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Indonesia History - Japanese Occupation

The Japanese occupied the archipelago in order, like their Portuguese and Dutch predecessors, to secure its rich natural resources. Japan's invasion of North China, which had begun in July 1937, by the end of the decade had become bogged down in the face of stubborn Chinese resistance. To feed Japan's war machine, large amounts of petroleum, scrap iron, and other raw materials had to be imported from foreign sources. Most oil -- about 55 percent -- came from the United States, but Indonesia supplied a critical 25 percent.

From Tokyo's perspective, the increasingly critical attitude of the "ABCD powers" (America, Britain, China, and the Dutch) toward Japan's invasion of China reflected their desire to throttle its legitimate aspirations in Asia. German occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940 led to Japan's demand that the Netherlands Indies government supply it with fixed quantities of vital natural resources, especially oil. Further demands were made for some form of economic and financial integration of the Indies with Japan. Negotiations continued through mid-1941.

The Indies government, realizing its extremely weak position, played for time. But in summer 1941, it followed the United States in freezing Japanese assets and imposing an embargo on oil and other exports. Because Japan could not continue its China war without these resources, the military-dominated government in Tokyo gave assent to an "advance south" policy. French Indochina was already effectively under Japanese control. A nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union in April 1941 freed Japan to wage war against the United States and the European colonial powers.

The Japanese experienced spectacular early victories in the Southeast Asian war. Singapore, Britain's fortress in the east, fell on February 15, 1941, despite British numerical superiority and the strength of its seaward defenses. The Battle of the Java Sea resulted in the Japanese defeat of a combined British, Dutch, Australian, and United States fleet. On March 9, 1942, the Netherlands Indies government surrendered without offering resistance on land.

Although their motives were largely acquisitive, the Japanese justified their occupation in terms of Japan's role as, in the words of a 1942 slogan, "The leader of Asia, the protector of Asia, the light of Asia." Tokyo's Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, encompassing both Northeast and Southeast Asia, with Japan as the focal point, was to be a nonexploitative economic and cultural community of Asians. Given Indonesian resentment of Dutch rule, this approach was appealing and harmonized remarkably well with local legends that a two-century-long non-Javanese rule would be followed by era of peace and prosperity.

The Japanese divided the Indies into three jurisdictions: Java and Madura were placed under the control of the Sixteenth Army; Sumatra, for a time, joined with Malaya under the Twenty-fifth Army; and the eastern archipelago was placed under naval command. In Sumatra and the east, the overriding concern of the occupiers was maintenance of law and order and extraction of needed resources. Java's economic value with respect to the war effort lay in its huge labor force and relatively developed infrastructure. The Sixteenth Army was tolerant, within limits, of political activities carried out by nationalists and Muslims. This tolerance grew as the momentum of Japanese expansion was halted in mid-1942 and the Allies began counteroffensives. In the closing months of the war, Japanese commanders promoted the independence movement as a means of frustrating an Allied reoccupation.

The occupation was not gentle. Japanese troops often acted harshly against local populations. The Japanese military police were especially feared. Food and other vital necessities were confiscated by the occupiers, causing widespread misery and starvation by the end of the war. The worst abuse, however, was the forced mobilization of some 4 million--although some estimates are as high as 10 million--romusha (manual laborers), most of whom were put to work on economic development and defense construction projects in Java. About 270,000 romusha were sent to the Outer Islands and Japanese-held territories in Southeast Asia, where they joined other Asians in performing wartime construction projects. At the end of the war, only 52,000 were repatriated to Java.

The Japanese occupation was a watershed in Indonesian history. It shattered the myth of Dutch superiority, as Batavia gave up its empire without a fight. There was little resistance as Japanese forces fanned out through the islands to occupy former centers of Dutch power. The relatively tolerant policies of the Sixteenth Army on Java also confirmed the island's leading role in Indonesian national life after 1945: Java was far more developed politically and militarily than the other islands. In addition, there were profound cultural implications from the Japanese invasion of Java. In administration, business, and cultural life, the Dutch language was discarded in favor of Malay and Japanese. Committees were organized to standardize Bahasa Indonesia and make it a truly national language.

Modern Indonesian literature, which got its start with language unification efforts in 1928 and underwent considerable development before the war, received further impetus under Japanese auspices. Revolutionary (or traditional) Indonesian themes were employed in drama, films, and art, and hated symbols of Dutch imperial control were swept away. For example, the Japanese allowed a huge rally in Batavia (renamed Jakarta) to celebrate by tearing down a statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the seventeenthcentury governor general.

Although the occupiers propagated the message of Japanese leadership of Asia, they did not attempt, as they did in their Korean colony, to coercively promote Japanese culture on a large scale. According to historian Anthony Reid, the occupiers believed that Indonesians, as fellow Asians, were essentially like themselves but had been corrupted by three centuries of Western colonialism. What was needed was a dose of Japanese-style seishin (spirit; semangat in Indonesian). Many members of the elite responded positively to an inculcation of samurai values.

The most significant legacy of the occupation, however, was the opportunities it gave for Javanese and other Indonesians to participate in politics, administration, and the military. Soon after the Dutch surrender, European officials, businessmen, military personnel, and others, totaling around 170,000, were interned (the harsh conditions of their confinement caused a high death rate, at least in camps for male military prisoners, which embittered Dutch-Japanese relations even in the early 1990s). While Japanese military officers occupied the highest posts, the personnel vacuum on the lower levels was filled with Indonesians. Like the Dutch, however, the Japanese relied on local indigenous elites, such as the priyayi on Java and the Acehnese uleebalang, to administer the countryside. Because of the harshly exploitative Japanese policies in the closing years of the war, after the Japanese surrender collaborators in some areas were killed in a wave of local resentment.

Sukarno and Hatta agreed in 1942 to cooperate with the Japanese, as this seemed to be the best opportunity to secure independence. The occupiers were particularly impressed by Sukarno's mass following, and he became increasingly valuable to them as the need to mobilize the population for the war effort grew between 1943 and 1945. His reputation, however, was tarnished by his role in recruiting romusha.

Japanese attempts to coopt Muslims met with limited success. Muslim leaders opposed the practice of bowing toward the emperor (a divine ruler in Japanese official mythology) in Tokyo as a form of idolatry and refused to declare Japan's war against the Allies a "holy war" because both sides were nonbelievers. In October 1943, however, the Japanese organized the Consultative Council of Indonesian Muslims (Masyumi), designed to create a united front of orthodox and modernist believers. Nahdatul Ulama was given a prominent role in Masyumi, as were a large number of kyai (religious leaders), whom the Dutch had largely ignored, who were brought to Jakarta for training and indoctrination.

As the fortunes of war turned, the occupiers began organizing Indonesians into military and paramilitary units whose numbers were added by the Japanese to romusha statistics. These included the heiho (auxiliaries), paramilitary units recruited by the Japanese in mid-1943, and the Defenders of the Fatherland (Peta) in 1943. Peta was a military force designed to assist the Japanese forces by forestalling the initial Allied invasion. By the end of the war, it had 37,000 men in Java and 20,000 in Sumatra (where it was commonly known by the Japanese name Giyugun). In December 1944, a Muslim armed force, the Army of God, or Barisan Hizbullah, was attached to Masyumi.

Unlike Burma and the Philippines, Indonesia was not granted formal independence by the Japanese in 1943. No Indonesian representative was sent to the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo in November 1943. But as the war became more desperate, Japan announced in September 1944 that not only Java but the entire archipelago would become independent. This announcement was a tremendous vindication of the seemingly collaborative policies of Sukarno and Hatta. In March 1945, the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence (BPUPKI) was organized, and delegates came not only from Java but also from Sumatra and the eastern archipelago to decide the constitution of the new state.

The basis for a postwar Greater Indonesia (Indonesia Raya) policy, pursued by Sukarno in the 1950s and 1960s, was established. The committee wanted the new nation's territory to include not only the Netherlands Indies but also Portuguese Timor and British North Borneo and the Malay Peninsula. The policy also provided for a strong presidency. Sukarno's advocacy of a unitary, secular state, however, collided with Muslim aspirations.

An agreement, known as the Jakarta Charter, was reached in which the state was based on belief in one God and required Muslims to follow the sharia (in Indonesian, syariah--Islamic law). The Jakarta Charter was a compromise in which key Muslim leaders offered to give national independence precedence over their desire to shape the kind of state that was to come into being. Muslim leaders later viewed this compromise as a great sacrifice on their part for the national good and it became a point of contention, since many of them thought it had not been intended as a permanent compromise. The committee chose Sukarno, who favored a unitary state, and Hatta, who wanted a federal system, as president and vice president, respectively--an association of two very different leaders that had survived the Japanese occupation and would continue until 1956.

On June 1, 1945, Sukarno gave a speech outlining the Pancasila; the five guiding principles of the Indonesian nation. Much as he had used the concept of Marhaenism to create a common denominator for the masses in the 1930s, so he used the Pancasila concept to provide a basis for a unified, independent state. The five principles are belief in God, humanitarianism, national unity, democracy, and social justice.

On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered. The Indonesian leadership, pressured by radical youth groups (the pemuda), were obliged to move quickly. With the cooperation of individual Japanese navy and army officers (others feared reprisals from the Allies or were not sympathetic to the Indonesian cause), Sukarno and Hatta formally declared the nation's independence on August 17 at the former's residence in Jakarta, raised the red and white national flag, and sang the new nation's national anthem, Indonesia Raya (Greater Indonesia). The following day a new constitution was promulgated.

The Indonesian republic's prospects were highly uncertain. The Dutch, determined to reoccupy their colony, castigated Sukarno and Hatta as collaborators with the Japanese and the Republic of Indonesia as a creation of Japanese fascism. But the Netherlands, devastated by the Nazi occupation, lacked the resources to reassert its authority. The archipelago came under the jurisdiction of Admiral Earl Louis Mountbatten, the supreme Allied commander in Southeast Asia.

Because of Indonesia's distance from the main theaters of war, Allied troops, mostly from the British Commonwealth of Nations, did not land on Java until late September. Japanese troops stationed in the islands were told to maintain law and order. Their role in the early stages of the republican revolution was ambiguous: on the one hand, sometimes they cooperated with the Allies and attempted to curb republican activities; on the other hand, some Japanese commanders, usually under duress, turned over arms to the republicans, and the armed forces established under Japanese auspices became an important part of postwar anti-Dutch resistance.

The Allies had no consistent policy concerning Indonesia's future apart from the vague hope that the republicans and Dutch could be induced to negotiate peacefully. Their immediate goal in bringing troops to the islands was to disarm and repatriate the Japanese and liberate Europeans held in internment camps. Most Indonesians, however, believed that the Allied goal was the restoration of Dutch rule. Thus, in the weeks between the August 17 declaration of independence and the first Allied landings, republican leaders hastily consolidated their political power.

Because there was no time for nationwide elections, the Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence transformed itself into the Central Indonesian National Committee (KNIP), with 135 members. KNIP appointed governors for each of the eight provinces into which it had divided the archipelago. Republican governments on Java retained the personnel and apparatus of the wartime Java Hokokai, a body established during the occupation that organized mass support for Japanese policies.

The situation in local areas was extremely complex. Among the few generalizations that can be made is that local populations generally perceived the situation as a revolutionary one and overthrew or at least seriously threatened local elites who had, for the most part, collaborated with both the Japanese and the Dutch.

Activist young people, the pemuda, played a central role in these activities. As law and order broke down, it was often difficult to distinguish revolutionary from outlaw activities. Old social cleavages--between nominal and committed Muslims, linguistic and ethnic groups, and social classes in both rural and urban areas--were accentuated. Republican leaders in local areas desperately struggled to survive Dutch onslaughts, separatist tendencies, and leftist insurgencies. Reactions to Dutch attempts to reassert their authority were largely negative, and few wanted a return to the old colonial order.

On October 28, 1945, major violence erupted in Surabaya in East Java, as occupying British troops clashed with pemuda and other armed groups. Following a major military disaster for the British in which their commander, A.W.S. Mallaby, and hundreds of troops were killed, the British launched a tough counterattack. The Battle of Surabaya (November 10-24) cost thousands of lives and was the bloodiest single engagement of the struggle for independence. It forced the Allies to come to terms with the republic.

In November 1945, through the efforts of Syahrir, the new republic was given a parliamentary form of government. Syahrir, who had refused to cooperate with the wartime Japanese regime and had campaigned hard against retaining occupation-era institutions, such as Peta, was appointed the first prime minister and headed three short-lived cabinets until he was ousted by his deputy, Amir Syarifuddin, in June 1947.




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Page last modified: 19-04-2012 13:12:34 ZULU