Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Dutch East Indies - A Country Lost

The Americans remember Pearl Harbor & the attack that brought them into World War II. I think of Pearl Harbor also, and how the war destroyed a country & a way of life that the world has chosen to not remember. Is Indonesia a better place than the Dutch East Indies? I don't know, Indonesians are taught that they "won" their independence, which is true, but we were Indonesians too, and bands of cut-throat rebels, not a revolution, destroyed the homes and heritage of my family.

World War II finally ended with Japan's capitulation on 15 August 1945. For those who had suffered in Japanese camps, the war ended not a second too soon. Some of these sufferings have been well-documented and are known across the world but there are thousands of victims of cruelty at the hands of the Japanese army whose stories remain relatively unknown.

These include the fates of the Dutch and Indonesians who were living in what was then called the Dutch East Indies, and is now known as Indonesia. When Japan occupied the country, the military had orders to humiliate, starve and kill the Dutch colonisers. The Japanese used Sukarno and his dislike for the Dutch to organise and pacify the Indonesians. This is their leader, a man who helped the Japanese against the allies in the pacific. How could the world or even the people of Indonesia consider a man who betrayed his own people to gain what he professed to be "independence" for Indonesia. His "reign" as a very corrupt first president tells you he was no hero. How could he justify the internment and labor camps? He was a hero in Japan and the Indonesian history books call him a hero to Indonesia.

It's true that it's hard to justify colonialism if it oppresses the Indigenous peoples, but what does that mean anyway by 1600 standards? The missionaries to Californa didn't massacre Indians, but their records are exactly what the tribes use now as part of their written history to determine tribal connections. Weren't the indigenous peoples from somewhere else too? I don't think you can judge the explorations and settlements of 'new worlds' by today's standards.

Post WWII Indonesia was not exactly suffering under Dutch Imperial oppression. Both Dutch and Indonesians fought to protect the islands. The Dutch were also fighting a war on the European front. Would they have honored Sukarno had he sided with Hitler to purge Indonesia of the Dutch oppressors?

Wasn't there a way for Dutch Indonesians who had as much invested in the defense of Indonesia, in defense of their property, their way of life, to still have a place to call home after the war? My father came back to a very different Indonesia and he didn't deserve the betrayals and the dangers that followed. His attempt at returning to a normal life was dashed by new violence and atrocities led by Sukarno.

Sukarno's fragile balance of power between the military, political Islam, communists, and nationalists that underlay his "Guided Democracy" was to last less than 20 years. I think he was misguided from the beginning perhaps by a learned hatred of the Dutch, perhaps because he wanted a return to the aristocracy he believed he was entitled to. He went to Dutch schools and never did Indonesia suffer the apartheid that plagued South African Dutch colonization. The Dutch and Indonesian people intermarried for over 200 years. What independence was Sukarno seeking that tolerated a betrayal of his country?


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