Monday, April 15, 2013

The Zero Hour



Prisoners of War Lieutenant Norman Reyes and Major Charles Cousens

On August 23, 1943, Toguri started working six days a week as an English typist at Radio Tokyo. Shortly before she began her new job, a career Japanese military man, Major Shigatsugu Tsuneishi, was appointed director of Radio Tokyo’s propaganda division. One of his pet projects was a twenty-minute, six-day-a-week broadcast called The Zero Hour. The title was derived from the agile and formidable Japanese Zero attack plane. The show's first broadcast was on March 20, 1943. It mixed jazz with dopey propaganda messages. Tsuneishi wanted a radio show that would make U.S. servicemen in his words —“homesicky.”  He knew nothing about producing a radio show so he scoured concentration camps searching for POWs with broadcasting experience.

Tsuneishi’s prize discovery was a dashing Australian major, Charles Cousens. Captured when Singapore fell to the Japanese, Cousens was a well-known Australian radio personality. After his capture Cousens steadfastly refused Japanese orders to assist in propaganda broadcasts. In retaliation, he was put in solitary confinement and shipped to a heavy-labor camp in Burma. After several months of brutal treatment at the labor camp, Cousens was shipped back to Singapore.  In Singapore he was ordered by an Australian POW colonel to cooperate with the Japanese. The colonel told Cousens his sole responsibility at Radio Tokyo would be to transmit POW messages and solicit Red Cross aid. Cousens reluctantly acquiesced to his superior’s order. His captors transported Cousens from Singapore to Tokyo aboard the Arabia Maru, the same ship Toguri took on her fateful voyage. During the first years of the war the refitted Arbia Maru conveyed Japanese troops and prisoners of war throughout the South Pacific. Although it never achieved the notoriety of a POW "hellship" like its sister ship the Hawaii Maru, the Arabia Maru served as a Japanese transport until it was torpedoed and sunk on October 18, 1944, by the U.S. submarine Bluegill.

Cousens survived the journey to Tokyo on a daily ration of a cup of foul water, a ball of dirty rice, and seaweed soup. By the time the Arabia Maru docked in Yokohoma  Cousens, wracked with dysentery, was a mere shadow of the dashing Australian major who fought so gallantly at the Battle of Singapore. When he arrived at Radio Tokyo, Major Tsuneishi ordered Cousens to write Zero Hour scripts. Cousens refused. He told Tsuneishi, “Give me a pistol and a cartridge, that will save time for both of us.”

But Tsuneishi was not about to execute such a valuable resource. A few days later Cousens reported to Tsuneishi’s office. Cousens was no stranger to Japanese military brutality.  During his forced march from Singapore to a Japanese labor camp Cousens walked a road lined with heads of Chinese women impaled on sticks. Wayside ditches were scattered with the corpses of bayoneted babies. Standing outside the door of Major Tsuneishi’s office, Cousens expected the worst.

Inside the office Tsuneishi, dressed in full military regalia, stood behind his desk. When Cousens entered Tsuneishi bellowed “Attention!” and dramatically slammed a “gunto,” a two handed samurai sword' on his desk. The threat was obvious to all in the room - 'do as you are told or die'! The bluff worked. Emotionally and physically drained Cousens acquiesced. The next night Cousens sat in front of a microphone at Radio Tokyo and read his first propaganda script.

Two weeks later Major Tsuneishi ordered Cousens to produce The Zero Hour. With no options Cousens played along. However, he had a plan to subvert the propaganda broadcast. Although Japanese censors could understand English they couldn’t detect implied nuances such as sarcasm and double entendres. Cousens planned to undercut Tsuneishi’s plot to demoralize GIs by altering the subtext of The Zero Hour. He would dress propaganda in parody. His tactics were subtle. He read scripts in a manner that implied to an English-speaking listener that he was being forced. One mocking tactic was to first read a script quickly and then slowly. He mispronounced words and used a dispirited tone of voice. He mocked Japanese hubris.

One story detailed how a Japanese pilot shot down several American planes. As the pilot pursued the last plane, he ran out of ammunition. The ingenious pilot reached into his lunch pail for a ball of rice, which he threw at the American plane. The rice ball hit the American pilot in the face.  He lost control of his plane and crashed. Another tale described a Pacific island battle in which ten Japanese soldiers defeated a force of 400 American Marines without suffering a single casualty.

Cousens convinced Tsuneishi that such amazing stories were evidence of Japanese invincibility. The tactic of using Japanese military arrogance as a comedy ploy worked. The Zero Hour gained in popularity among American servicemen. Soon two other POWs——were added to The Zero Hour cast. Cousens wrote the scripts, and the two other POWs an American, Wallace Ince, and a Filipino Lieutenant Norman Reyes, took turns playing music and making zany propaganda “announcements.”

Toguri had been at Radio Tokyo only a few days when she spotted Cousens, Reyes, and Ince walking down a hallway. To Toguri the three POWs looked like scarecrows. They were missing teeth, their hair was falling out, and they were covered with sores. Dirty canvas shorts and worn khaki shirts hung like drapes over their emaciated bodies. Toguri felt sorry for them. She was, however, thrilled to be so close to English-speaking soldiers. When the opportunity presented itself she struck up a conversation. At first the three POWs were suspicious of Toguri. Many Nisei worked undercover for the Tokko. Ince in particular suspected a rat. He told Cousens and Reyes, "I hate Japs. I don't give a hang whether they're Nisei, Issei or whatever.  I hate em all." But as weeks passed their chats with Toguri about baseball and news events back home gradually dissipated the POWs' suspicions.

The bond of trust was sealed when Toguri smuggled them food and medicine. Providing aid to prisoners of war was punishable by death. Undeterred, Toguri hid contraband in her clothes, her handbag, and  among Japanese documents. To the POWS such basic necessities as quinine, lemons, and aspirin were treasure. After work Toguri scrounged the Tokyo countryside for food. She bought whatever black market supplies she could afford. With each act of smuggling Toguri  risked her life. She was determined to do all she could to allay the suffering of her new friends.

Quote, Masayo Duus,  "Tokyo Rose, Orphan of the Pacific, p.72
Quote, Fred Close, p. 141

To be continued