Ball to Burton

Memorandum BATAVIA, 22 November 1945

I hope that my telegrams, though fragmentary, may have given you a reasonably coherent picture of the Java situation as I see it. I must emphasise ‘as I see it’, because while I realise that what you want is fact and not opinion, facts are nearly unobtainable here and an opinion is about the best I can send you.

On reading my telegrams to you, there is only one opinion I would want to qualify. In my first days here I think I was rather too credulous and uncritical in accepting Dutch and British official stories of Japanese complicity in the present troubles. The evidence of present Japanese collaboration with the Indonesians now seems very fragile, though undoubtedly the Indonesians are using arms handed over to them by the Japanese in some areas.

May I try to summarize my impressions:-

The general Military and Political situation in Java The official hand-outs give an incomplete and sometimes seriously inaccurate picture. The general disorder, the shootings and street battles, the burning bitterness between Dutch and Indonesians- these are played down in official reports. For example, during the last three days firing in Batavia has been almost continuous and officers and other ranks have been advised or ordered not to venture out after dark. There is every indication that violence and bloodshed will increase.

The British Attitude I believe a distinction should be drawn between the military and political objectives. The military objectives are in themselves straightforward-to capture the Japanese, to release POW’s and internees, and to get home. The political objectives are to restore the status quo here and thereby maintain friendship between the Netherlands and U.K. in Europe.

I find very sharp differences between the military purpose, as typified by General Christison, and the political purpose, as typified by Mr. Dening and Mr. Walsh.

General Christison realises that political and military programmes interpenetrate at every point, and I believe that he is extremely unhappy about the political advice he is being given. So far he has felt bound to accept it, since he ‘is only a soldier’, but personally I think he has the deep conviction that only United Nations action can save the situation. I feel he is a very honest, liberally-minded man, with a sensitive understanding of the basic problems in human relations that are at stake here. He is unversed in the jargon of politics: in which Dening is so expert. Perhaps I can express my relations with Christison and Dening best by saying that since Dening’s departure three days ago there has been a dramatic change in the General’s relations with me. Instead of being official and strained they have become intimate and most cordial. I need not impress upon you that the faintest official hint that there might be a fundamental difference of view between Christison and Dening would be fatal to my good relations with Christison, which I feel it very important to try to maintain.

Christison is going through some pains to try to arrange, on his own initiative, that I have a long private talk with General Sir Miles Dempsey [1] under the most favourable conditions. Dempsey is his superior officer coming here from Malaya today.

Dening is, I feel, giving Christison and the U.K. Government most unfortunate advice. He is eagerly, if not ably, supported by Walsh. Dening and Walsh have devoted much time to giving me a series of University Extension Lectures on the overwhelming advantages to Australia of restoring Dutch rule here. Dening’s qualification seems to be (1) that he has spent many years in the Far East and long ago got to understand the ‘Eastern Mentality’.

This is a matter of learning a few simple rules of psychology which will serve you through life; (2) a knowledge of the Foreign Office line. Dening explained to me that this was only ‘one of his headaches’ and Walsh went on to explain that Dening was very anxious to get away as soon as possible to ‘fix up’ Siam. In a word, I think the British political line here shows (1) a complete failure to understand or care about Australia’s interests, and (2) an outlook and policy which will increase, and not lessen, all the dangers that lie in the inexorable heightening of national consciousness in South East Asia. There is, incidentally, a sharp conflict between the official Dening-Walsh assessment of the Dutch, and the very different assessment of those British officers who have actually to collaborate with the Dutch in various tasks here. The Dening-Walsh enthusiasm is elsewhere notably absent.

The Dutch Policy As I have indicated in my telegrams the Dutch leaders seem to be bewildered and pessimistic. They are full of resentments against the British and of hatred for the Javanese ‘extremists’, which term easily comes to include all Javanese who take an anti-Dutch line, perhaps 90% of the nation. If, in 1942, at a time when the Indonesians were considered friendly and tractable, it was impossible for the Dutch to make an effective military stand in the defence of these Islands, I feel that their future military position, if they are returned here as a sovereign power, without responsibility to the United Nations, will be infinitely worse. If they were reluctant to arm the Indonesians before, how much more reluctant will they be now, when, according to Dutch accounts, the Javanese have learnt so much of the military arts from the Japanese. I believe that the return of the Dutch to full sovereign rights here under the cover of British military strength will produce unlimited trouble.

There is a humanitarian problem not wholly unconnected with the political problem. The plight of the Dutch and Eurasian internees and POW’s is pitiable. The condition of those that have not been rescued is appalling-the constant fear of massacre, the endless waiting for the help that does not come. I believe that the behaviour of the Dutch women during internment is one of the finest and most stirring stories of the triumph of the human spirit over every sort of pain and physical indignity. There are times when I feel there is only one thing that matters, and that is, the immediate rescue and rehabilitation of these people. I think that if Australia could offer temporary asylum to, say, fifty thousand of these people it would be a humanitarian act that would produce valuable political results. It would greatly impress the Dutch and the British and not antagonise the Indonesians. It would show Australia’s intimate concern with what happens here without involving us in military commitments.

The Indonesian Nationalists As an emotional mass movement, nationalism, in the sense of opposition to the restoration of Dutch Sovereignty, is nearly, if not quite universal. This spirit is expressed in the most fanatical form in the Youth Movement, whose members in their general behaviour remind me very much of the Nazi Youth Organisation I knew in Germany in 1938. Sjahrir himself deeply deplores this pre-occupation with national as distinct from class objectives. He wants to lead not a nationalist but a social and economic revolution. He is much influenced by Marx but is a Trotskyist rather than a Stalinist, since he keeps on insisting that what Indonesia can accomplish is limited at every point by the social and economic policies of U.S.A. and Britain. Perhaps it is not important to examine Sjahrir ideology with great care, since I doubt whether he or his ‘cabinet’ exercise any real authority outside Batavia. Indeed, even in this city some of the members of the Soekarno ‘cabinet’ seem to be de facto heads of their departments. I should not be at all surprised if by the time this report reaches you Sjahrir cabinet had been replaced.

I am convinced the Indonesians are not capable of governing or defending Indonesia without continuous guidance and technical advice.

Conclusion If I may venture to express my own view of this situation it is this; that however complicated the situation is in itself, Australia’s interests in it are comparatively simple. We cannot afford to have South-East Asia, and much less the South-West Pacific neatly divided into separate sections, in each of which some European Power enjoys complete sovereignty. For if there is another great war, each European Power will find itself so heavily pressed in Europe that it will be over-committed in the Pacific.

If this was the position four years ago, it will be aggravated in the future. In the Islands Dutch Sovereignty is likely to be precarious, the ill-will between Dutch and Indonesians so bitter and deep-rooted, that the N.E.I. will be a focus of conflict between East and West. And from that focus the infection may spread with menacing speed to many other countries in South-East Asia.

That is why, in my view, collective responsibility and collective action is so urgent here.


[handwritten postscript]

‘My apologies for typing. Fairly clear no stenographer here.’



1 Commander-in-Chief, Allied Land Forces, South East Asia.


[AA : A1838/2, 401/1/2/1]