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Jakarta Post

Intriguing days ahead of independence

  • Greg Poulgrain

    The Jakarta Post

Brisbane   /   Thu, August 20, 2015   /  06:39 am

The Proklamasi was '€œan event in our history of the utmost importance'€ but Sukarno'€™s plain words do not hint at the extreme danger involved had the Japanese army decided to crush those who organized the declaration of independence. Prominent nationalists and youth groups seized the moment on Aug. 17, 1945, two days after World War II ended.

There is also another reason, still unexplained, why the proclamation of independence occurred when it did, that is of great interest to both Indonesian and Australian historians. How many of us know that the help given by two Japanese naval officers, Nishijima and Yoshizumi and their school of independence (Dokoritsu Juku) occurred only because they had been released from wartime detention in Australia in 1942? Who arranged for their return to Java when war in the Pacific was at its high point?

For Nishijima, the three days up to Aug. 17 were the most difficult time in his life, as he explained to me at his home in Tokyo 30 years ago. Had independence been declared spontaneously on Aug. 16, it might have led to a tragic clash with the Japanese Army even before the return of the Dutch colonial army. The Japanese army disapproved of Nishijima'€™s pro-Indonesia stance: they had not been briefed on the Navy'€™s post-war plan for linking Japan and Indonesia.

The former Netherlands East Indies became the new '€œIndonesia'€ after intense, all-night discussion in the house of Nishijima'€™s superior, Admiral Maeda Tadashi. His area of wartime command was Netherlands New Guinea. Sukarno was not informed by Nishijima that Maeda had found a rich oilfield in the remote Dutch territory. Later vice president Mohammad Hatta, who before the war was detained in New Guinea for one year, spoke strongly against including Papuan territory into '€œIndonesia'€.

Because of his role in preparing the Proklamasi, Nishijima already knew I would ask who was responsible for his release from detention in Australia in August 1942. Many Japanese residing in the Indies returned to Japan before the strike on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but 1,700 remained.

The Japanese army disapproved of Nishijima'€™s pro-Indonesia stance ...

They were arrested by the Dutch and sent to Australia '€” supposedly for the duration of the war '€” but someone in Washington or New York arranged for their release in a repatriation exchange. From Loveday internment camp in South Australia, 834 Japanese were released. This occurred despite a Dutch intelligence report describing many as '€œtop Japanese naval spies'€.

Nishijima since 1937 had been working underground in department stores in Surabaya, Bandung and Batavia (Jakarta), '€œcollecting information and making contacts'€. The Dutch report, which had extensive details on Yoshizumi, mysteriously disappeared just before the repatriation exchange.

As I entered the front door of his house in Tokyo, Nishijima asked me whether I had already interviewed Dean Rusk. Well-known as president John Kennedy'€™s Secretary of State in the 1960s, Rusk in 1942 was a top man in War Department intelligence and very likely to know who was responsible. Rusk denied involvement and pointed to the State Department.

The reaction of the US commander in the Pacific, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, was telling: He ordered that no members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency) be allowed to operate anywhere in MacArthur'€™s Pacific Area.

Official reports have never been made available but MacArthur likely blamed the OSS head man in New York at the time of the repatriation, Allen Dulles. As one of the two head lawyers for Standard Oil, he also had post-war plans for the Indies, intent on accessing its natural resources. Dulles was the first person approached by the Japanese when surrender became inevitable.

In the 48 hours before the Proklamasi, there was a maze of activity. Youth groups had kidnapped Sukarno and Hatta, trying to force a declaration of independence. Nishiijima conducted delicate negotiations with Wikana, the figure with links with both the school and the youth groups. The Japanese army had half-approved Indonesian independence, but only on Japanese terms, so nationalists and youth groups would have faced the wrath of the Kempetai, the ruthless Japanese military police.

Nishijima'€™s key contact in the preparatory committee of Indonesian independence was Subardjo whom he had known before the war started. Also among Dokuritsu Juku students were future leaders of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), DN Aidit and Lukman.

'€œHad they not been part of the school,'€ Nishijima said, referring to the 1965 political upheaval, '€œmaybe their lives would have been different.'€ When the youth groups kidnapped Sukarno and Hatta, Nishijima reminded them that, although Japan had surrendered, the army was still intact. The terms of surrender signed by the Japanese required the Japanese army to join forces with incoming British troops to restore order before the return of the Netherlands Indies colonial administration.

In Maeda'€™s house, during the long night of Aug. 16, intense discussion continued on the wording of the Proklamasi to be delivered the next morning. Nishijima arranged for an army representative to participate to avoid any backlash from the army, and he chose his man carefully. This was the main reason the proclamation reads like an office memo. Niishijima told me that when Sukarno asked him for suitable wording to achieve this aim, he wrote on a piece of paper and handed it to Sukarno. With minor changes, this became the Proklamasi.

He added that nobody noticed, until the last minute, that the date on the paper was written according to the Japanese calendar '€” not 1945 but 2605. Hatta and Sukarno signed the document, the historic announcement was made at 10 a.m. that morning and then Nisihijima arranged for Adam Malik to broadcast on Japanese radio the words of Sukarno, worldwide: '€œWe the people of Indonesia ['€¦]'€

The writer teaches Indonesian history at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane. He wrote The Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles.

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