On this day in 1977, President Gerald R. Ford pardons Tokyo Rose. Although the nickname originally referred to several Japanese women who broadcast Axis propaganda over the radio to Allied troops during World War II, it eventually became synonymous with a Japanese-American woman named Iva Toguri. On the orders of the Japanese government, Toguri and other women broadcast sentimental American music and phony announcements regarding U.S. troop losses in a vain attempt to destroy the morale of Allied soldiers.
An American citizen born in Los Angeles, Toguri was in Japan at the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. She graduated from UCLA in 1940 and hoped to become a doctor, but when an elderly aunt living in Japan became ill, Toguri’s family sent Toguri to take care of her. She left the United States in July 1941 carrying an identification card, but no passport. When rumblings of war between Japan and the U.S. reached a crescendo later that year, she tried to return to the U.S. but was denied because she did not have proof of citizenship.
Toguri experienced alienation in both the U.S. and Japan. Although an American citizen, she frequently encountered anti-Japanese racism while living in California. For their part, the Japanese government considered her an enemy alien and unsuccessfully tried to force her to renounce her U.S. citizenship. They also refused her request to be interned as a foreign national. Left to fend for herself in Japan, she found a job as a translator and typist for Radio Tokyo. Privately, Toguri refused to stifle her pro-American views on the war and as a result earned the trust of two Allied POWs who were forced to work at the station. The POWs were tortured until they agreed to write phony reports of Allied troop movements and casualty reports that a number of unidentified Tokyo Roses then broadcast. When the war ended, intense efforts to capture the notorious broadcasters began.
Upon her capture in 1945, Toguri insisted that she was forced into her traitorous role by the Japanese government and swore that she had never broadcast false military reports, limiting her shows to light musical fare while smuggling food and medicine to the Allied POWs. Nevertheless, Toguri was labeled a traitor for airing songs like My Resistance is Low. After a year’s imprisonment in Japan, Toguri was released and returned to the United States, only to be promptly re-arrested for treason. The judge, who later admitted having anti-Japanese prejudice, sentenced her to 10 years in prison and fined her $10,000. She was released early in 1956 for good behavior, but was immediately given an order deporting her back to Japan. Over the next 20 years, Toguri fought for a pardon from three presidential administrations with the help of family members, attorneys and the POWs she had helped at Radio Tokyo. Finally in 1977, after an episode of 60 Minutes was broadcast revealing Toguri’s true story and highlighting her ongoing fight for justice, President Gerald Ford granted her clemency just before leaving office.