The decision was made in Tokyo to fight and the course of East Asian history was changed forever when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. What followed was a land, sea and air version of “lightning war” done the Japanese way. The Philippines were attacked, the British colonies of Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore came under immediate attack as well. Operating from bases in French Indochina, the Japanese quickly brought Southeast Asia under their control. The Dutch East Indies also came under immediate attack. As an archipelago, everything depended on the naval battle. The land forces of the Dutch colonial army were tough and determined but without naval mastery they would be isolated and unable to coordinate or keep themselves supplied. Still, they fought the invaders as best they could while another battle waged in the waters surrounding them. The Dutch resisted admirably, their tiny flotilla of submarines actually doing considerable damage to the Japanese fleet but the main fleet engagement proved disastrous. The Allies, hastily assembled, failed to coordinate properly and were soundly defeated by the Imperial Japanese Navy using the classic tactics of Britain’s Admiral Nelson.
|General Hitoshi Imamura|
The fate of Indonesia, however, was certainly not something that had been decided at that point. When Japan hosted the leaders of The Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Manchuria and the pro-Japanese government of China at the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere conference Sukarno was noticeably absent as were any leaders from Indochina where Japan was allowing the French colonial regime (answerable to Vichy) to remain in charge. Kenryo Sato, chief of the Army Affairs Bureau, said this was because Prime Minister Tojo was reluctant to see Japan give up control of the vast resources of Indonesia, saying that the locals were not “quite ready to handle all that treasure”. This would not be surprising given how, particular in the war situation, Japan vitally needed those resources. Even without it, Sukarno was working in collaboration with the Japanese and there was no shortage of talk and speculation about what the future might hold in the event of a Japanese victory. One idea was to merge Malaysia (minus the border territories handed over to Thailand) with the East Indies to create a “Greater Indonesia”. Sukarno, of course, presumed he would be in authority over such an entity.
|Indonesian Homeland Defense Volunteer Army|
Sukarno established a militia force allied with Japan and helped organize a huge force of Indonesian laborers to build, to clear land and to gather resources for the Japanese war effort. Not everyone in the Japanese leadership trusted him but he seemed the only option to work with and none could complain about how the occupation was going. As the war dragged on and the situation became increasingly worse for Japan, there was also more talk about independence to keep Indonesia on side. By the end of 1944 Japanese Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso promised Sukarno that independence would come but would not set a definite timeline. The Japanese military authorities began to allow the establishment of an Indonesian government, under Sukarno, but Sukarno himself was not given the green light to declare independence until the summer of 1945. He was actually brought to Tokyo, heaped with praise and honors and told he had the full blessing of Japan to establish an independent Indonesia but this was not until after the first atomic bomb had been dropped and negotiations for surrender were under way. Of course, Sukarno was not told about this at the time and did not learn about it until after he returned to Indonesia and was informed by some of his followers who heard about it from an Allied broadcast on a hidden radio.
|Sukarno declaring independence|
However, as it turned out, Sukarno did not need to be too worried about how his collaboration would look to the Allied powers because, ultimately, the only Allied power whose approval mattered was the United States but we will come to that in a moment. The Netherlands certainly did not recognize his declaration of independence and were soon returning to reestablish control of Indonesia. Many Dutch people and certainly Queen Wilhelmina herself, were full of righteous indignation over the whole affair. They viewed the entire invasion, at a time when the homeland was occupied and in a fight for its survival, as a stab in the back and had not forgotten the extreme misery suffered by the Dutch people who had been living in Indonesia with many suffering horrifically at the hands of Sukarno’s followers who took sadistic glee in tormenting their former rulers when the Dutch were helpless and the Indonesians were backed up by the Imperial Japanese Army. For Queen Wilhelmina, there was no debate on the subject; the Dutch Crown would be restored but even after all that had happened, she was willing to grant full self-government to a proposed “United States of Indonesia”. When Sukarno and his party rejected this, the Dutch Queen determined to go to war and deal with the nationalists as both rebels and collaborators.
It must be said, in all fairness, that to an extent the native monarchies made their cause an almost hopeless one because of their lack of unity. There were a large number of them, many had conflicting territorial claims and a great many had disputed successions. In fact, many had succession disputes that went back hundreds of years and which are still around today. Even during World War II and the revolution there were some that were still carrying on private little wars of their own against royal rivals to reclaim a certain state or overthrow some other branch of the royal family in question. Often, third parties, whether the Japanese, Dutch or native republicans, found it all a disorienting mess that it was better to just ignore or sweep away. Sukarno largely swept them away, though some who supported him sufficiently were allowed to survive and eventually some of the princely states were recognized by the Indonesian government in less oppressive times. That the country overall would be a republic was a forgone conclusion, at least so long as Sukarno won his war for independence against the Dutch.
Some of the Dutch and pro-Dutch forces tried to hold on in Eastern New Guinea, declaring it a separate colony as Netherlands New Guinea but the Sukarno regime claimed the territory of course and sent in military forces to seize it. These were defeated by Dutch troops and supportive natives. However, once again, a liberal American administration came to the rescue when President Kennedy (a long-time admirer of Sukarno) sent his brother Robert to the Netherlands to brow-beat the Dutch into abandoning West New Guinea, which took shape after an agreement signed in 1962. In the aftermath, Sukarno became even more vociferous in his anti-western rhetoric, first opposing the British in Malaysia, drawing closer to Communist China and the Soviet Union and then finally becoming more openly anti-American. He even withdrew from the UN for a time when America supported Malaysia taking a seat on the Security Council. About the only monarchy the Republic of Indonesia has remained on consistently good terms with has been Japan. Indonesia has been largest recipient of Japanese investment and charity and has been largely economically dependent on Japan ever since independence.