Tuesday, April 2, 2013

  The Legend Begins



During World War II, Germany had "Axis Sally" and Japan had "Tokyo Rose". Both were legendary female broadcasters who played music infused with propaganda.  Their mission was to lower the morale of Allied troops by mixing half-truths about the course of the war with phony stories about depressing conditions back in the States.  "Axis Sally" was Mildred Gillars, a German-American from Portland, Maine.  "Tokyo Rose" was nobody and everybody.  While "Axis Sally" was an individual, "Tokyo Rose" was a generic name Allied troops gave to a score of female announcers who broadcast propaganda from Japan, Phillipines, and Indonesia.

The legend of "Tokyo Rose" began in 1937 when construction workers listening to a short wave radio in Samoa heard a female disc jockey broadcasting Japanese propaganda between musical selections. Incredibly a rumor circulated that the broadcaster was the intrepid aviator Amerlia Earhart, whose plane disappeared somewhere over the Pacific on July 2, 1937.  She was attempting to be the first woman pilot to circumnavigate the globe.  The first military reference to "Tokyo Rose" was made by a U.S. Chief Radioman, J. M. Eckberg, aboard the U.S.S. Seawolf four days after Pearl Harbor.  Listening to the ship's short wave radio the officer heard a female who called herself "Madame Tojo" brag about sinking the American fleet. Eckberg described her broadcast in 1945 book recounting the exploits of the Seawolf.

"She was a female [traitor] who sold us out to the Japs, and she opened her her program with old-fashioned sentimental songs.  The idea was, I suppose, to make us homesick.  She was taunting us now about Japanese victories and Allied defeats.  She sunk the U.S. fleet as we listened, night after night. 'Where is the great United States fleet?' She began in her phony Oxford accent. 'I'll tell you where it is! It's lying at the bottom of Pearl Harbor!' She went on to tell us all the details.  Her voice rose hysterically: 'Why don't you give up, you fools out there? You can't stand up against the power of the Imperial Fleet!'" Eckberg called her "Tokio Rose".

After the Pearl Harbor attack a score of females broadcast Japanese propaganda throughout the south Pacific.  Most notable among these early versions of "Tokyo Rose" were Ruth Hayakawa who broadcast from Radio Tokyo, Myrtle Lipton in the Phillipines, and the "Nanking Nightingale", June Suyama.  Gradually the myth of a sexy and all-knowing "Tokyo Rose"grew to legendary proportions.  Like Ulysses, who could not ignore the sirens' songs, Allied troops throughout the Pacific twirled the dials on their short-wave radios hoping to snatch a bit of entertainment and news from the sultry siren of the Pacific.  Quality of short-wave reception is influenced by a number of factors including equipment, time of the day and weather. Even with the best conditions audio quality is spotty.  For entertainment starved troops, hop-scotching from island to island with one bloody battle following another, discriminating among female broadcasters was not a concern.  It was simpler just to say, 'Hey, I picked up a Tokyo Rose broadcast'.

The formats were similar.  Sandwiched between pop music selections was news about stateside disasters such as floods and train wrecks. Insidious comments about cheating wives and girlfriends were regular features. Most troubling were announcements about Allied troop movements and impending Japanese attacks. The August 20, 1943 issue of Yank Magazine described a Japanese broadcaster claiming the "coward" "Butch" O'Hare, an ace American pilot and Medal of Honor winner would soon die.  On November 26, 1943 O'Hare's F-26 Hellcat was shot down during a night time raid on a Japanese aircraft carrier. His plane was never recovered.  Knowledge of pilot names, along with predictions of battle outcomes, lent a foreboding sense of legitimacy to "Tokyo Rose' broadcasts.

To be continued