Suzuki, Prime Minister Kantaro, 1867-1948

Suzuki was an anti-militarist and symbol of peace who led the Japanese peace-seeking Cabinet from April 1945 until the end of the war. A veteran of Korea in the 1890s and of the Russo- Finnish War, Suzuki was already in retirement by 1927. Nonetheless as a military man who was involved in neither the Army nor Navy cliques he was already a valuable compromise figure at that time. In 1929 he was appointed Grand Chamberlain, an advisory post quite close to the Emperor, and was made a member of the Supreme War Council. He was a prime target of the 1936 coup in which he barely escaped death.

In August 1944, after the fall of TOJO, Suzuki was appointed President of the Privy Council as a first step to bringing him back into public affairs. When KOISO’s government fell on 5 April 1945 following the American invasion of Okinawa, Suzuki was made Prime Minister. Although he was a universally popular figure, committed to peace and convinced the war was lost, he was extremely old and perhaps too respected a figure to conduct a vigorous leadership. However he was also engaged in a difficult juggling act in which either Japan would be annihilated or the military would mutiny in order to pursue their fight to the death. Suzuki nonetheless made two grave mistakes. One was to try to negotiate via STALIN. The other was to issue an extremely ambiguous answer to the Potsdam Declaration which seemed to say that the Japanese would not even consider it seriously. This was not in fact his intention. On 14 August 1945 Suzuki obtained agreement to take the revolutionary step of asking the Emperor to decide the question of war or peace. He resigned the same day as the surrender was confirmed.

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