Suzuki Kantaro (1867-1948)

Photograph of Admiral Suzuki Kantaro

Wikimedia Commons

Suzuki was the last prime minister of Japan prior to her surrender in August 1945. A retired admiral, he was a hero of the Battle of Tsushima and was "one of the few men in government without personal enemies" (Craig 1967). Nevertheless, he had survived an assassination attempt by junior Army officers during the attempted coup of 26 February 1936 and still carried a bullet in his back. He was selected over the Army's candidate, Hata Shunroku, marking a decisive decline in the Army's control of the government. It was also tacitly understood that he was to try to find a way to end the war, although continued Army resistance prevented this from taking place until Japan faced utter disaster.

Suzuki's position was a dangerous one. His son understood that radical young Army officers might make another assassination attempt on Suzuki, and the son volunteered to leave his job with the Agricultural Ministry to be Suzuki's personal secretary (and unofficial bodyguard.) Suzuki replied "Don't accompany me to death. I have come a long way but you still have far to go" (Toland 1970). Publicly he dissembled, taking the position that he would continue fighting the war to its finish. However, he was forced to tell Togo Shigenori privately that he was seeking an end to the war in order to persuade Togo to join his cabinet as Foreign Minister.

The subject of peace was finally broached on 12 May 1945, by Yonai, whose suggestion that terms be sought through the Russians was supported by Suzuki. However, the Russians were unresponsive, and the terms being sought would almost certainly have been unacceptable to the Allies. The Army rejected any attempt to end the war on 8 June 1945, leading Hirohito's chief advisor, Marquis Kido, to conclude that they could no longer count on Suzuki to work for peace. However, in a speech to the Diet on 13 June, Suzuki subtly hinted that the nation should seek peace and was jeered off the podium.

Following the Potsdam Declaration, Suzuki declared that his government would "kill with silence" (mokusatsu) the Declaration. This was a compromise with Army leaders who wanted a blunt rejection. He later told his son that this was meant to be equivalent to a Western "no comment" but there was no Japanese phrase carrying that precise meaning. On the other hand, Suzuki reportedly told a senior Cabinet official that "for the enemy to say something like that means circumstances have arisen that force them also to end the war. That is why they are talking about unconditional surrender. Precisely at a time like this, if we hold firm, then they will yield before we do" (Miscamble 2011). The nuclear attacks and the Russian declaration of war finally allowed Suzuki to openly call for the Cabinet to end the war, though it took the Emperor's intervention to break the deadlock which followed.

Suzuki retired shortly after the surrender was announced, clearing the way for Prince Higashikuni to become Prime Minister. It was believed that a Prime Minister from the Imperial Household would be better able to enforce the Emperor's decision to surrender on the Army.

Suzuki was held in affection by the Emperor, who called him oyaji ("old man").

Service record

1887-7-25 Midshipman    
Graduates from the first class of the Naval Academy, standing 13 out of 45. Assigned to corvette Tsukuba
1888-8-1   Corvette Tenryu
1889-5-15   CA Takachiho
1889-6-25 Ensign PG Amagi
1889-9-30   CL Takao
1890-12-15   Corvette Jingei
1891-7-23   Ironclad Kongo
1891-8-6   PG Chokai
1893-11-8   Commander, Attack Unit, Yokosuka Torpedo Group
1894-7-21   Commander, Attack Unit, Tsushima Torpedo Group
1894-10-2   Commander, Torpedo Division 3
1895-3-23   Corvette Kaimon
1896-4-6   Ironclad Hiei
1896-12-11   Ironclad Kongo
1897-3-30   Naval College Gunnery Course
1898-4-29   Naval College A-Course
1898-6-28 Lieutenant Commander     
  Staff, Bureau of Naval Affairs, Navy Ministry
1899-2-1   Instructor, Military Academy
1900-3-5   Instructor, Naval Academy
1901-7-29   Attaché, Germany
1903-9-26 Commander  
1904-2-16   Executive officer, CL Kasuga
1904-9-11   Commander, Destroyers, 2 Fleet
1905-1-14   Commander, Destroyer Division 4
1905-11-21   Instructor, Naval Academy
1907-9-28 Captain  
1908-9-1   Commander, CL Akashi
1909-10-1   Commander, CL Soya
1910-7-25   Commandant, Torpedo School
1911-12-1   Commander, BB Shikishima
1912-9-12   Commander, BC Tsukuba
1913-5-24 Rear admiral
Commander, Maizuru Torpedo Group
1913-8-10   Commander, 2 Fleet
1913-11-15   Commander, Maizuru Torpedo Group
1913-12-1   Director, Personnel Bureau, Navy Ministry
1914-4-17   Navy Vice-Minister
1917-6-1 Vice admiral
1917-9-1   Commander, Training Fleet
1918-10-18   Admirals' Committee
1918-12-1   Commandant, Naval Academy
1920-12-1   Commander, 2 Fleet
Commander, 3 Fleet
Commander, 2 Naval District
1923-8-3 Admiral  
1924-1-27   Commander, Combined Fleet
1924-12-1   Naval Councilor
1925-4-15   Chief, Navy General Staff
1929-1-22 Reserves Grand Chamberlain
1936-11-20   Councilor of Court
1937-12-24 Retires  
1940-6-24   Vice chairman of Councilors of Court
1944-8-10   Chairman of Councilors of Court
1945-4-7   Prime Minister
1945-8-17   resigned
1945-12-15   Chairman of Councilors of Court
1946-6-13   Retires
1948-4-17   Dies


Craig (1967)

Hoyt (1993)

Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-7-4)

Miscamble (2011)

Toland (1970)

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