MY REFLECTIONS ON JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF INDONESIA
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Contribution to the Pannel Discussion,
Conference on Reflections of Japanese Occupation of Indonesia
Amsterdam, 7 August 1999.
Subject of pannel discussion: "What is it that dominates in the
reflection on the Japanese Occupation in the three respective countries,
Indonesia, the Netherlands and Japan?"
Respectable Mrs/Miss/Mr Chairperson and moderator,
Considering the time limit, I would like to make a brief observation on
the subject as mentioned above.
For more than a half century, perhaps until this minute, opinions
and reflections held by not a view circles in Holland, concerning the
Japanese occupation of the Netherlands Indies (now the Republic of
Indonesia), were mostly if not all, on the sufferings of the Dutch
people, especially women, children and the elderly, in the many
internment camp put up by the Japanese Army in Indonesia. This is
Their reflections and thoughts, perhaps logically ,( because of the
fact that they are protagonists of the colonial administration of the
Netherlands Indies.) were not of the conditions of the Indonesian
people. They seldom touch upon the general conditions and situation of
that time, such as:
"The policy and the responsibility of the administration of the
Netherlands Indies in Batavia, and the Government of the Kingdom of the
Netherlands in The Hague, at that time, vis a vis the problem of the
Japanese plan to conquer the whole of East Asia, including the Dutch
East Indies" "Did the Dutch authorities made serious and enough
preparation on this problem?"
Facts and developments show that the Dutch Government pursued an
irresponsible policy towards the people of Indonesia. What really was
in the mind of the Dutch Government was not the wellbeing and
preparedness of the Indonesian people, but the wish to safeguard the
Netherlands Indies as an appendix of Holland and to maintain Indonesia
as a colony, after the war is over.
For the protagonists of the 'status quo' of the Dutch Indies,
Indonesians who were not fighting against the Japanese occupationists,
worse, those who cooperated with the Japanese, are 'collaborators'.
Esepcially personalities as Sukarno, the late president of the Republic
of Indonesia, Mohammad Hatta, the late Vice Presiden of the RI, and
others, were simple "collaborators".
They particularly branded Bung Karno for 'collaboratoring' with 'the
enemy'. They desrcibed Sukarno as another 'Quisling'. They maintained
that Sukarno verify and took part in the mobilization of the 'romusha'
(forced labourers) by the Japanese occupation force, who were compelled
to work for the Japanese war machine. Under the Japanese sponsored
'romusha' project hundreds of thousands, even millions of Indonesian men
have met their death.And Sukarno was blamed for this tragedy.
However, this way of seeing things, does not tally with the reality
during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia. This kind of argumentation
could be justified "if' Bung Karno and Bung Hatta were Dutch, serving at
the bureaucracy of the Dutch Indies Government. If they were Dutch or
serving under the Dutch colonial rule, then it was right to brand them
as 'collaborators'. But, they were not! Moreover, they were against the
Ducth. Together with other freedom fighters of Indonesia, they were
opposing the Dutch colonial authorities and struggle for the independece
So, Bung Karno, Bung Hatta, and other freedom-fighters, did not, and
will never stand on the same side as the Dutch colonial government and
community in Indonesia. The Indonesians were never (from the viewpoint
of the Dutch) "us", so to say. They were 'inlander' (indegenous people),
i.e.second or third rank citizens of their own country. And we,
Indonesians, never regard the Dutch as "us". In essence the Indonesian
freedom fighters were 'enemies' of the Dutch colonialism. Thus, when
another enemy of the Dutch, the Japanese, came to Indonesia and swept
away the entire Dutch colonial army and adminstration, was it strange
that the Indonesians did not side with the Dutch? Instead, the
Indonesians welcome the Japanese!. In the light of the concrete
conditions at the time, it was an illusion and wishful thinking , to
hope that Indonesians would sympathize with the Dutch and oppose the
arrival of the Japanese army.
Consider the following points:
The attitude of wide circles of Indonesian freedom fighters
and of the general public towards the 'arrival' of the Japanese army was
the following: The Japanese army was seen with admiration as a 'mighty
force of an Asian country, which was able to sweep away the 'strong'
British Army, a European army, (in Malaya), and the Dutch KNIL in no
time. Until that time the 'White Men', rulers of the colonies in Asia,
were regarded as 'superior' in comparison with any coloured Asian
I think it is not a mistake to note that the Japanese troops were, more
or less, welcomed by the public, as an Asian power that are superior
than the Westerners. ( Intermezo: I have to tell you here, that at that
time I was among the many Indonesians who welcomed the Japanese troops
coming from Banten on their bikes. We believed, wrongly of course, that
the Japanese were better than the Dutch).
The policy of "de-Hollandisation" pursued by the Japanese
in Indonesia. At the one hand, Indonesians were obliged to learn
Japanese, but, on the other hand, in one night the Dutch language, the
official langguage of the Dutch Indies, spoken only by the rulers, the
highranking bureaucracy and the elites of Indonesia, was replaced by the
Bahasa Indonesia.. The names of all roads, boulevards, streets and ways,
shops, offices, schools, buildings, monuments and textbooks down from
the basic school up to the university, that beforehand were in the Dutch
language, were changed - or translated- into the Indonesian language:
the bahasa. One can not overlook the feelings of joy and pride of the
Indonesians being 'their own'. It was this emotion that dominates the
political atmosphere. Of course that was, before Indonesians later knew
by their own experience that the Japanese were simply new overlords,
who in many cases were even worse than the colonial Hollanders.
The third point,
In pursuing their Pacific-War efforts, the Japanese trained hundreds of thousands of Indonesian youth in military excercise and discipline. The Japanese were making Indonesians cannon fodders for their war against the Allied. Strange enough, the arrival of the Japanese, to a great extent have sore up the natinalistic and patriotic
feelings of most Indonesians.. Especially the Japanese military training the Indonesians were going through ,resulted in such an atmosphere. Starting from the higher classes of basic schools up to the higher learning, the youth and students were obliged to pass through military training. Apart from this, members of Japanese formed Indonesian youth organizations such as the Three A Youth Movement, the Seinendan and the 'Keibodan' got military training too. This kind of situation can not even be dreamed about by Indonesian under the Duthc rule.The Netherlands
Indies authorities were afraid to arm Indonesians for the purpose of opposing Japanese invasion. The Dutch were afraid that, some time in the future, who knows, the Indonesians will turn their guns (provided by the Dutch) against the Dutch themselves. What the Dutch agreed upon was the rearming of the KNIL (a professional colonial army who were trained to suppress the people) and the training of a handful of 'Stadswacht' soldiers, who were poorly armed to 'defend' the big cities against the Japanese invasion..
The Nationalist leaders such as Bung Karno and Hatta, managed to get concessions from the Japanese authorities, that Indonesian youth who were recruted in a regular army, be organized into two types of armies. One type: the Heiho, officially a Japanese-army. They were directly commanded by Japanese officers, and will be sent at any place needed by the Japanese. The second type: called the PETA.(Pembela Tanah Air, meaning Defenders of the Motherland) an Indonesian army, still under
the Japanese high command, but from the batallion level down, was to be
commanded by Indonesian officers. The Heiho, directly under the Japanese command, were to fight against the Allied. The PETA, will be stationed in the homecountry, to defend the motherland. This was an important compromise between the Japanese and the Indonesian nationalist leaders. Most important for the Indonesian leaders were the fact that a good number of Indonesian youth receive militry training and armed. This was a very important preparation in anticipation of the coming situation, in which the Pacific War will end with the defeat of
As developments confirm, the initial Indonesian armed forces at the beginning of the August 1945 Revolution, consisted mainly of the youth who during the Japanese occupation received military training by the Japanese, in different youth organization and educational institution, as well as in the regular army of Heiho and PETA.
Eventhough the new Indonesian armed forces were mainly trained by the Japanese , and to a certain extend influenced by militaristic ideas, they were, however, remoulded politically during the August Nantional Revolution, and have become the new defender of the Republic of Indonesia.Even during the Japanese occupation they got political education by Bung Karno and Bung Hatta, in preparation for the day of
independece which was to come.
Immediately after the arrival of the Japanese army in Indonesia, as told by the late Subadio Sastrosatomo, former leader of the Indonesian Socialist Party and MP, in his booklet "Sukarno is Indonesia, and Indonesia is Sukarno" (1995), Bung Karno, Bung Hatta and Sutan Syahrir had a secret meeting to formulate tactics vis a vis the Japanese. Sutan Syahrir and some of his friends, incl. Subadio, and others were not
ready to cooperate with the Japanese, they prefer to work underground. Bung Karno and Bung Hatta, and others, chose the tactics of 'cooperation' with the Japanese. Bung Karno and Bung Hatta, deligently making use of the opportunity and facilities given by the Japanese, have politically educated the people, especially the youth, by so doing have successfully trained them as freedom fighters. One cannot see a
month pass by without seeing or listening to the political speeches by Bung Karno in public meetings throughout the country.
The political speeches were also made before the young people of the PETA. Through their work in politically educating the people, Bung Karno and Bung Hatta, were recognized as leaders of Indonesia by the people.Thus Subadio.
What Bung Karno and Bung Hatta were doing was the difficult work of
'nation-building' of Indonesia.
Fifth point, The political, mental and physical preparation done by the Indonesian leaders under the Japanese occupation, , were finally to become the fundamental and final conditions, for Indonesia to be able to proclaim their independence in August 1945.
It was also the coordination between the open, legal work with the underground work of our founding-fathers that has made the proclamation of the independence of Indonesia possible.
Our leaders have made a delligent use of the existing contradiction between the occupying Japanese army and the Allied troops, and the contradictions that exist between the Ducth and the Japanese, as well as the contradictions among all those forces: the Dutch, the Japanese, and the British.
It would be wrong, if, at the time of the occupation of the Japanese, the Indonesians were frontally directed against the Japanese occupation force. It would be a mistake if the nationalist leaders, were at the first place to organizse and mobilize the people to cooperate and support the Allied froces, including the Dutch, oppose and fight
against the Japanese occupation.
Without understanding this, it would be very difficult to understand, why the Indonesians never accept the accusation of the Dutch and the West, against Sukarno and Hatta, that they were 'collaborators' of the Japanese.
It would also be difficult to understand the opinion of Indonesians that during the Japanese occupation, the Indonesian fighters for freedom, undergoing the political education of our 'founding fathers', and the physical training, were, so to say, being prepared to finally fight and seize freedom for ourselves.
Now, it is time, it seems, to conclude that, as long as the misundertanding on the Dutch side concerning the period of the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands Indies, especially on the accusations against Bung Karno, Bung Hatta and others, of being 'collaborators', remain unsloved, so long will this issue be a serious obstacle in the good and friendly relations between the two countries.
When this misunderstanding is cleared and the two sides brought to a mutual understanding, the two countries and people, Indonesia and the Netherlands, will hopefully, coexist and cooperate in a new spirit of friendship and harmony.
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