Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally

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Podcast Transcript

During World War II, allied soldiers would often spend their time listening to the radio. They could, at least for a little while, be transported back home by listening to popular music with the soothing sounds of a female radio host with a flawless American accent.

Along with the music, the troops would also get a healthy dose of enemy propaganda. 

Learn more about Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, how they got stuck doing radio, and what happened to them after the war, on this Episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


This episode is sponsored by Brilliant.org

Brilliant’s mission is to inspire and develop people to achieve their goals in STEM — one person, one question, and one small commitment to learning at a time.

They enable great teachers to illuminate the soul of math, science, and engineering through bite-sized, interactive learning experiences. Their courses explore the laws that shape our world, elevating math and science from something to be feared to a delightful experience of guided discovery.

If you are interested in learning more about any STEM subject go to everything-everywhere.com/brilliant

Once again, that is everything-everywhere.com/brilliant


Back in World War II, radio was the only mass broadcast medium. There was no television, so radio was how people entertained themselves and were informed. 

While there were many ways to spread propaganda, radio was uniquely suited to do so. It required very little investment, it was very low risk compared to dropping leaflets, and it could reach an enormous number of people. 

It was for this reason that both sides during the war used radio to try and reach their opponents.  The British would broadcast BBC shows in German, and the Americans created their own radio shows in German and Japanese which were intended for an enemy audience. 

German-born actress and singer Marlene Dietrich recorded radio broadcasts in German for the American Office of Strategic Services which were used in Europe. 

So, it came as no surprise that both the Germans and the Japanese did the same thing. In the Pacific and in Asia, it was common for the Japanese government to produce English language radio programing using female hosts for their shows. 

These programs would be broadcast out of cities like Mania, Shanghai, and Tokyo which were occupied by the Japanese. They would play popular American music interspersed with heavily slanted news updates which were intended to demoralize Allied troops. 

American soldiers did in fact listen to these broadcasts because there wasn’t much else to listen to. In Asia, the hosts of these programs became known as “Tokyo Rose”. 

It should be noted that there was no one person who was Tokyo Rose. It was a generic name given to any female radio host who worked for the Japanese. In fact, none of the hosts ever called themselves Tokyo Rose, it was a name used by the soldiers. 

Tokyo Rose served as a focal point for American anger in the Pacific because was an actual person speaking their language. For the most part, their enemy was a distant, faceless opponent with who they couldn’t communicate.

Tokyo Rose, however, was someone who talked to them directly. She would tell the Americans of their defeats, ignoring Japanese defeats of course, and try to sow doubt about their chances of victory and the justness of their cause. 

When the war ended, many people wanted to see Tokyo Rose caught and punished. 


While there was in fact no one person who was Tokyo Rose, there was one person for whom almost all of the anger directed at Tokyo Rose came down upon. An American woman by the name of Iva Toguri. 

Iva was born in the United States in 1916 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents were immigrants moving to the US in 1899 and 1913. She graduated from UCLA in 1940 with a degree in zoology. 

In July 1941, she traveled to Japan to visit an ailing relative. She didn’t have a passport, just an identity card which she used to enter Japan. She applied to the US State Department while in Japan to get a passport to return home but something happened before it was issued.

A little thing called Pearl Harbor.

Iva was now stuck in Japan, a country that was at war with her homeland. All communication and transportation between the two countries were cut. The rest of her family back in the US were placed in an internment camp in Arizona.

The Japanese government pressured her to renounce her US citizenship, but she refused to do so. She was declared an enemy alien. She could still work, but she was denied a ration card and other privileges, including living with her family in Tokyo. 

She eventually took a job as a secretary at Radio Japan. 

In November 1943, the Japanese came up with the idea for a program where prisoners of war would be forced to broadcast propaganda. This first show was called the Zero Hour, and it was hosted by Iva Toguri. She agreed to host the show only if she didn’t have to say anything explicitly anti-American, which she never did. 

The producer of the show was an Australian POW named Charles Cousens who was captured during the fall of Singapore. He had radio experience back in Australia and he was basically threatened with execution if he didn’t produce the show. 

The name she used on the air was Orphan Ann. She would introduce music and did comedy sketches, but she herself never did any news broadcasts. 

When the war was over, many people wanted to see Tokyo Rose arrested because she was such an identifiable symbol of the Japanese military. 

Cosmopolitan Magazine offered $2,000 for an interview with Tokyo Rose, which would have been enough money for her to finally get back home.

When she came to the interview, it was a setup. She was never paid the money and was put into the custody of the FBI. 

She was held in custody for a year, during which the FBI and the military government under Douglas Macarthur conducted an investigation interviewing hundreds of people, including the POWs that worked on her show. They also dug up hundreds of documents, to see if she had committed any crimes.

After a year, she was released after the FBI and the US Counterintelligence Service found no evidence of wrongdoing. 

However, this wasn’t the end of problems. Back in the US, the public, led by newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, campaigned to have her tried for treason. 

In 1948, she was rearrested in Japan and returned to the US to stand trial.

Here I need to move the story from Japan to Germany because they too had their own version of Tokyo Rose, known as Axis Sally. 


Unlike Tokyo Rose, which was a name given to many different people, there were fewer Axis Sallies, and in particular, it was a very specific person: Mildred Gillars. 

Gillars was born in 1900 in Maine. She was a vagabond most of her life, moving around trying to make a go of it as an actor or a model. She eventually left the United States in 1929 to live in Paris for six months.

In 1933 she left again, going to Algeria to work for a dressmaker, and then landing in Dresden, Germany to study music and teach English. 

In 1940, she got a job with German state Radio as an announcer. In 1941, the United States advised all Americans to leave Germany, but by that time she was engaged to a German man who wouldn’t marry her if she returned to the US. 

When war broke out in late 1941, she couldn’t go back if she wanted to. 

In 1941, Gillars was recruited into hosting a show called Home Sweet Home, which has popular music, and spent a lot of time telling soldiers how their sweethearts back home were being unfaithful to them.

Her most famous broadcast was a radio play called Vision of Invasion, which aired a few weeks before D-Day. She played the role of a mother who lost her son in the invasion of Europe.

She was recruited into hosting multiple shows and in fact, was broadcasting up until May 6, 1945, just two days before the surrender of Germany. 

The Americans knew who she was due to interviews she had with POWs during the war and she was arrested in March 1946. 

She was flown back to the US on August 21, 1948, just one month before Iva Toguri. As with Toguri, she was charged with treason and the American public wanted justice. 

The trial of Axis Sally began first on January 25, 1949. The case against Mildred Gillars was the stronger of the two. The Federal Communications Commission had recorded hundreds of hours of her recordings, which were able to reach the US via shortwave. 


Moreover, the Nazis had forced her to sign an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, and the allies found the document. 

Her defense was that she was coerced, and that speech wasn’t treasonable and was protected by the constitution. 

In March, she was found guilty of one count of treason, specifically the Vision of Invasion broadcast she did before D-Day. She was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison.

The Tokyo Rose trial was a much more difficult case to prove. 

They didn’t have the documentation they did with Axis Sally, there was no oath of allegiance, and in fact, Toguri refused to renounce her American citizenship. She had several witnesses who testified on her behalf. 

Her trial was the longest trial in American history up until that point. 

She was charged with eight counts of treason, but in the end, she was only convicted of one. That one, was, even in the description of the court, was pretty weak. The charge she was convicted on said,  “That on a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown, said defendant, at Tokyo, Japan, in a broadcasting studio of The Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.”

She was convicted to 10 years in prison. 

Mildred Gillars was released in 1961. While in prison she converted to Catholicism and went on to live in a convent in Ohio, teaching languages and music. She died in 1988 at the age of 87. 

Iva Toguri was released in 1956 after six years and two months in prison. 

Her story took a very different path than Mildred Gillars’s. 

The case against Toguri was always very weak and the government knew it. That was why she was initially released after a year-long investigation in Japan. 

Almost immediately after her conviction, one witness, Hiromu Yagi, admitted that his testimony was perjured. 

In 1976, an investigative story done by the Chicago Tribune found that both Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio both perjured themselves as well. They were coached for two months prior to the trial by the FBI and Japanese occupation military police on what to say during their testimony. Both were threatened with treason themselves if they did not testify. 

A television report by 60 Minutes on how she was railroaded during her trial cemented her innocence.

On January 19, 1977, on his last day in office, President Gerald Ford granted a full and unconditional pardon to Iva Torgui. The pardon returned her citizenship which was revoked when she was found guilty. 

She passed away in 2006 at the age of 90. 

While these two women did get most of the attention, I should note that they weren’t the only ones. 

There was an Axis Sally in Italy as well. Her name was Rita Zucca. She was an Italian-American who moved to Italy and like both Gillars and Torgui, she got roped into doing broadcasts. However, they weren’t able to pin anything on her as she had renounced her citizenship beforehand. You can’t be tried for treason if you aren’t a citizen.

There was a British man who broadcast Nazi propaganda to the UK named William Joyce, who was called Lord Haw-Haw. He, unlike the others I’ve mentioned, was a committed ideological fascist who fled to Germany and became a German citizen. 

He was caught by the British and executed for treason in 1946. 

The case of treasonous, wartime, radio hosts had a very brief lifespan. There wasn’t radio during World War I, and after World War II, shortwave radio dropped in popularity, and armed forces developed their own radio stations. 

It is highly unlikely that we will ever see cases quite like this again.

During World War II, allied soldiers would often spend their time listening to the radio. They could, at least for a little while, be transported back home by listening to popular music with the soothing sounds of a female radio host with a flawless American accent.

Along with the music, the troops would also get a healthy dose of enemy propaganda. 

Learn more about Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally, how they got stuck doing radio, and what happened to them after the war, on this Episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.


This episode is sponsored by Brilliant.org

Brilliant’s mission is to inspire and develop people to achieve their goals in STEM — one person, one question, and one small commitment to learning at a time.

They enable great teachers to illuminate the soul of math, science, and engineering through bite-sized, interactive learning experiences. Their courses explore the laws that shape our world, elevating math and science from something to be feared to a delightful experience of guided discovery.

If you are interested in learning more about any STEM subject go to everything-everywhere.com/brilliant

Once again, that is everything-everywhere.com/brilliant


Back in World War II, radio was the only mass broadcast medium. There was no television, so radio was how people entertained themselves and were informed. 

While there were many ways to spread propaganda, radio was uniquely suited to do so. It required very little investment, it was very low risk compared to dropping leaflets, and it could reach an enormous number of people. 

It was for this reason that both sides during the war used radio to try and reach their opponents.  The British would broadcast BBC shows in German, and the Americans created their own radio shows in German and Japanese which were intended for an enemy audience. 

German-born actress and singer Marlene Dietrich recorded radio broadcasts in German for the American Office of Strategic Services which were used in Europe. 

So, it came as no surprise that both the Germans and the Japanese did the same thing. In the Pacific and in Asia, it was common for the Japanese government to produce English language radio programing using female hosts for their shows. 

These programs would be broadcast out of cities like Mania, Shanghai, and Tokyo which were occupied by the Japanese. They would play popular American music interspersed with heavily slanted news updates which were intended to demoralize Allied troops. 

American soldiers did in fact listen to these broadcasts because there wasn’t much else to listen to. In Asia, the hosts of these programs became known as “Tokyo Rose”. 

It should be noted that there was no one person who was Tokyo Rose. It was a generic name given to any female radio host who worked for the Japanese. In fact, none of the hosts ever called themselves Tokyo Rose, it was a name used by the soldiers. 

Tokyo Rose served as a focal point for American anger in the Pacific because was an actual person speaking their language. For the most part, their enemy was a distant, faceless opponent with who they couldn’t communicate.

Tokyo Rose, however, was someone who talked to them directly. She would tell the Americans of their defeats, ignoring Japanese defeats of course, and try to sow doubt about their chances of victory and the justness of their cause. 

When the war ended, many people wanted to see Tokyo Rose caught and punished. 


While there was in fact no one person who was Tokyo Rose, there was one person for whom almost all of the anger directed at Tokyo Rose came down upon. An American woman by the name of Iva Toguri. 

Iva was born in the United States in 1916 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents were immigrants moving to the US in 1899 and 1913. She graduated from UCLA in 1940 with a degree in zoology. 

In July 1941, she traveled to Japan to visit an ailing relative. She didn’t have a passport, just an identity card which she used to enter Japan. She applied to the US State Department while in Japan to get a passport to return home but something happened before it was issued.

A little thing called Pearl Harbor.

Iva was now stuck in Japan, a country that was at war with her homeland. All communication and transportation between the two countries were cut. The rest of her family back in the US were placed in an internment camp in Arizona.

The Japanese government pressured her to renounce her US citizenship, but she refused to do so. She was declared an enemy alien. She could still work, but she was denied a ration card and other privileges, including living with her family in Tokyo. 

She eventually took a job as a secretary at Radio Japan. 

In November 1943, the Japanese came up with the idea for a program where prisoners of war would be forced to broadcast propaganda. This first show was called the Zero Hour, and it was hosted by Iva Toguri. She agreed to host the show only if she didn’t have to say anything explicitly anti-American, which she never did. 

The producer of the show was an Australian POW named Charles Cousens who was captured during the fall of Singapore. He had radio experience back in Australia and he was basically threatened with execution if he didn’t produce the show. 

The name she used on the air was Orphan Ann. She would introduce music and did comedy sketches, but she herself never did any news broadcasts. 

When the war was over, many people wanted to see Tokyo Rose arrested because she was such an identifiable symbol of the Japanese military. 

Cosmopolitan Magazine offered $2,000 for an interview with Tokyo Rose, which would have been enough money for her to finally get back home.

When she came to the interview, it was a setup. She was never paid the money and was put into the custody of the FBI. 

She was held in custody for a year, during which the FBI and the military government under Douglas Macarthur conducted an investigation interviewing hundreds of people, including the POWs that worked on her show. They also dug up hundreds of documents, to see if she had committed any crimes.

After a year, she was released after the FBI and the US Counterintelligence Service found no evidence of wrongdoing. 

However, this wasn’t the end of problems. Back in the US, the public, led by newspaper columnist Walter Winchell, campaigned to have her tried for treason. 

In 1948, she was rearrested in Japan and returned to the US to stand trial.

Here I need to move the story from Japan to Germany because they too had their own version of Tokyo Rose, known as Axis Sally. 


Unlike Tokyo Rose, which was a name given to many different people, there were fewer Axis Sallies, and in particular, it was a very specific person: Mildred Gillars. 

Gillars was born in 1900 in Maine. She was a vagabond most of her life, moving around trying to make a go of it as an actor or a model. She eventually left the United States in 1929 to live in Paris for six months.

In 1933 she left again, going to Algeria to work for a dressmaker, and then landing in Dresden, Germany to study music and teach English. 

In 1940, she got a job with German state Radio as an announcer. In 1941, the United States advised all Americans to leave Germany, but by that time she was engaged to a German man who wouldn’t marry her if she returned to the US. 

When war broke out in late 1941, she couldn’t go back if she wanted to. 

In 1941, Gillars was recruited into hosting a show called Home Sweet Home, which has popular music, and spent a lot of time telling soldiers how their sweethearts back home were being unfaithful to them.

Her most famous broadcast was a radio play called Vision of Invasion, which aired a few weeks before D-Day. She played the role of a mother who lost her son in the invasion of Europe.

She was recruited into hosting multiple shows and in fact, was broadcasting up until May 6, 1945, just two days before the surrender of Germany. 

The Americans knew who she was due to interviews she had with POWs during the war and she was arrested in March 1946. 

She was flown back to the US on August 21, 1948, just one month before Iva Toguri. As with Toguri, she was charged with treason and the American public wanted justice. 

The trial of Axis Sally began first on January 25, 1949. The case against Mildred Gillars was the stronger of the two. The Federal Communications Commission had recorded hundreds of hours of her recordings, which were able to reach the US via shortwave. 


Moreover, the Nazis had forced her to sign an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, and the allies found the document. 

Her defense was that she was coerced, and that speech wasn’t treasonable and was protected by the constitution. 

In March, she was found guilty of one count of treason, specifically the Vision of Invasion broadcast she did before D-Day. She was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in prison.

The Tokyo Rose trial was a much more difficult case to prove. 

They didn’t have the documentation they did with Axis Sally, there was no oath of allegiance, and in fact, Toguri refused to renounce her American citizenship. She had several witnesses who testified on her behalf. 

Her trial was the longest trial in American history up until that point. 

She was charged with eight counts of treason, but in the end, she was only convicted of one. That one, was, even in the description of the court, was pretty weak. The charge she was convicted on said,  “That on a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown, said defendant, at Tokyo, Japan, in a broadcasting studio of The Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.”

She was convicted to 10 years in prison. 

Mildred Gillars was released in 1961. While in prison she converted to Catholicism and went on to live in a convent in Ohio, teaching languages and music. She died in 1988 at the age of 87. 

Iva Toguri was released in 1956 after six years and two months in prison. 

Her story took a very different path than Mildred Gillars’s. 

The case against Toguri was always very weak and the government knew it. That was why she was initially released after a year-long investigation in Japan. 

Almost immediately after her conviction, one witness, Hiromu Yagi, admitted that his testimony was perjured. 

In 1976, an investigative story done by the Chicago Tribune found that both Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio both perjured themselves as well. They were coached for two months prior to the trial by the FBI and Japanese occupation military police on what to say during their testimony. Both were threatened with treason themselves if they did not testify. 

A television report by 60 Minutes on how she was railroaded during her trial cemented her innocence.

On January 19, 1977, on his last day in office, President Gerald Ford granted a full and unconditional pardon to Iva Torgui. The pardon returned her citizenship which was revoked when she was found guilty. 

She passed away in 2006 at the age of 90. 

While these two women did get most of the attention, I should note that they weren’t the only ones. 

There was an Axis Sally in Italy as well. Her name was Rita Zucca. She was an Italian-American who moved to Italy and like both Gillars and Torgui, she got roped into doing broadcasts. However, they weren’t able to pin anything on her as she had renounced her citizenship beforehand. You can’t be tried for treason if you aren’t a citizen.

There was a British man who broadcast Nazi propaganda to the UK named William Joyce, who was called Lord Haw-Haw. He, unlike the others I’ve mentioned, was a committed ideological fascist who fled to Germany and became a German citizen. 

He was caught by the British and executed for treason in 1946. 

The case of treasonous, wartime, radio hosts had a very brief lifespan. There wasn’t radio during World War I, and after World War II, shortwave radio dropped in popularity, and armed forces developed their own radio stations. 

It is highly unlikely that we will ever see cases quite like this again.