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  • Japan's Occupation of Java in the Second World War: A Transnational History by Ethan Mark
  • Shigeru Sato (bio)
Japan's Occupation of Java in the Second World War: A Transnational History. By Ethan Mark. Bloomsbury, London, 2018. xiv, 386 pages. $122.00, cloth; $39.95, paper; $35.95, E-book.

The Japanese Imperial Army and Navy occupied most of Southeast Asia during World War II. Ethan Mark focuses on Indonesia's relatively small island, Java, which constitutes a mere three per cent of Southeast Asia's land area but was home to more than one-third of its wartime population. In the history of Indonesia, the Japanese occupation was a profoundly significant [End Page 199] event, as it marked the end of Dutch colonialism and provided opportunities for Indonesian nationalists and youth activists to prepare for the National Revolution that followed Japan's surrender. Not so long after the Indonesian Revolution, prominent historians at U.S. universities, such as George Kahin, Harry Benda, and Benedict Anderson, studied the events of the period under the broad theme of "from colonialism to independence." Japan's right-wing ideologues made use of these classical academic works to support their argument that the Japanese invasion of Southeast Asia had been a righteous war that liberated Asian nations from Western colonial oppression. Mark, hailing from the United States but working now for Lei-den University in the Netherlands, has revisited the period, taking a close look at the words and deeds of Japanese, Indonesian, and Dutch individuals during the event.

Southeast Asia is a complex region now consisting of 11 countries, each of which is multiethnic and multilingual. Before the Japanese invasion, the region consisted of U.S., French, British, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies plus Thailand, which remained independent. Historical materials written in multiple languages are held in multiple archives spread worldwide, making scholarly research into this crucial period difficult. Mark is unusual, however, in being fully competent in spoken and written Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch, and English, and having a comprehensive knowledge of the histories of Japan, Indonesia, and the Netherlands. He uses a range of published and unpublished written and oral sources that he obtained in Japan, Java, the Netherlands, and the United States and for this reason alone, this book is a unique achievement, an exemplary work.

The book's title suggests that it is about a historical event. It is, however, more about the ideas the participants had about the event in which they took part. Mark focuses on Japan's "Greater Asianism" and Indonesian nation builders' intellectual reactions to it. Many of the Japanese participants he examines were members of the propaganda squad attached to the Sixteenth Army that occupied Java. The propaganda staff consisted of a few military men plus a dozen or so bunkajin (men of culture) including fiction writers, a poet, a musician, cartoonists, a literary critic, a filmmaker, a philosopher, and a geographer. The Indonesians Mark pays attention to were mostly senior nationalists such as Sukarno (who declared the independence of Indonesia two days after Japan's surrender and became the first president of Indonesia) and Mohammad Hatta (the first vice-president of Indonesia) and some radicalized young nationalists known as pemuda. Mark scrutinizes the words and deeds of these people, using contemporary newspapers, magazines, diaries, archival materials, memoirs, interview records, and personal interviews. Throughout the book, he also cites Dutch radio broadcaster L. F. Jansen's published diary, although it is omitted from his bibliography. This book contains some such minor technical flaws. [End Page 200]

As the book's subtitle suggests, Mark pays almost equal attention to the Japanese and the Indonesian participants. I would argue, however, that there were great differences in terms of the importance, or significance, between the ideas the Japanese propagandists expressed and the ideas the Indonesian nation builders expressed. At the beginning of his introduction, Mark places an epigraph taken from Indonesian literary critic H. B. Jassin's book published in 1948. Jassin stated that the ideas in Japanese propaganda such as "co-prosperity" and "Asia for Asians" captured many young Indonesians' souls but such slogans "later turned out nothing more than beautiful balloons, each bigger and...


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