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Tokyo Rose

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A wartime broadcaster who transmits propaganda to the enemy in order to undermine their morale.

"Tokyo Rose" was the nickname given to Japanese female propaganda broadcasters by allied servicemen during World War II. The broadcasts were in generally excellent English, and appealed to Allied troops to give up their hopeless and unnecessary war against the mighty and invincible empire of Japan. You know, standard propaganda stuff.note 

In spite of the single name, there were multiple Roses, as the voice was not the same each time. At least four women (all ethnically Japanese, three Americans and one Canadian) have been identified, three who broadcast from Tokyo and one from Manila. Like the POWs forced to write the shows, they mostly performed under coercion and duress. To the best of our knowledge nobody has done voice-analysis to ascertain if there were any others, and it is probable that adequate recordings do not exist. Famously vanished aviator Amelia Earhart was considered a prime candidate during the war, but her husband listened to some recordings and denied they sounded anything like her.

Tokyo Rose was actually pretty popular with Allied servicemen. Either out of the comedy value of the obvious propaganda, or because it was a female voice to people that might not have heard another for quite some time (and might not live to hear one again). Probably both. The moniker "Tokyo Rose" itself almost certainly originated with the servicemen themselves, since it does not appear in any of the surviving broadcast scripts or documentation. The surviving scripts also show that rumors that she was remarkably well-informed about Allied intentions, units, and movements were purely apocryphal.

Only one person was ever prosecuted for these broadcasts: Iva Toguri D'Aquino, an American daughter of Japanese immigrants who was stranded in Japan while visiting a sick aunt there at the beginning of the war, admitted to broadcasting under the name "Orphan Ann".note  Though neither the occupation authorities nor the FBI could find sufficient evidence to prosecute her in Japan, she was prosecuted on multiple counts of treason upon her return to the United States in 1948. Her prosecution was a pet project for politicians seeking to make a name for themselves with help from some particularly unscrupulous journalists. Despite the complete lack of credible evidence against her and considerable evidence that she'd risked her life aiding the allied prisoners forced to write and produce the broadcasts (Japanese society looked down on American-born Nisei like her, and the Kempei-tai would have taken a dim view of her smuggling food and medical supplies into POW camps — which she did a lot), she was convicted on only one count in 1949 and served six years of a ten year sentence. Still, she was forcibly separated from her husband, an Italian national who was denied entry to the United States, and was warned that if she left the country, she would not be allowed back in (made even worse when you remember that the stress of her wrongful prosecution caused her to miscarry their baby). She received a full pardon in 1977 due to the proven unreliability of her key accusers (who both claimed they'd been coerced into perjuring themselves) and the lack of any proof that she had actually said anything treasonous. An FBI case study found that her effect on Allied morale was, if anything, positive, and in a crowning irony, the US World War Two Veteran's Committee gave her their highest award for her bravery and patriotism in aiding Allied POWs at the risk of her own life shortly before she died in 2006.

In the European theater, the Axis employed two American women as broadcasters who were both given the nickname "Axis Sally" by American troops. Rita Zucca broadcast from Rome and used the on-air name "Sally," while Mildred Gillars broadcast from Berlin and usually called herself "Midge." Unlike their Japanese counterparts, both were known Nazi sympathizers who willingly collaborated.note  Both served prison terms for treason after the war, but in yet another cruel irony, neither trial got anything like the attention focused on Toguri's prosecution.

The Germans also employed a male version, "Lord Haw-Haw," the host of a regular program entitled Germany Calling. Though the program had several hosts, the name "Lord Haw-Haw" eventually became associated with a single individual: Anglo-Irish-Americannote  William Joyce, who held the job beginning in 1940. He had a nasal drawl and so his opening line sounded like "This is Jairmany calling". Joyce was captured in Germany in 1945 and put on trial for treason in Britain, after some legal debate over whether an American citizen (as came out during the trial) could be charged with betraying the Crown. The ruling was that since he'd got a British passport (he'd lied about his citizenship to get it), he was supposed to have loyalty to the King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He was convicted and hanged in 1946. Incidentally enough, he was among the last people imprisoned in the Tower of London, and the second-last to be executed for a crime other than murder. The Japanese equivalent was an Australian named Reggie Hollingsworth, about whom little is known but who has been described as sounding like "Churchill broadcasting from Tokyo". Fascist Italy averted this trope by foregoing an alias personality altogether and getting noted American poet and mentor to T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, to voluntarily give pro-fascist/anti-semitic/anti-American broadcasts until his eventual capture by the Allies following the Italian Campaign

American Robert Henry Best was a Lord Haw-Haw wannabe who also worked for the Germans. He had the dubious distinction of being taken off the air by the Germans in 1942 because his antisemitic propaganda became too strident!

"Tokyo Rose" or "Axis Sally" recordings are occasionally featured in war movies to establish atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is sufficiently obscure these days that it almost qualifies as a Genius Bonus.

Note that the Axis powers were not the only users of this trope: A recent search of The BBC archives turned up a series of concerts recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1944 for broadcast to Germany, all hosted by a German-speaking woman known only as "Ilsa". Sadly, Ilsa's identity has been lost to time. The most subtle and effective Allied propaganda broadcast was probably Britain's Soldatensender, which convincingly mimicked an official Wehrmacht propaganda station but gave out rather more information about the problems plaguing the German war effort than the German high command would have wanted to divulge.

Actress Jane Fonda, who visited Hanoi in 1972 and made some broadcasts denouncing the US bombing of North Vietnam and their military policy in general, acquired the nickname "Hanoi Jane" as a reference to Tokyo Rose and North Vietnam's own female propaganda broadcaster "Hanoi Hannah". While the American public was turning against The Vietnam War, being photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese AA gun went too far for the American public. It didn't help that her anti-war radio messages were exploited by the North Vietnamese, and she made comments denying the torture of American POWs. She later apologized for the photograph, but a false rumor spread for years that she deliberately turned over letters to home from Americans POWs to their captors.

Examples in media:

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    Comic Book 

    Film — Live Action 
  • American Traitor The Trial Of Axis Sally is a film about Mildred Gillars, mentioned above, on trial charged with eight counts of treason. It details her life in Germany, trial, disputed motives and the defense.
  • The Baker Street Dozen: The film Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror revolves around the titular Lord Haw-Haw-type who constantly pooh-poohs the British war effort and wonders why the British are so determined to allow citizens to get killed with their stupid resistance to almighty Germany. The Voice of Terror is more proactive than your average broadcaster, though, being The Mole within British Intelligence and the leader of a saboteur ring.
  • In The Bridge on the River Kwai, after the demolition team performs Percussive Maintenance on the radio and get it working, a Tokyo Rose broadcast is heard on it. The team promptly turns the radio off.
  • Bridge to the Sun: Gwen, an American woman living in Japan during World War II because she was married to a Japanese diplomat, listens to a Tokyo Rose broadcast. Unlike most examples of this trope, Tokyo Rose (or rather a fictional representation of her, not Iva Toguri or any real person) shows up on screen, and unsuccessfully attempts to recruit Gwen for propaganda broadcasts.
  • In the Vietnam War flashbacks in Da 5 Bloods, the Bloods listen to a radio broadcast by Hanoi Hannah specifically targeted towards black GIs like the Bloods. The program aims to get them to desert by pointing out they're risking their lives for a country that still has deep racial inequality. The Bloods learn about the MLK assassination this way and seem convinced by the propaganda or at least seem to be seriously considering what it has to say.
  • Heard from as the shore party is rigging up their radio in a cave by the beach in Destination Tokyo. Crosses with Coincidental Broadcast when Rose talks about how no American ship dares come within 500 miles of the Japanese home islands and how the U.S. submarine fleet has been destroyed.
  • The Dirty Dozen listen to a Lord Haw Haw broadcast, and Franko comments on his name.
  • A "Lord Haw-Haw" type is shown commentating the soccer match in Escape to Victory, and accuses the Allied players of deliberate foul when it was actually the Nazis cheating.
  • Flags of Our Fathers: Tokyo Rose is heard under her less well-known but historically accurate pseudonym "Orphan Ann".
  • In Francis the Talking Mule, Sterling is befriended by Maureen Gelder, a beautiful French refugee, during one of his enforced hospital stays. He grows to trust her and tells her about Francis. Later, a propaganda radio broadcast from Tokyo Rose mocks the Allies for being advised by a mule. This leads to the suspicion of Sterling or Maureen being a Japanese agent.
  • The crew of Lucky Lass briefly listen to a broadcast by Rita Zucca, the other "Axis Sally," on a bombing mission against a target in Italy in Fortress (2012). The guys find it entertaining rather than enlightening.
  • In Good Morning, Vietnam, Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer does an impression of Hanoi Hannah...... in the vein of The Wicked Witch of the West.
    Adrian Cronauer: Oh my God it's the Wicked Witch of the North, IT'S HANOI HANNAH!
  • Green for Danger: After the doodlebug blows up the warden station, the radio survives the explosion and is heard broadcasting Germany Calling where the female announcer is telling the British about the invincibility of Germany's V-1 rockets. The announcer is actually Nurse Woods twin sister.
  • Though we don't hear her broadcast, Hamburger Hill has a scene in which the platoon's RTO describes Hanoi Hannah's broadcast (which GIs call the "Bullshit Net") to the FNGs. He gets particularly bitter when he mentions this part:
    Sometimes they get American assholes to come on the show, talk about how we're such assholes to be fighting against the "Brave People's Army of Vietnam, Republic of."
  • In In Harm's Way, a Tokyo Rose broadcast is heard. The female lead (Patricia Neal) asks, "Why don't they jam her?" The Admiral responds, "They don't want to. She doesn't scare anyone and the boys like the music."
  • The German version, Axis Sally appears in the WWII flick, Miracle At St Anna right before the opening battle via loudspeakers mounted on an Opel Blitz truck to demoralise the 92nd Infantry Division "Buffalo" soldiers fording the river. Notably, both sides are annoyed with the broadcast; the American (both black and white) soldiers scoff at the patronising but blatant racism, while the regular German soldiers resent the propaganda machines interfering with logistics and conduct of battle.
    German Soldier: I can't hear a damn thing OVER THAT DAMN WHORE'S PRATTLING!
  • During Mrs. Miniver, a Lord Haw-Haw type tries taunting the British with news of France's defeat, claiming that England will be next. The British just laugh off the broadcast.
  • 1959's Operation Petticoat presented a Tokyo Rose broadcast to the pink submarine. "We don't know what you're doing, but it won't work. Surrender."
  • In Run for the Sun, Latimer realizes it is Browne's voice he recognizes, and that he is an infamous turncoat who during the war broadcast Nazi propaganda from Berlin to Britain after he had married a German girl.
  • Tokyo Rose shows up in 1958's Run Silent, Run Deep. A broadcast in which she identifies several of the crew by name tips off Lt. Bledsoe as to how the Nerva was tracked — the Japanese recovered their trash dumps.
  • When the squad of Rangers in Saving Private Ryan encounter a German propaganda broadcast.
    Sergeant Hill: That's Dagwood Dusseldorf, our friendly neighborhood morale officer.
  • In Twelve O'Clock High, the commander of the 918th Bomber Group, already depressed after a raid went badly, is further irritated when Lord Haw-Haw taunts the Allies with knowledge of the raid and specifically mentions the 918th.
  • In the 1943 film We Dive at Dawn, a "Haw-Haw" broadcast reports the sinking of the starring submarine HMS Sea Tiger (In fact, it pretended to go down to throw the Germans off). The British Admiralty buy the story and the British press report the vessel as lost.
  • In We've Never Been Licked, Brad is suspected of being a spy because of his association with the Japanese students, and ends up joining their spy ring, hoping to sabotage it from inside. Finally, he ends up as a Tokyo Rose-style Japanese propaganda broadcaster.

  • In A Man Without Breath, Bernie makes a passing reference to listening to Midge Gillars on the radio. That's Mildred Gillars aka "Axis Sally", an American citizen and German propagandist who was convicted of treason after the war.
  • In Mockingjay, Peeta Mellark is forced to do this when he's captured by the Capitol.
  • In KG 200 by J.D. Gilman and John Clive, a downed German pilot is hiding with a female spy who mentions that she gets her instructions via coded messages from Loud Haw Haw, saying that lots of people listen to Radio Hamburg so she doesn't have to worry about being overheard. In response to the pilot's surprised look, she says it's not because the British people are about to rise up against Churchill, but for the laughs.
  • Gonzalo Queipo de Llano and his pro-Nationalist "Radio Sevilla" programmes in Soviets In The Sun.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Golden Girls plays with this. Blanche is 'coaching' her baseball playing boyfriend, only for him to tell her he's going to a team in Tokyo. Dorothy later says to Rose that "He's leaving her for Tokyo, Rose". Rose's response? "I can understand that, she IS a big radio personality!"
  • Hogan's Heroes has multiple propaganda broadcasters. The first, "Axis Annie," wants to record POWs admitting that the Germans follow the Geneva Conventions so she can persuade Allied troops to surrender more easily or to desert. The Heroes cut a deal with her in order to get into town and pass on a message to an Underground cell (and then destroy the recordings to prevent themselves from getting court-martialed for treason). The second, "Berlin Betty," is used by the Heroes to get a time-sensitive coded message to London after their radio is damaged.
  • Tokyo Rose is mentioned by Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H, and with this being the Korean War, they have their own version, "Seoul City Sue", though she is rarely heard from.
  • The Rat Patrol episode "The Last Chance Raid" features Lord Haw-Haw expy "Colonel Windsor", a British traitor who broadcasts propaganda meant to demoralize American soldiers. He focuses on how the Nazis are winning WW2, and the US should stop fighting "Churchill's war" and ally itself with Germany. The Rats don't think much of Windsor, which they get to tell him in person when they commandeer his program to send an emergency message to the British army via BBC personnel who monitor his show.
  • Tour of Duty briefly featured a Vietnamese equivalent, with one GI asking another why he listened to that stuff. He replied that the propaganda was annoying, but that the music they played was actually pretty good.

    Tabletop Games 
  • During Games' Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 "Eye of Terror" event, a mini-campaign featured the Third Stage Expansion of the Tau, who were clear on the other side of the galaxy from the main action. During the event, one gamer started posting a series of "broadcasts" by a Human collaborator named "Sa'cea Sally". During the post-event articles in White Dwarf Magazine, these messages were codified into actual events during the expansion.

    Video Games 
  • The Battlefield series: Battlefield Vietnam featured actual broadcasts from Hanoi Hannah in the loading screens for certain maps. Some of them were rather pretty, actually — "Your helicopters will fall like broken butterflies, GIs."
  • In Fallout 3, there's a Chinese Propaganda radio station that broadcasts in Arlington Cemetery out of an old cannery that echoes this trope. Given that the Chinese and American governments are almost entirely gone After the End (and The Remnant of Chinese soldiers are irradiated ghouls who don't seem aware of this), there are few who really care about what it is saying.
  • The second Gungriffon'' game has a German DJ nicknamed "Berlin Lily" (voiced by Shiho Niiyama), who fulfills the role to the Japanese listeners. Ironically, it's mentioned that she's very popular among Japanese and American audiences.
  • Halo Infinite has a Grunt named Glibnub who broadcasts from propaganda towers on behalf of the Banished. Initially taunting the surviving UNSC troops over their recent defeat and precarious situation on Zeta Halo, his messages gradually become desperate attempts to shore up Banished morale as Master Chief keeps winning battles. You can destroy these towers for a bit of Valor.
  • Homefront: During the Crazy Survivalist level, two of the survivalists are talking about the resistance fugitives (you) and mention Tokyo Rose by name.
  • War Thunder: The Ground Battles map Vietnam Hills has several speakers set around the town area blaring both Hanoi Hannah broadcasts as well as the rare instance of a male North Vietnam propaganda radioman.

    Western Animation 
  • When Tokyo Rose begins spewing her anti-American propaganda over the airwaves in Tokyo Woes, Seaman Hook is inspired to fight back, using War Bonds as literal weapons against her.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Axis Sally


Hanoi Hannah

During the Vietnam War, North Vietnam broadcaster Hanoi Hannah attempts to undermine black troops by questioning why they fight overseas for a country that has such deeply-instituted racism.

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