These are pictures, taken on the spot, of a Dutch atrocity. A war crime in ’47 (?). A summary execution of combatant Permudas and civilians during the Indonesian war of Independence. By Dutch soldiers. It is first visual evidence photographed by an eye-witness.
It was sheer coincidence the amateur photos taken by a deceased participant in that military operation, popped up yesterday. He was a conscript soldier in 47 – ’50. His family album (!) was found by an employee of a municipal register and archives. In a garbage can (!). His snapshots were in the national papers yesterday. They did send a minor shock-wave through Dutch public opinion. They were trending topic . It’s a platitude, but there is some truth to it: one photo is worth ten thousand words, several pictures write a book.
After Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Allies in august ’45, the young Republic of Indonesia severed ties with colonial The Netherlands. Only four years on, December the 27th 1949, both countries mutually said goodbye. But it was a sad, bloody and painful goodbye. Because it was preceded by two “Politionele Acties” ( literally “police actions”), which was a Dutch euphemism for what actually from their own perspective formally should have been labelled as a civil war between Indonesian guerilla freedom fighters and a regular colonial army. Indonesians who refer to these two interventions as “Aggression” are closer to the truth.
To Indonesia 1945 – 1949 was primarily glorious. In Indonesian collective memory that was the time of ’united heroic patriotism versus a cruel colonial regime”. To the Dutch it is a painful part of national past. In which we were ‘on the wrong side of history‘. Yes, nationalism and chauvinism tend to distort and blur the past indeed. They glorify victories and deny or extenuates crimes. The first happened to Indonesia. The second in The Netherlands. On both sides some correction might be necessary. To save us from self-deception built on myths and biases.
Indonesians are working on it. Historian Bambang Purwanto told an extensive study is on it’s way. The less than heroic Bersiap time will be part of it. However the Dutch also badly need a new, updated solid study by historians. It is about time to come to terms with this national trauma. The extensive Dutch study which a group of leading historians calls for, is or should be a priority. If only to test the national image of a gallant Dutch army which in those years was only busy to restore law and order in the archipelago.
Of course there always have been nasty stories and rumours. The crimes in Rawagade even have been documented and recognized by Dutch authorities. Everybody knows Raymond Westerling’s Special Forces were angels of death in Sulawesi Selatan. Yet direct, visual proof has been absent. That has changed now. For the first time the Dutch people have to look their ugly past in the face.
People will not like it. But it probably will help to launch the research those historians want. Which in it’s turn may result in coming to terms with our past at long last. And hopefully Indonesian historians will bring about a similar process in Indonesia.
Who knows these horrific photos are the first step toward perfect relations between RI and NL.