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Independence for Indonesia

As World War II drew to a close, the Japanese responded to lobbying by Indonesians and allowed the Indonesian, Sukarno, to establish a committee to prepare for independence. Sukarno was the son of a Javanese schoolteacher and a Balinese wife. Sukarno spoke several languages fluently. His intelligence and oratory helped him rise to the top of those Indonesians who wanted independence for their country.

When Japan surrendered, its army and navy were still in Indonesia, and as agents of Japan they were ordered to pass what authority Japan had to the Dutch. On 17 August 1945, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesia independent. The declaration was broadcast by shortwave radio, and expecting trouble, Indonesians flocked to Sukarno's residence to defend it from assault. On August 23, a Dutch force landed at Sabang, an island at the northern end of Sumatra. On the 31st Indonesia's new government was formally installed, with Sukarno as President and Hatta as Vice-President.

The Dutch in exile in Australia were alarmed. They described Sukarno as someone who had collaborated with the Japanese. They sought help from Australia and from Britain's leader in Asia, Lord Mountbatten, then in Ceylon. They asked Mountbatten to use Japanese troops still in Indonesia to suppress the Indonesian independence claim. A week later, on September 8, the first British troops arrived, parachuting into Indonesia's capital city, Jakarta – while Japan's navy was surrendering to the Australians. The Indonesians had expected the Americans to land, and quotations from the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln's Gettysburg address were conspicuously displayed in the capital city -- Jakarta (Batavia).

Sukarno tried to win Allied acceptance of Indonesia's independence by issuing a manifesto, on November 1, offering to protect Dutch lives and capital and to honor prewar debts. Meanwhile, trying to manifest control over their former colony, Dutch troops attacked civilians. A passionate hostility against the invasion of more foreigner troops erupted, with the Dutch as the main target. The British used Japanese troops against the unrest.

A group of Indonesian women set out for the United States to appeal to the Daughters of the American Revolution, thinking these influential ladies would surely understand what was in the hearts of the Indonesian people.

On October 25, the British 49th Indian Infantry arrived in Java accompanied by their dropping leaflets on the city of Surabaya, demanding that Indonesia's Republican forces disarm and surrender the city within 24 hours. Three days later the British began advanced into the city. They were driven back. Their commander, Brigadier Mallaby and over 200 of his men were killed. This success encouraged the people of Java, and across the island a full-scale revolt ensued against the British attempt at occupation.

The British sent in reinforcements, the Labour government arguing that it was doing the job that the Allies had given it: restoring order. On November 10, two cruisers and three destroyers together with tanks and artillery began shelling Surabaya while airplanes dropped bombs on Indonesian strong points. After three days of street fighting the British took Surabaya. The largely Indian force suffered over 900 killed and wounded. Indonesians had died in greater number, estimated at over 10,000. Some excesses had been committed by the British, explained by Britain's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, as the death of the British commander during the fighting as having been too much for his troops to bear.

On November 29, 1946, the last of Britain's troops left Indonesia. The Dutch were increasing their strength there, reaching 110,000 troops by May 1947. The Dutch considered themselves the legitimate power of a state they had created in the eastern – and most populous – half of Indonesia. On July 20, the Dutch launched an effort to overpower the Republic of Indonesia's armed forces. The regime of President Truman expressed its disapproval. India's leader, Nehru, was outraged by the Dutch. In the Netherlands people began demonstrating against the war. The Russians sided with the Indonesians, and Australian labor began boycotting shipments of supplies to the Dutch war effort.

On August 1, the UN Security Council called for a cease fire, but the fighting continued into 1949. On March 31, the Truman administration told the Dutch that their Marshall Plan aid was in jeopardy. The Dutch finally agreed to a cease fire in August 1949, and on November 2, they signed what amounted to giving up any hold on Indonesian territory. The efforts by those Dutch willing to kill a lot of people for the sake of maintaining their colony in the Indonesian Archipelago had proven futile. The Netherlands "unconditionally and irrevocably" recognized Indonesia as a federation of autonomous states.


Copyright © 2001-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.