Ball to Dunk

Memorandum (extracts) CANBERRA, 17 December 1945


The purpose of this report is to sum up the N.E.I. situation as I see it. I must emphasise ‘as I see it’, because while I realise you want facts, and not opinions, hard facts were extremely difficult to come by in Java, and it is only by adding to these a generous measure of interpretation and reference that it is possible to form a coherent picture.

The Basic Issues There are three main issues in N.E.I.:-

1. The Military Aim. SACSEA has reiterated that its only military aim is to collect, disarm and remove the Japanese.

2. The Humanitarian Aim. The object here is to rescue, succour, and rehabilitate the internees and P.O.W.s.

3. The Political Aim. It has often been officially stated that SACSEA has no political aims; that its activities are exclusively concerned with (1) and (2). This statement is sometimes qualified by the statement that SACSEA must attempt to establish the measure of law and order that is the necessary condition of any satisfactory political agreement between the Dutch and Indonesians.

The Indonesian leaders refuse to accept the SACSEA view that the political issue can be separated from the military and humanitarian objectives. They do not believe that British policy is free of political bias between Dutch and Indonesians. There are two main reasons for this Indonesian resentment against British conduct.

(1) They claim that the U.K. Government has already prejudged the issue by its recognition of Dutch sovereignty, and that British spokesmen have repeatedly displayed strong pro-Dutch sympathies.

At the Conference between Dutch and Indonesians, at which General Christison presided Mr. Dening frankly expressed his view that Van Mook’s proposals were good and generous. Mr. Sjahrir had already made it quite clear that these proposals were quite unacceptable to the Indonesians.

(2) The Indonesians point out that every one of General Christison’s military acts has unavoidable political consequences.

In disarming Indonesians General Christison’s only motive may be to protect internees against mob violence. But it is the consequences and not the intention that interests the Nationalist leaders. To disarm all Indonesians and at the same time to introduce armed Dutch forces is, in the Indonesian view, simply a way of restoring Dutch domination by British military force under cover of purely military and humanitarian intentions.

I believe that these Indonesian arguments are unanswerable. No real division can be made between the military, humanitarian and political issues.

British Policy I gained the firm impression that there was a sharp difference between the viewpoints of General Christison and his political advisers, Mr. Dening and Mr. Walsh.

General Christison feels that the military forces at his disposal are inadequate even for the limited task of rescuing and protecting the internees; and hopelessly inadequate for the larger task, if it should be assigned to him, of imposing law and order throughout Java. For such a project Lord Louis has stated that he would need six divisions with full modern air support. While the forces in Java are now being increased by one Indian Brigade from Thailand, this is a small and temporary increase. The U.K.

Government has instructed SACSEA that all Indian troops must be withdrawn from N.E.I. by the middle of March when the new Congress is expected to meet. These Indian troops make up the greater part of Christison’s forces, and there is no prospect of replacing them by British troops.

A number of Dutch troops are available but SACSEA is trying to postpone their entry to Java for fear that this will provoke fresh outbreak of Indonesian violence and greatly increase the military difficulties. Lord Louis asked me directly on Dec. 4-‘The Dutch are pressing me to let their troops into Java now, do you think I should?’ I said I thought it would be a disaster. He replied that that was precisely his own view.

Moreover the Dutch forces available are so deficient in organisation, equipment, transport and supply services that from a purely military viewpoint their usefulness would be limited.

General Christison often repeated two things to me:-

(1) ‘The use of military force cannot solve this problem,’ (2) ‘The solution can only come by United Nations intervention.’ Christison is acutely aware of the restless impatience of his British troops who, after six years of grim campaigning, find that the end of the war instead of taking them home, takes them to someone else’s country where they are exposed to sniper’s bullets.

He also recognises that the Indonesians are steadily extending to the British the hostility they feel against the Dutch. He feels he has been given a hopeless and thankless task. He takes a very poor view of the judgment and the efficiency of the Dutch forces under his command.

My personal belief is that Christison is a very honest, very able man, liberal-minded, and with a sensitive understanding of the basic problems in human relationships that he has to deal with. He is also fully alive to Australia’s interests in this area, and wholly sympathetic with the Australian point of view. I am glad to be able to report that I feel I gained his full confidence and that he was eager to help me in every possible way.

I found Mr. Dening and Mr. Walsh taking a different attitude. Mr.

Dening seemed very anxious to impress me with the wisdom of the Foreign Office, based on so long an experience in handling the ‘Eastern Mind’ and the great advantages to Australia of the restoration of Dutch rule in N.E.I.; and the shallow ephemeral nature of the Nationalist Movement, and with the liberality of Van Mook’s policy.

Mr. Dening was eagerly, if not ably, supported by Mr. Walsh. Mr.

Walsh was much less polished and discreet than Mr. Dening. For example, I have heard him say that he must persuade Christison to obliterate the ‘dreadful and provocative’ slogans scrawled by the ‘natives’ on the hoardings. These slogans were mainly, if not wholly, excerpts from Lincoln’s speeches. The Indonesians had no doubt selected them in the belief that American troops would be coming to Java.

[matter omitted]

Dutch Policy I believe that before this war the Dutch had achieved a high standard of administrative efficiency in N.E.I., and that their colonial policy, by any comparative test, was progressive and liberal. This made it hard for me to accept the evidence I found in Batavia of their present incapacity. But the evidence is overwhelming. The Dutch leaders in N.E.I.-such men as Van Mook, Van Oyen [1] and Helfrich-appear to be baffled, nervous and over- wrought. Apparently, the strain and anxiety of these last years and the shock of finding the situation in Java today so different from what they had expected, has thrown them off balance. I think it would be safe to say that most of the leading Dutch officers and administration in Java display a muddling ineptitude in almost every enterprise they undertake. This is not only a personal view.

It represents the view of the Supreme Commander and General Christison. Christison once told me that when he checked the Dutch military intelligence reports he found that nine out of ten were misleading or false.

Their Dutch remedy is force, and still more force, to teach the ‘natives’ a lesson.

[matter omitted]

The Indonesian Policy Soekarno and Hatta are in eclipse, and I would expect this to be permanent. Sjarifuddin, the Minister for Information and Internal Security, is the only member of the Soekarno Cabinet to be given a place in the Sjahrir Cabinet. All members of the Sjahrir Cabinet have good records of resistance to the Japanese, whereas most of the Soekarno Ministers were said to be ‘collaborationists’.

At the Indonesian National Convention (the Provisional Parliament) on November 25th, Sjahrir secured a vote of confidence from a House of approximately 150 members and only eight dissented. These dissentents were all former members of the Soekarno Cabinet.

Nevertheless Soekarno later assured me that he and his friends would give full support to Sjahrir.

This vote does not, of course, give a reliable indication of Sjahrir’s effective power. There is some evidence that the Convention was partly ‘stacked’. Sjahrir himself admits that he has little influence over many of the local Nationalist leaders.

The Nationalist feeling finds its most fanatical expression in the Youth Movement, and it is doubtful whether Sjahrir has much control over these violent young men who are intoxicated by the possession of arms from the Japanese. These young men provide the terrorists.

I think it is certain that even if Sjahrir’s government were to win widespread political support, it would still lack the technical and administrative competence to govern Indonesia without European assistance and advice. Sjahrir admits this. He wants advisers and technical assistants, not rulers.

A good deal can be made of the part played by the Japanese in stimulating Indonesian nationalism and leading the Youth along fascist lines. In my view, the Japanese influence may explain the form of Indonesian nationalism; but it does not at all explain its driving force. Nationalism, in the form of a deep emotional resentment against the restoration of Dutch rule, is nearly universal. This means that the real problem is not whether the Indonesians can govern themselves but whether they will allow the Dutch to govern them.

Conclusion It seems to me that events in N.E.I. are likely to take one of two courses.

(1) During the next few weeks a political agreement may be reached between ‘new men from the Hague’ and the Sjahrir Government. While this would not mean the end of disorders it would very greatly improve the military and political situation. It would mean that SEAC’s military operations would be directed against isolated bands of terrorists, and not against a political movement. It would afford Sjahrir the kind of moral and military support necessary to enable him to extend his authority.

(2) If there is no political settlement, SEAC will concentrate its forces within one or two restricted perimeters in Java, probably to a single area in West Java, that would take in Batavia, Buitenzorg, and Bandoeng. Within these areas the attempt would be made gradually to replace British by Dutch forces.

These areas would be made ‘model administrations’ and foodstuffs and supplies would be brought from abroad. It is hoped that the successful re-establishment of Dutch rule within these perimeters would make them bridgeheads from which Dutch authority could be extended gradually throughout the island. Since there is likely to be some famine in the rest of Java, the Dutch would be able to use the foodstuffs they import as a kind of economic sanction against rebellious Indonesians.

If I may venture to put my personal view on the part Australia might play, it is this. For the present, that is for say the next six weeks we should hold our hand, simply indicating to the U.K.

our view that the introduction of Dutch troops should be delayed until reasonable hope of a political settlement has passed, and advising the U.K. of our support of any efforts made by SACSEA to bring the Dutch and Indonesians together. I think, on the other hand, that we should make it clear to the U.K. that we dissociate ourselves from any British ‘mediation’ which shows bias in favour of the Dutch attitude as expressed up to November 5th. The British should try to facilitate, not to enforce a settlement. This policy would be built on the hope that an agreement between Dutch and Indonesians is still possible.

If there is no settlement, then the ‘perimeter’ policy appears to me to be a hopeless one. I feel certain that the Dutch would not be able to establish even limited perimeters without continued and substantial British military support. Meanwhile, the nationalist resentment would grow in strength and we would be faced with the prospect of a long civil war in Java. The U.K. would be inextricably committed to the Dutch, and Java would become a focus of nationalist revolt, from which the contagion would spread rapidly to many other areas in South-East Asia. In these circumstances, I believe that United Nations action would become inevitable. I therefore believe that if and when the hope of a Dutch-Indonesian settlement is destroyed immediate steps should be taken to treat N.E.I. as a problem that belongs to the United Nations, and not simply to the Netherlands and U.K.

While I recognise our very vital interests in the area, I cannot see that Australia could hope to succeed in any independent initiative. First, because Australia cannot mediate unless she is accepted as mediator by both parties, and we would have little chance of acceptance by the Dutch. Second, because even if the Dutch did accept us, for fear that worse might befall them, this would imply some obligations to back our political intervention with military force. If the impressions I gained on my flying visits to Morotai and Borneo are correct, then any Australian Government which sought to transfer our troops to Java instead of bringing them home would be faced with a major domestic crisis. I think it useless for us to give advice to Dutch or Indonesians unless we are prepared to support our words with deeds. That is why I feel that if Australia is to participate directly in the Java crisis we should do so, not as an independent nation, but as a member of the United Nations, which is specially concerned with an area of such strategic and political importance for our own future.



1 Commanding General, Royal Netherlands Indies Army.


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