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The Indonesian Independence War (1945-1949)

Back in the 17th century, when Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the fourth director of the Dutch East India Company set foot in Indonesian archipelago, he told the Heeren XVII, the board of directors of the VOC: “There is no trade without war, no war without trade”.

That’s how the Dutch came and colonized Indonesia, controlling the archipelago part by part by war and killings. They introduced the concept of “devide et impera” (divide and rule) and created racist classifications in society. For a very long time, Indonesians suffered and the Dutch regime set up a legal system in which indigenous Indonesians were the lowest social class in their own country while the Dutch Empire used all the natural resources.

The Japanese arrived in 1942, removing the Dutch from their position and continued where the Dutch left off for the next three and half years. The difference between the two occupations is that the Japanese occupation was a crucial factor in the subsequent revolution against the Dutch. The Japanese not only encouraged anti-Western thinking, they also imprisoned the entire colonial elite (mostly white Europeans) which made a huge impact on Indonesians. Besides that, the Japanese gave military training to the Indonesian youth, which turned out to be very useful in the following war of Independence. The same counts for the Japanese weapons that were confiscated during the early days of the revolution.

On 17 August 1945, Indonesia, led by Sukarno and Hatta, proclaimed its independence. The latter was supported by the high rank Japanese commander Maeda. No more living under foreign rule. The Dutch however, with the help of their allies, did not easily let go of their colony. The war broke out, clashes occurred between British-Indian troops and Indonesian nationalists. In Surabaya approximately 16.000 Indonesians lost their lives due to the heavy bombing of the city by the British forces. In 1946, the Dutch took over the authority from the British, who had already occupied several main cities in Indonesia. After receiving loans from United States, the Dutch prepared for two major attacks against the Indonesian freedom fighters. Attacks that the Dutch refer to as “Politionele Acties”.

The first attack on July 1947 was called “Operatie Product”. The target was to capture important facilities like factories, plantations, mining areas, etc. The second attack was launched on December 1948 and called “Operatie Kraai”. The Dutch managed to conquer Yogyakarta, the Indonesian Republic capital city and also captured Sukarno and Hatta and several ministers. The Indonesian freedom fighters refused to surrender and continued a guerilla war under General Soedirman’s command. The fact is that the Dutch military only gained control over the main cities, but they were not able to control the villages outside the main cities. An emergency Republican Government was later established in West Sumatra.

There are many horrible stories and killing fields in the Indonesian archipelago (e.g. by Captain Raymond Westerling in South Sulawesi, Karawang in West Java) as a consequence of the colonial war against the Republic, with two major Dutch military attacks. A commonly used number for Indonesian losses during the war is 100.000, while about 6.000 Dutch soldiers lost their lives during the Indonesian independence war.

The war ended after a round table conference that was held in The Hague (from August to November 1949). The Dutch agreed to accept the Indonesian sovereignty, including all the territory of the former Dutch East Indies except West Papua. Besides that, Indonesia was forced to pay 4,5 billion guilders to the Netherlands. The first demand was even higher, 6,5 billion guilders, which means that the Dutch wanted money for the military expenses that were previously used to crush the Republic. The sovereignty was formally transferred to Indonesia and on December 27, 1949, the war came to an end.

Ady Setyawan
First published in Counter Narratives

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