Monday, January 9, 2017

Revolution in the Dutch East Indies

Not everyone may know it now, but the Kingdom of the Netherlands was once a major power. After winning independence from Spain (the dominant military power of the day) in a very long war, the Dutch fought off the French, won wars against England and established themselves as a major player in Europe. Long a powerhouse in business and world trade, the Dutch built an empire that stretched from the Americas to South Africa to India and East Asia. It was, however, in Southeast Asia that the crown jewel of the Dutch empire rested, their largest colony by far and the one which was the most productive, contributing a huge percentage of the overall economy of the Netherlands. That colony was, of course, the Dutch East Indies, known today as the Republic of Indonesia, a vast archipelago of thousands of islands that is about as far from one end to the other as the continental United States. For more than three hundred years the Dutch East Indies belonged to the Netherlands, a princely republic and later a very business-minded, Protestant monarchy reigning over a huge territory of disparate Islamic principalities and some of the most abundant natural resources to be found anywhere in the world.

KNIL troops in Java, World War II
There were conflicts, of course, in the establishment of this colony and the occasional unrest but none of it was very serious, certainly nothing that the small but very professional Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) could not handle. An anti-Dutch nationalist movement had been on the rise, but it seemed to be dealt with easily enough and its leader, Sukarno, was captured and incarcerated. Even when World War II erupted in Europe, not much changed in the Dutch East Indies. After an heroic but futile four-day fight the Netherlands was conquered by Germany and the Dutch Royal Family was forced to flee to England. However, the stout-hearted and determined Queen Wilhelmina continued to preside over her government-in-exile and the Dutch East Indies contributed as much as possible to the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany. When the United States of America placed sanctions on the Empire of Japan, including an oil embargo when America had been the primary provider of oil to the Japanese, the British Empire did the same. The Dutch government, likewise informed the Japanese that they could expect no oil from the Dutch East Indies. Their homeland was under occupation by Japan’s Nazi ally and the Dutch stressed that all of their resources were needed for their own struggle to liberate the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Japanese troops in the Dutch East Indies
Not long after, in a major offensive kicked off by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Japanese launched an ingenious, multi-stage offensive across Southeast Asia. Despite more heroic but futile resistance, the Dutch naval forces and the Dutch colonial army was defeated and the Dutch East Indies came under Japanese occupation. All White people were immediately placed in concentration camps, as were most of the sizeable minority of mixed-race people and any natives who opposed or were expected to oppose Japanese rule were either killed or confined. The anti-Dutch dissident Sukarno was released from his prison and became a willing collaborator of the Japanese. There was talk of absorbing other surrounding territories, particularly British Malaysia, to create a “Greater Indonesia” but the Japanese had no intention of allowing the Dutch East Indies to become independent. The whole point of the invasion was to secure control for Japan of a source of resources and raw materials that no foreign power could withhold from them. It was then, only after Japan had clearly lost the war and the atomic bomb had already been dropped on Hiroshima, that Japan authorized Sukarno to declare independence. It was a final, parting shot at the hated Europeans to make a restoration of Dutch rule as difficult as possible. In that regard, it more or less worked as planned.

The Dutch had previously always been on friendly terms with Japan. In fact, during the long years of Japanese isolation, the Dutch were the only western power to have any contact with Japan at all. When the war was over, the Dutch asked the Japanese military to remain in place to keep order in the colony until they could return. The Japanese did stay until Allied forces arrived but they gave many of their weapons to the anti-Dutch Indonesian dissidents and thousands of Japanese stayed behind rather than return home to carry on their war against the Whites in Asia. Sukarno had also been busy, trying to set up a government of his own, growing out of a committee the Japanese had allowed him to form during the war. It was this body which declared that the Indonesian Republic would include not only the Dutch East Indies but British North Borneo, the Malay Peninsula and Portuguese Timor as well. It would have a dictatorial president and, although Sukarno wanted a secular and unitary state, he later conceded to the powerful Islamic clerics of the country to state that the new country would be based on submission to Allah and would require all Muslims to obey Shariah law (or syariah law in the local tongue).

Mohammad Hatta
There were divisions, Sukarno wanted a unitary state while his deputy, Mohammad Hatta, favored a federal system. Nonetheless, they were united in what they were against and Sukarno simplified his position and his proposed republic by basing it on five principles; Islam, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy and social justice (as he defined them of course). This, of course, will sound all too familiar to people today. You have a Marxist-socialist revolutionary, making concessions to Islam, talking about democracy which he has no intention of actually enacting, national unity but only for those of his own nationality, humanitarianism while carrying out horrific atrocities and the catch phrase so popular with today’s progressives, “social justice” which, then as now, came down to a war against anything White, western, Christian or traditional. No doubt the “social justice warriors” of today would look on the Indonesian revolutionaries with their coalition of socialists and Islamists as their beloved ideological forefathers. This was though, it must be said, also the start of a struggle within Indonesia between the more secular nationalists and the Islamic fundamentalists which is still going on today.

Queen Wilhelmina
So it was that by the time the Dutch were ready to return to their colony, Indonesia had already declared independence, already had a political platform, a flag and national anthem and even aspirations for territorial conquest. HM Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, certainly had no intention of giving an inch of this. She was extremely determined that any concession would be a betrayal of all they had fought and suffered for during the war. She wanted to fight for the full restoration of the Dutch empire and regarded Sukarno and his regime as traitors who had collaborated with foreign invaders and perpetrators of a race war. However, having just emerged from the ruin of World War II, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was hardly in a condition to make an immediate and robust response to this outbreak of revolution in the colonies. Worse, her Allies were far from united or in agreement as to what their reaction would be. The United States had, under President Roosevelt, taken a very hostile attitude to all colonial empires during the war and while it was certainly in the interests of the British who wished to maintain their own empire, also recently decimated by the Japanese in East Asia, to support the Dutch, they were in hardly better condition to offer much support. The Dutch, with a depleted, bombed-out country of their own and “friends” who were either opposed or indifferent to their reclaiming their lost empire faced a huge territory with a large population full of revolutionary fervor ready to fight them using any tactics necessary.

The Dutch were pressured then, both by the situation and their own allies, to come to some sort of a negotiated peace with the Indonesian republicans. This was not the first choice of the Queen, but it seemed the only option available. While Allied, mostly British Imperial, forces landed to disarm the Japanese and liberated the Europeans being held in concentration camps, the Indonesian revolutionaries prepared to resist them, wrongly fearing that they were determined to restore Dutch rule. In the meantime, republican officials were parceled out among the islands to enact the dictates of the revolutionary government. The local Indonesian princes mostly came under extreme pressure if not outright attack either for having collaborated with the Dutch previously or for collaborating with the Japanese more recently. Young people ran rampant, fired by the revolutionary rhetoric of the republicans, led by Sukarno who blasted the native princes for stunting their country with “feudalism” and thus allowing the Dutch to gain control and rule the islands for the last three centuries. Law and order quickly broke down and chaos ensued as different factions and different ethnic groups pursued different goals.

Flag of the Japanese sponsored PETA
There were Marxist radicals, separatists, Islamic fundamentalists and more moderate leftists all jockeying for position. The revolutionaries were, however, aided by the fact that since the Japanese had first broken Dutch rule, most did not want to see it return. Not everyone was opposed to maintaining some sort of connection with the Netherlands but a reactionary return to the former colonial regime as it was seemed completely beyond the realm of possibility. That this would be a vicious fight was made clear early on when violence broke out in Surabaya in East Java, between Indonesian republicans (along with remnants of the Islamic militia force formed by Japan, PETA) and occupying British forces on October 28, 1945. From November 10-24 this escalated to an all out battle and what would be the bloodiest single fight of the entire revolutionary war. The British won the battle but, in what would become an all too familiar pattern, were horrified by the cost and determined that the Dutch cause was hopeless. Thereafter, rather than stand by their Dutch ally, the British would likewise support the republicans in the United Nations.

The republicans began forming a more formal government, though none tended to last very long and Sukarno remained the real power and driving force of the revolutionary movement. The Dutch were convinced that they would have to come to some sort of agreement and the British brokered the Linggajati Agreement between them and the Indonesians. The agreement went into effect on November 12, 1946 and stipulated that the Dutch government would recognize republican rule over Java and Sumatra while the eastern archipelago would be retained and all would remain under the Dutch Crown. There would be a federal system for the islands with the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI) including Java and Sumatra of course as well as southern Kalimantan and the “Great East” of Sulawesi, Maluku, the Lesser Sunda Islands and West New Guinea. The revolutionaries did not ratify this agreement until March of 1947 and neither they nor the Dutch were satisfied with it when it was signed on May 25, which of course the British took as proof that it was actually perfectly fair and reasonable. It was, however, destined to fall apart very quickly.

Dutch royal troops of the first police action
Revolutionaries had been fired by radical zeal and a compromise solution was not what they had been prepared for. Within hardly a month the republicans committed numerous violations of the agreement and the Royal Dutch government, frustrated with the whole affair, decided that it would take a taste of battle to set things in order. On July 21, 1947 the Dutch launched a “police action” (“Politionele Acties” as the Dutch called it) named Operation Product. The Royal Netherlands military had to rebuild their colonial forces from scratch since they had been completely dismantled by the Japanese but, nonetheless, they fought with skill and determination. Royal Dutch troops drove the republicans out of Sumatra, then East and West Java, finally confining them to the central Yogyakarta region of the island of Java. The action had been quite successful but rather than congratulations on their victory, the Dutch were denounced by the new international community represented by the United Nations. More negotiations were organized, this time held aboard an American warship, and these resulted in the Renville Agreement, agreed to on January 17, 1948. This agreement recognized Dutch control over the territory taken by their forces but only until a vote could be held to determine whether the populace wished to remain under the jurisdiction of the Netherlands or the Indonesian republic.

Dutch military column, first police action
This time, certainly, the Dutch had more cause for discontent with the agreement than the republicans. They had fought a hard campaign and been immensely successful, only to be told their gains would likely be taken away as soon as it could be organized. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries had been knocked down hard by this defeat and seemed to be coming apart at the seams. In 1948 part of western Java broke away under the leadership of Islamic radicals, declaring itself the Indonesian Islamic State (doesn’t that sound familiar too?) or as it was more commonly known, Darul Islam. This separatist Islamic theocracy would continue to bedevil the Indonesian authorities until its founder was finally captured and promptly executed by the republicans in 1962. There were other divisions too such as one faction led by the throwback anti-colonial dissident of a bygone era Musso of the PKI and a Trotskyite faction led by Tan Malaka. In what was called the Madiun Affair, for its location in East Java, a communist insurgency broke out that called for the people to overthrow the republican government as well as the Dutch. None of these ultimately succeeded, Musso being killed and Tan Malaka later being executed by republican forces in February of 1949. However, it made the United States very nervous about the communists gaining a foothold in Indonesia and increasingly put pressure on the Dutch to make an accommodation with Sukarno who, the Americans were convinced, could be kept on the side of the non-communist western camp.

General Simon Spoor
The Royal Dutch military forces, however, were not about to give up while the work of centuries was falling into chaos. The Queen of the Netherlands was fortunate to have a very tough and talented commander of her forces in the East Indies in the person of General Simon Hendrik Spoor, a World War II veteran who had worked closely with General Douglas MacArthur and rather took the “American Caesar” as his example. Originally a colonel, Spoor was given the temporary rank of lieutenant general when he was given command of the Royal Dutch Army in the East Indies. He was a man of seemingly boundless optimism, for whom no task was too great and his first ‘police action’ against the republicans had been very successful. Many did not know, because of the immense confidence he displayed and the great care he took of his soldiers, just how much stress was heaped on the workaholic general. The only real criticism of General Spoor was his efforts to suppress news of atrocities committed by Dutch forces under his command. Such things did happen, though none were officially sanctioned of course, but these were widely used for propaganda purposes by the revolutionaries and were taken up by communist forces in the international community. They never told, of course, that these were prompted by acts of torture and mutilation carried out by the republicans against the Dutch and Dutch-allied native forces. General Spoor was simply concerned with not providing the enemy with such ammunition and protecting the integrity of the Royal Netherlands Armed Forces.

KNIL forces on parade ground
General Spoor, and the other Dutch authorities, could see the international elites aligning against them, they knew they were in an extremely difficult position but they also knew that success on their ground would counteract more of this pressure than anything else could. As such, the Dutch launched a second ‘police action’ in December of 1948 codenamed “Operation Kraai”. General Spoor had excellent intelligence on the enemy thanks to the breaking of the republicans’ secret code which revealed both their military and diplomatic plans. Once again, the focus was on Java and Sumatra, where the “head” of the revolutionary movement was located. The object was to force the republicans to accept the compromise proposed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands which would preserve the federal system and keep the East Indies under the overall reign of the Dutch Crown. The operation began with a formal announcement by the local Dutch civil authorities that, as the republicans had violated the Renville Agreement, the Netherlands forces were no longer bound by it. General Spoor launched a complex, integrated attack on the leadership centers of the revolutionary movement using land, air and airborne forces.

KNIL troops in the jungle
The republican leadership based at Yogyakarta was the primary target and General Spoor thought that the revolutionaries would throw everything they had into the fight. However, he was surprised by how little resistance they ultimately offered, quickly retreating in the face of the determined Dutch offensive. They would resort to guerilla warfare, something Spoor never wanted to consider. However, once again, the Royal Dutch military operation was well-planned and hugely successful. Yogyakarta was captured on December 19, 1948 and very soon both Sukarno and his deputy Hatta were captured and exiled to northern Sumatra or the island of Bangka. It was the second time Sukarno had been apprehended by Dutch authorities (the first being prior to the Japanese attack in World War II) and the revolutionary republic was effectively decapitated by this victorious operation. The republicans quickly cobbled together an emergency government in western Sumatra but their entire operation was in disarray, their forces were defeated and smashed and the Netherlands forces seemed to have accomplished all of their goals of the operation.

Unfortunately, and to the great frustration of Queen Wilhelmina and the Dutch authorities, at this moment of triumph, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was effectively undermined by the international community, including their own allies. The British had already turned against them, recently independent Asian countries such as India aligned against them and finally the United States also condemned the Dutch military action. Needless to say the Soviet Union and Communist countries were always opposed to the Dutch and the continuation of any colonial regime. In January of 1949 the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that the Dutch give up the gains of their victory and allow the reinstatement of the republican government. Pressure was also put on the Dutch to renounce any and all sovereignty over the Indonesian archipelago by July 1, 1950 including the threat of losing Marshall Aid for the Netherlands if they did not. In effect, the UN was coming out against the compromise proposed by the Netherlands and endorsing the Dutch simply handing the Indonesian republicans everything they wanted in spite of having beaten them in the field.

Flag of the Indonesian Republic
The Dutch had little choice, in the face of the opposition of the international community, but to give in. From August 23 to November 2, 1949 talks, known as the “Round Table Conference” were held in The Hague to hammer out the details for the transfer of power between the Indonesian Republic, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Indonesian federal states established by the Dutch in the aftermath of their successful police actions. The Dutch authorities agreed to recognize the independence of the “Republic of the United States of Indonesia”, to withdraw all Dutch military forces and to the holding of elections for an Indonesian Constituent Assembly. West New Guinea, or Netherlands New Guinea, remained under Dutch control although the republicans never relented in claiming it as part of their “Greater Indonesia”. The republicans agreed to pay 4.3 billion guilders of the sizeable debt owed to The Netherlands though this was far from the total amount. On December 27, 1949 the Kingdom of the Netherlands officially transferred sovereignty to the Indonesian republic.

Queen Juliana at her inauguration
This would not, however, be presided over by Queen Wilhelmina who, despite wishing to reign until 1950, had grown increasingly ill and increasingly frustrated at the loss of the Dutch East Indies. The Queen abdicated on September 4, 1948 to be succeeded by her daughter Queen Juliana. It was left to her to formally acknowledge Indonesian independence though the Dutch still hoped to maintain a close relationship with at least the more loyal portions of their former colony. The RUSI, under its constitution at the time of independence, consisted of the Republic of Indonesia plus the fifteen “united states” established by the Dutch and which they were closest with. The Dutch government had ensured that these states would, according to the constitution, have a more equal standing with the much more heavily populated republican territories and thus could influence the new regime in a more friendly direction for the Netherlands or at least for those fifteen states. However, this was not to be as Sukarno quickly made use of his “emergency powers” to dissolve the federal system bit by bit and take control of all of these areas, incorporating them into the Republic of Indonesia as the unitary state he had wanted all along. By May of 1950 the last of these states were gone and the Republic of Indonesia stood alone as one, united, top-down government ruled from Jakarta.

One of the most famous events which led to Sukarno taking emergency authoritarian measures was an attempted coup by Captain Raymond Paul Pierre “The Turk” Westerling, a former Dutch colonial army officer and expert in anti-guerilla warfare in January of 1950. He was backed not only by Dutch loyalists but also by certain powerful Indonesians who wanted to preserve the federal system to maintain greater autonomy for the local authorities, the most notable being Sultan Hamid II of Pontianak, himself also a former officer of the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL). One of the last areas of resistance was Ambon where, in April of 1950, the Republic of South Maluku was declared. The Ambonese were a rather unique ethnic group in Indonesia with many Christians and a history of friendship with the Dutch. The Ambonese had formed a large part of the mostly native KNIL. By November the authorities had succeeded in suppressing them after which 12,000 Ambonese soldiers, along with their families, were forced to flee to the Netherlands where they established a relatively short-lived government-in-exile.

Flag of Netherlands New Guinea
The only holdout then was Netherlands New Guinea which remained a Dutch colony and was intended to provide a safe haven for the Christian, pro-Dutch population, particularly the large number of mixed-race Eurasians who faced persecution at the hands of the Islamic nationalist revolutionary republicans, for either their race or, if they were Christians, for their religion. This ‘last stand’ of the Dutch in Indonesia lasted until 1962 when Indonesian military forces began to move in following the announcement that a local government would be established. Once again, although the Dutch and especially the locals in West New Guinea were prepared to defend themselves, the international community closed ranks against the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In the United States, John F. Kennedy was President, a long-time admirer of the socialist Sukarno, and he sent his brother to basically threaten the Dutch with economic catastrophe if they did not immediately surrender and abandon Netherlands New Guinea to Indonesia. The territory was handed over to the UN which duly transferred it to Indonesia. There was a plebiscite, much later, after the authorities had time to consolidate, intimidate and indoctrinate which, of course, showed a result in favor of the Republic of Indonesia. This “Act of Free Choice” was known as the “Act of No Choice” by the locals and was so flagrantly unfair that even the international community had to protest but, of course, nothing was done about it.

British troops at the Battle of Surabaya
What is most remarkable about what is now known as the Indonesian Revolution is just how successful the Dutch were yet they ultimately lost everything because of the pressure of the international community, in particular the United Nations. The whole affair revealed just how disunited the western powers were compared to the communist bloc which, while they often agreed on little between themselves, were certainly in agreement when it came to who they opposed and any western, Christian or colonial power was always to be opposed. The Dutch were sold out by their own allies. The British jumped first, believing after the Battle of Surabaya that the whole affair was hopeless, plus they shifted radically to the left immediately after the end of World War II and were determined to surrender their own empire while the United States displayed a very inconsistent and naïve policy in regard to the Dutch East Indies. They effectively backed a regime led by a man who had collaborated with Japan and the Axis powers in World War II simply because colonialism had become very unfashionable and they thought they could win over Sukarno to the side of the anti-communist countries if they backed him in supporting Indonesian independence. Not for the first time, the American government was proven completely wrong. Once done with the Netherlands, Sukarno immediately turned on his naïve sympathizers, aligned himself with the Soviet Union and became virulently anti-American.

This conflict is also much closer to us today than most realize. A leftist revolutionary and insurgent becomes a world celebrity promising “social justice” while stamping out freedom, radical Islamism makes common cause with secularists against a Christian power, what amounts to ethnic cleansing is carried out but is shrugged off by the world community because the targets are people of European or partial European ancestry. A military campaign is fought and won only to have globalist politicians say they are not allowed to win and must withdraw and allow the defeated enemy to reclaim all they had lost. Western powers back fundamentally anti-western forces because they think these can be won over with kindness only to have them turn on them in the end. Does any of this sound familiar? A better question would be; does any of this NOT sound familiar? The aftershocks are still going on today.

Osama bin Laden, he remembered, others forgot
In 1975 East Timor declared independence from Portugal and the place was immediately invaded by Indonesia. Decades of warfare ensued between the Islamic Indonesians and the mostly Christian population of East Timor. The independence of Catholic East Timor from Muslim Indonesia was cited by Osama bin Laden in his 2001 statement justifying the 9-11 terrorist attack. Often upheld as the “model” Islamic country (and Indonesia is the largest Islamic country by population in the world) the divisions that existed at the time of independence still exist today between the more secular Muslims and the more fundamentalist Muslims. As of 2011, almost half of Indonesian Muslims supported Islamic law being the law of the land in their country and abroad, about 70% believed Muslims were not responsible for the 9-11 attacks. From 2007 to 2013 attacks on religious minorities in Indonesia shot up from 91 to 220. In Aceh, where the Dutch fought a particularly fierce colonial war in the 1870’s, the province adopted total shariah law in 2001. There have been an increasing number of incidents, leaving aside the terrorist bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005 that killed hundreds of people, showing how Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise, lashing out at Christian converts (such as in West Papua or West New Guinea), insufficiently radical Muslims and those who have been rediscovering the Hindu roots of the country.

What is certain is that life has not been a pleasant succession of improvements for Indonesia since the success of the revolutionary republicans and the end of Dutch rule. Despite being a treasure house of natural resources, most Indonesians live in or near poverty while only the top government officials enrich themselves. The government has been tyrannical more often than not, frequently violent and unstable with numerous rebellions and now a growing trend toward Islamic terrorism. The Kingdom of the Netherlands, on the other hand, with virtually no natural resources, a bombed out ruin of a country in the aftermath of World War II, managed to quickly work its way back to prosperity, despite having a lower GDP than Indonesia, having a much higher standard of living. True, Marshall Aid from the United States helped in the recovery, but Indonesia has also received a huge amount of foreign aid including a huge amount of war reparations from the Japanese which is frankly ridiculous given that the man then ruling Indonesia, Sukarno, had collaborated with the Japanese so any harm they did during their occupation was harmed he helped them to accomplish! In any event, far from the socialist paradise that was promised. The overall event does, however, provide numerous lessons which we should all be able to learn from.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As an Indonesian, I found this to be quite an interesting read and perspective.
    I do think that your views on Suharto, who succeeded Sukarno should be expressed as well, as Suharto was anything but a communist. He actually ended up genociding part of my people, the Chinese-Indonesians, and established the state foundations that make Indonesia what it is today - a secular democratic republic, albeit a Muslim majority one.

    Something you HAVE to cover if you do decide to make a part 2 is the september 30th movement and the communist purge that followed. It's called "mass killings" by the Mainstream Media, but it really is just a purge of communists. I am forever grateful to Suharto for that.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...