in 1956 and then went back to Chicago, where her family had moved from California. Her mother had died in a Japanese internment camp during the war, and her family had moved to Chicago, away from California, as did a lot of Japanese-Americans, because they felt they had really been badly treated in California, had lost their property and they wanted to start over again. So she goes back to Chicago to work in her father's import company.
BOB GARFIELD: Lived quietly under a cloud until you broke this story. Give me the timeline thereafter.
RON YATES: After the stories appeared, things began to happen. The White House called Tokyo. They wanted more information. Then 60 Minutes picked up the story. Morley Safer interviewed her. The stories and the pressure on the Ford administration, eventually caused President Ford in 1977, his last official act in office, to grant her a pardon.
BOB GARFIELD: You spent a lot of time talking to Iva Toguri, and she was, in fact, broadcasting during the war on the Imperial Japanese Army airwaves. It was a propaganda broadcast. Now, putting aside any subversive clues she may have been embedding in the copy, are you satisfied that Iva Toguri died with an absolute clear conscience?
RON YATES: I think Iva died with a clear conscience. I really do. I know she died with regrets. She told me often she regretted having agreed to do anything with that radio show, because that was her downfall. But she was so eager to be involved with these Americans and to be doing something that they told her would help the American war effort that she agreed to do it. She told me a wonderful story once. She was on the roof of the building she was living in when Jimmy Doolittle's planes came flying over Tokyo – you know, those B-25s – and she couldn't believe it. She looked up and saw the white stars on the blue wings, and she was jumping up and down and waving at them. You know, [LAUGHS] this was not a traitor. I know what motivated her, and it was really out of patriotism that she did these things, not out of a desire to betray her country. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Ron Yates, thank you very much.
RON YATES: Thank you.
ABE BURROWS: I'll bet you're sorry now, Tokyo Rose, sorry for what you've done. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Ronald E. Yates is now dean of the College of Communications at the University of Illinois. In 1976, he wrote the article that led to the pardon of the woman incorrectly called Tokyo Rose.
ABE BURROWS: You stuck a knife into the U.S.A. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: In January of this year, the World War II Veterans' Committee bestowed its award for citizenship on Iva Toguri.
ABE BURROWS: I bet you're sorry now, Tokyo Rose, sorry for what you've done. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Tony Field, Jamie York and Mike Vuolo and edited by Brooke. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Alicia Rebensdorf, Michael McLaughlin and Andy Lanset. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer and John Keefe our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from WNYC. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.