Colonial Warfare pt. 9
Indonesia's Seiss-Inquart. Dutch Army commander
The colonial efforts of the Dutch were fairly bloody to retain their lucrative colony of what was called the Dutch East Indies.
Indonesia: Painful Memories Haunt the Dutch
by our Internet desk, December 22, 1999
Indonesia celebrates 50 years of independence from The Netherlands on December 27th. For the Dutch, it will be an occasion for painful memories and soul-searching. At the official ceremony in 1949, Queen Juliana referred to a ‘transfer of sovereignty'. So it was, but only after the Dutch had tried and ultimately failed to re-impose their colonial power on the country after World War II. In the process, some special units of the Dutch military were guilty of what official records call ‘excesses' In the view of some who were there, these ‘excesses' were nothing less than war crimes.
State of Denial
While Van Nord is brave enough to face up to the truth, 50 years on, the Dutch as a nation are still in what some commentators call a ‘state of denial' about what really took place. To this day, official accounts of the period, as well as school textbooks, do not mention war crimes or atrocities. Instead, all such cases are referred to as ‘excesses' committed by the Dutch troops. And no Dutch veteran of the colonial war has ever been tried for war crimes.
Van Nord, like many veterans, is bitter about the role the government played in the colonial conflict:
"The Dutch went back to their own Dutch Indies, and we tried to keep what was ours. But in trying to keep it, we went wrong. But the government may have been wrong too. They should have realised the time of colonial power was past. Now we know that at that time, government officers knew what was going on. And nobody in the government ever stopped us."
Dutch public misled
Development expert Nico Schulte-Nordholt says that the Dutch government deliberately misled the public in order to gain support:
"There was a manipulation of the situation by portraying Sukharno, the leader of the independence movement, as a collaborator with Japanese fascism. It was easy to get Dutch public opinion behind sending troops to restore law and order against the ‘fascists' in Indonesia."
Schulte-Nordholt says that the state of denial persists largely because many of those involved are still alive:
"You still have the influence of the veterans, and they feel mistreated. And as long as that is not solved, they have a cause. They have very strong connections with the cabinet, with the Royal Family (Prince Bernhard is one of their most influential supporters) and I was told a few years ago by a former minister ‘just let us wait until these old veterans die'. It is for the Dutch in their own best interests to acknowledge their own past".
Have the Dutch come to grips with their crimes in Indonesia?
Criticism of Dutch colonial policy dates back at least to the appearance of Edward Dakker, the Dutch master known as Multatuli's Max Havelaar. At the time of its publication, in 1860, this `J'accuse' was considered a biting attack against the exploitation and abuse of the poor majority of Javanese by their European and local masters. Today, the novel is generally regarded as a classic work of nineteenth-century Dutch literature, its criticisms been neutralised and made safe due to the passing of time.
The period 1945-49 in Dutch colonial history, however, is still highly sensitive. Indeed, this chapter is conspicuous among colonial studies by its absence. Unlike Vietnam, which Hollywood has transformed into an icon of contemporary culture, post-Second World War Indonesia constitutes something of a collective blind-spot in the Dutch psyche. The case of one of the Netherlands' leading historians, the late Jan Romein, is enlightening. His wife, Annie Romein-Verschoor, had grown up in colonial Dutch East Indies. They were both self-confessed Communists. progressive idealists and committed to Indonesian independence. Yet when Jan Romein published his major study of decolonisation, De Eeuw van Azie (The Asian Century) in 1956, Indonesia earned only a superficial mention. Of the 300 pages, twenty-five were on Indonesia, while the bibliography of 267 titles contained only ten relating to it.
In 1980 a leading Indonesian historian, Taufik Abdullah, referring to the loud Dutch silence, remarked that international historiography was the monopoly of the conquerors. After all, far more works have appeared analysing German and Japanese brutality during the Second World War than the Dutch police actions -- actions which took place while Nazi leaders were standing trial for crimes against humanity in Nuremburg. If the Dutch historians were not prepared to do it, announced a historian from Singapore, Yong Mung Cheong, then he would attempt his own analysis of the complex events of 1946-49.
......incidents in recent years have further highlighted how painful this whole issue really is. Ponke Princen was a young Dutch man drafted into the army in 1946 and sent to Indonesia. There he deserted and switched sides, fighting for Indonesian independence. For Indonesians he became a hero but to the Dutch he was a traitor. As the decades slipped by many progressive Dutch citizens began to see Ponke Princen as a principled individual who had been sickened by the immoral acts he was ordered to carry out. But when he applied in Jakarta for a visa to revisit his former homeland for the first time in nearly fifty years, all the old cries of `traitor' were heard again. Despite having the support of the Dutch Minister for Foreign Affairs Princen was initially refused entry into the Netherlands.
In 1992 Gra Boomsma published the novel The Last Typhoon. It was the first fictionalised account of the police actions to have appeared in Dutch. In a newspaper interview the young writer made the mistake of saying that Dutch soldiers, while certainly not the same as the SS, could be compared to the SS in some ways. Both he and the interviewer attracted the wrath of the colonial veterans and were charged in court with slander. In June 1994 they were acquitted.
January 1995 saw the appearance of a book of photographs of the Indonesian campaign taken by the late Dutch photographer, Hugo Wilmar. These included shots that had been banned by the military censors at the time. A leading national weekly carried excerpts from the book and the Dutch Photo Institute in Rotterdam held a five-week exhibition. These pictures are in some ways reminiscent of images that we are familiar with from Vietnam; wounded and dead lie on the jungle floor, guerrilla suspects are being interrogated and manhandled by Western troops. For a country that has enfolded a significant part of its past in silence, these are disturbing reminders.
This was followed in July 1995 by the publication of Verboden voor honden en inlanders (No Dogs or Natives), a collection of interviews in which Indonesians who had experienced Dutch colonial rule were given the opportunity to tell their stories. The following month, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands arrived in Jakarta for a ten-day official visit. At home, her visit had been preceded by a bitter debate over whether she should apologise to the Indonesian people for 350 years of colonial rule. Her main speech stopped short of an outright apology. Instead she spoke of feeling `very sad' at the deaths that had been caused by colonialism.
The Dutch make American denials about Abu Gharib seem quaint:
Out of the bag
It was a story that was all too familiar to the veterans of the Police Actions, but its effect on mainstream society in the Netherlands was explosive. Finally the long blackout on truth was ended. While some veterans condemned Hueting's testimony and even threatened his life for speaking out, for many others the dam had been broken. Stories of guilt and shame began to leak into the public forum. However, while many soldiers agreed that the Police Actions had been a brutal war of colonialization, and apologized for their role in it, there were others who denied any wrongdoing. They angrily defended their actions, saying they were following orders and fighting for their country.
Even as recently as the 80s when historian Lou de Jong wrote about this period in Dutch history using the words "misdaaden" and "misdrijven" -- war crimes and wrong doings - there was such a public outcry that he was forced to replace them with the officially sanctioned term "excessen" (excesses). According to military historian Dr Petra Groen, the term "war crime" is too connected to the acts of the Nazis and therefore too emotionally loaded to use in the context of the Dutch in Indonesia. "After the interview of Joop Hueting, there was a parliamentary inquiry into Dutch war crimes in Indonesia, and they concluded -- and that's the official army point of view till now --that there were war crimes committed by ordinary soldiers, but they were incidents, there was no structural excessive violence."
Since then, Indonesia has continued to be the blind spot of a nation that has a reputation for being blunt and straight speaking. The Netherlands has never issued an official apology to Indonesia for the violence. However on an individual level, there has been an effort at atonement. Gus Blok has gone back to Indonesia to visit the place where he was stationed and made a public apology to the assembled villagers. He breaks down as he talks of their applause after his speech. Maarten Schaafsma gathered the signatures of other veterans and officially offered them to the Indonesian Embassy. However according to Joop Hueting, the government itself should have been more forthcoming about its past war guilt. Many believe -- and this is a belief shared by Mr Hueting - that an ideal opportunity would have been the official visit of Queen Beatrix to Indonesia on the 50th anniversary of the country's independence. The visit was the topic of a heated public debate for months beforehand and finally it was decided that the Queen wouldn't attend the ceremonies on the day itself, but would make an appearance a few days after the event. That gesture and her carefully worded speech made it quite clear that no official apology would be forthcoming.
Joop Hueting is still almost apoplectic when he recalls the event nine years ago. "I wrote [to the newspapers] that we should give a big present to show our sorrow and regret to the Indonesian people -- give 'The Nightwatch', give a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh." In fact the Queen presented the Indonesian people with a Friesian cow. "A cow," splutters Mr Hueting. "Very rude. That's part of the Dutch soul, this rudeness."
As the shameful pictures from Abu Ghraib emerge, the stories of these old veterans are even more poignant. And one can't help wondering about the young men and women who have been involved in these acts in Iraq, whether they were backed by higher authorities or not. Will they also, decades from now, sit in their armchairs and try to tell a story that still weighs heavy on their hearts? Will their final image also be that of a group of old people, alone with their shame and their grief?
The sense of denial and cover up is so strong, most Dutch historians won't touch it. Remember, My Lai, Abu Gharib, Gitmo, all hashed out in the press. Even the action of US troops in WWII are now being discussed honestly. We finally admitted that we shot German prisoners out of hand. Yet, the Dutch won't even talk about what were clearly war crimes in Indonesia. And that's not in a vacuum, it was after 250 years of brutality. Americans clearly have their faults, including the inability to hold Bush responsible for his actions.
But what is so disturbing about the Dutch silence about atrocities in Indonesia is that it so contravenes their professed values of liberal tolerance.
People were shocked to see the rise of Pym Fortune and anti-immigrant sentiment in Holland. Well, it's roots were in Indonesia and not only in the way they refused to give up power, but the absolute brutality of their war. People who had resisted the Nazis turned into brutal killers without a pause. Disdain for Muslims is not a surface value in Holland, but at the root of their prosperity. After all, without conquering Indonesia, there would be no Royal Dutch Shell or Philips. Indonesians riches made Holland wealthy.
So what did the Dutch do?
The long sea voyage to Indonesia was arduous in the spartan conditions aboard. On arrival, Wim's platoon was stationed in Western Java in the Bogor area. Here, as a Dutch soldier he was expected to protect his country's interests by force. He was given the rank of corporal. Wim saw the 'police action' in Indonesia as morally wrong and refused to shoot people. He made his strong views known to his commanding officers and discussed them with a Catholic army chaplain attached to his platoon. The priest simply advised Wim to disregard his own conflicts of conscience In this matter, because he was required to obey the Dutch military authorities. However, Wim could not reconcile killing Indonesians with his Christian principles. He refused to be in a position of some authority and asked to be relieved of his corporal's responsibilities. Accordingly, the commanding officer demoted him to serve as an ordinary soldier.
The three years In the Dutch army in Indonesia were the most unhappy part of Wim's life. The memories connected with experiences of that period were deeply repressed and disturbed him many years later when he was an older man. He witnessed much human misery, saw friends killed and innocent Indonesians slaughtered. Mutilated bodies were a common sight. He suffered mental anguish when some of his colleagues broke down under continual strain; some reacted by indiscriminate killing to avenge their friends' deaths. One particular episode remained vividly etched in Wim's mind. He recalled how he was powerless, too shocked, to prevent a massacre of Innocent Indonesians returning from a weekly market, by a young Dutch soldier, who went berserk. That soldier, deprived of all reason, gunned down entire families, Indiscriminately killing children, women and men walking homewards. Wim stood beside him petrified in utter disbelief and in deep shock, unable to respond to this horrific slaughter.
The living conditions of the Dutch soldiers in Indonesia were extremely primitive in many instances. In Surabaya the soldiers were accommodated in storage sheds on the wharf. There were no showers or sanitation, and in the tropical climate malaria and amoebic dysentery were very prevalent among the Dutch troops. Their natural resistance to tropical diseases was lowered by exhaustion and inadequate hygiene. They were required to undertake guard duties for up to 24 hours at a stretch, with a break of eight hours in between. They were also subjected to prolonged exercises In full military uniform during Intense heat. Wim was severely affected by both malaria and amoebic dysentery. In spite of physical and mental exhaustion, he was required to do guard duties. He presented himself for treatment, but received none until finally he was unable to leave his camp stretcher. Only at that point was he admitted into the sick bay by a male nurse, who realised how ill he was. There Wim was examined by a newly-arrived, conscientious young Dutch doctor, who sent him to the military hospital at Surabaya immediately. Running a very high temperature, Wim remained critically ill, while a consortium of doctors at his bedside deliberated on the possible course of treatment for him. They discovered that amoebic dysentery had destroyed his intestinal lining and that his blood count was extremely low. His body was ravaged by the combined effects of malaria and persistent dysentery. He was informed that he was near death.
In Holland, Wim's brother Ab, a teacher, heard his brother's name mentioned in a radio announcement. Wim was included on the critically ill list of Dutch military personnel in Indonesia. The van der Linden family at home, friends and Ab's pupils began to pray for Wim's recovery. I believe that this strong faith combined with effective treatment in the Surabaya hospital brought astonishing results. Wim was successfully cured of malaria. The emetine injections prescribed for amoebic dysentery gradually brought the disease under control. After several weeks of intensive medication, his health continued to improve until he regained sufficient strength to be discharged from hospital as a convalescing outpatient. When his illness subsided, he was sent to Bandung. There, as he recovered his health, he was given light duties. After a few months Wim was admitted into the Dutch military hospital in Western Java for a second course of emetine injections. In April 1950, still a convalescent, he returned to The Netherlands with other troops from Jakarta in Indonesia. During Wim's time in the army, Indonesia gained independence, on the 27th of December 1949.
On Wim's arrival in Holland he was medically examined and pronounced fit and well enough to be discharged from the Dutch army. The very next day he became severely jaundiced. This necessitated his admission into the military hospital in The Hague, where he remained for three months' treatment, followed by another three months in Arnhem. The amoebae organisms had settled In Wim's liver, affecting its normal functions. As his liver was badly damaged, Wim's recovery was very slow. Following his final discharge from hospital towards the end of 1950, he remained on a very strict diet, high in protein content and low in fat. Regular medical check-ups continued for some time.
Now at 25 years of age, Wim had had no opportunity to work professionally as an engineer. Returned servicemen in Holland had no special privileges of rehabilitation as they did in post-war New Zealand. In fact, Dutch returned servicemen were at a disadvantage, while their compatriots who had missed army recruitment abroad, were well established in their professions in Holland, earning good salaries.
This wall of denial has only increased over time. The soldiers, now elderly, don't want any reminder of youthful crimes and no one wants to link the crimes to the present. Anti-Muslim racism was the foundation of the Dutch empire, not a side effect. They purposely kept the Indonesians as peons and refused to offer them liberation even when it would have served their own interests.
When an exhibit of photos of German Army atrocities was exhibited in Munich, people were pissed. The Dutch haven't even gotten that far. There is a general silence about the murders committed by the Dutch Army in the name of the Dutch kingdom. And after all this was done, they were shoved to the back of the line in terms of employement. Colonialists got the first pick of jobs, because they were no longer welcome in Indonesia.
The quickest way to forget war is to forget the veterans. And considering the kinds of crimes permitted by their commanders, it served everyone's purposes to skip over the 1945-50 period. The veterans who didn't immigrate, didn't need reminders, and the ones who did were forgotten. And the Indonesians, the Ambonese and Moluccians, who fled to Holland, were the ones who sided with the Dutch. The Indonesians were trying to forget their painful past. So no one wanted to ask, no one wanted to find out what happened and no one did.
But the ghosts of colonial misrule and murder linger over Indonesia, even today.
posted by Steve @ 11:30:00 PM