‘This is Berlin Calling, Dear, Speaking to one American Boy;’ Consequences and Sexual Recontextualizations, subsequent to the Employment of the Feminine Essence in The Battle for the Soldier’s Masculine Mind: Women in Radio Propaganda in WWII

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. Heather Palmer

Propaganda & Persuasion, 4/7/2011

‘This is Berlin Calling, Dear, Speaking to one American Boy;’
Consequences and Sexual Recontextualizations, subsequent to the Employment of the Feminine Essence in The Battle for the Soldier’s Masculine Mind: Women in Radio Propaganda in WWII




In wartime, most propaganda is centered on the public. This is, however, only one dimension of the equation. Whereas the public is responsible for ideally voting in and out politicians who then set both domestic and international policies (of which war is an integral part) it is, however, the soldier who actually fights. The public’s attention and opinion may change like the weather – but the soldier who represents the ‘boots on the ground’ plays an integral part of a war’s ideological dichotomy. This paper will explore some of the more unique dimensions of sexuality, as it related to the common soldier during World War II and the two principle female radio personalities that soldiers fighting on the Allied side were exposed to:  “Tokyo Rose” -whose radio broadcasts represented the Japanese propaganda attempts to dissuade Allied soldiers from fighting and “Axis Sally” -Tokyo Rose’s German counterpart. This paper will make an attempt to explore various aspects of each, as they related to the media and strategies of WW II and as they related to the wartime propaganda efforts directed towards the sexual pathos and the psychological well being of the American soldier.

World War II represented – in many ways – the largest, most technologically advanced[1] war that has ever been fought, with respect to both its size and its use of technology – especially when contextually compared with previous conflicts. Many of the nations involved were, in and of themselves, the most advanced among peers in regards to culture, music, and technology. The lessons of WW I were still very much on the minds and hearts of military strategy planners. For example, the lessons of the Battle of Verdun (where over 700,000 causalities were incurred on both sides  [in a battle that both military historians then and now both agreed had little or no strategic importance]) still reverberated through the conscience of military men everywhere as a place were men died for no other purpose then to chase the illusive goal of maintaining the respective prestige amoung the nations fighting a given battle to be the victor of it.[2]  This and many other aspects of the previous conflict embodied what came to be seen as a sense of pervasive wastefulness and futility in terms of the management of the previous war’s resources and their ineffectual use of either strategy or modern technology. It became, therefore, a foregone conclusion that the next war would be waged in a more intelligent fashion.  Instead of trench warfare – missiles, special operations, and eventually even nuclear weaponry would be employed.[3] Along with the advanced role of these technologies, an appreciation for ‘the technology of rhetoric’ emerged. The role of propaganda rose to the forefront among these as a crucial tool of war – very much seen as equally important to supply lines, troop numbers, and weaponry capabilities. No longer would men just march at each other and die by the scores – but ideas and speeches against one another would be seen to be just as affective as the chemical warfare and rifles that were used against each other at Verdun.

An integral cog in the Nazi propaganda machine was Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels was the only formally educated doctorate in higher echelons of Nazi leadership – and he brought a systemized, academic-minded efficiency to the usually brute-force wielding Nazi apparatus.[4] The propaganda machine that Goebbels built and ran had many facets and dimensions. One important aspect that was not overlooked, however, was the Nazi propaganda efforts towards the demoralization of the American soldier. The ways and means of this were both innovative and ground breaking – and would (ironically) take on the form of the voice of a woman. On the German side – she came to be known “Axis Sally;” on the Japanese – “Tokyo Rose.”

The reason behind using a woman instead of a man was integral to the notion of gender presuppositions as they related to propaganda dynamics. For the first time, the employment of a ‘Feminine Essence’ would be strategically employed in ongoing propaganda efforts. There would never be a ‘German Joe’ speaking – at least with the presumed efficacy of the soft, sultry voice of “Axis Sally,” as she sought to sooth the American soldier out of their wartime patriotism and dedication.  The sexuality of the female voice – as either an anti- or pro-war stance – was reproduced into other venues beyond just the German’s application of it, as the infamous voice of “Tokyo Rose” also lit up the airwaves; a sweet, young voice who extolled the virtues and noble intentions of the Japanese Imperial army. Meanwhile, the Americans knew that they simply would not be outdone in this venture – by any means. They found a secret weapon in the sultry, German expatriate – Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich was an outspoken opponent of Nazism and was well equipped in both body and in intellect to make use of her own Feminine Essence – once remarking that “In America, sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it’s a fact.”[5] Her arrival in Hollywood for the filming of Morocco[6] with American actor Gary Cooper, in 1930 earned her official disdain from the ruling Nazi party.[7] When she became an American citizen, it was greatly welcomed by those who were seeking to find a way to counter the German propaganda machine.[8] Dietrich threw herself fully into the American war effort, once ironically commenting that The Germans and I no longer speak the same language.[9]

Dietrich began to record songs for a wartime propaganda effort entitled Soldatensender. In 1944 Dietrich recorded Lili Marlene [10], [11] which was actually part of a black propaganda effort on the part of the American Forces. It tells the sad story of a young woman leaving her soldier as he goes to the battlefield. German soldiers were forbidden to listen to Soldatensender broadcasts and the songs like Lili Marlene that played on it.[12] Love had become the new bullet in the new war.

As Dietrich heated up the airwaves – Axis Sally continued her own radio work. Her trademark call was “this is Berlin calling” – and indeed it was Berlin, and more importantly Goebbels – masterfully speaking though her sultry inflections.  The German Axis Sally was really a woman named Mildred Gillars – a middle-aged, former showgirl from Ohio – who had gone to Germany to study music. Gillars began her wartime propaganda work for the Germans by participating in a program entitled Home Sweet Home – which was designed by the Germans to induce a sense of homesickness on the part of American GI’s.[13] Also known as the “Bitch of Berlin” – she still prominently figures into the collective wartime imagination. A female radio host, with bright red lips is used in an advertising promo for the video game Brothers in Arms, Hell’s Highway[14] and she makes an appearance as a veritable vixen in[15] Spike Lee’s WWII movie Miracle at St. Anna.[16]

Axis Sally always made gratuitous references to the Jews and to the “kikes,” who she claimed were responsible for the war.


As one American to another – do you love the British? Well of course the answer is no. Do the British love us? Of course – I should say not. But we are fighting for them. We are shedding our good, young blood for this kike war, for this British war – oh girls, why don’t you wake up.[17]


I love America – but I do not love Roosevelt and all of his kike boyfriends who have thrown us up into this awful turmoil.[18]


A defeat for Germany means a defeat for America…[19]



Sally’s Japanese counterpart, Tokyo Rose, stayed equally busy. Tokyo Rose was actually voiced by several different women – the best known of whom was Iva Toguri. Her sultry opening words “Hello there Enemies . . . how’s tricks?”[20] opened up her broadcasts – which usually consisted of subtle discouragements and supposedly requested music.


Ann: And now that [?]. The second request is sent in by a roaming bonehead of an orphan, request number twenty-nine. He wants Tony Martin, of all people, to help him forget the mosquitoes and dirty rifles. Well, you know obliging Annie. Tony Martin and “Now It Can Be Told.” (music)[21]


Kokyo Rose had an almost amusing quality, referring to her listeners as “enemies,” herself as “Orphan Annie,” all the while reminding her listeners to “be good.”


That’s all for now, enemies – but there will be more of the same tomorrow night, but until then, this is orphan Annie, your number one enemy, reminding you G.I.’s to always be good – goodbye now!”[22]


I know that you still hate us – but don’t let that hate infect you, it poisons the whole system.[23]


Tokyo Rose not only attacked the patriotism of American soldiers, but also used her Feminine Essence to instill the fear of sexual impotence upon her listeners. Many listeners no doubt, at the mention of sex, would nervously wonder where exactly the truth really ended and the lie seriously began.


You poor little Marines, I wish you could spend the night with me. I am a little Japanese pin-up girl. But it wouldn’t be any use. Your officers won’t tell you because they want you to take these atabrine pills every day. . . .


Your officers don’t dare tell you—but I will—that when you swallow those bitter little pills, they will not only turn you yellow for the rest of your life, but they will also prevent you from ever being able to make love again.[24]



Kokyo Rose and Axis Sally represented a unique form of propaganda in a war, which raised the bar in terms of its level of technological sophistication and ideological complexity. In addition to the white and grey propaganda that the state department was creating with Marlene Dietrich, attempts at outright black propaganda were employed though their own created character of “Operation Annie” – whose final on air sign off was a carefully scripted act that seemed to show that the Allied Forces had finally found where she was broadcasting, and were seemingly overrunning the studio – while she was still broadcasting. This was intended to instill fear in the enemy – that there was simply no way to tell how quickly the Americans could barge in at any moment, anywhere.

“Radio Annie broadcast for 127 nights. It finally signed off by pretending that Allied troops had caught up with the rebel broadcasters. Listeners suddenly heard shouting in English and sounds of a scuffle. The German announcer cried out for someone to play a record. Then Annie’s theme song rolled, and abruptly fell silent.” [25]



Propaganda was no longer merely someone trying to convince you that you were merely right or wrong in terms of your support for the military agendas of the Axis powers or the Allied response to them[26] – but the entire enterprise was given a distinct, inescapable sexual dimension. The sweet and sultry ladies that populated the radio airtime of American soldiers could not be written off as easily as those of a ranting officer or fellow shipmate. The sexuality and sensuality that their voices represented marked an attempted penetration into the psyche of the soldier that a man’s voice could not otherwise accomplish. There were radio personalities that engaged in propaganda that did use men, such as James Joyce – otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw – who worked for German radio propaganda efforts against Great Britain, and who was hanged after the war for treason,[27] but they lacked the attention that Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose garnered – at least in terms of the traction that they held in the soldier’s imagination. It can be argued that this was because of the unique sexual dynamics that the female voice employed over and above the rhetorical dynamics intrinsic to that of the male archetype.

Regardless of the arguments or the claims made by the female voice, as a general rule, because of the disarming vulnerability concomitant with the archetypical Feminine Essence – the male listener would archetypically find the medium of the feminine voice to incorporate a disarming essence; an aspect intrinsic to its presentation. Regardless of what was being said – if the voice was beautiful and feminine (especially in the sexual sterility of the battlefield and military life in wartime) it served to ensnare his imagination and his sexuality.

Sexuality is an extremely important motif, one that must be considered when examining the psychology of the male soldier in wartime. One movie that explored this was the movie Enemy at the Gates.[28],[29] Enemy at the Gates features the issues of both propaganda, love and sexuality as central themes to its plot. Jude Law plays a famous sniper, Vassilli Zaitsev, who is used by the desperate Soviet military to create a propaganda story around him that will help rally their desperate troops against the German juggernaut – in a bid to keep the strategic city of Leningrad from falling into enemy hands. Based on a true story, it contains a famous love scene – in which mutual love interests Jude Law and Naomi Weiss (who plays Tania Chernova) have sex – one that is arguably a cinematic masterpiece in terms of its portrayal of the stark contrast between sexual intimacy and the brutal loss of all privacy because of an exceptionally stark and brutal wartime situation. In the film, Vassili and Tania silently and surreptitiously make love in the middle of an underground bunker, dirty and disheveled from combat operations – whilst surrounded by their sleeping comrades.[30] Here, the passion and intimacy of the human spirit finds a way to express itself – even amidst the horror and confines of the battlefield.  Even on a larger scale – with the entirety of their civilization literally crashing down around them; depriving them of the security and concomitant consolations of all its structures, rituals and assurances – the insurance of any sense of stability (such as a marriage would represent) is unattainable in present or any perceivably immediately forthcoming circumstances for them. In this sense – the furtive, illicit passions they share embody this stark disillusionment with any kind of normalcy; aptly illustrating these stark configurations on a meta-level for the viewer, following the arch of their story, as it is told in the movie. The passion of the characters of Vassili and Tania still find expression and release – even in the stark realities of day-to-day survival and death. There is no white wedding or marriage bed. There is only a soiled cot, surrounded by fitfully sleeping men – many of whom will themselves be dead in the following days. While such an event might very well light up the fantasies of the lonely, male soldier – deprived of any love interests, or even females otherwise and likewise staring death in the face daily – the story of the force and power of their love and their innate and subsequently repressed sexuality, still seeking release, and searching for expression and subsequent interpenetrative vulnerability – equally provides an adequate background to the sexual imagination of the soldier – who though turned into a killing machine, remains inescapably vulnerable via his own undeniable sexuality. In what might be termed an existential counterpunch – Vassili and Tania make love and in doing so, build an island of refuge and beauty over and against the horror and chaos surrounding them. The creative essence of sexuality – no doubt serving as a vehicle for renewal and refuge within the traumatized imagination of the soldier – would find great traction in such illusive but deeply cherished metanarratives.

This is important, for in the case of the beautiful voice on the radio, she became a proxy for all of this: a non-existent physical intimacy, masquerading as one capable of emotional or intellectual connection and escape where (outside of a wartime script writer’s Hollywood imagination and cinematic license) any actual physical, or even relational intimacy, or presumed standard of sexual moral conduct was simply beyond the conceivable.  In lieu of any female interrelation at all – the base nature of human sexuality will force a vulnerability – or at least a very deeply engrained enjoyment of her communication – regardless of what was being said by her – or even how geographically or geopolitically detached she might be.  These powerful sexual forces served to empower the seemingly innocuous and innocent playfulness of the females taking their positions behind enemy microphones.  But far from being innocent – these female voices echoed not only across the airwaves, but also through the unconscious sexual drives of millions and millions of men who would hear them and in doing so, be exposed to their subtle but inescapably powerful dichotomy as it radically impacted the dynamics of ethos, pathos, and logos as they related to the propaganda they represented.

But how? – one must ask. The utilization of the Feminine Essence and its employment within propaganda efforts represents a veritable unchaining of Eros within the masculine psyche of the soldier. And through this, as Freud might argue, the unpredictabilities of the impulsivity of human nature are potentially unmoored from their Apollonarian, steadfast, logically-mediated anchors.[31] By virtue of this tapping into this unbundled sexual essence of the sexually repressed and isolated soldier – each of rhetorical modalities are subsequently irrevocably transfigured by the earthiness of the Chithulian.  Or are they? Or could this transfiguration-reconfiguration (taking place either on such a high meta-level, or at such a deep subconscious, foundational level) be such as that its own effects are as equally hidden to the degree that the preexistent, innately repressed sexuality was predisposed to hide itself to, to begin with. Perhaps soldiers who were predisposed to a degree of promiscuity already – would by virtue of this fact, thereby be more so prone to preternaturally  ‘go rogue’ ideologically, consequent and subsequent to it? Those with a disciplined sexuality already – would they merely continue on in a likewise equally disciplined state? Or is it that these guidelines of discipline and control are merely stressed in such a way as to tempt some sort of sublimated sexual rebellion? Regardless of its exact form – this destabilization metanarrative prefigures any sense of assured and fully confident sense of infallibility. Perhaps it is this secondary effect: the thrill of such a dangerous, rhetorical engagement – that serves as the essence for a ‘thrill ride’ on the part of the soldier in listening to her to begin with. Could she be a kind of sublimated ‘sexual fling’ with a tinge of the excitement – but none of the assumed consequences? It may have been this specific essence that made her so enjoyable to listen to: that she was kind of a forbidden kiss that the soldier could sneak and not suffer a consequence, as he would – as if he were kissing the German beer hall girl on the cheek behind his commanding officer’s back.

Either out of a destabilzation process, or the procurement of a seemingly risk-free thrill – to listen to her was to listen to the voice of one’s own sexuality – speaking out of one’s own psyche and though the radio’s speaker – and in doing this – the soldier could potentially receive (either consciously or unconsciously) a third dichotomatic aspect: that of sexual release.  This itself – may be the most potent and powerful dynamic that compelled many a soldier to listen. Though many soldiers would certainly have done anything to be in the arms of their own loved ones – many would also have certainly fantasized about taking the proverbial German beer hall girl to the proverbial hayloft themselves. Certainly this did happen – but certainly not as often, as to the degree that it was fantasized about. And while listening to a sultry German or Japanese girl toy with your sexuality might not have the full affect of toying with her in the hayloft or rice paddy would – it did offer, nonetheless, some degree of release. And amid the horror, death, and the sense of the whole of civilization and its concomitant societal archetypes of order, all equally seeming to be crashing down around them at all points – it was, nonetheless, some degree of both release – and distraction.  But was this what the enemy had intended? Was a beneficent ‘sexual release’ and ‘emotional distraction’ what Goebbels would have intended or even wanted? Probably not. But it must be said – that such an unwelcomed aspect of the employment of the Feminine Essence in military propaganda would fall under the rubric of its own intrinsic, sexual-Chitulian unpredictability: neither friend, nor foe, would ever be able to be full recipients of its benefits.

For her war efforts, Marlene Dietrich was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is one of the most prestigious and highest kinds of awards a citizen could be given. Dietrich described the accomplishment of being awarded it as one of the greatest things she has ever done in her life. [32] Her love for her own native country never abated, however – and many believe they can hear her love speaking for Germany when they hear her sing, I still have a suitcase in Berlin.[33],[34] Her love for her country indeed never waned – and she described the pain that she had experienced in leaving her beloved homeland in tearful descriptions, “The tears I have cried over Germany have dried. I have washed my face.”[35]

When Germany finally fell – everyone started looking for the ‘bitch of Berlin’ – and the wanted posters went up everywhere. Eventually, she was found and arrested. Mildred Gillars was tried for treason – and eventually served two and half years at the Frankfurt-am-Main Allied prison camp in Germany, and then 12 years at the Alderson Reformatory for Women in West Virginia. She was paroled in 1961, and became a teacher at a Roman Catholic convent. She died in 1988 – and was buried in an unmarked grave among the graves of the WW II veterans – many of whom, no doubt, had heard her voice wooing them to an altogether different place in life, in their own past.[36]

Tokyo Rose’s fate would ironically also lead her into the arms of the Americans as well. Ikuko Toguri would also be put on trial for treason, and likewise convinced for her actions during the war. She served six years and two months of a ten year sentence in the same penitentiary as her counterpart in propaganda, Mildred Gillars, in the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia. She then returned to Chicago and worked in her father’s shop. She was pardoned by President Gerald Ford on January 19, 1977 and passed away in 2006.[37]

The lessons of the usefulness of the female voice and its inescapably attendant Feminine Essence – as well as the consequences and ramifications that it has within both within Propaganda and the Masculine Conscience, as it relates to human sexuality, were not lost when WWII ended. Indeed – as later conflicts erupted – the soothing voices of women returned to the airwaves once again. American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam heard their own modern day itineration of Axis Sally and Tokyo Rose when Hanoi Hannah lit up their radios. Just like Sally and Rose had played big band music, Hannah brought her own twist to playing Rock and Roll –songs that had themselves been forbidden by the United Armed Services from being listened to or played.  Against the wishes of many a commanding officer the refrains of We Gotta Get Out of This Place[38]was often heard echoing through the camp.
There is no doubt – that wherever there is a war – and men are there fighting; somewhere there will be a radio, and without a doubt – the enemy will be speaking on it. It won’t be the voice of a skilled propagandist. He will be sitting in the shadows, guiding the broadcast – and perhaps even writing out its content. Before the mike, there will be a soothing, beautiful voice…one of a woman – offering beautiful, softly spoken lies.

















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[1] It should be pointed out that wars have been fought on a more technologically advanced scale – but nowhere near the scale of WW II.

[26] This of course, formed the core essence of why the war was fought. Historians agree that America and Great Britain were essentially forced into combat against the Axis powers. An almost ridiculous amount of effort went into efforts to prevent a conflict, including Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “peace in our time” speech, in which the British Government went to great lengths to placate and prevent war with Germany – only to see Germany regard them as null and void.  (http://www.militaryimages.net/photopost/data/612/Neville_Chamberlain_and_Adolf_Hitler_Peace_in_our_time.jpg) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmH5A6QsqRY)

[31] In her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Camille Paglia agues that the masculine-essence archetype represents an “Apollinarian” – or orderly, structured and predictable metanarrative that stands in distinct contrast to that of the Feminine Essence, or Chithulian archetype. Paglia argues that the Chithulian represents the opposite of the masculine-Apollinarian – in that it represents unpredictability, danger, disorder, and earthiness. (http://www.amazon.com/Sexual-Personae-Decadence-Nefertiti-Dickinson/dp/0679735798)


About hollerscholar

I'm a theology & philosophy student, writer, web developer, and medical laboratory professional.
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