The Collapse of a Colonial Society: The Dutch in Indonesia during the Second World War (review)
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Book Reviews115 The Collapse ofa Colonial Society: The Dutch in Indonesia during the Second World War. By L. De Jong. Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Tall-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol. 206. Leiden: KILTV, 2002. xi, 570 pp. The Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia is a highly sensitive and controversial subject as shown by the outbursts ofanger by one country or another at the slightest indication of lack of remorse on the part of Japan about its conduct during the SecondWorldWar. Louis deJong's book provides a detailed account ofthe experience ofEuropean (mostly Dutch and Eurasian) inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies, a subject which has received little attention in the literature focused on Indonesia's struggle for freedom during and after the Japanese occupation. This book is a small part ofa larger work dealing with the German occupation ofThe Netherlands, an enterprise that kept the author busy for many years. De Jong was criticized by scholars and laymen alike for his anti-colonial bias when the first part of his study, which dealt with the Indies during the war, appeared twenty years ago. The second part ofthe study on the Indies, which appeared a year later, fared better because it was a sympathetic chronicle ofthe misfortune of Europeans in the hands of the Japanese during the war. This book, which deals with the experience ofthe Dutch and Eurasian population ofthe Indies during the war, is based on the original work in Dutch. The conventional and revisionist historical discourse on Indonesian independence struggle in the 1930s and 1940s is usually focused on the way in which the Japanese occupation aided the struggle and paid very little attention to the fate of former colonial masters who were marginalized, isolated, interned, and reduced to poverty. DeJong's study takes this group ofpeople — who were divided into several categories reflecting the hard divisions in colonial society but brought together in misfortune — to the centre stage of historical discourse. The book presents their experience at length as they recalled it during and after the war. De Jong has made no effort to write a balanced and dispassionate account ofhis subject on the basis ofall relevant evidence at his disposal. Writing a chronicle of the Japanese occupation of the 116Book Reviews Indies on the basis ofa large amount oforal evidence ofthe Dutch and Eurasian people is a daunting task as attested by the length ofDeJong's study. The author was understandably unwilling to contemplate a careful study ofother sources at the end ofa long and laborious research project. It is pethaps reasonable to use only the evidence ofvictims to tell their experience, butwe have to admit that all evidence should be treated with caution and carefully weighed, especially when dealing with a subject that is still somewhat difficult to consider in a dispassionate manner. The evidence reflecting harsh opinions about the allegedly callously indifferent attitude of Indonesians and uncivilized actions of theJapanese perhaps say more about the state ofmind of witnesses than the actual situation everywhere in occupied country. One cannot deny such deplorable action by Indonesians andJapanese by all accounts, but we also need to consider the humane conduct of many Japanese and Indonesians in any balanced view of the situation. It is also striking indeed that most Dutch men and women who now ctiticized Indonesians for kowtowing to the Japanese and ignoring the plight of the Dutch hatdly gave a thought to their own conduct towards Indonesians before the occupation. The evidence ofEuropean victims ofJapanese occupation is partial towards the Dutch themselves and needs to be carefully weighed before drawing any conclusion. De Jong presents his evidence without any personal commitment, showing his awareness ofthe problematic nature ofhis evidence. He is sympathetic towaids his subject, needless to say, but draws the reader's attention to a somewhat one-sided nature of his narrative. It is a measure of success that the reader finds himselfin sympathy with the plight ofEuropeans during theJapanese occupation while recognizing the less congenial side of Dutch colonial rule. De Jong begins his narrative with an account ofthe 'elimination" of the Dutch power in the Indies, a graphic account ofthe way in which the Dutch rulers were caught by surprise...