Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Japanese Military and Indonesian Independence

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

The Japanese Military and Indonesian Independence

Article excerpt

I ordered the Indonesian leaders to lead this [their] movement more spiritually.

Major-General Yamamoto Moichiro(1)

This writer, then a 20-year-old former civilian internee in the so-called Tjimahi IV concentration camp in Western Java, vividly remembers one of the first news-bulletins brought legally into the camp at the end of the war. The last sentence read as follows: "Sukarno and Hatta are puppets who just like other puppets will be punished!" So it was suggested that the Republic of Indonesia, proclaimed on 17 August 1945 by the these two prominent politicians was "made in Japan", and meant only to harass the Allied authorities who were attempting to restore the pre-war situation.

To judge the validity of this contention, it is obviously necessary to offer some remarks concerning the motives which led Japan to enter the war with the Allied coalition of which the USA, the UK, the then Dutch East Indies, Australia and New Zealand were the main elements. This writer wants to start with the weakness of the defense system of both Holland and what was then the Netherlands East Indies which was a structural feature in the two countries from the start of the twentieth century until 1942 when Dutch resistance in Indonesia was brushed away by Japan in a very short time. The Russian diplomat M.M. Bakunin, from 1894-99 consul-general in Batavia and the son of a tsarist officer, deals mockingly in his memoirs with the state of readiness of the Dutch colonial army.(2)

The analysis of another Russian diplomat is almost prophetic. Prince L.W. Urussow, during 1909-1910 first secretary to the Russian envoy in The Hague, after his transfer to Sofia in August 1910 wrote a lengthy political analysis of the situation in both Holland and the Indies for his Ministry of Foreign Affairs in St. Petersburg. His argument in short runs as follows:

a. Dutch politics are dominated by "modest goals" (skromnye tseli).

b. The Indies both geographically and by their weak defenses are wide open to Japanese attacks as much help from either England, France or the US is not to be expected.

c. Even in the unlikely case that the powers would send their fleets to Holland's rescue in the case of a Japanese defeat, it was not to be expected that Holland would get back its colonies integrally.(3)

Some years hence during World War I, this writer's father, as a young lieutenant of the reserve, served in the Inspectorate of Supplies of the army, then located in Rotterdam, and was in a good position to observe what was going on in a vital area of the defense system. This writer clearly remembers his father telling his mother early in 1941 with a grin on his face: "Well, then we had munitions sufficient for two days".(4)

The poor showing of the Dutch army against the Germans in May 1940 and by the Dutch East Indies Army against Japan from January to March 1942 should in the opinion of this writer be seen as the apotheosis of the trend sketched before.

Given the structural weakness of its defenses, the Indies were an enticing object for any country that was in need of its economic riches, the raw materials, especially oil, and the potential market for manufactured goods. Japan was such a country mainly for two reasons. First, it lacked most of the raw materials essential for the development of modern industry. Second, this industry, which after the nineties of the last century developed very rapidly mainly with state assistance given to the big private trusts who were the principal movers in this development, was marked by a low wage structure which hampered the development of an internal market.

This low wage-structure was caused by the combined factors of population-pressure and the depersonalization of agrarian relationships as a consequence of the winding up of feudalism. The latter factor caused a migration of many peasants to the urban centres in the hope of finding better living-conditions there. …

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