This book is written by two Dutch experts in colonial expansion. They have applied modern concepts like economic history, networks, and the geographicThis book is written by two Dutch experts in colonial expansion. They have applied modern concepts like economic history, networks, and the geographical and biological determinism of Jared Diamond to the world in the 17th and 18th century, before Britain became the world's dominant power. These modern concepts make it easier to accept some of the authors' conclusions compared to books of an earlier generation: we "recognise" this book. The book would have been even better if the authors had elaborated more on quite a few subjects. Still it seems a book that is worth reading even for those not specifically interested in Dutch history. It covers much of the globe from Brazil to Persia, paying least attention to Europe....more
The introduction at the start of the 20th century of the Ethical Policy to raise the living standard of the native population of the Dutch East IndiesThe introduction at the start of the 20th century of the Ethical Policy to raise the living standard of the native population of the Dutch East Indies coincided with the introduction of the bolt action rifle. Before the Ethical Policy the conquest of the archipelago's outer territories was deemed too expensive, and with just 4,000 Europeans in the archipelago in 1852, there had not been enough boots on the ground. The fire power of the new riffles made conquest a lot more economical.
The Ethical Policy had ended "the veneration of Mammon" of the colonial government. At the same time a breach of ethical norms set by the Europeans (slavery, suttees, but also smuggling and ransacking) had become a casus belli. It would lead to one of the bloodiest periods of Dutch colonial history. As it is today, the army was seen as an instrument for the spread of civilisation. As an additional benefit, conquest would save the archipelago from British and American interference and thus protect the pax Neerlandica.
Ewald Vanvugt has used the conquest of Lombok to look at the political and cultural effects of such a war on the colonial power.
Unfortunately we learn little about the consequences of the conquest for the people on Lombok. What happened to the raja's land that had generated such generous cash flows? Had the colonial government received any later income from the conquest? The protracted wars in Aceh were so expensive that taxes were raised in the Indies ("paid for by Javanese farmers") and Holland. The conquest of Lombok had also generated a loss. Equally, some of Mr. Vanvugt's quotes are unfortunate. There has never been proof of signs stating "no dogs or natives allowed" in the Dutch East Indies. Pramoedya Ananta Toer is quoted a few times. Pak Pram presented a view on history aimed at nation building, which is not always in line with more neutral observers.
Churchill has called Britain's colonial wars "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples" (quoted in Richard Toye's Churchill's Empire). Mr. Vanvugt has not mentioned anything equivalent. However you see the same social Darwinism and belief in Western superiority at work, albeit in a more modest form....more
1956 and 1957 were years when both the Soviet Union and the United States were trying to get a foothold in IndonesiThe growing pains of a young nation
1956 and 1957 were years when both the Soviet Union and the United States were trying to get a foothold in Indonesia, a young nation with many natural resources and the largest domino stone for anyone wanting to dominate Southeast Asia. The former colonizers were on the way out. Domestically in Indonesia the Dutch were only significant as scapegoats through the continued occupancy of what is now the Indonesian province of Papua. They had maintained some influence through the Confederation that the Indonesians were about to end. Their main influence was economic by running Indonesia's larger businesses.
The country itself was still trying to find out what it wanted to be: a capitalist or socialist country, a nationalist or an Islamic republic, a country with a strong central state or a confederation. At the same time that its outer islands were revolting against Jakarta, its Western-trained middle classes were Westernising, which created new questions again: how Western was the country supposed to become?
Indonesia had just held its first democratic election. Indonesia had had no civil registration, and 878.305 civil servants were sent out to set this up. 93 of them lost their lives in the process: 19 were killed and 74 were kidnapped. Soekarno's party won, but the Muslim parties came out as the largest block. Soekarno invented Pancasila as a national philosophy to unify the country. The author of this book consequently compares Soekarno to Tito and Mussolini, who wanted to be absolute leaders that could not accept any leadership, even if it was of a religion.
You find all this back in this snapshot of the mid-1950's by the Dutch journalist Theo C. Drooghe. Soeharto's Orde Baru later solved some of the issues discussed in this book: Indonesia became a centralised state run by a semi-feudal ruler who accepted capitalism with monopolies for his family and cronies. However, although Pancasila is still on schools' curriculum, the arguments about the influence of Islam have not changed very much.
There was one thing that all Indonesians agreed upon: they were entitled to the entire former Dutch colony. The Dutch reluctance to give up Papua led to the expulsion of all Dutch corporations (except the oil company) and their Dutch workers from Indonesian soil by the end of 1957, effectively ending nearly all Dutch influence. On Java, units of the Communist Party occupied the board rooms, together with the military. The communists would later be the big losers, the companies were often mismanaged and many lead marginal existences nowadays or went bankrupt in the Asian Crisis in the late 1990's.
The American diplomat Hugh S. Cumming nicely summarises the conflict: the Dutch wanted to nail down the future relationship with its former colony through treaties and laws. It took 120 years to get good relations between England and the US. No law has accelerated that process.
Admittedly, I picked up this book because of its funny title ("The Coolie Becomes a Gentleman" would be the translation into English) more than anything else. It is a short read and it does not dig very deep. It contains some funny details however. I had somehow never expected that in the 1950's 40% of the Saudis had contracted a venereal disease, for example....more
Somewhat disappointing little volume about the Dutch colonial adventure on the Indian subcontinent in the 17th century, when, according to the author,Somewhat disappointing little volume about the Dutch colonial adventure on the Indian subcontinent in the 17th century, when, according to the author, the Dutch were more successful than all other Europeans, including the English.
The author describes the battles against the Portuguese, the embassies to the Moghuls, the products the Dutch traded (pepper, indigo, nitrite, opium, silk, textiles) or got produced (Malabar textiles for sale in Indonesia, exceptional for the Dutch East India Company), and how these products fitted into the VOC's pan-Asian trade network.
However, I would have liked to learn more about the interaction with local culture, including the Christians and Jews living in Cochin that are completely omitted. The list of sources at the end of the book is quite interesting, with many of them now available free on the internet.
Besides some graveyards and a few buildings, the most lasting monuments to this interlude are these scientific studies about Hinduism, agriculture and medicine, as well as languages....more
Martin van Creveld, the military historian, stated that there are two strategies to win against a guerrilla force. The first strategy is to go for the hearts and minds of the local population, and to accept relatively heavy casualties among the regular army’s troops. The British did so against the IRA in Northern Ireland. In this media age it is the only possible approach for civilised nations. The second strategy is to openly use overwhelming force and accept innocent victims. Mr. Van Creveld gave the Syrian Baath-regime’s conquest of Hama as an example, where somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 civilans were indiscriminately killed. Mr. Van Creveld could also have pointed at his former compatriot Raymond Westerling.
Captain Raymond Westerling was one of the few Dutchmen that have an opera based upon their lives. This book is his (auto-)biography, written originally in French by the right-wing historian and veteran of the Algerian War Dominique Venner. I have not seen the original edition, but doubt if it contains all the newspaper clippings and other documents that Westerling used to state his case to his compatriots. The book is written in the third person, and contains lots of dialogues that were never recorded ad verbatim. It breathes the hard-boiled romance of soldiery, and possibly reflects the novels Westerling read as a child. Westerling’s own hand seems to be more visible the more the book progresses through time, and as his role becomes more controversial. Venner clearly adored his subject, comparing him to Lawrence of Arabia, who also played a historic role on the fringe of a central conflict (like the Arab dessert vs. the Somme), and who wanted to be one with the native people in the country where he fought.
The book follows Westerling’s life as a soldier until the 1950’s. Westerling was born in Istanbul to a third-generation Dutch immigrant and his Greek wife. He spoke French, Greek, and Turkish, but hardly any Dutch. Westerling volunteered at the Dutch consulate in 1941 when he was 22 years old. He was then sent to Britain for training. Here he followed the British army’s commando training, including toughness training, unarmed combat, and silent killing. Westerling also worked as an instructor to new recruits in these fields. He also worked for the British counter espionage special branche. Westerling later got his baptism of fire on the Western front, and was wounded in a German rocket attack on Dutch soil.
On the 11th of September 1945, lieutenant Westerling was dropped by parachute near Medan on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The Japanese have then surrendered some 3.5 weeks earlier, but are still mostly in charge. All Dutch citizens in the colony had been interned in concentration camps for years, where they found some uncomfortable protection from marauding local gangs, that claimed to fight for independence, but were often just bandits. The Japanese were still mostly in charge, and would remain so for months in various areas of the archipelago. There were also some contingents of British troops, mainly consisting of soldiers from British India. The British played a fishy role in the liberation of the Dutch East Indies, demanding Dutch ships and troops to help with the liberation of British territories, but not offering many reciprocal services to the Dutch.
Besides Westerling, there were just two other Dutch military in Medan, and they were all under control of the British. With the help of local Dutch Eurasians and native Indonesians sympathetic to the colonial regime, the young lieutenant slowly managed to increase the area under Dutch control, and thus managed to normalise life for the city’s citizens. He liberated more Dutchmen from camps near Medan, enabling him to increase the Dutch presence. The British found that Westerling had broadly the same ideas about the country as the nationalists. The Turk, as his nickname was, hardly had a flag to fight for, “all he could do was following his instinct and consciousness”. In Medan Westerling aimed at the hearts and minds of the citizenry, and although thugs put a price on his head, he received little resistance. Westerling also set his first steps in intelligence, setting up an information network, and attacking the enemy with disinformation. The book describes how he used his commando training to kill a gang of bandits with just the aid from a few locals that were either pro-Dutch or pro-independence. On several occasions Indonesians saved his life, and Westerling picked up a profound love for the country. In an appraisal of his time in Medan, the local pro-Dutch sultan stated that Westerling operated “somewhat drastically”, but that this was appropriate given the chaotic situation.
After his time in Sumatra, Westerling moved to Batavia, where he was promoted to captain, and asked set up a special forces unit, with native soldiers from the colonial army and Dutch volunteers. The training was tough, very tough, and aimed at complete control over fears. His troops had to be able to operate in small groups or even individually. “The jungle and the night are your best friends.” Ethics were not on the programme, at least not beyond respect for civilians, nationalists, and absolute obedience to Westerling. And the unit’s aim was not victory against the nationalists, but rather the protection of the Indonesian people.
Westerling and his troops were quickly dispatched to Makassar, the capital of the island of Celebes, and now called Ujung Pandang. At the time it wa a serious trouble spot. Local bandits and nationalist thugs had infiltrated the local police and intimidated the local people. As a consequence, social life and the economy were paralysed. Westerling defined his own solution, and got it accepted by his commanding officer. According to Westerling there was no normal military solution for a guerrilla attack from a village. If you used the normal military means, you shoot both at your opponents and at the villagers, creating a common interest between guerrillas and villagers. It was much better to get the villagers deliver you the guerrillas. This could be accomplished through consequent aiming your actions to the people. In the case of Celebes, summary execution of the criminals would, in the Eastern way, return the people’s trust in the government and lead to self defence.
And this is what he did. Westerling first sent out reconnaissance men to identify the criminal elements in a village. Then he would march in with his troops, round up the people, and separate the men from the women. The “criminals” on his list would be brought forward, and executed in front of the men. In other cases he would ask the villagers in a “court martial” who the “criminals” were, and execute them. He would then ask the imam for the village’s oath of allegiance. Westerling advocated that from his experience (in a country were he had just spent 1.5 year), the Indonesian farmers had a highly developed sense of justice that would work just fine to separate the criminal elements from the compromised. Written proof was not required. Westerling followed up with financial support.
He was highly successful. After 3 months normalcy was restored. In the mean time Westerling ruled like a god over life and death. He was not proud of his successes, but “moved like a predator in the jungle”. He personally shot a spy in the Sociëteit, a club for local businessmen, and when he felt his troops performed their role as executioners with too much enthusiasm, he took over that role. This way he Westerling took full responsibility for his actions, but also answered “to the deeply rooted sense of the Indonesian people that the enforcer of justice and the executioner are one and the same face”: “This people have become mine through election.” Westerling claimed that what he did was not counter terrorism in the sense of Van Creveld, as he aimed precisely at the criminal elements.
Again, Westerling was acquitted by his superiors. He himself stated some 800 people died because of his actions. Nationalist propaganda still mentions 40,000, but that is certainly exaggerated. Newer estimates stop at a few thousand, including those killed by local militias. Opposition against his action came up almost instantly and remained until Westerling’s death in the 1980’s. Political leadership always supported him half-heartedly, as in the end they would be held responsible.
The book also dedicates chapters to the conquest of nationalist capital Yogyakarta by the Special Forces troops not under Westerling’s command, and his poorly executed coup attempt in Bandung in 1950. Here again, Westerling thought that he was the man to protect the Indonesian people against “Javanese” oppression.
As far as I could check the facts in this book are mostly correct, but the interpretation leaves plenty of room for discussion. Reading this book often reminded me of Coppola’s flawed epos Apocalypse Now, with Westerling as another Colonel Kurtz. Willard, the man sent to assassinate Kurtz recognizes this hypocrisy by stating that his mission to assassinate Kurtz as a murderer “. . . in this place [Vietnam:] was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.” Earlier on in the movie, General Corman states that "in this war, things get confused out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity. Out there with these natives it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane." I don’t think Westerling was insane. Kurtz’ monologue at the end of the movie comes closer: “you have no right to call me a murderer. You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”
Westerling was a courageous and charismatic man, operating in extreme circumstances. He was a special forces soldier, solving a problem with the means of his profession. In the late 1940’s, ethics were left much more to the individual than now, and Westerling followed his instincts. He had been extremely successful for some time, and received support from the people he protected and his superiors. His modus operandi in South Celebes was not supported by law, but in the circumstances nobody saw an alternative solution for a situation that had clearly gone out of hand. In Makassar, his leadership was unchecked by any authority, although they could have done so if they had wanted to. I would not say that Westerling was a victim of circumstances, which he would likely not have accepted anyway. But his actions seem the product of the time and circumstances as much as of his own character.
And Westerling was also a romantic susceptible to hubris, and not corrected by his surroundings. His tombstone in Amsterdam reads “rakyat memberi beliau gelar ratu adil”, which means as much as “the people gave you the name ratu adil”. Ratu Adil is the name of a Javanese king, who, coming from the Middle East, will one day rule Java and create justice and prosperity. This he clearly never accomplished.
In Indonesia, Westerling’s heritage lives on. When you visit Indonesia as a Dutchman, his name is sometimes mentioned, and always in a negative way. After independence, the maverick Indonesian general Nasution tried to recruit as many of Westerling’s troops as he could. Himself a theoretician of guerrilla and counter guerrilla warfare, Nasution thought they were the best soldiers he had ever seen. Some of Westerling’s troops joined the Moluccan rebellion in 1950. They outgunned the Indonesian national army, who asked another Dutchman that had settled in the country to set up their own special forces unit, Kopassus. In 2008, Discovery TV elected Kopassus as one of the three best special forces units in the world, after the SAS and the Mossad. Wearing the same red berets as Westerling, Kopassus excels in counter guerrilla, camouflage, strategy, and general toughness. They have also committed serious war crimes in East Timor in the 1990’s. ...more