Emperor Showa, better known in the English-speaking world as Emperor Hirohito, has been one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Pacific War. He was both sovereign of the state and commander in chief of the Japanese imperial forces; but above all, he was the manifestation of divinity and a symbol of the national and cultural identity of Japan. Yet under the Allied occupation the emperor was spared from the Tokyo war crimes trial and continued to reign in postwar Japan until his death in 1989 as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people” under the new democratic constitution written by the U.S. occupiers.
This talk will examine the extraordinary transformation of Emperor Hirohito from a divine monarch during the Pacific War to a humanized symbolic monarch supposedly with no political power during the occupation years (1945-1952). The talk will focus on the paradoxical role Emperor Hirohito played at home and abroad as tension between the United States and the Soviet Union escalated into the Cold War in East Asia.