How Significantly, And In What Ways Did WW II Effect Indonesia And The Development Of Its Nationalism?

In indonesian history on February 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

This paper seeks to address the effects WWII had on Indonesia and its nationalism by contrasting two periods, namely the pre-war and wartime Indonesia. This is done to accurately measure the significance of any changes thought to be wrought by the war.
The prevailing literature on Indonesia about WWII falls into two camps. One, Benda’s transformation thesis; whereby WWII created new elites who took the reins of the country after the occupation. Two, McCoy’s continuity thesis; indigenous elites were believed to continue to play important roles in the country’s politics and administration during and after the war.

Rather than treating either camps as gospel truths, this paper takes a step further, testing either theories on evidences presented and arrives at a suitable independent conclusion.

To measure the significance and the degree in which Indonesia and its nationalism was changed, one cannot do without a look into nationalism prior to 1942. Educational institutions started by the priyayi class helped to revive traditional conscious and made the people aware of their unequal political positions. Numerous graduates from schools similar to that of Kartini schools amalgamated into Boedi Utomo(1908). Its members hailed from Javanese aristocratic families, civil servants, students and intellectuals. However, it remained non-political because of the fear of Dutch repression. It appealed only to the upper priyayi class and their objectives were limited to education and cultural revival.

Sarekat Islam’s aims of promoting Islam and its’ anti Chinese stand striked a chord among the santri and the lower priyayi class in 1912. The flexible and modernistic Islamic doctrine in Indonesia played an important part in carrying through the people’s social and political aspirations. The Dutch government, in response to the demands of SI, formed the Volksraad in 1918. But, it was limited to criticism of the government, it could not initiate any legislation and any rejections by the Volksraad of any legislative proposals could be decreed law by the crown after six months. Small wonder many SI members felt thwarted with the pace and the content of the political reforms.

Radical communist members disagreed with SI over its long term goals and the methods to achieve them. Semaun and Tan Melaka became prominent in the break away faction, PKI (Partai Kommunis Indonesia, 1920). Initially, PKI served as an outlet for the frustrations and aspirations of the young members. Protests and strikes organised by PKI seemed to be very successful and twenty-two trade unions joined to form a Communist-dominated federation. This was climaxed by an abortive rebellion in 1926, whereby PKI proclaimed a republic. It was brutally crushed and PKI was banned. Its failure highlighted the fact that it did not involve the peasants masses and it was only limited to the urban priyayis. Its atheist’s nature did much to alienate its approachability for a simple peasant. Moreover, it lacked first class leadership as most of its leaders were imprisoned.

A more inspiring movement, PNI(Perserikatan Nasional Indonesia), formed by Sukarno, a local engineer in June 4, 1927 appeared to hold more promise. It adopted the Indonesia identity namely, the red and white flag, the anthem ‘Indonesia Raya’ and a common language, Bahasa Indonesia. Moreover, it bought all the non-communist nationalist elements under its standard of non-cooperation. The Dutch took no chances and banned PNI and jailed all its leaders. Another effort by Holland educated Hatta and Sjahrir to gather splinter groups into Partindo(Partai Indonesia) ended in grief as it was again banned and its leaders exiled. All the political movements did not manage to mobilise mass support at grassroots level in really effective political organisations.

Against this background of political apathy, it became apparent that WWII did effect tremendous changes in Indonesia Nationalism. One of the most significant ways, World War Two effected Indonesia nationalism’s development was the formation of several mass organisations which served to thoroughly politicalized the youths, for example; militia youth organisation such as Seinendan (1942), the Gakutotai (1943) Barisan Pelopor(1944) and the volunteer army, Peta. The Japanese realised that these youths, ignorant about the West, might be the easiest to indoctrinated. This they succeed. A whole generation of youth between fifteen and twenty-five of age was fed with military drilling and patriotic rhetoric. This form of Japanese training on fitness, discipline, toughness and the idea of sacrificial patriotism was a complete break from the Dutch education system. Many developed an extremely militant nationalism with a strong, emotional anti-Western and ironically anti-Japanese bias.

The cream of this youth, most of them from well-placed priyayi families chosen by powerful Muslim leaders or by local village officials, was selected for training in the Peta (Soekarela Tentara Pembela Tanah Air) which was formed on September 1943 in Java. During Dutch administration, no Indonesian could get a position of responsibility in the armyand the Dutch refused to set up an Indonesian volunteer army. The Japanese, however, selected these segments of potential leadership which had been excluded previously. The Japanese envisioned it to be a tool to supplement deficient Japanese defence strength in anticipation of renewed Allied counter-offensives, but this Japanese trained and Indonesian staffed army, proved to be instrumental in asserting Indonesian’s wish for independence in a militant way. Hatta pointed to the significant difference between the pre-war KNIL, trained to fight the enemy within, and Peta, trained to fight the enemy without. Its determination could be seen in the Battle Of Surabaya on 10 October 1945. Although, 15,000 Indonesian died in the ensuring battle, Indonesian convinced the themselves and their former colonial masters that their country was not to be reconquered by force alone.

It would be mistaken to think that Peta’s initial nature was so politicised. Sukarno and Hatta had to convinced the Japanese that it was necessary to have strongly nationalist officers. Sukarno persuaded the Japanese that Peta could be a good defensive organisation only if its rank and file as well as the officers had an aroused national consciousness. The Japanese unwittingly allowed him and others to speak to various Peta units, inflaming them not against the Dutch alone, but against imperialism in general.

Ex-Peta officers formed the most significant segment of the political-military elite in Indonesia. An estimation in 1971 showed those three-fourths of the top ranks in the Army were staffed with such officials, a clear indication of the rise of the military-political leadership of post-war Indonesia. This future generation of Asian leadership whose nationalism was already incubating was given rigorous military training and leadership. Thus, Peta strengthened nationalism and represented potentially the most effective legacy of the Japanese period in both ideological and organisational terms.

Although significant youth movements exist before the war, among them, JIB, PPPI, several important student congresses were held, whereby the Youth Oath was used as a unifying principle. These were largely non-militant. The new wartime elite of Peta and Giyugun epitomized a generation at ease with the style of sharp command, of violent action, an impatience with bureaucratic methods and aristocratic niceties.Only in this light does there exist a new elite as Benda proposed.

The other way which World War II contributed to the Indonesian Nationalism was the enhancement of political consciousness and leadership despite the initial birth pains as Japan was reluctant to encourage any independence to Indonesia. Dutch never allowed local Indonesians a free hand in their political area. Although, Indonesian nationalist movements did extend the ides of an Indonesian national identity and a low circulation Indonesian press was active among the islands, there were shortfalls. The political parties of the pre-1942 era were full of internal disunity and there were frequent splits. Second, the political parties never had the opportunity to reach out to the Indonesian masses. This situation was created by an operative Dutch surveillance and radical politicians were quickly exiled or imprisoned leaving the existing parties ineffectual.

With the arrival of the Japanese, the political slate was wiped clean. The Japanese never wished to foster any kind of Indonesian independence movement in he first place. The last thing the Japanese wanted was a manifestation of this spirit that might prove unfavourable to their war effort. Hence, Indonesia was divided into spheres of administration, Java by the 16th Army, Sumatra under the 25th Army and the rest under the 2nd Southern Fleet. These became various political units with tight Japanese control together with separate administration, it was meant to discourage any filtering of nationalist aspiration from Java to the outer islands. Political activities fell to an all-time low as from March 1942, all political activities were banned and all existing associations were dissolved.

The Japanese were initially determined to exploit the resources of Indonesian and not to make any concession to Indonesian nationalism. The first attempt at mass movement without major Indonesian players turned out to be a dismay failure. From its launch in March 1942, the Triple A movement, received little or no support from Indonesian administrators, no important politicians were involved and its high handiness left it little to be desired among the native population.

Having failed to get anywhere by making no concession to nationalism and with increasing new doubts among the Japanese about the outcome of the war, the Putera — Centre of People’s Power (Pusat Tenaga Rakjat) was formed in March 1943. The Japanese chose nationalist leaders who had been imprisoned or ignored by the Dutch. They were resigned to the fact if they were to mobilise the masses of Java, they would have to use the leading figures of pre-war nationalist movement such as Hatta, Sjahrir and Sukarno.

On 13 May 1943, a secret conference in Tokyo adopted a resolution for the incorporation of Indonesia into the Japanese empire. This was preceded by Japan’s premier Tojo’s omission in his eighty-first diet’s speech any plans for the independence of Indonesia and followed by a new head of the Office for General Affairs, Yamamoto Moichiro, who had arrived end of March 1943. He bluntly told the Indonesia leaders to carry out orders of the military government.

The Japanese were unwilling to take the risk of permitting contact between the Putera and the rural population. Although the Japanese sought to secure the cooperation with the leaders of nationalist movements, they wished to do so very much in their own terms. Hence, they were very interested in using Islam as a political force, but at the same time avoiding using MIAI as it was reluctant to the Japanese’s demands for a religious unit that would influence masses in their favour and win them to the idea of a holy war. They circumvented it and set up Masjumi (Indonesia Muslim Council)in November 1943.

Next, the Japanese tried to use a different group of people, the prijajis and the princely classes, to mobilise the masses through Djawa Hokokai(1 March 1944). Although, with the eventual disbandment of Peutra and the closer supervision of the Hokokai, Sukarno and a few prominent leaders were still able to, a some what diminished extent, utilized the organisation and radio facilities to maintain contact with and developed the will and national consciousness for independence among Indonesian peasants and other groups in Java and Madura.

All the efforts in trying to mobilise the masses became a double edged sword. They might have succeed in using the politicians in mobilising the masses, but they also helped the Indonesia in uniting its Muslims, nationalists, prince families and prijajis. These were forced to join single propaganda bodies in each area, responsible to clearly identified leaders. The different elites, secular nationalist, religious and Pangreh Praj, were in turn fused at the top of the pyramid in local advisory councils and ‘loyalty’ organisation in which the local politician usually enjoyed the position of chairman.

Opportunities were given to such politicians such as Sukarno to address a mass audience and political tours around the country side were organised by the Japanese. The Japanese built a whole net work of speakers in towns to broadcast anti imperialism speeches. Such a chance never existed during Dutch rule. They became the highly visible mediators between Japanese and an increasingly desperate population. Thus, Indonesian politicians were given experiences of real political theatre.

Similar to the speeches given to the Peta’s recruits, Sukarno’s speeches were highly nationalistic and their subtle implications were not lost on the common man. The wide coverage it received produced a tremendous increase in political consciousness of the Indonesian masses concerning their independence. As a result Indonesians became anti-Japanese more than anything. Hence, the primary aim of the Japanese was reached in a limited way in the form of resources, anti-Dutch sediments, but it awakened a national self consciousness and an increasing desire for independence from the common peasants.

With the fall of Saipan in the Marianas in July 1944, came the turning point in Japanese policy. The Japanese decided to release the remaining restraints upon Indonesian popular forces with the formation of an Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence in March 1945.

Using this opportunity, Sukarno presented to Indonesia the Pancasila on 1st June before the committee. Pancasila, with its belief in God, nationalism, humanitarianism, social justice and democracy, significantly became the only official philosophy that was sufficiently acceptable and ambiguous to received general acceptance. Its impact on the social thinking of Indonesian during the revolutionary struggle is no less today. Pancasila’s language and symbolism reflected a dominant set of ideas which was inchoate in the minds of many educated Indonesian yet it remained meaningful to the uneducated peasants. It was with this common basis that the committee drafted the nation’s first constitution.

The other ‘gift’ from the Japanese which proved to be of strategic importance was the fostering of an Indonesian identity. As it was pointed out, the Japanese’s attitude towards symbols of Indonesia identity introduced during the pre-1942 phrase was well reflected in the Decree No.3 of the military administration, issued on March 1942, which proscribed all Indonesian political activities and forbade people even to talk about political change. However, the official language, Dutch, was gone for good. This was significant because it was made in a way more abrupt and complete than any independent Indonesian government could have bought about. Since Dutch was banned and Japanese language little understood, Bahasa Indonesia became the main lingua franca of the occupation.

The phenomena of these aspects projected into an official orthodoxy for the new nation and greatly speeded by wartime propaganda needs could also be seen in the implanting of the national flag and anthem. They became symbols of national identity for the whole population, not simply the urban nationalists who had taken them up before the war. This, however, became official only when defeat became inevitable, the Japanese decided to let the revolutionary surge roll on in the hopes of frustrating an Allied conquest.

These changes of national identity between 1942 and 1945 were startling. Japanese galvanised propaganda ‘did more in one year for the idea of political unity and urge for independence than ten years of ordinary propaganda before the war.’ Indonesia was no longer an intellectual idea, but a vital factor in popular consciousness.

As the Japanese had to administer Indonesia, they had little option but to rely upon experience local men. But the hereditary element the Dutch had continued to value was removed, and the service moved closer to a true bureaucracy subjected to frequent transfer and intervention from above. Despite this, with the disappearance of the Dutch controleur, together with Japanese unfamiliarity with conditions, gave Indonesian administrators more real authority than ever. This was coupled with tremendous rise in socio-economic status of such people as almost all Indonesian personnel found themselves advanced at least one and frequently two or three ranks in the hierarchy in which they had been employed. This created a strong vested interest in maintaining these changes and independence might mean even higher positions. Moreover, a system of advisory councils at central and local levels appeared to give a formal means of participation in the government. Sukarno and Hatta cleverly used the fact that Indonesia was now mainly administered by Indonesian as propaganda for the idea of independence.

The Japanese might appear to use former nationalists to propel war effort and priyayi to staff administration. McCoy is correct in detecting this continuity element, but this is where it ends as the nature of politics was radically different from the pre-war period. Masses began to identify with new visible symbols and the solution to their grievances with Indonesian leaders such as Sukarno.

The political vacuum left in the wake of the Japanese surrender was another significant catalyst for the independence. Allied forces have not reached Indonesia when the Hirohito announced the surrender on the 15 August 1945. Responsibility for Indonesia was shifted from MacArther to Mountbatten whom the Dutch had no previous contact with. Mountbatten showed great caution and unwillingness to risk his limited, battle weary forces in struggles with local nationalists. Dutch was thus prevented in a full recovery of Indonesia and implementing their schemes for a modernisation and a gradual democratisation.

Meanwhile, Indonesian leaders and Japanese authorities were under increasing pressure from the militant youth organisations. Sukarno was hesitant in declaring independence as he did not wish to antagonise the Japanese and the Japanese was afraid of chaos and was only willing to support independence declared by a responsible authority. On the other hand, the youths were eager torid of any Japanese tainted independence and desperately sought for Allied support. But no one dared to move without Sukarno and Hatta. It was against this background that led to the kidnapping of Sukarno and Hatta and a subsequent delivery of the leaders to Admiral Maeda’s house. Sukarno declared the independence of Indonesia on 17th August 1945.

It was only on the 27th of August 1945 that Terauchi’s personal representatives flew to Rangoon to take orders from Mountbatten. By then to resume control of an already independent Indonesia would add on to the chaos. The Japanese’s lack of determination to maintain full control until the arrival of the Allies gave the Indonesian nationalist a chance to procured huge amounts of ammunitions. Moreover, some Japanese were truly won over by the Indonesian cause, deserted their ranks and served as instructors. Sukarno was presented with an opportunity to formed government and later a revolution against Dutch.

In conclusion, Benda’s transformation thesis is able to explain the emergence of youths as a new elites, but pre-war political leaders continued to led Indonesia. McCoy’s continuity thesis appears to be helpful here. Administration and politics were largely in the hands of former elites. However, the manifestation of an Indonesia identity and political vacuum stumps both thesis.

It would only be logical to see that war time Indonesia had thoroughly politicised the masses. This receptive body of discontentment was ready to act on, identify themselves as a nation and quickly filled the vacuum left by the Japanese surrender. Consequently, even with Sukarno’s capture in the Second Police action in January 1949, Hydra like movements continued the struggle for independence. The people were armed with the confidence that they would never be compelled to submit to foreign rule, and the means that it did not happen. This is the most significant legacy of World War II.


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