Sukarno was expecting the Japanese to grant Indonesian independence before World War II ended, so he was taken by surprise when Japan surrendered first. On August 17, 1945, he proclaimed the independence of the Republic of Indonesia, with himself as president and Muhammed Hatta as vice-president. The Dutch were willing to negotiate a new future for the Indies, but complete independence was more than they were willing to give. Sukarno and Hatta replied that they could not take back their independence declaration, and that the only thing worth talking about was the speedy liquidation or removal of everything the Dutch owned in the islands. This impasse made war inevitable.
The first skirmishes were directed against the Japanese troops that occupied Java in August 1945. The surrender terms imposed on Japan required that her troops in occupied areas maintain order until the arrival of Allied units. In September British forces arrived to disarm and replace the Japanese, and the task of holding the Indies went to them. They fought the first big battle of the war at Surabaya in November 1945, expelling the nationalists from that east Javan city. Incidentally, this was the last time that Indian soldiers served in combat under the British flag. There was some apprehension among the British that the Indians might refuse to fire on fellow Asians, since they also wanted independence from the West. The Indian soldiers, however, had seen enough attacks and excesses from the Indonesians to remain loyal to their commanders.
Gradually the Dutch returned to take back the islands they had owned for centuries. It didn’t take long for them to realize that reconquering the archipelago would be no easy task, since the Indonesian nationalist army was much larger than their own; the current poverty of the war-ravaged Netherlands did not make it any easier. The Dutch did have some factors in their favor, though. Most of the Indonesians had little or no military experience; their morale and discipline were less than reliable. Often individual militants would commit atrocities that embarrassed Sukarno in his negotiations. The Indonesians also had a problem with infighting between the communist, socialist, moderate, and Islamic factions within their movement. Because of this, the Dutch concluded that they could win the war by keeping the natives divided.
The Dutch won the first battles they took part in, driving the nationalists out of key Javan cities like Batavia and Bandung. Sukarno was forced to move his headquarters to Yogyakarta, where it remained for the rest of the war. As the same time, however, the Dutch came under international pressure to negotiate some kind of peace agreement before the last British forces were withdrawn. The result was the Linggadjati Agreement, completed in November 1946 and signed the following March. It called for the creation of three states, known collectively as the United States of Indonesia. One of the states would be Java, Sumatra and Madura, ruled by Sukarno’s republican government. Borneo would become the second state, while the rest of the islands would form a third, with the capital on Bali.(1) Dutch property rights would be protected, and Sukarno’s forces would have the responsibility of keeping the peace in their territory. The three states would be loosely tied to the Netherlands in a commonwealth-type relationship, with the Dutch crown as the ultimate head of state over all of them. The Dutch claimed that the system was designed to give fair treatment to the peoples of the outer islands, since they would resent being part of a Javan-dominated state. There was some truth to this, but the real reason was to quarantine Sukarno’s revolution, confining it to the three islands where it already existed and thereby keeping the less politically developed outer islands safe from infection. If the plan worked right, the Dutch would keep some power over the islands indefinitely.
The agreement only lasted for four months. When the Indonesians failed to control lawlessness in republican territory, the Dutch saw an excuse to intervene. In July 1947 the Dutch invaded, capturing two thirds of Java and the richest sections of Sumatra. But the campaign solved nothing. Indonesian units continued to roam throughout the countryside and never ceased partisan warfare. More important was the effect on the rest of the world. Batavia called the operation a “police action,” but it was denounced abroad as colonialist aggression. The fledgling United Nations called for a cease-fire and more negotiations, and the two sides met on the U.S. destroyer Renville. In January 1948 they came up with a new agreement that was much like the first one, except that this time the areas conquered by the Dutch would get to vote on whether or not they wanted to join Sukarno’s republic. Of course this agreement was no more viable than the Linggadjati one; from the beginning both sides prepared for more conflict. The Dutch placed friendly regimes in the areas they controlled, and blockaded what remained of the republic.
Pressure on the republic increased from the inside as well. In February 1948 22,000 Indonesian troops were moved from mostly Dutch-held western Java to republican central Java. A number of Moslem guerrillas, however, remained behind, united under the leadership of a local mystic, S. M. Kartosuwirjo. Feeling betrayed by the republic, Kartosuwirjo proclaimed himself imam or head of a new state called Darul Islam (from the Arabic dar al-Islam, meaning the land or world of Islam). In May he raised the banner of revolt against both the Dutch and the republic. Since the Dutch were the main enemy, the republicans had to ignore this Far Eastern ayatollah for the time being; the fundamentalists in the republican army were wishing him luck anyway. After independence Darul Islam became no different from a crime wave of banditry, extortion and terrorism on a grand scale. As a regional rebellion it survived until Kartosuwirjo was captured and executed in 1962.
In 1948 Sukarno looked for help from sympathetic foreign governments, and he found it, thanks to bad planning on the part of the communists. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) tried to gain control of the revolution by recruiting members of other parties, hungry victims of the Dutch blockade, and irregular soldiers to their cause. In September 1948 they launched a coup against Sukarno in the central Javan city of Madiun, and failed miserably. No peasant uprising was touched off; the military, which at first seemed to waver between Sukarno and the PKI, mostly sided with the republicans. In a matter of days, the Madiun rebels were driven into the mountains, to be captured or killed later.
The Madiun rebellion could not have come at a better time, from Sukarno’s point of view. Before this time many foreigners feared that the Indonesian struggle for independence was coming under communist domination. Since the cold war was now fully underway, the Dutch played this up, claiming that in Indonesia the choice was not simply between Dutch and native rule, but also between democracy and communism. What happened at Madiun cleansed Sukarno of the red taint; by crushing the PKI he now became a legitimate moderate nationalist in the eyes of Westerners. After this foreign opinion, particularly that of the United States, tended to favor the republicans.
The third and last round of fighting in the war broke out in December 1948. Sensing that time was running out for them, the Dutch launched a lightning attack on Yogyakarta that captured the republican capital and most of its leaders, including Sukarno. By the end of the year all major republican towns were in Dutch hands. The only area still completely controlled by the nationalists was Acheh, in northwest Sumatra; the Dutch still remembered the Acheh War (see chapter 4), and felt it was wise to stay out of there. The whole campaign looked like an easy victory, but it turned out to be a political catastrophe. The Indonesian public gave next to no cooperation, the captive republican leaders refused to call on their forces to quit fighting, and guerrillas continued to harass Dutch units at every opportunity. World opinion was outraged by the Dutch action. The UN Security Council demanded an immediate cease-fire and the release of the republicans. Even more important was the pressure from the United States, which threatened to cut off all postwar economic aid to the Netherlands unless the Dutch negotiated in good faith with their subjects. The diplomatic blackmail succeeded. By July 1949 Yogyakarta was back in republican hands, and negotiations began in The Hague one month later. On December 27, 1949, independence came to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RUSI).
The agreement that ended nearly three and a half centuries of Dutch rule did have some concessions in it, though. The multi-state system favored by the Dutch was preserved, as well as several agreements that promoted Dutch-Indonesian cooperation. Two thirds of Indonesia’s foreign trade remained under the control of Dutch businesses. The Netherlands got to keep the western half of New Guinea because the stone-age tribes living there were not hostile to foreign rule. But the agreement remained intact for only eight months. Sukarno was so popular all around that most of the smaller federal states dissolved themselves into the republic. The Christian, pro-Dutch island of Amboina tried to proclaim an independent South Moluccan state, which was crushed by Sukarno’s troops. In August 1950 the entire government of the RUSI was declared unworkable, swept away, and replaced by a unitary regime, the Republic of Indonesia, with Batavia, now renamed Jakarta, as the capital. The Dutch-Indonesian unity under the Netherlands crown never became a reality. And the New Guinea question would be reactivated by Dutch-Indonesian quarreling a decade later.
1. The third state was to be called Negara Indonesia Timur, or the “State of East Indonesia”; opponents of the plan joked that the initials N.I.T. really stood for Negara Ikut Tuan, or “the state that goes along with the master.”
© Copyright 2000 Charles Kimball