INDONESIA’S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE

INDONESIA’S STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE

Almost immediately after the Japanese surrendered, on August 17, 1945, Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta declared Indonesia's independence from Sukarno’s home in Jakarta. They had effectively been forced to make the declaration after being kidnapped by military youth groups. A new constitution was made the same year. The move was made with the tacit approval of the Japanese—who remained in Indonesia until a formal surrender to the British—before the Dutch had returned. It would be another four years, marked by sporadic fighting, before that declaration was realized.

The Dutch refused to accept the proclamation and tried to reassert control over Indonesia. British troops entered Java in October 1945 to accept the surrender of the Japanese. The Dutch returned gradually. They tried to reassert control over Indonesia with the help of the British, who controlled Malaysia and much of Borneo.

The struggle that followed the proclamation of independence on August 17, 1945, and lasted until the Dutch recognition of Indonesian sovereignty on December 27, 1949, is generally referred to as Indonesia’s National Revolution. It remains the modern nation’s central event, and its world significance, although often underappreciated, is real. The National Revolution was the first and most immediately effective of the violent postwar struggles with European colonial powers, bringing political independence and, under the circumstances, a remarkable degree of unity to a diverse and far-flung nation of then 70 million people and geographically the most fragmented of the former colonies in Asia and Africa. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Furthermore, the Revolution accomplished this in the comparatively short period of slightly more than four years and at a human cost estimated at about 250,000 lives, far fewer than the several million suffered by India or Vietnam, for example. Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia were the first former colonial subjects to successfully use the United Nations (UN) and world opinion as decisive tools in achieving independence, and they carried on a sophisticated and often deft diplomacy to advance their cause. At home, it can certainly be argued that Republican forces fought a well-armed, determined European power to a standstill, and to the realization that further colonial mastery could not be achieved. Finally, although this point is much debated, it can be argued that the National Revolution generated irreversible currents of social and economic change marking the final disappearance of the colonial world and—for better or worse—serving as the foundation for crucial national developments over the next several generations. These were no mean achievements. *

Indonesia after World War Ii

Unlike Burma and the Philippines, Indonesia was not granted formal independence by the Japanese in 1943. No Indonesian representative was sent to the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo in November 1943. But as the war became more desperate, Japan announced in September 1944 that not only Java but the entire archipelago would become independent. This announcement was a tremendous vindication of the seemingly collaborative policies of Sukarno and Hatta. In March 1945, the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI) was organized, and delegates came not only from Java but also from Sumatra and the eastern archipelago to decide the constitution of the new state. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The committee wanted the new nation's territory to include not only the Netherlands Indies but also Portuguese Timor and British North Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. Thus the basis for a postwar Greater Indonesia (Indonesia Raya) policy, pursued by Sukarno in the 1950s and 1960s, was established. The policy also provided for a strong presidency. Sukarno's advocacy of a unitary, secular state, however, collided with Muslim aspirations. An agreement, known as the Jakarta Charter, was reached in which the state was based on belief in one God and required Muslims to follow the sharia (in Indonesian, syariah--Islamic law). The Jakarta Charter was a compromise in which key Muslim leaders offered to give national independence precedence over their desire to shape the kind of state that was to come into being. Muslim leaders later viewed this compromise as a great sacrifice on their part for the national good and it became a point of contention, since many of them thought it had not been intended as a permanent compromise. The committee chose Sukarno, who favored a unitary state, and Hatta, who wanted a federal system, as president and vice president, respectively--an association of two very different leaders that had survived the Japanese occupation and would continue until 1956. *

On June 1, 1945, Sukarno gave a speech outlining the Pancasila; the five guiding principles of the Indonesian nation. Much as he had used the concept of Marhaenism to create a common denominator for the masses in the 1930s, so he used the Pancasila concept to provide a basis for a unified, independent state. The five principles are belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy, and social justice. *

On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered. The Indonesian leadership, pressured by radical youth groups (the pemuda), were obliged to move quickly. With the cooperation of individual Japanese navy and army officers (others feared reprisals from the Allies or were not sympathetic to the Indonesian cause), Sukarno and Hatta formally declared the nation's independence on August 17 at the former's residence in Jakarta, raised the red and white national flag, and sang the new nation's national anthem, Indonesia Raya (Greater Indonesia). The following day a new constitution was promulgated. *

Political Positioning in Indonesia as World War II Ends

In September 1944—after U.S. forces occupied the town of Hollandia (now called Jayapura) in Papua and Australian troops landed on Morotai, Halmahera (Maluku) and Allied planes bombed Jakarta— Japan’s new prime minister, Koiso Kuniaki, announced on September 7, 1944, that the Indies (which he did not define) would be prepared for independence “in the near future,” a statement that appeared at last to vindicate Sukarno’s cooperative policies. Occupation authorities were instructed to further encourage nationalist sentiments in order to calm public restlessness and to retain the loyalty of cooperating nationalist leaders and their followers. Their response was comparatively slow, but spurred perhaps by evidence of growing anti-Japanese sentiment—in mid-February 1945, for example, a Peta unit in Blitar (eastern Java) revolted—the authorities on Java announced on March 1, 1945, their intention to form the Commission to Investigate Preparatory Measures for Independence (BPUPK); the term “Indonesia” was initially not used. Its membership—54 Indonesians, four Chinese, one Arab, and one Eurasian, plus eight Japanese “special members”—was announced on April 29. Meetings began on May 28. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The BPUPK took up questions such as the philosophy, territory, and structure of the state. Sukarno’s speech on June 1 laid out what he called the Pancasila or Five Principles, which were acclaimed as the philosophical basis of an independent Indonesia. In the original formulation, true to Sukarno’s prewar thinking, national unity came first, and while religion (“belief in a One and Supreme God”) was recognized in the fifth principle, one religion was pointedly not favored over another, and the state would be neither secular nor theocratic in nature. Thirty-nine of 60 voting members of the BPUPK voted to define the new state as comprising the former Netherlands East Indies as well as Portuguese Timor, New Guinea, and British territories on Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. Spirited debate on the structure of the state led finally to the acceptance of a unitary republic. An informal subcommittee, in a decision subsequently dubbed the Piagam Jakarta (Jakarta Charter), suggested that Muslim concerns about the role of Islam in the new state be addressed by placing Sukarno’s last principle first, requiring that the head of state be a Muslim, and adding a phrase requiring all Muslim citizens to follow the sharia. This declaration was to be the source of continuing misunderstanding. *

The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, on August 6 and 8, 1945, and the Japanese rushed to prepare Indonesian independence. Vetoing the “Greater Indonesia” idea, military authorities required that the new state be limited to the former Netherlands East Indies and called for the establishment of an Indonesian Independence Preparatory Committee (PPKI) with Sukarno as chairman. This group was established on August 12, 1945, but Japan surrendered three days later, before it had an opportunity to meet. The established Indonesian leadership, led by Sukarno and Hatta, greeted the surrender with initial disbelief and caution, but some pemuda, many of them followers of Sutan Syahrir, took a more radical stance, kidnapping Sukarno and Hatta on the night of August 15–16 in an effort to force them to declare independence immediately and without Japanese permission. Their efforts may actually have delayed matters slightly, as Hatta later accused, but in any case, in a simple`out as quickly and thoroughly as possible.” *

The next day, the PPKI met for the first time to adopt a constitution. Some key stipulations of the Jakarta Charter were cancelled, with the suggestion that such issues be revisited later, but the version of Pancasila that now became the official creed of the Republic of Indonesia began with the principle of “belief in [one supreme] God,” followed by humanitarianism, national unity, popular sovereignty arrived at through deliberation and representative or consultative democracy, and social justice. Such was the idealistic vision of a national civic society with which Indonesia began its independent life. *

Mohammed Hatta and Minangkabau Sutan Syahrir

Mohammed Hatta (1902-1980) is regarded along with Sukarno as one of the founders of Indonesia. Born in Sumatra, he was a tough, well-respected Muslim leader who served as vice president and prime minister of Indonesia after independence. He is credited with recognizing the inherent problems in making Indonesia an Islamic state and was opposed implementing Islamic law.

Minangkabau Sutan Syahrir Sjahrir (1909-66) was another important figure in the independence movement. He was a leading nationalist leader in Java and opposed Sukarno. Syahrir and Hatta were Sukarno's most important political rivals. Graduates of Dutch universities, they were social democrats in outlook and more rational in their political style than Sukarno, whom they criticized for his romanticism and preoccupation with rousing the masses. In December 1931 they established a group officially called Indonesian National Education (PNI-Baru) but often taken to mean New PNI. The use of the term "education" reflected Hatta's gradualist, cadre-driven education process to expand political consciousness. *

In 1927–28 Hatta and several other Perhimpunan Indonesia members were arrested in the Netherlands and charged with fomenting armed rebellion, but acquitted. Hatta and Syahrir were arrested in 1934 and sent to Boven Digul, and two years later to Banda Neira, Maluku, also for the remainder of Dutch rule. They were freed by the Japanese when they took over Indonesia in 1942. Sukarno and Hatta agreed in 1942 to cooperate with the Japanese, as this seemed to be the best opportunity to secure independence. Syahrir refused to cooperate with the wartime Japanese regime and had campaigned hard against retaining occupation-era institutions after the Japanese left.

See Separate Article on Sukarno.

Indonesia’s Precarious Position After World War II

The Indonesian republic's prospects were highly uncertain. The Dutch, determined to reoccupy their colony, castigated Sukarno and Hatta as collaborators with the Japanese and the Republic of Indonesia as a creation of Japanese fascism. But the Netherlands, devastated by the Nazi occupation, lacked the resources to reassert its authority. The archipelago came under the jurisdiction of Admiral Earl Louis Mountbatten, the supreme Allied commander in Southeast Asia. Because of Indonesia's distance from the main theaters of war, Allied troops, mostly from the British Commonwealth of Nations, did not land on Java until late September. Japanese troops stationed in the islands were told to maintain law and order. Their role in the early stages of the republican revolution was ambiguous: on the one hand, sometimes they cooperated with the Allies and attempted to curb republican activities; on the other hand, some Japanese commanders, usually under duress, turned over arms to the republicans, and the armed forces established under Japanese auspices became an important part of postwar anti-Dutch resistance. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Allies had no consistent policy concerning Indonesia's future apart from the vague hope that the republicans and Dutch could be induced to negotiate peacefully. Their immediate goal in bringing troops to the islands was to disarm and repatriate the Japanese and liberate Europeans held in internment camps. Most Indonesians, however, believed that the Allied goal was the restoration of Dutch rule. Thus, in the weeks between the August 17 declaration of independence and the first Allied landings, republican leaders hastily consolidated their political power. Because there was no time for nationwide elections, the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence transformed itself into the Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP), with 135 members. KNIP appointed governors for each of the eight provinces into which it had divided the archipelago. Republican governments on Java retained the personnel and apparatus of the wartime Java Hokokai, a body established during the occupation that organized mass support for Japanese policies. *

The situation in local areas was extremely complex. Among the few generalizations that can be made is that local populations generally perceived the situation as a revolutionary one and overthrew or at least seriously threatened local elites who had, for the most part, collaborated with both the Japanese and the Dutch. Activist young people, the pemuda, played a central role in these activities. As law and order broke down, it was often difficult to distinguish revolutionary from outlaw activities. Old social cleavages--between nominal and committed Muslims, linguistic and ethnic groups, and social classes in both rural and urban areas--were accentuated. Republican leaders in local areas desperately struggled to survive Dutch onslaughts, separatist tendencies, and leftist insurgencies. Reactions to Dutch attempts to reassert their authority were largely negative, and few wanted a return to the old colonial order. *

Establishment of the Indonesian Republic Immediately After World War II

As the war ended, Sukarno and Hatta were by far the most popular nationalist leaders. In August 1945 they were kidnapped and pressured by radical pemuda (youth groups) to declare independence before the Dutch could return. On August 17, 1945, with tacit Japanese backing, Sukarno proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Indonesia, from his Jakarta home. Indonesians rejoiced, but the Netherlands refused to accept the proclamation and still claimed sovereignty over Indonesia. British troops entered Java weeks later 1945 to accept the surrender of the Japanese. Under British auspices, Dutch troops gradually returned to Indonesia and it became obvious that independence would have to be fought for. [Source: Lonely Planet]

The new Republic’s prospects were at best uncertain. The war had ended very suddenly, and the Dutch—themselves only recently freed from Nazi rule—were unable to reestablish colonial authority, a task that in Sumatra and Java fell to British and British Indian troops, the first of which did not arrive until September 29, 1945. In the interval of nearly six weeks, the Republic of Indonesia was able to disarm a great many Japanese troops and form a government with Sukarno as president and Hatta as vice president. The Central National Committee (KNIP) was established as the principal decision-making body. It had regional and local subcommittees, based largely on the structure and personnel of the Jawa Hōkōkai. A comparatively smooth transition to an Indonesian-controlled bureaucracy and civil service took place in most areas, especially of Java. Australian troops continued occupying the eastern archipelago in late 1944 and, in 1945, accompanied by Dutch military and civilian personnel of the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA), which had formed in Australia during the war. [Source: Library of Congress]

Violence in British-Controlled Indonesia Soon After World War II

Fighting broke out between the British and soldiers and militias with ties to the new Indonesian Republic after the British arrived beginning in September 1945. Things became particularly nasty in Surabaya after British Indian troops lander there and the leader of the British forces, General Mallaby, was killed by a bomb. The British launched bloody retaliatory attack, including air strikes, to take Surabaya on November 10 (now celebrated as Heroes Day). Fighting around Surabaya lasted for three weeks, leaving perhaps thousands of Indonesians dead. Tens of thousands fled to the countryside. Despite being poorly armed and trained, the Republican Army held their own, The brutality of the British offensive and the spirted defense helped unite the Indonesians and turn world opinion against colonialism in Indonesia.

Allied commander Earl Louis Mountbatten (1900–79) was charged with keeping the peace until his own troops could arrive and releasing Europeans who had been imprisoned by the Japanese and helping them resume their lives. Radical pemuda initiated, and encouraged others to take part in, violence against all those—not only Dutch and Eurasians but also Chinese and fellow Indonesians—who might be suspected of opposing independence. Sukarno’s government was powerless to stop this bloodletting, which by the end of September was well underway on Java. It grew in intensity and spread to deadly attacks on local elites as Allied troops moved to secure the main cities of Java and Sumatra. This sort of violence did not endear the Revolution to the outside world or, for that matter, to many Indonesians, but at the same time it was clear that closely allied to it was a fierce determination to defend independence. [Source: Library of Congress *]

When Allied troops landed in Surabaya in East Java in late October 1945, their plans to occupy the city were thwarted by tens of thousands of armed Indonesians and crowds of city residents mobilized by pemuda. On October 28, 1945, major violence erupted in Surabaya as occupying British troops clashed with pemuda (youth groups) and other armed groups. Following a major military disaster for the British in which their commander, A.W.S. Mallaby, and hundreds of troops were killed, the British launched a ferocious counterattack. The counterattack that began on November 10, enshrined in Indonesian nationalist history as Heroes’ Day, is estimated to have killed 6,000 Indonesians and others. The Battle of Surabaya (November 10-24) was the bloodiest single engagement of the struggle for independence. It forced the Allies to come to terms with the republic and convinced the British that they must plan for eventual withdrawal. A year later, the British turned military affairs over to the Dutch, who were determined to restore their rule throughout the archipelago. *

Dutch Return to Indonesia After World War II

In general, the Dutch view in late 1945 had been that the Republic of Indonesia was a sham, controlled largely by those who had collaborated with the Japanese, with no legitimacy whatsoever. A year later, this outlook had been modified somewhat, but only to concede that nationalist sentiment was more widespread than they had at first allowed; the complaint grew that, whatever its nature, the Republic could not control its violent supporters (especially pemuda and communists), making it unfit to rule. The newly formed United Nations formed a commission to settle the dispute. In 1946, the British left and the Dutch arrived and the Dutch and Indonesians signed a agreement calling for the gradual hangover transition from colonialism to self rule but fighting continued for three more years until 1949. [Source: Library of Congress *]

According to Lonely Planet: “The Dutch dream of easy reoccupation was shattered, while the British were keen to extricate themselves from military action and broker a peace agreement. The last British troops left in November 1946, by which time 55,000 Dutch troops had landed in Java. Indonesian Republican officials were imprisoned, and bombing raids on Palembang and Medan in Sumatra prepared the way for the Dutch occupation of these cities. In southern Sulawesi, Dutch Captain Westerling was accused of pacifying the region – by murdering 40,000 Indonesians in a few weeks. Elsewhere, the Dutch were attempting to form puppet states among the more amenable ethnic groups.” [Source: Lonely Planet]

Linggajati Agreement

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The Dutch, realizing their weak position during the year following the Japanese surrender, were initially disposed to negotiate with the republic for some form of commonwealth relationship between the archipelago and the Netherlands. The negotiations resulted in the British-brokered Linggajati Agreement, initialled on November 12, 1946. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Linggajati Agreement acknowledged Republican control on Sumatra, Java, and Madura, as well as a federation of states under the Dutch crown in the eastern archipelago. The agreement also called for the formation, by January 1, 1949, of a federated state comprising the entire former Netherlands Indies, a Netherlands– Indonesian Union, or the so-called United States of Indonesia, which was also to be part of a larger commonwealth (including Suriname and the Dutch Antilles) under the Dutch crown. *

The agreement provided for Dutch recognition of republican rule on Java and Sumatra, and the Netherlands-Indonesian Union under the Dutch crown (consisting of the Netherlands, the republic, and the eastern archipelago). The archipelago was to have a loose federal arrangement, the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI), comprising the republic (on Java and Sumatra), southern Kalimantan, and the "Great East" consisting of Sulawesi, Maluku, the Lesser Sunda Islands, and West New Guinea. The KNIP did not ratify the agreement until March 1947, and neither the republic nor the Dutch were happy with it. The agreement was signed on May 25, 1947. *

The Linggajati Agreement was not popular on either side. Among many Indonesian nationalists of various political stripes, the agreement was seen as a capitulation by the Republican government. Pemuda of both left and right championed the idea of “100 percent Independence” ( Seratus Persen Merdeka), and the communist-nationalist Tan Malaka coupled this with accusations that both Sukarno and Hatta had betrayed the nation once with their collaboration with the Japanese, and were doing so once again by compromising with the Dutch. Tan Malaka formed a united front known as the Struggle Coalition (Persatuan Perjuangan), which used the idea of total opposition to the Dutch to gather support for his own political agenda.

Dutch Police Action and the Renville Agreement

On July 21, 1947, less than two months after the KNIP had, following bitter debate and maneuvering, approved the agreement, Dutch forces launched what they euphemistically called a “police action” against the Republic, claiming it had violated or allowed violations of the Linggajati Agreement. Republican officials were imprisoned in Java and Kalimantan; the Dutch occupied Medan and Palembang in Sumatra after a series of bombings there. In south Sulawesi a Captain Westerling was accused of pacifying the region by murdering 40,000 Indonesians in a few weeks. The Dutch retook Jakarta and the republicans set up their government in Yogyakarta.

Dutch troops drove the republicans out of Sumatra and East and West Java, confining them to the Yogyakarta region of Central Java. They secured most of the large cities and valuable plantation areas of Sumatra and Java and arbitrarily established boundaries between their territories and the Republic, known as the Van Mook Line, after Lieutenant Governor General H. J. van Mook. The Republican military, the Indonesian National Army (TNI), and its affiliated militia ( laskar) were humiliated, and yet greater criticism of the government arose, now even from within the military itself and from Muslim leaders. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The international reaction to the police action was against the Dutch. The United Nations Security Council established a Good Offices Committee to sponsor further negotiations. This action led to the Renville Agreement (named for the United States Navy ship on which the negotiations were held), which was ratified by both sides on January 17, 1948. It recognized temporary Dutch control of areas taken by the police action but provided for referendums in occupied areas on their political future. *

The Republic had from the start of the Revolution pursued a vigorous if informal diplomacy to win other powers to its side, efforts that now bore fruit. The UN listened sympathetically to Prime Minister Syahrir’s account of the situation in mid-August 1947, and a month later announced the establishment of a Committee of Good Offices, with members from Australia, Belgium, and the United States, to assist in reaching a settlement. The Renville Agreement, proved even less popular in the Republic than its predecessor, as it appeared to accept both the Van Mook Line, which in fact left numbers of TNI troops inside Dutch-claimed territories, requiring their withdrawal, and the Dutch notion of a federation rather than a unitary state pending eventual plebiscites. Republican leaders reluctantly signed it because they believed it was essential to retaining international goodwill, especially that of the United States. In the long run, they may have been correct, but the short-term costs were enormous.

Rawagede Massacre

The Rawagede massacre was committed by Royal Netherlands East Indies Army on 9 December 1947 in the village of Rawagede (now Balongsari in West Java), during Operatie Product. Dutch forces were deployed in the East Indies to try to retain them as a colony. They were battling Indonesian independence fighters and militia forces seeking independence for Indonesia. Almost all males from the village, amounting to 431 men according to most estimates, were killed by the Dutch military, since the people of the village would not tell where the Indonesian independence fighter Lukas Kustario was hiding. Although Dutch Army General Simon Hendrik Spoor recommended that the responsible officer, Major Alphons Wijnen, be prosecuted, no criminal investigation was started. A report from the United Nations published on 12 January 1948 called the killings "deliberate and merciless". [Source: Wikipedia]

Associated Press reported: “Dutch troops clinging to their retreating colonial empire arrived in Rawagede just before dawn and opened fire, sending sleepy residents scattering from their homes in panic. The soldiers were looking for resistance leader Lukas Kustario, known for ambushing Dutch bases. When villagers said they didn't know where he was, nearly all the men were rounded up and taken to the fields. Squatting in rows, with both hands placed on the backs of their heads, they were shot one by one. [Source: Niniek Karmini, Associated Press, December 9 2011]

In December 2011, the Netherlands formally apologized for the Rawagede massacre. Associated Press reported: “After six decades of waiting, relatives of men killed in a notorious massacre during Indonesia's bitter struggle for independence finally got what they wanted: An official apology from the Dutch state. Tjeerd de Zwaan, ambassador to Indonesia, made the announcement before hundreds of villagers in Rawagede. The crowd, tense with emotion, erupted in cheers. Tears rolled down the cheeks of surviving widows, now in their late 80s and early 90s, some of whom had started to doubt they would ever hear the words. "It makes me feel my struggle for justice was not useless," said Cawi binti Baisa, who was 20 when her husband of two years headed to the rice paddy in the morning never to return. The apology followed a landmark ruling earlier this year by a Dutch court - in a case filed by nine surviving relatives - that said the state was responsible for the massacre.The relatives' lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said the state also would pay each of the nine relatives euro 20,000 ($27,000) compensation. [Ibid]

Eyewitness Accounts of the Rawagede Massacre

Radio Netherlands reported: “On December 9, 1947, one day after the negotiating Renville. Dutch soldiers surrounded the village and searched every house but they did not find any guns there. Then the Dutch army then gathered all the inhabitants in an open field. Males were told to line up, and asked where the fighters and the Indonesian Army were. None of the residents said anything. Then due to the silence of the population, the leader of the Dutch soldiers ordered to shoot to death the whole male population, both old and adolescents. Some people managed to escape to the forest, although many were hurt badly. Saih Bin Sakam was supposed to be one of the executed, but the bullet hit his hand. He kept still under a corpse for half an hour. [Source: Radio Netherlands, December 4, 2010 ***]

“Dutch soldiers shot dead by strafe with a machine gun without mercy. Actually, the death toll was higher than 431, because many corpses are swept away into the river due to flooding and heavy rain. The next day the Dutch troops left the village. The women who are still alive buried the bodies of the male population with simple equipment. Since they were not able to dig too deep, the bodies were covered with pieces of wood and leaves and then the soil covering. Consequently the the smell of dead bodies lingered for days. ***

A woman survivor named Wanti said,."I was pregnant three months when she saw her husband was shot by Dutch troops... Initially all the men were ordered out of the house, and told to march. They were shot in the head with a rifle by Dutch troops, only women and children escaped. Wanti said after the shooting took place in morning, she and other women began looking for the bodies to their husbands. ***

An anonymous letter received by the Dutch Honorary Debts Committee (KUKB) given by someone who claimed to receive it from a war veteran read: “I can not mention my name, but I can tell you what really happened in the village of SWAMP Gedeh.You know, between the years 1945 - 1949, we tried to retake our colonies in Southeast Asia. For that from 1945 to 1949, about 130,000 Dutch soldiers were sent to the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. There occurs the following:In West Java, east of Batavia, in the area Krawang, there is the village of Rawa Gedeh. From the Swamp Gedeh Dutch troops were fired upon. So it was decided to beat up the village to be a lesson to other villages. Gedeh Swamp at night was surrounded. Those who tried to leave the village were killed without sound (attack, pressed into the water until it sinks; their head was hit with rifle butts, etc.). At half six in the morning, when it began to noon, the village with mortar fire. Men, women and children who would otherwise escape should be killed: all of them were shot dead. Hundreds of them. After the village was burned, the Dutch troops occupied the region. The remaining villagers were then gathered, squat, with hands folded behind his neck. Only a few left. Swamp Gedeh has received the 'lesson'.All the men were shot to death - even though we named 'Royal Army'.All the women were shot to death - even though we come from democratic countries. All children were shot to death - even though we are Christian soldiers mengakunya advent Week 1947.Now I remembered Swamp Gedeh day and night, and it makes my head hurt and my tears burned my eyes, especially when I think of the children whose arms are too short to fold his hands behind his neck, and their eyes widened, fear and do not understand. I can not mention my name, because this information is not favored certain circles.” ***

Atrocities in South Sulawesi

South Sulawesi was the scene of one of the worst Dutch atrocities. In January 1947, more than 200 Indonesian men were executed in a field in front of a local government office in what was then known as Celebes. By some estimates thousands of Indonesian men were summarily executed in South Sulawesi as part of a ruthless campaign to crush resistance against Dutch colonial rule.

Bastiaan Scherpen wrote in the Jakarta Globe, “The massacres in Sulawesi were part of a 1946-47 campaign in which the controversial Dutch Capt. Raymond Westerling played an important role. As the commander of the Special Forces unit Depot Speciale Troepen , Westerling was called upon to “pacify” South Sulawesi, an order that Dutch military historian Petra Groen says should be seen as part of an effort to boost the newly founded state of East Indonesia’s chances of survival. [Source: Bastiaan Scherpen, Jakarta Globe, September 12, 2013 |=|]

“This state formed the foundation for the federal [United States of] Indonesia that the Netherlands envisioned as a political answer to the Republic of Indonesia’s struggle for independence,” Groen told the Jakarta Globe. “The political center of the state of East Indonesia was Makassar in South Sulawesi. When TNI guerrillas gained control in the area … from mid-1946 onwards and the KNIL [Royal Netherlands East Indies Army] had no way of stopping them, the Netherlands-Indies government decided to deploy Westerling’s Special Forces.” |=|

“According to Groen, Westerling wasn’t ordered by Dutch authorities at the time to summarily execute suspects, but his methods did later get the government’s stamp of approval. Westerling, who died in 1987, remained a controversial figure even in the Netherlands but was never prosecuted. |=|

The so-called “Westerling Method” entailed summary executions of people suspected to be involved in any anti-Dutch activity and other harsh counter-insurgency tactics. Estimates vary widely, but historian Jaap de Moor, a Dutch expert on Westerling, has put the death toll as a direct result of the actions by the Special Forces in South Sulawesi at around 1,500, with regular units being responsible for many other killings in the region. The Indonesian government at the time put the number of victims in Sulawesi at 40,000. |=|

Indonesian Republic Struggles to Set Up a Government

In the meantime a Republican government had been formed in Jakarta with Sukarno as President and Hatta as Vice President. In November 1945, through the efforts of Sultan Syahrir, a Sumatran socialist, the new republic was given a parliamentary form of government. Syahrir, who had refused to cooperate with the wartime Japanese regime and had campaigned hard against retaining occupation-era institutions, such as Peta, was appointed the first prime minister and headed three short-lived cabinets until he was ousted by his deputy, Amir Syarifuddin, in June 1947. The Republican government tried to maintain calm while the pemuda advocated armed struggle against both the Dutch and the Republican government. and saw the old leadership as prevaricating and betraying the revolution.

Internally the Republic was threatening to disintegrate. Public confidence in the Republic began to erode because of the worsening economic situation, caused in part by the Dutch blockade of sea trade and seizure of principal revenue-producing plantation regions, as well as by a confused monetary situation in which Dutch, Republican, and sometimes locally issued currencies competed. Conflict became more frequent between the TNI and laskar and among laskar, as they competed for territory and resources or argued over tactics and political affiliation. The KNIP initiated a reorganization and rationalization program in December 1947, seeking to reduce regular and irregular armed forces drastically in order the better to supply, train, and control them.

At this time outbreaks of violence were occurring across the country, and Sukarno and Hatta were outmaneuvred in the Republican government. Sultan Syahrir, became prime minister and, as the Dutch assumed control in Jakarta, the Republicans moved their capital to Yogyakarta. Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX, who was to become Yogyakarta’s most revered and able sultan, played a leading role in the revolution. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Political Chaos in Indonesia as the Republican Government Weakens

The battle for independence wavered between warfare and diplomacy. The Linggarjati Agreement of November 1946, in which the Dutch recognised the Republican government and both sides agreed to work towards an Indonesian federation under a Dutch commonwealth, was swept aside as war escalated. Increasingly divisions were opening up and violence was occurring between Indonesian groups and by Indonesian groups beyond the control of the Republican Indonesian government.

According to Lonely Planet: During these uncertain times, the main forces in Indonesian politics regrouped: the communist PKI, Sukarno’s PNI, and the Islamic parties of Masyumi and Nahdatul Ulama. The army also emerged as a force, though it was split by many factions. The Republicans were far from united, and in Java civil war threatened to erupt when in 1948 the PKI staged rebellions in Surakarta (Solo) and Madiun. In a tense threat to the revolution, Sukarno galvanised opposition to the communists, who were massacred by army forces. [Source: Lonely Planet]

The Renville Agreement marked the low point of republican fortunes. To patriots as well as those with other motives, this move seemed no better than treason, and the result was chaos. In addition, tensions mounted rapidly and at all levels between Muslims and both the government and leftist forces. Local clashes were reported in eastern and western Java after early 1948, but the most immediate challenge to the Republic was the movement led by S. M. Kartosuwiryo (1905–62), an Islamic mystic and a foster son of H. U. S. Cokroaminoto, who had supported the 1928 Youth Pledge and pemuda nationalists in 1945 but later felt betrayed by the Renville Agreement and took up arms against the Republic, with himself at the head of an Islamic Army of Indonesia (TII).

Kartosuwirjo, with the support of kyai and others, established a breakaway regime in the Garut-Tasikmalaya region of western Java in May 1948. Kartosuwiryo declared a separately administrated area, Darul Islam (Abode of Islam), which in 1949 he called the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII, Negara Islam Indonesia). Darul Islam (from the Arabic, dar-al-Islam, house or country of Islam) was a political movement committed to the establishment of a Muslim theocracy. Kartosuwirjo and his followers stirred the cauldron of local unrest in West Java until he was captured and executed in 1962. *

Devout Muslim fighters were among the bravest fighters against both the Dutch and the Japanese. Mystical suicide warriors were enlisted in the fight against the Dutch. On man told the Independent. “My uncle had this power. He once fired a catapult at a Dutch plane that was flying overhead. It was just a small stone, but the plane crashed in flames. the fighters had only bamboo spears but they pointed them at Dutch soldiers and they would fall down.”

Rise of the Indonesian Communists

Most serious of all, however, was the upheaval precipitated in September 1948 by the return from the Soviet Union of the prewar communist leader Muso (1897–1948), and his efforts to propel the PKI to a position of leadership in the Revolution. Musso, a leader of the PKI from the insurgency of the 1920s, and Trotskyite forces led by Tan Malaka bridled at what they saw as the republic's unforgivable compromise of national independence. They berated the Sukarno–Hatta leadership for compromising with the Dutch and called for, among other things, an agrarian revolution.

Local clashes between republican armed forces and the PKI broke out in September 1948 in Surakarta in central Java. The communists then retreated to Madiun in East Java and called on the masses to overthrow the government. On September 18, 1948 PKI-affiliated laskar took over the eastern Java city of Madiun, where they murdered civil and military figures, announced a National Front government, and asked for popular support. The Republic responded immediately with a dramatic radio speech by Sukarno calling on the masses to choose between him—and the nation—or Muso. The TNI, especially western Java’s Siliwangi Division under Abdul Haris Nasution (1918–2001), mounted a brutally successful campaign against the rebel forces. Musso was killed, and Tan Malaka was captured and executed by republic troops in February 1949. All told approximately 30,000 people lost their lives on both sides in the conflict.

An important international implication of the Madiun insurrection was that the United States now saw the republicans as anticommunist--rather than "red" as the Dutch claimed--and began to pressure the Netherlands to accommodate independence demands. Even though the republican government demonstrated it could crush the PKI at will and many PKI members abandoned the party, the PKI painfully rebuilt itself and became a political force to be reckoned with in the 1950s. The Madiun Affair remains controversial today, but its outcome strengthened the Republican government’s efforts to control those who opposed it and changed the way in which Sukarno and the Republic were seen overseas, especially in the United States, where in the Cold War paradigm Indonesia now appeared as an anticommunist power. In the months after Madiun, the Dutch grew increasingly frustrated. Their negative portrayal of the Republic had lost international credibility, and on the ground their military position was deteriorating. Intelligence indicated as many as 12,000 Indonesian troops operating inside the Van Mook Line. *

Second Police Action and Pressure for Indonesian Independence

In February 1948 the Dutch launched another full-scale attack on the Republicans, breaking the UN agreement. Although the Dutch were gaining the upper hand military, world opinion had turned against them. Under pressure from the U.S., which threatened to withdraw its postwar aid to the Netherlands, and a growing realisation at home that this was an unwinnable war, the Dutch negotiating for Indonesian independence,

Immediately following the Madiun Affair, the Dutch launched a second "police action". On December 19, 1948, Dutch forces launched an attack designed to destroy the Republic, occupying its capital of Yogyakarta and capturing and imprisoning Sukarno, Hatta, five other cabinet members, and Syahrir (then an adviser). Sukarno, Hatta, who was there serving both as vice president and prime minister, and other republican leaders were exiled to northern Sumatra or the island of Bangka. An emergency republican government was established in western Sumatra. But The Hague's hard-fisted policies aroused a strong international reaction not only among newly independent Asian countries, such as India, but also among members of the UN Security Council, including the United States. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In response to this outright defiance, the UN Security Council demanded the reinstatement of the Republican government, and a full transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia no later than July 1, 1950. International pressure, which included a U.S. threat to withdraw Marshall Plan aid from the Netherlands, was too great for The Hague to withstand. At the same time, the Republic had initiated a guerrilla war ( gerilya) against Dutch forces immediately after the fall of Yogyakarta. The significance of this gerilya has been generally underestimated, largely because it involved TNI struggles against armed internal opposition (for example, by the NII in western Java and by those loyal to Tan Malaka, who was captured and killed in eastern Java in February 1949) as well as Dutch forces. But Indonesian resistance was sufficiently effective to convince Dutch commanders that this was a war that could not be won on the ground. *

Deal for Indonesian Independence Hammer Out

In January 1949, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding the reinstatement of the republican government. The Dutch were also pressured to accept a full transfer of authority in the archipelago to Indonesians by July 1, 1950. The Round Table Conference was held in The Hague to determine the means by which the transfer could be accomplished. Parties to the negotiations were the republic, the Dutch, and the federal states that the Dutch had set up following their police actions. [Source: Library of Congress *]

After two efforts at cease-fires between May and August 1949, the Round Table Conference met in The Hague from August 23 to November 2 to reach the final terms of a settlement. The result of the conference was an agreement that the Netherlands would recognize the RUSI (Republic of the United States of Indonesia; Indonesian: Republik Indonesia Serikat, RIS), as an independent state, that all Dutch military forces would be withdrawn, and that elections would be held for a Constituent Assembly. Two particularly difficult questions slowed down the negotiations: the status of West New Guinea, which remained under Dutch control, and the size of debts owed by Indonesia to the Netherlands, an amount of 4.3 billion guilders being agreed upon. *

The Round Table Agreement provided that the Republic and 15 federated territories established by the Dutch would be merged into a Federal Republic of Indonesia (RIS). The Dutch recognized the sovereignty of Indonesia on December 27, 1949. *

Netherlands Apologizes for Indonesian Colonial Killings

In September 2013, the Netherlands made a formal public apology for thousands of summary executions carried out by Dutch troops in Indonesia. The BBC reported: Dutch ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaan apologised for the "excesses committed by Dutch forces" between 1945 and Indonesia's independence in 1949. The Hague has previously apologised and paid compensation in certain cases, but this was the first general apology. "The Dutch government is aware that it bears a special responsibility in respect of Indonesian widows of victims of summary executions," Mr Zwaan said. "Sometimes it is very important to be able to look back in order to be able to look one another straight in the eyes and be able to move forward together - and that of course is what this public apology and ceremony is all about," he said. Two high-profile court cases in the Netherlands have resulted in 20,000 euros ($26,600; £16,800) being awarded to the widows of some of the victims. No Dutch soldiers have faced prosecution over the deaths. [Source: BBC, September 12, 2013]

In Jakarta Globe reported: Almost 67 years after the incidents took place, the Netherlands officially apologized and announced a proposal to compensate victims of similar “excesses.” Ambassador Tjeerd de Zwaan said at the Dutch embassy compound in South Jakarta that the violence that broke out after Indonesia declared its independence on Aug. 17, 1945, “claimed many innocent victims on both sides and resulted in suffering that is still felt today” in both countries. The Dutch state reached a legal settlement in 2013 with ten women from South Sulawesi after a similar case in 2011 was won by victims of the 1947 Rawagede massacre. An official apology and 20,000 euros ($26,600) in compensation were part of the settlements in both cases. [Source: Bastiaan Scherpen, Jakarta Globe, September 12, 2013 |=|]

“The Dutch government has decided to introduce a measure enabling any future claim to be settled in a uniform manner, without the involvement of the courts,” de Zwaan said. An announcement in the government gazette Staatscourant published on Tuesday outlines requirements that victims must meet to file a successful claim for monetary compensation under the new regulation. The requirements include: the claimant must have been married to a person summarily executed by Dutch soldiers, the execution in question must have been of a similar nature as those in Rawagede and South Sulawesi, and the execution must have already been mentioned in a publication. Statements of witnesses will be accepted as proof of the fact that the deceased husband was indeed summarily executed, the announcement reads. Claims will be accepted until Sept. 11, 2015.” |=|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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