The Actual Case of Tokyo Rose: Not What You Think

A new hashtag trending on Twitter, with one of its major pushers being Alexander Vindman, is #TuckyoRose to mock and condemn Tucker Carlson for his position on Russia. I, for one, do not agree with his pro-Putin position. However, I think his critics are on poor historical ground with this hashtag. But first, a bit of background for the case of “Tokyo Rose”.

During World War II, many American soldiers heard or had heard of a female English-speaking propagandist from Japan whose broadcasts were trying to demoralize them and encourage them to desert by telling them their wives and girlfriends were sleeping with other men. This mysterious broadcaster became known as “Tokyo Rose”. After World War II, numerous propagandists were prosecuted for treason. Britain hanged American William Joyce, commonly known as “Lord Haw-Haw”, even though he had never been a British citizen. The United States prosecuted Mildred Gillars (“Axis Sally”) for her propaganda for Nazi Germany and confined famous poet Ezra Pound to a mental asylum for his bizarre propaganda for Fascist Italy. Joyce, Gillars and Pound voluntarily engaged in propaganda for enemy powers during wartime, what about “Tokyo Rose”?

The Hunt for Tokyo Rose

After World War II, reporters flooded Japan looking for the legendary “Tokyo Rose”, but found out that no one woman used that alias over the radio and that there were several female English speakers employed by Imperial Japan. As American intelligence agents had found, “Tokyo Rose” was a rumor and legend among American troops. However, reporters Clark Lee of International News Service and Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan magazine came upon a woman named Iva Toguri, a U.S. citizen who had been stuck in Japan on the outbreak of war as she had come there to care for an ailing aunt. The Japanese government pressured her to relinquish her U.S. citizenship but she refused to do so, thus she was denied a ration card and a request by her to be interned with other Americans was because of her race rejected. Thus, Toguri had to find work to survive and was initially a typist at Radio Tokyo before she became a DJ. The reporters offered her $2000 to sign a statement admitting to being “Tokyo Rose”. She needed the money to return to America and was unaware that “Tokyo Rose” was being accused of treason. Journalist Rick Shenkman (2006) characterizes what followed as “an appalling study in media hysteria, prosecutorial misconduct, and judicial incompetence”.

Iva Toguri, the woman accused of being “Tokyo Rose”.

The Legal Efforts Against Toguri

Although she was interned by the U.S. army for months, an investigation under General Douglas MacArthur exonerated her and Assistant Attorney General Theron L. Caudle reaffirmed this in 1948, writing “Her activity consisted of nothing more than the announcing of music selections”, but Walter Winchell, the most prominent radio commentator of the time, began a public campaign to prosecute her for treason (Shenkman). There was also a lingering anti-Japanese prejudice that remained from World War II, which contributed to this campaign. President Truman, wanting to boost his chances in a tough reelection bid, instructed the Justice Department to pursue charges against her. The trouble was, the radio show she was on, Zero Hour, was run by Australian prisoner Major Charles Hughes Cousens, who was under the noses of his Japanese bosses (who had a poor grasp of English) deliberately making the propaganda ineffective and she only joined on the condition that she not be made to say anything “anti-American”. This program featured jazz recordings with news stories mostly about calamities back in the United States, which was “craftily larded with double-entendres, on-air flubs, and sarcasm”, rendering the show amusing rather than demoralizing (HistoryNet). Toguri, by instruction of Cousens, deliberately mispronounced words. She even told the listeners that the show was “dangerous and wicked propaganda, so beware!” (HistoryNet)

The tone of the show can be ascertained through actually listening to or reading transcripts of her broadcasts. One example is below:

“Hello there, Enemies! How’s tricks? This is Ann of Radio Tokyo, and we’re just going to begin our regular program of music, news and the Zero Hour for our friends – I mean, our enemies! – in Australia and the South Pacific. So be on your guard, and mind the children don’t hear! All set? OK. Here’s the first blow at your morale – the Boston Pops playing ‘Strike Up the Band!'” (HistoryNet)

Nonetheless, the case proceeded against her but even during the trial the prosecution was struggling despite favorable treatment from Judge Michael J. Roche. The case for the prosecution mostly relied on accounts of American soldiers who claimed to have listened to her broadcasts. Major Cousens testified in her defense, explaining the true nature of his program. Ultimately, she was convicted of only one charge of eight on October 6, 1949, based on the testimony of two witnesses that she had broadcast the words, “Orphans of the Pacific, you really are orphans now. How will you get home now that all your ships are lost?” after the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf (Pusey). No evidence was found that she had encouraged troops to desert by saying that their wives and girlfriends were cheating on them. Toguri was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine, being released after six years.

She was able to legally fend off an effort to deport her by the U.S. government and her efforts to obtain a presidential pardon were ignored until the 1970s, when the Chicago Tribune and 60 Minutes released stories about the frame-up of Tokyo Rose. The two key witnesses who provided the testimony that resulted in her conviction also came forward and recanted their testimony, saying that they had testified under duress by the prosecution. Judge Roche also admitted that he had been biased against her during the case. With the news stories coming out and the admissions, President Gerald Ford on January 19, 1977, issued the only pardon for treason in American history. People who want to bash Tucker Carlson should think twice before using the hashtag #TuckyoRose, as it may prove to reveal more about them than him.


Eschner, K. (2017, January 19). Iva d’Aquino Toguri Remains the Only U.S. Citizen Convicted of Treason Who Has Ever Been Pardoned. Smithsonian Magazine.

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Felton, M. (2021, April 28). “Tokyo Rose” – WW2 Traitor or Victim? Mark Felton Productions.

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Klawans, J. (2022, February 23). Alexander Vindman Invokes ‘Tokyo Rose’ While Firing Back at Tucker Carlson. Newsweek.

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Pusey, A. (2018, October 1). Oct. 6, 1949: ‘Tokyo Rose’ convicted of treason. American Bar Association Journal.

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Shenkman, R. (2006, October 1). The Myth of Tokyo Rose. History News Network.

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Tokyo Rose: They Called Her a Traitor. (2006, June 12). HistoryNet.

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