The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia
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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)
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").
||Graduates from the first class of the Naval Academy, standing 13 out of 45. Assigned to corvette Tsukuba|
|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
|1897-3-30||Naval College Gunnery Course|
|1898-4-29||Naval College A-Course|
||Staff, Bureau of Naval Affairs, Navy
|1899-2-1||Instructor, Military Academy
|1900-3-5||Instructor, Naval Academy
|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
|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|
||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
|1917-9-1||Commander, Training Fleet|
|1918-12-1||Commandant, Naval Academy
|1920-12-1||Commander, 2 Fleet
|1921-12-1||Commander, 3 Fleet|
|1922-7-27||Commander, 2 Naval District
|1924-1-27||Commander, Combined Fleet
|1925-4-15||Chief, Navy General Staff
|1936-11-20||Councilor of Court|
|1940-6-24||Vice chairman of Councilors of Court|
|1944-8-10||Chairman of Councilors of Court|
|1945-12-15||Chairman of Councilors of Court|
Materials of IJN (accessed 2008-7-4)
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