The Challenge: Tokyo Rose
“We live history forward, in the chaos of onrushing events, without a clear guide, but we judge history backward, smugly armed with the knowledge of what did happen and uninterested in what might have happened.” Robert Kagan
The genesis of this story began many years ago after my dad had died. He had been interviewed about WWII for the Camp Tarawa Project and I was reading the transcript when I came upon this question and answer which took me by surprise:
Q: You briefly told us you were actually involved in the trial of Tokyo Rose whose real name was—?
A: “Iva Toguri D’ Aquino. She married a Portuguese national. And the whole trial could have been thrown out because at any moment that she chose to claim it, she could have been a Portuguese national. She didn’t have to serve. She served 5 years of a 10 year sentence.“
I was relaying this story to my husband and he said, “Well you know your Dad was a bit of a storyteller.” Well if you know me, you know all I need is a challenge like that to spring into action! To my knowledge my Dad NEVER made up a story out of whole cloth. So with laptop in hand I went looking for proof that my Dad was indeed telling the TRUTH. It only took me about 15 minutes to find what I needed straight from the FBI via the National Archives.
If you are unfamiliar with Tokyo Rose please click on her name for more information. (Or check out the book “The Hunt for Tokyo Rose by Russell Warren Howe“). What was important to me was proving my father’s honor. However of even more import was knowing that as a young Marine, returned from fighting in the Pacific he would stand up for what was RIGHT even at a time when this was unpopular.
A bit more from the interview:
Q: Why were you called to her trial?
A: “Because Bob Speed was an attorney, defense attorney, was a very good friend and he asked if I would talk to the defense attorney and I said, ‘sure’ and suddenly I was thrust into the biggest federal criminal case that had ever happened in California, at least, maybe the whole nation.“
Q: And you only met her?
A: “Just because I was a witness on her behalf and she was present at the trial.“
Q: “You didn’t know her before the trial?“
A: “No. But I learned a lot about her afterwards and I had a letter from her, thanking me for all the things that I did that made life a little easier there.“
Here is the note he received from Iva Toguri D’ Aquino:
Q: Why was she convicted?
A: Oh, the whole story of the United States and finding a scapegoat, later on. You know, all the European spokespersons thought to be useful in lowering the morale of American troops and so forth or allied troops. Same show. This gal was very popular but only with the troops that were being entertained. If something different happened and we were losing the show, take advantage of people who were concerned about who their girlfriend back home was seeing regularly or whatever, you see. But the opportunity to do anything with Japan never occurred. If you knew this person, you’d know that it didn’t matter.
Q: And there were like 18 counts against her?
“18 counts. 17 of them she beat, but she didn’t beat this last one which is technical as hell because everybody in the world knew these troops had been moved in this 90 day period it had no significance at all, It’s just a technical crime that she couldn’t dodge because she did mention the movements of these troops she could have gone down and gotten anybody’s newspaper either here or in Japan and read all about it, separate from the operations but she did reveal the movements of the troops.
It’s a bad mark on the discussion of America though, this whole Tokyo Rose thing. The fact that the United States Government disenfranchised all Japanese, every single one of them had a legitimate, valid suit, the Supreme Court, right off, U.S. Government loses time after time after time. These people had their land, their stores and what not just whipped away and never paid for until recently when they came across [reparations] maybe $20,000 to make up for whatever. “
I share my father’s feelings about the treatment of Iva and Japanese American’s as a whole during WWII. Time and time again in our fear and lust for vengeance we harm innocent citizens of our country. Such is the sad case of Iva Toguri D’ Aquino, known in this country as Tokyo Rose. In the 1970’s public pressure uncovered testimony of the prisoners of war who worked with Iva, and corroborated her testimony. The most damaging prosecution witnesses against her were re-questioned, and some admitted they had been pressured to fabricate their testimony.
“After a recent investigation another newspaper conceded in an editorial that ‘the proceedings were marred by bribery, government obstruction, unscrupulous journalism, missing evidence (lost tapes and transcripts), mistaken identity, witness intimidation violations of constitutional Safeguards and racism.” Linda Witt San Francisco Examiner 1 Apr 1976 p 24
As much as I want to think this is in the distant past, it could easily have been written today, about any number of people, groups, or events. We are all called to speak out against racism, intolerance and injustice. We can all learn the lessons from the past. Sometimes the lessons are closer than we know…
Iva Toguri D’ Aquino was pardoned by President Gerald Ford on his last day in office on January 19, 1977. In early in 2006, shortly before she died, she was given the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award by the World War II Veterans Committee.
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Read the book years ago, she was greatly admired by a lot of people a real folk hero now.
She deserved better than she got in life.
Such an amazing story, Kelly! You do such a beautiful job with your blogs!
Thank you Sue!
Thank you Sue.
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