Raymond Westerling

May 21st, 2010, in IM Posts, Opinion, by

Captain Westerling, hero against Javanese imperialism or villain of its Dutch counterpart.


Hero or Villain - New Turk Westerling Movie

Having long had an interest in history, and having taken the time and trouble to read as much as I can of Indonesia's history since I came here (largely because, like most Brits/ Canadians/Americans, though not all Australians, I knew almost nothing of the country) I was fascinated to read the following article in the Jakarta Post Weekender.

Westerling's War

For many Indonesians, Captain Raymond Pierre Paul Westerling (31st August 1919 - 26th November 1987), nicknamed "the Turk", remains the most notorious Dutch military figure from the young republic’s war of independence. With a Dutch director now planning to make a film about Westerling’s rampage in South Sulawesi, a closer look reveals a multifaceted man who continues to symbolize a thorny episode in Indonesian–Dutch history. Lina Sidarto reports.

The name Westerling still evokes images of evil and inhumanity for most Indonesians raised on history textbooks that describe the violence committed by the Dutch officer against people in various parts of the archipelago.

In his memoirs, he described an act of terror designed to subdue groups that had been attacking European soldiers in North Sumatra.

[pullquote]"We planted a stake in the middle of the village and on it we impaled the head of a Terakan [half-Japanese, half-Chinese inhabitant]. Beneath it we nailed a polite warning to the members of his band that if they persisted in their evildoing, their heads would join his."[/pullquote]

Dutch director Martin Koolhoven believes Westerling is, of course, a very interesting person for a movie.

"There are still people now who adore him [in the Netherlands], while others see him as the personification of evil."

While many Dutch films have been made about World War II, Koolhoven is currently working on a script for the first movie highlighting the years just after 1945.

"It’s not a period in our history that we can be most proud of. It won’t be a biopic about Raymond Westerling, but a film about the men who served under him in Indonesia."

There's no need for me to publish the whole JP item which you can find for yourselves, but what it moves onto is possibly the most intriguing part of the Westerling story - just how much support did he really have among local people?

I wrote a novel which included a brief review of his role ("Westerling's Legacy", morfinybooks@yahoo.ca) several years ago, and my own researches then led me to conclude that his support was far from negligible. Not talking about Java but about the outer islands, where the present regime is still so terrified of calls for self-determination that they not long ago gave a guy a life sentence for waving an RMS flag. If it is purely a cause of elderly exiles, why the draconian panicky reaction?

Back to the article.

Westerling had a disdain for the authority of the Republic of Indonesia under Sukarno.

"The formation of a republic in Java … simply means replacing Dutch rule with Javanese rule. Out of these two, many prefer the Dutch."

He also had little respect for the various youth groups striving for independence, regarding them as “terrorist gangs” who plundered, raped and murdered innocent civilians.

In a matter of months, he had built up a reputation for successfully routing those who were branded rogue elements by the Dutch authorities, sometimes using unorthodox methods such as his purge of the Terakan. In the book "Westerling’s War", Dutch historian Jaap de Moor noted that by February 1946, British newspapers already carried stories about Westerling’s deeds.

"His fame as a fearless commando, a lone fighter for justice, was established."

Westerling saw himself as a savior of the weak.

"I couldn’t stand that one of the kindest and most pleasant people in the world were defenseless against the violence of the Javanese guerrillas and former collaborators, the militias who were trained by the Japanese in carrying out savagery."

So Westerling had no hostility towards those who would become Indonesians. And if we examine the facts of that time, we can't really challenge many of his assertions.

The reality of Javanese domination, which he predicted, has manifested itself, not solely because Java has many more people, but because they are used as colonialist vanguards in Sumatra, Papua, Aceh and elswhere, via the dictatorship's transmigration programme, which reformasi has not discontinued, much less reversed.

Lots of the Republic's men were sometime collaborators, and I've heard it said that Sukarno himself did little or nothing to resist the Japanese slave-labour system.

Like many Third World 'liberation' heroes, Sukarno was a little Mussolini who trampled democracy down when it obstructed his megalomaniac ambitions. The Red Youth were indeed a blood-thirsty crew who butchered many harmless Sumatran royals and I guess similar episodes can be found in other parts of the archipelago.

The end of empire here, and in the British realms, was not notably marked by free choice. Kenyans and Ghanaians protested at the departure of the British and their ethnic identities were ignored, as were those of the Barotse people in Zambia.

As for his methods, he was fighting terrorism, not a conventional war, and in the light of the craven character of Western countries today, there are many who might prefer a tough stand (I refer in particular to this week's report from UK, where a court blocked deportation for two known Al Qaeda scumbags, because, poor wee souls, their own police, in Pakistan, might 'torture' them. Might do them the world of good!

My last film review was spiked here, but I hope one day I'll get a chance to review this movie about a man who was no cardboard cut-out but a real hero - or villain, depending on your point of view!


59 Comments on “Raymond Westerling”

  1. avatar Chris says:

    Hi Ross,

    Unfortunately, you might find a film like this quickly banned in Indonesia, just like others films and books that don’t follow the “official” version of history here: e.g. Balibo, The Year of Living Dangerously, Lastri.

  2. avatar Geordie says:

    Ross said the following: –

    Kenyans and Ghanaians protested at the departure of the British and their ethnic identities were ignored, as were those of the Barotse people in Zambia.

    Ross, having lived in the East Africa in general and Kenya in particular, I think you infer, in the way your statement is framed, a general protest against the departure of imperial goverrnment. I think this is overstating it.

    True there are remnants of the old guard up in the ‘White Highlands’ and in and around Karen who, still, look back, misty eyed, on the halcyon days (in their view) of Empire even if they are far too young to remember it.

    But for the majority, British rule wasn’t all that much fun and its impact resonates still today; not that, for a moment, should you think I’m an apologist for the post electoral violence or that balme for it can be heaped at the door of the old colonial power. To my way of thinking with the right of self determination come the responsiblilty to undo what was seen as the driver for throwing off the yoke of imperial rule and, for Kenya in particular, there’s been more than enough time to achieve that.

    Anyway, this is tangental to the point I’m coming to. Westerling, by your account, did some pretty nasty stuff though I think you qualify it by saying there were extenuating circumstances (insurgency) and in the light of subsequent who did , and I’m paraphrasing here, a damn sight worse? Have I understood you correctly?

  3. avatar Odinius says:

    Westerling was a brutal fellow who rationalized his violence as “really doing what’s best for those people, who need a strong hand to ensure their best interests.”

    Is this not the same thing Suharto did a few decades later in East Timor?

  4. avatar Ross says:

    Don’t think he was brutal, Odinius. He only responded in kind.
    As to the victims. the Ashanti in Ghana were sold out, similarly to the way the worst elements of the Kikuyu were placated in Kenya, as the ‘leader to darkness and death,’ Jomo Kenyatta, was given power.
    British rule was benign, which is more than can be said for post-independence misrule.

  5. avatar Odinius says:

    Ross said:

    Don’t think he was brutal, Odinius. He only responded in kind.

    WHAT??!!!

    He massacred 3,000 men in South Sulawesi, who were suspected members of pemuda taken off the streets to be executed, summarily and without trial or due process. If that’s not brutality, then the word has no meaning.

  6. avatar al Jumhuri says:

    A villain like him should be sent to hell period. No matter what his nationality, motives, or ideology. May he rot in hell. Amen

  7. avatar Oigal says:

    In defence of Ross, (agghhh!). I think the one thing that is missing in these history lessons is the balance. Pretty hard to find an honest account of the slaughters in Sumatera, Kalimantan, Bali and more recently Papua that occurred by native “Indonesians” both during the colonial rule and the resulant Javanese occupation. You cannot help but be amazed when you hear a Javanese complain about colonisation, the process has been no less brutal and vicious than other periods of history in the region.

    Not sure there would be any value in doing so but to rail against the brutality of the Dutch and English whilst ignoring the reality of the treachery and brutality of most recent occupation is just p*ssing in the wind.

    At the risk of raising the ire of the ignorant nationalists, a good but unpleasant place to start is the story of “city of heros” . Contrary to myth there is not much there there for any side to be proud of.

  8. avatar David says:

    Here’s a bit of balance from 65/66

    In the Paree (Kediri) area there is a village in which the lurah and Ansor together took the initiative to protect the peasant farmers—who were only taggers-on—by giving them badges as members of Ansor or NU. They were gathered together, and coincidentally, there happened to be an operation by the military and Ansor going on. Seeing many people gathered together, the soldiers and Ansor asked the lurah who all these people were. The lurah, nervous and panicked, responded that they were PKI.

    Before he had finished speaking, every one of the approximately 300 people was killed, and their families were not permitted to remove their bodies so that they were buried where they lay.

    I’m guessing that’s not in the school history books.

  9. avatar Ric Atencia says:

    The Dutch film maker could say or portray whatever they want of Raymond, but the fact is it is not believable knowing that they are making a film out of biased opinion.

    The fact is Dutch was not able to defend the Indonesian archipelago against the Japanese invasion. WWII while bloody had exposed the weaknesses of European expansionism in Asia. While not idolizing WWII, had it not for that, would there be a Republic of Indonesia and other republics in Asia?

    Anyway, the Government of Indonesia must ban whatever film is to be produced portraying the heroic deeds of any person or military officers during the Indonesia occupation.

    They are not worth watching and for sure, one sided.

    After not defending the onslaught of the Japanese in WWII, then after the war the Dutch wanted to reclaim the archipelago. As previous colonizer, I would be ashamed to reclaim something which I was not even able to defend.

    To the gallant defenders of freedom and democracy in Indonesia – Merdeka!!!

  10. avatar Odinius says:

    Oigal said:

    In defence of Ross, (agghhh!). I think the one thing that is missing in these history lessons is the balance. Pretty hard to find an honest account of the slaughters in Sumatera, Kalimantan, Bali and more recently Papua that occurred by native “Indonesians” both during the colonial rule and the resulant Javanese occupation. You cannot help but be amazed when you hear a Javanese complain about colonisation, the process has been no less brutal and vicious than other periods of history in the region.

    Not sure there would be any value in doing so but to rail against the brutality of the Dutch and English whilst ignoring the reality of the treachery and brutality of most recent occupation is just p*ssing in the wind.

    At the risk of raising the ire of the ignorant nationalists, a good but unpleasant place to start is the story of “city of heros” . Contrary to myth there is not much there there for any side to be proud of.

    There’s plenty of them available. Geoff Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” is just about the best, though it’s particular to Bali. Across Indonesia, there were atrocious, unnecessary incidents of violence against Europeans and Dutch sympathizers, as well as atrocious, unnecessary violence against supporters of the republic.

    That said, I’d avoid rationalizing Westerling on the grounds of “there were crimes on all sides.” Orde Baru types made the exact same argument about their counter-terrorism strategies in East Timor and elsewhere. “So? We had to do it in response to Falintil.” The US in the 19th century said the same thing about the native tribes. Nazi Germany said the same thing about the populations in countries they occupied, such as Serbia, where they’d kill 100 civilians for every German soldier assassinated by the various resistance groups.

    Westerling ordered and commanded the single worst massacre of the Indonesian war of independence, one very much in line with the the other incidents I just mentioned. He is thus the least appropriate man to represent the argument that Dutch colonialism “wasn’t all that bad.” He personifies all the reasons it was, actually, quite bad.

    As you well know, and have pointed out in past conversations with Dr. Brand and the other Dutch colonialism rationalizers on here, colonialism was a system of domination and exploitation of a large population by a small, technologically superior one, in which the subject populations had no say whatsoever in the running of the country, and no recourse to change things. People have made similar arguments about the New Order, which is understandable. Neither is really defensible.

  11. avatar Oigal says:

    Westerling ordered and commanded the single worst massacre of the Indonesian war of independence

    I would question that, Sumatera Railway Camps 1945/46 would be a good place to start.

    colonialism was a system of domination and exploitation of a large population by a small, technologically superior one, in which the subject populations had no say whatsoever in the running of the country, and no recourse to change things

    That would equally apply not only to the new order and the dutch but…

    Interestingly, It would be a curious if somewhat disturbing study to compare massacres pre and post dutch.

    None of the above should be taken as a support for the colonial system nor for the current.

  12. avatar Odinius says:

    You mean the Japanese internment camps secured by the British in 1945? I know there were approx. 13,000 internees when the British forces arrived, and know of no massacres there after the end of the Japanese occupation exceeding 3,000 dead.

  13. avatar Oigal says:

    I’ll have to chase it up for you Ody, I have it on a presentation some place but not tonight. time for bed.

  14. avatar Odinius says:

    By the way, it does look as if our Dutch friends suffer–or at least still suffered in the 1990s–from the same collective amnesia about atrocities committed in one’s name, which is often attributed on here to Indonesians (and which, let’s face it, is likely widespread among all people).

    LAST THURSDAY, in a court in the northern Dutch city of Groningen, a trial took place of a sort that is only supposed to happen in despotic Third World countries. In the dock was writer Graa Boomsma, who penned what is believed to be the first fictional account of the Dutch experience in a brutal colonial war in Indonesia from 1945 to 1950. Also charged was a journalist whose interview with the author deeply angered Dutch war veterans.

    Both were charged with tarnishing the honour and good name of Dutch troops by comparing their actions to those of the Nazi SS.

    Official histories of the war of independence have reportedly been changed to produce a watered-down version of what really happened as the Netherlands struggled to hold on to the Dutch East Indies by keeping them divided and preventing the emergence of a single free nation. In all, around 6,000 Dutch soldiers died in the war and at least 150,000 Indonesians were killed.

    Jop Hueting, perhaps the most famous Dutch soldier of the Indonesian war, who was decorated for the bravery he displayed in an airborne assault on Jakarta, has compared some of the massacres he witnessed to the My Lai incident during the Vietnam War. Mr Hueting, who was also in court as a possible witness for the defence, says the comparison between the Nazi SS and the Dutch forces is appropriate, because ‘it is a metaphor for unbelievably violent behaviour by our forces’.

    He said: ‘I went to war as a naive boy from a liberal family, so I don’t feel guilty for what happened.’ But while he has spoken out about the war crimes since the late 1950s, ‘it was impossible for me to break through the wall of silence’.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/colonial-atrocities-explode-myth-of-dutch-tolerance-1439153.html

  15. avatar berlian biru says:

    One of the recurring themes of posts here is the claim that no one ever examines the dark side of modern Indonesian history and then the comments sections are clogged up with posters examining the dark side of modern Indonesian history as if it were the first time it was ever allowed.

    Why is that?

    Why are so many foreign people who live and work and presumably enjoy a good life here in the Republic of Indonesia always so keen to drag out Indonesia’s dirty laundry? What have you got against this place? What is so unique about Indonesia over say China, Russia, India, Thailand or whatever damn country you choose to nominate that makes Indonesia’s history so especially noisome?

    This is invariably combined with an anti-Javanese sentiment and over sentimentalised support for whatever crackpot outer island independence seeker is currently in vogue (note; my family is not Javanese so I can speak honestly). I can think of only one other major country’s history that suffers the same amount of vitriol and that is the UK and filling the role of the Javanese of course is the English (note; my family is not English).

    This Westerling business is the same. Fact the first: Westerling fought a tough and very vicious campaign against his political opponents one that was characterised by bloody indiscriminate barabarity, fact the second: if Westerling’s side had won he would be proclaimed a hero, fact the third: Westerling lost, his name gets blackened as a thug and an imperialist barbarian. Tough shit on Westerling, you play in the big boys’ league you play by the big boys’ rules.

    Trying to rewrite history and portraying Westerling as some sort of misunderstood armed social worker resisting Javanese aggression is an utterly pointless instance of that dreary anti-historic pass time of “What if..?”

    I’ve said it here before, history is written by the victors, if the descendants of Westerling and the armed forces of the Netherlands want to unite with outer island seperatists to stage a rematch against the Republic of Indonesia they are welcome to try their luck, in the meantime can we all just accept that the Republic won and it is their country and it is their privilege to determine their own future as well as their past?

  16. avatar Oigal says:

    BB, A case in point why it is pointless to try and discuss any of this in rational manner the moment the neo nationalist turns up. No where did I even remotely suggest that westerling was to be vindicated or anything else.

    It defies logic to suggest that someone was

    Trying to rewrite history and portraying Westerling as some sort of misunderstood armed social worker

    quickly followed by

    I’ve said it here before, history is written by the victors,

    Unless you are suggesting only a select elite few have the right to decide what the peopleshould know about their own history. Let’s keep in mind “the people” lived and died for this history and a select few have NO right to decide what really occurred and what didn’t.

    No one is picking on Indonesia, history will always be tinged by perspective but the examination of such has nothing to do with dragging out dirty laundry but rather a curious and investigative mind. It is very immature and insecure postion to ask

    Why are so many foreign people who live and work and presumably enjoy a good life here in the Republic of Indonesia always so keen to drag out Indonesia’s dirty laundry

    . One can only assume the author would much prefer all such sites such as IM change into the glossy “look at my holiday in Indonesia” blogs. Very new order indeed (or dare we say colonial). By this very logic, the author was very supportive of those foreigners who did not question the actions of Westerling and his ilk as they were living the “good life” therefore shoudl not ask questions or challenge the status quo.

    Only in the one tracked mind of the neo nationalist could apply the logic of “A” Lets look deeper into history of Indonesia by Indonesians = “B” He is a supporter of Dutch Colonialism.

    Lets not forget the vast amount of History that we are now advised to ignore (because we are foreigners??) is actually just a curio to the foreigner but directly impacted on Indonesians now and then. Surely those people deserve something more than

    history is written by the victors

    surely Indonesia has moved past that particular new order censorship.

    Ignoring the preceding sentences as the neo nonsense

    it is their country and it is their privilege to determine their own future as well as their past?

    Who is the “their” we are alluding to here? The minority of Indonesians who have decided what historical facts will be made available to the people? Surely, if it is to be “their” privilege to determine how to view their past it is their right be told all the facts, not just what some vested interest decides they should be told. Perhaps if that happened we would spared the bizarre situation of bullies and human rights violators standing for high office again and again.

    Instead of referring to “outer island seperatists” perhaps its time to read history and avoid the mistakes of the colonial powers and act like a representative republic. The is the old truism “those who ignore history are condemed to repeat it” Strangely noone suggests that a balkan Indonesia is good for anyone, the instant retreat to that postion harkens back to the dim dark days of the bogey man communist to bloodily silence any critic of the new depotic order.

    Lastly, perhaps it is cultural but to suggest that anyone (foreigner or otherwise) should only read what they are told, when they are told is a repugant suggestion and should be rightfully rejected in any democratic society.

  17. avatar Oigal says:

    Ody, No doubt. Personally I find it all very interesting and look forward to learning more. One of the issues for myslef is so much is written in dutch or hard to find Indonesian tomes it is difficult to find a definative text.

    Of course, I am sure “xx” has a two page photo-copy sufficient to pass the national exams.

  18. avatar Oigal says:

    I can think of only one other major country’s history that suffers the same amount of vitriol and that is the UK and filling the role of the Javanese of course is the English (note; my family is not English).

    Damn..missed this one. Perhaps the author should get out more then as the statement is just strange. Lets try the “history wars” that so many countries are going through as people no longer accept the fluff and toss of bygone regimes. Yes its unpleasant at times but some here are some very easy examples:

    Australia and its treatment of aboriginals and the real settlement stories

    USA and its treatment of native americians and more recently the excesses of the anti-communist hysteria

    France/Belgium and its murderous colonial activities

    Any number of EU nations have to face their murderous revisionist history.

    In fact in all functioning democracies sooner or later you must face your past, it is only the despotic and doomed to failure that refuse to do so

    You can even take it further into the major religions but that is for another time

  19. avatar Ross says:

    Have to agree, briefly, with Odinius, history should be history, no one perspective should have a monopoly on its interpretation.
    Berlian, I have often waxed long and loud on the histories of China and Russia, and see no reason, as one whose fave subject at school and uni, not to comment on Indonesia’s also.

    That Dutch trial you mentioned, Odinius. They are showing a keen interest in prosecuting people for opinions there these days, eg Geert Wilders, but Holland is not what it was, a quiet wee place with windmills, it’s now immersed in EUSSR politically correct junk-thought.

    Berlian, exactly which English history are you on about? I have very little English blood in my veins, about 90% Ulster-Scots, with a dash of Hugenot. The latter got refuge in wicked old England when persecuted out of their French homes.

    All countries have good and bad things in their past. Sometimes the bad are inventions, like the Amritsar Massacre, but the British (English?) elite are a sly bunch, ever-ready to sell out loyal friends and kin, as in Ulster, the Falklands.
    Not to mention the Poles at Yalta, though in fairness treason was at work there, with the US dominant power nursing a CP viper to its bosom as top adviser to post-War agreements.
    Just a few thoughts to brighten this cloudy Sunday for you all!

  20. avatar timdog says:

    Ross,

    Sometimes the bad are inventions, like the Amritsar Massacre

    sorry, could you just run that one by me Ross…

  21. avatar shorty says:

    how do we judge yesterdays actions by todays values? you can’t.

    there’s a marvellous, relevant quote…..history is a record of events written by the victors. ri won, therefore belanders are blood thirsty, inhuman arseholes.

    both sides committed atrocities.

    post the dutch, the events surrounding sukarno’s downfall and the ensuing purges matched or surpassed events in the independance struggle. it could be argued that these events were even more morally corrupt as they centred totally on power, not sovereignty, self determination…..

  22. avatar Odinius says:

    BB,

    While I agree with you on Westerling, I want to discuss this comment:

    Why are so many foreign people who live and work and presumably enjoy a good life here in the Republic of Indonesia always so keen to drag out Indonesia’s dirty laundry? What have you got against this place? What is so unique about Indonesia over say China, Russia, India, Thailand or whatever damn country you choose to nominate that makes Indonesia’s history so especially noisome?

    I see your point to a degree. As I mentioned earlier, and others have also mentioned, every country has dirty laundry. Even little, innocuous Sweden has its demons (i.e. a long history of violent warfare, business dealings with genocide-in-progress Nazi Germany and a fairly horrifying eugenics program) to come to grips with. The Netherlands obviously has its rather despicable colonial legacy.

    Sometimes it does feel as if certain people think every “Indonesian” crime is a horror of horrors, while those committed by others are easily excused.

    But that’s not the case for everyone, or even most. This is a blog focused on Indonesia, so it’s pretty natural that conversation would gravitate towards things that have happened in Indonesia. I also think some people vent frustration that this country that they either live in or visit frequently is one which goes to lengths to censor the historical materials available to its citizens. If this site were “www.thailandmatters.com,” we’d likely be talking about how the Thai government censors information concerning its anti-communist operations, or its dealings in the south. If it were “www.russiamatters.com,” we’d never run out of things to talk about…

  23. avatar Ross says:

    Timdog,
    Amritsar happened back in the inter-war period, when a mob of rioters were running amok. An innocent lady teacherhad been attacked for no reason ealier that week in broad daylight.
    General Dyer ordered his troops to use all necessary force to disperse the crowd and was thanked later by the leaders of the local Indian community,
    Subsequently, he has been defamed as a cruel ‘imperialist’ by the usual crew. but at the time large sections of the British public and press endorsed his action, which is said to have originated from the Lt. Governor of Punjab at the time.
    Thus, like Westerling, Dyer was doing his duty as he saw it.

  24. avatar timdog says:

    Oh Ross, I do greatly like the opportunity to lecture on the history of the British period in the Indian Subcontinent, perhaps the strongest of all my specialist subjects. A little history lesson for you:

    In 1819 there was a good deal of unrest across India, based on all manner of legitimate grievances. The key factor, the “lightening rod” if you like, was the Rowlatt Act, an extension of draconian wartime anti-terrorism measures allowing for arrest, detention and deportation without trial and other such things, all of which sound strikingly familiar these days.

    The passing of this law – which was actually never really used in practice – was the first of several monumental miscalculations in British policy which created an atmosphere of confrontation with the Indian independence movement and made things far more messy than they needed to have been.

    Now, I’m the first person to hammer home the point that the Subcontinent is the very heartland of the hysterical and potentially very dangerous mob. However, under the influence of Ghandi – and it really was his personal influence – it has to be said, that during the anti-Rowlatt protests and in the subsequent decades the level of mob violence that India is certainly capable of producing was far less than it could have been. Ghandi was a humbug, a hypocrite, a charlatan, and – possibly – a man whose destructive influence outstripped his positive one, but he certainly had a talent for stemming potential violence once the ball was already rolling.

    The initial protests in the Punjab – though huge and vociferous – were largely peaceful. The riots only erupted when a pair of key local Indian leaders were arrested – and typically Indian riots they were too. Property was destroyed and looted, and yes, a missionary woman on a bicycle was beaten up (before being rescued by local Indians). Several white men were also killed.

    In response to this the Governor of the Punjab, O’Dwyer (it’s unfortunate that the two key figures have such similar names) basically instituted de facto martial law and handed control of Amritsar to General Dyer… Dyer turned up and issued a proclamation that nobody should be out on the streets, but the proclamation was simply not distributed properly, and few of the residents of Amritsar knew anything about it.
    And here’s the thing that you Ross, conveniently overlook (or are perhaps unaware of, having got your “history” from empire nostalgia nonsense). The crowd massacred in Jallianwala Bagh were not the same people who had been “running amok”. The riots were already over at the time; most of them were not even protesters; they were rural pilgrims in town the Baisaki festival, they knew nothing about martial law, or even the protests that had prompted it.

    Jallianwala Bagh is a big place (I’ve been there; you can still see the bullet holes) a stone’s throw from the Golden Temple and was generally the sort of camping-out ground for pilgrims and visitors.
    A small and – this is key – peaceful demonstration was going on on the fringes of the crowd, with activists giving speeches on a wooden stage (clearly not the same thing as running amok, is it Ross).
    Dyer and his troops (Ghurkhas mostly) entered the bagh (which was essentially a closed space with no means of escape), and without issuing a warning opened fire, with Dyer giving specific orders to fire into the body of the crowd, which was – bearing in mind that this was for the most part a pilgrim crowd, not a rioting mob, or even a gathering of peaceful demonstrators – made up in significant part of women and children. Why is it an unconscionable outrage for some brown people to have attacked a white woman on a bicycle Ross, while firing on unarmed – and peaceful – brown women and children is a “patriotic duty”? Somewhere in the region of 400 people were killed. They were unarmed, were not rioting, and had no chance of escape, and to stress again, many of them were women and children.

    Dyer had, prior to the massacre, decided that, in essence, a “sound thrashing” was needed to re-establish respect – brown people needed to die, he felt; it was the best thing for them.

    If the Rowlatt Act was a monumental miscalculation, the Amritsar Massacre was a total catastrophe, and the British authorities, including O’Dwyer who had essentially given Dyer licence, knew it was, attempted to suppress the knews, and spent the next thirty years wishing it had never happened. Aside from its repugnant nature, it was a political disaster (as massacring unarmed civilians often is).

    I find a very interesting subject in the retrospective establishment of events as “key” in history, particularly in “national awakening” history (founding of the Budi Utomo? That was the day that Indonesia was born? Don’t be so silly…).
    However, the Amritsar Massacre (which is precisely what it was, Ross), was truly of huge significance; it was the point at which the total dismantling of British India became inevitable, it was the single most important catalyst for the independence movement, and it was the point when the Indian elite who led that movement – people by inclination more “English” than “Indian”, and I include Ghandi in that – were forced to acknowledge that the lie that they had long swallowed, that the British were fair-playing gentlemen and that this could all be sorted out over cucumber sandwiches, was just that, a lie…

    It goes without saying that Dyer thought he was “doing his duty”. That’s the most pathetic defence of his actions you could possibly offer. The Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili? Those guys also thought they were doing their duty – I don’t think I recall you talking about their admirable patriotism (but then they were brown, after all).
    Likewise that a bigoted section of the British public, of a kind to think that massacring hundreds of brown women and children was a great thing to do if somewhere in the same general vicinity people of a similar skin colour had pulled a white woman off a bicycle, collected some money for Dyer and gave him a sword is hardly evidence that his actions were a good thing.

    And likewise the fact that members of the Punjabi Sikh elite, who, like many of the landed, moneyed native elites in India (rather than the lawyer class from whose ranks rose the independence leaders) relied very much on the British for their position, gave him a pat on the back for dealing with the low-class rabble is not evidence of this either.
    Ross, he opened fire on an unarmed, peaceful crowd, with no means of escape, and comprising in significant part of women and children (and helped to bring down the British Empire in doing so, the silly bugger). That he “thought he was doing his duty” is the most preposterous defence, unless, as I mentioned, you like to defend the actions of Indonesian troops in Timor on the same grounds. Would you like to do that Ross?

  25. avatar Gantz says:

    So.. westerling killing people wasn’t evil at the time coz he’s just doing his duty “as he saw it”…??

    Do please tell.. what was his duty…?
    Wasn’t it to reassert Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia..? Fight a war of agression against the Independent Republic of Indonesia..? To ensure that white dutch meneers and mevrouws continue as masters of the Indonesian people..? with that in mind, of course large sections of the Dutch public and press endorsed his actions!

    And now the Pemudas are evil coz they are fighting those white men coming to take our independence..?? Don’t u think that those pemudas are actually the one doing their duty “as they saw it”..? That is to get rid of the dutch and ensure the independence of OUR country… now I’m sure that large sections of the Indonesian public and press endorsed their actions!

    I’m not javanese nor is my family… but I’m Indonesian… and the fight for our independence was a national one and not just by javanese… Just because Javanese the likes of Suharto almost totally ruined the country in later years, doesn’t mean we want the dutch to keep on colonizing us or were happy that a murderer soldier the likes of Westerling rampaging our country..!

    “In fact in all functioning democracies sooner or later you must face your past, it is only the despotic and doomed to failure that refuse to do so”

    Has the Dutch did so…? the fact that they still make movies glorifying their war criminals seems to be and indication of the refusal to do so… and please remember.. The dutch has been a democracy much.. much longer than us… how could u expect a 12 years old democracy to do something a 65+ years old democracy (counting from their time of liberation from the Nazis) still can’t or won’t do…?

  26. avatar Dirk says:

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poncke_Princen

    Poncke was de echte held !

    Poncke was the real hero !

  27. avatar Odinius says:

    timdog said:

    That he “thought he was doing his duty” is the most preposterous defence, unless, as I mentioned, you like to defend the actions of Indonesian troops in Timor on the same grounds.

    I made much the same point concerning Westerling. The New Order state quite effectively adopted the tactics of the Indies colonial regime.

  28. avatar Oigal says:

    “In fact in all functioning democracies sooner or later you must face your past, it is only the despotic and doomed to failure that refuse to do so”

    Has the Dutch did so…? the fact that they still make movies glorifying their war criminals seems to be and indication of the refusal to do so… and please remember.. The dutch has been a democracy much.. much longer than us…

    We are still on the 1+1=5. No one particularly myself has suggested Westerling was hero or not. To be brutally honest, few people know enough about the entire period other than some half baked history lesson decided and taught by the new order. To suggest we need to look at all sides does not mean rejection of one or the other. Most who know my posts albeit conservative are somewhat anti-authority anyway. My major point would be an honest and open review of history would see many parallels between the dutch rule and the rule of the autocratic elites, perhaps as a direct result of the burying of so much history. Do you not think it worthwhile to review the fate of so many of the Sumatera Royal Familys

    It is nonsense to suggest that by suggesting that history needs to be viewed in total not some 1/2 page high school term paper that anyone is advocating the return of Dutch (or anyone else) rule. Ask yourself, can you name the Lord based in India who supported Raffles? What about the Sultan who backed Westerlings aborted coup? What happened to them and their supporters? What happened to various Royal Courts during and after Independence? If you cannot say, then perhaps we should be mature enough to be able to do that without imagining the return of the evil empire and the dark lords.

    Equally spurious is the strawman agrument that we have only been independent for 60 years, democracy for 12 or other countries are doing or not doing. All we are talking about is looking at Indonesia’s in total. Judgements after that will always be subjective.

    Timdog,

    Thanks for the history lesson, I am sure I have never heard Gandhi described in such terms. I wonder what reaction you would get with such a description on http://www.indiamatters.com?

  29. avatar Ross says:

    Yes, Timdog, you may have some useful historical input, but you diminsih its value by imputing anti-‘brown’ sentiments to myself and others who might differ.
    Invluding i suppose a very high quality British historian, Andrew Roberts. In his book A History Of The English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, he says that after General Dyer had his troops open fire that day, it was “not necessary for another shot to be fired throughout the entire region.” He later comments: “Today’s reactions to Dyer’s deed are of course uniformly damning … but if the Amritsar district, Punjab region or southern India generally had carried on in revolt, many more than 379 people would have lost their lives.”
    And your racist slurs don’t fit very well with your own class prejudice against the brown guys who gave him their commendation after the deeds were done. Just because they were ‘upper-class,’ hardly disqualifies them from their judgement on events that they were much closer to in time and space than you or I.

  30. avatar timdog says:

    Ross, Andrew Roberts is a high profile “pop” historian, and very good at that kind of stuff (ie. entertainment) but not a serious academic; he is also notorious for his partisan right-wing tendencies and his misty-eyed empire nostalgia. I didn’t read his History of the English Speaking Peoples, but very much recall the derision it received from various quarters, for, amongst other things, attempting to justify generally unconscionable massacres and such like.
    Now you, doubtless, will start huffing and puffing that, well, naturally I would be predisposed against him if he’s rightwing etc etc etc.
    Nonsense; I’m pre-disposed against bad history, bad historians, and in particular, those who attempt to put an attractive spin on mass slaughter. In the last 12 months no book has pissed me off as much as Max Lane’s (a monumental nitwit) Unfinished Nation in which he uses absurd, anachronistic language about the “proletariat” and the “bourgeois” (terms never appropriate in the Indonesian context), and attempts incoherently to develop an idea in which mobs of hysterical and banal Indonesian youths going on the rampage, smashing up shops and murdering Chinese people symbolises some romantic concept which he terms “Aksi” and which is the heart-warming manifestation of the unfinished “Indonesian Revolution” (presumably with Cuban cigars and Che Guevara haircuts too). What an absolute goblok.

    Whether or not the massacre had any effect on quelling the unrest in the short term is irrelevant (but you need to be reminded again, presumable Roberts having inferred that the people Dyer killed were rioters, that the people he slaughtered were not rioters, there were no riots going on in Amritsar on that day, they were mostly village pilgrims, many of them women and children, in an enclosed space with no means of escape, and before killing them Dyer had already decided that he needed to kill some natives, to “re-establish respect”).
    Even if you could convincingly “prove” that the massacre had an immediate pacifying effect, Roberts’ argument is absurd on a larger scale. As I mentioned before the importance of the massacre in precipitating the great groundswell of backing for the independence movement, and in motivating its key leaders and shaking them out of their English Gentlemen’s clothes cannot be underestimated. Without the impact of the Amritsar Massacre it could certainly be argued that the progress towards Indian independence would not have unfolded as it did, and given that over the 30 years that followed the massacre hundreds of thousands of people died in “unrest” consequent of the political turmoil it helped unleash, the argument that it “saved lives” is just plain silly.

    If your quote from Roberts is accurate it gives a nice little window into the cracks that so often appear in the works of total non-specialists pontificating in “authoritative” tone on subjects that they in fact know nothing more about than what the average layman could get off wikipedia: “southern India generally”? Amritsar lies in the Subcontinent’s northwest. There was no unrest in “southern India” at the time. If your man can’t find the place he’s talking about on a map, ought you to trust his judgement?

    But anyway, I’d still like to press you again on the point that you cunningly overstepped. Dyer slaughtered defenceless civilians, many of them women and children, with no means of escape. He thought he was “doing his duty” so that makes it okay in your book.
    Do you, therefore, apply that same defence to the fine troops of RI in East Timor, and if not, why on earth not?
    Thank you…

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