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The Indonesian National Revolution

Ishaan Busireddy

Often overlooked in comparison to the other events of its time (namely, WWII and the formation of the “Iron Curtain”), the Indonesian National Revolution was a successful rebellion that shaped the 4th most populous nation. The spread of revolutionary ideas began in 1908, with the emergence of several nationalist organizations, and continued throughout the first half of the 20th century. This period was known as the Indonesian National Awakening. The organizations that supported Indonesian self-rule grew rapidly in popularity. These organizations were not limited to one ideology; rather, they encompassed many different ideologies, including nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, and communism. The most powerful of these organizations was the Indonesian National Party, often abbreviated to KPI. Just as the Indian National Congress chose to work with the British Raj, some of these organizations chose to work with the Dutch in order to achieve self-rule peacefully. On the other hand, many of these organizations refused to cooperate with the Dutch and believed that a violent uprising would be the best way to liberate Indonesia.

The pressure from the Indonesian people was troublesome for the Dutch, as the Dutch East Indies were very far away from the Netherlands and were, therefore, difficult to manage. This difficulty proved to be a major problem for the Dutch; In 1945 the Japanese Empire attacked the Dutch East Indies. During this time, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. The vast distance between the Netherlands and the East Indies, along with the effect of the invading Nazi forces, made it difficult for the Dutch to reinforce their colonial garrisons. As a result, the Japanese were able to occupy the entirety of the Nusantara (Malay) Archipelago within three months. Japan continued this occupation from 1945 to 1948.

During these three years of Japanese occupation, several social and political changes occurred that eventually set the stage for the Indonesian National Revolution. Japan destroyed Dutch colonial infrastructure and replaced it in an effort to rid Indonesia of Dutch influence. The Japanese were able to win local support by promising Indonesian self-rule, boosting the support of anti-Dutch nationalist parties, the KPI being the largest one. Because of the KPI’s influence, public support for militant nationalism grew.

When Japan surrendered, it still occupied Indonesia. The peace terms required the Japanese to return Indonesia to the Dutch; accordingly, the Dutch slowly returned to Indonesia. However after three years of partial autonomy, the Indonesians did not want the Dutch to return. In order to oust the Dutch from Indonesia once and for all, the KPI started an armed revolution; and thus the Indonesian National Revolution officially began. The exhausted Dutch forces, supported by British expeditionary forces, were not able to quell the Indonesian uprising. The conflict eventually reached a stalemate, with the Indonesians holding the majority of the Archipelago. At this point, the total losses of the war numbered about 150,000 deaths.

Realizing the brutality of the conflict, America urged the Dutch to withdraw from Indonesia and recognize Indonesian independence. After four years of bloody combat, the war officially ended on December 27th, 1949, when the Dutch gave in to American pressure, and transferred control of the Dutch East Indies to the newly-formed “Republic of the United States of Indonesia.” Though the Revolution was costly both in lives and money, it did indeed force the Dutch colonial regime out of Indonesia once and for all.


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