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INDONESIA CELEBRATES 77 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE: Where do we stand against our former colonizer?


Indonesian Freedom Fighters carrying bamboo spears as weapons during the struggle of Indonesia’s independence. (Source: Arsip Nasional)

August 17, 1945: The turning point in Indonesia’s history 

After Japan declared its unconditional surrender to the Allied forces on August 15, 1945, two days later on August 17, 1945 the Indonesian people proclaimed Indonesia’s independence and established the Republic of Indonesia. This declaration certainly came as a shock to the Dutch and it caused panic, especially among businessmen and the elites who own companies, plantations, mining operations, hotels, and other businesses in Indonesia. They still dreamt of reclaiming what they thought was rightfully theirs. The Netherlands, whose economy, infrastructure and military were devastated by the World War II, needed enormous funds to rebuild their country. When Indonesia, their richest colony, seceded, their source of wealth also disappeared almost overnight. 

As a result, the Netherlands steadfastly refused to accept the Republic of Indonesia’s independence and made attempts to retake its former territory. However, the Dutch army had suffered a great deal of damage following the end of World War II. The German army annihilated its soldiers in Europe, and the Japanese army obliterated the Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger (KNIL), the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, in the East Indies. Then, in World War II, the Netherlands requested aid from its allies in the region, including the American, British, Dutch, and Australian Command (ABDACOM). 

It made a deal with the British at Checkers, England. In the Civil Affairs Agreement (CAA) signed on August 24, 1945 between the Dutch and the British government, Britain stated its willingness to help the Netherlands retake its former colony using military force. Thus, it can be said that CAA was a declaration of war by the Dutch and their allies against the newly-independent Republic of Indonesia. 

Britain deployed three army divisions under the command of Lt. Gen. Philip Christison and Australia assisted by sending two divisions under the command of Lt. Gen. Leslie “Ming the Merciless” Morshead. The United States helped supply military equipment and trained Dutch conscripts. With the help of ABDACOM, the Netherlands launched a military offensive against the Republic of Indonesia in September 1945. 

Thanks to the help of the Australian army, in July 1946 the Dutch managed to control the entire territory to the east of Indonesia, from Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali to Papua. British troops, meanwhile, helped the Dutch seized several regions in Sumatra and Java. 

The non-military war began by pitting fellow Indonesians against each other. The Dutch recruited the natives to join the KNIL and established “puppet states” and “autonomous regions” in areas it controlled in July 1946. Readopting its common strategy in the past, the Dutch put natives who were loyal to the Netherlands in charge as heads of state, minister and officials in Dutch-controlled areas. 

In areas still controlled by the Republic of Indonesia, the Dutch tried to ruin their economy, among others by robbing the Republic of Indonesia money during its distribution, printing counterfeit money, infiltrating proDutch natives into the Indonesian government and the Indonesian army. The intrusion was carried out by the so-called Van der Plas Connection, named after Charles Olke van der Plas, the former Governor of East Java during the Nederlands Indië administration. In January 1942, van der Plas was assigned to form an underground resistance network should the Dutch lose to the Japanese. Van der Plas, who was also fluent in Arabic and Chinese, recruited the natives (civil servants, intellectuals, socialists and communists), Chinese and Arabs in Nederlands Indië. 

To replace British and Australian troops, the Dutch brought in about 150,000 personnel from the Netherlands and recruited about 65,000 natives to become KNIL soldiers and formed the Pao (Po) An Tui troops made up of the Chinese in the Republic of Indonesia. It is estimated that Po An Tui had around 50,000 members in Java and Sumatra. Meanwhile, there were only around 100,000 Republic of Indonesia armed forces (then known as People’s Security Agency/BKR) in Sumatra and Java armed with weapons seized from the Japanese army in 1945. In 1947 and 1948, the Dutch launched the first and second military aggression against the Republic of Indonesia in Java and Sumatra. 

It is estimated that the Dutch military aggression between 1945- 1950 resulted in between 900,000 to 1 million Indonesian casualties, most of them were civilians, including women and children. In 1969, the Dutch government official report revealed that the death toll on the Indonesian side was around 150,000 people. However, this could be an underreporting as many incidents of mass massacres were not reported. Also missing were the report on the destruction of infrastructure and the Indonesian economy during the Dutch military aggression. On the contrary, the Dutch only suffered 6,500 casualties, according to the official figure. 

The Dutch military aggressions against the Republic of Indonesia were condemned worldwide, even by its allies, including the United States and Australia. 


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