In 2016, over seventy years after the end of the war of decolonisation, Prime Minister Rutte’s government decided to make funding available for academic research into that conflict. In light of the intervening decades, it is fair to say that it took a long time for the funding to be made available. The same applies with respect to the realisation on the part of Dutch society that force that was in contravention of international conventions already in effect at the time was regularly used in that war. While reports of that force also circulated in the Netherlands in the years 1945-1949, from 1950, a silence set in in the public domain, one that was only temporarily broken in 1969 by the testimony of veteran Joop Hueting. Following the publication of a report on excesses (Excessennota), a work triggered by Hueting’s statements, the silence returned.
The delayed and intermittent way in which the painful sides of that war were ingested and passed on is visible in several areas. It was not until the 1970s and ‘80s, for example, that a few historical works on the war were published, and the Dutch government only started devoting serious attention to the needs of veterans of the war at the end of the 1980s. The monument for the 6,000 soldiers who died in Indonesia and New Guinea was unveiled in 1988. Furthermore, for a long time, the events of 1945-1950 remained problematic in the teaching of history. A 2017 study found that there is as yet no scope in the texts of teaching materials for the Indonesian perspective and the extreme force used.
In short, it is striking that until 1969 so momentous a war in both the colonial history of the Netherlands and the history of Indonesia was given virtually no place in the collective memory and national historiography of the Netherlands. The aim of this substudy into the war of decolonisation’s aftermath is to ascertain how the process of becoming aware of and processing the extreme force used occurred and why this process progressed so slowly in many areas.
The postulation of this substudy is that leading Dutch individuals in different sectors of relevance in terms of historical awareness often ignored or concealed this painful history of extreme force, or otherwise impeded or discouraged research into the period, or even, in a few cases, helped to keep it a secret. This postulation will be studied and assessed. In this context, efforts will be made to identify the motives of the key players. The slow and intermittent way in which awareness of the war of decolonisation developed will also be described.
The principal focus of this substudy is on how the establishment of the facts regarding the war of 1945-1949 in Indonesia and the use of excessive force in that war were handled in different sections/sectors of Dutch society, and on how the remembrance and commemoration culture regarding that war developed.
The scope of this substudy includes questions about the key actors (spokespersons or representatives) within sections/sectors and institutes, their points of view and their influence in terms of the availability of sources and the initiating or otherwise of a societal and/or academic debate about this part of the Netherlands’ postcolonial history. Regarding the key sectors and their actors/representatives, this substudy is focusing on the political establishment (members of government and members of parliament), the armed forces (military personnel and veterans), historians, journalists and other participants in the public debate (including writers and museum directors), the ‘Dutch East Indies’ and Moluccan communities, the missionary community and the education sector (teachers).
Research is being conducted into what each of these sections of Dutch society did, or possibly omitted to do, in order to generate a public discussion on the facts about the war, particularly those concerning extreme force.
The Netherlands was not exceptional in terms of delayed processing and the tendency to avoid uncomfortable facts. Comparisons will therefore be made with postcolonial processing in other countries, particularly France and Great Britain. The interplay between the processing of the war and the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Indonesia will also be discussed.
This project is carried out by: Meindert van der Kaaij