Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a Japanese American who clung to her U.S. citizenship despite mistreatment by Japanese officials during WWII, died at 90 in Chicago on Sept. 26.
Forced to make radio broadcasts on Japanese radio stations during WWII, she was detained without charges for a year, but found to have committed no crimes. Because of events leading to the McCarthy witch hunts, however, she was found guilty of treason. After six years in prison, she finally was given an unconditional pardon by President Ford in 1977, after an APA community campaign.
Born July 4, 1916, in L.A., Toguri had grown up as a U.S. citizen and the eldest child of a successful Japanese immigrant businessman. Her family associated as little as possible with the J-A community, and focused on perfecting their English and playing piano.
Toguri had plans to become a doctor after majoring in zoology at UCLA. Before going to grad school, however, she was sent by her family to help a sick aunt in Japan.
War between her American homeland and her ancestral Japanese home was heating up, and finally exploded into declared war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Toguri was trapped in Japan, barely able to speak Japanese.
Ironically, if she had simply renounced her U.S. citizenship, as did many Japanese Americans, she could not have been tried for treason, which is a charge only leveled at a U.S. citizen.
Books like Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific by Masayo Duus and The Hunt for ‘Tokyo Rose‚’ by Russell Warren Howe, as well as articles like Tim G.W. Holbert’s Convicting a Myth: Debunking the Legend of Tokyo Rose and the Real Woman Who Took the Blame give more details that led to D’Aquino’s conviction.
The real story of how she took over a Japanese propaganda broadcast and made it a farce is like Hogan’s Heroes. She really was a hero for the American cause, but was victimized by a legend beyond her control.
The way she was imprisoned without charges and whisked away in secret without her husband even being told, however, is a story that has ramifications all the way up to the present. Congress just passed legislation that undermines the writ of habeas corpus for anyone the president declares an “unlawful enemy combatant.” And the “Tokyo Rose” story plays into stereotypes of untrustworthy perpetual foreigners who will sell out America to external foes.
The D’Aquino story represented a turning point in the empowerment of the APA community because Dr. Clifford Uyeda, a leader of redress efforts, used his involvement to exonerate her as a vehicle for mobilizing in support of a just cause. That same strategy was key to winning redress in 1988.
D’Aquino lost her husband, a baby and almost a decade of her life because of false charges and unfortunate circumstances. Ultimately, she was able to regain citizenship, and live in relative obscurity after the war years. All of us owe her a debt of gratitude for her steadfast unwillingness to accept second-class citizenship in silence. Her victory in 1977 was a victory for all of us.