Heroes Day: The battle after the battle

Published: Jakarta Post, Sun, November 10 2013, 11:35 AM 

A war reenactment held by Roode Brug Soerabaia - Courtesy of Andhika Estiyono

History shows that truth is always the first victim in war.
It has been 68 years since the great Battle of Surabaya on Nov. 10, 1945, a date known as National Heroes Day every year, but controversy remains.

It is widely believed the battle was triggered by the murder of British commander Brig. Gen. A.W.S. Mallaby in an incident in Surabaya on Oct. 30, 1945 — giving the Allied troops reason to set an ultimatum for the Surabayan people to surrender their arms. The threat forced the newly independent nation’s freedom fighters to launch a “freedom or death” battle.

Decades later, on Nov. 9, 1999, chairman of the Committee of Dutch Honorary Debts (KUKB), Batara Hutagalung, and the Surabaya battle veterans established the Committee of the November 1945 Surabaya Bombing Victims Human Rights Defenders (KPHARS).

A day later, they staged a protest in front of the British Embassy and sent a letter to then UK prime minister Tony Blair, demanding his government take responsibility for the Surabaya bombings during the battle.

The bombings were believed to have caused the death of some 20,000 Indonesians — mostly civilians, including women and children, the evacuation of some 150,000 people and the destruction in parts of south Surabaya.

“Mallaby’s case was not the cause of the war, but Britain had a hidden agenda to help [its] Dutch [ally] regain control over its former colony with military force, based on the Civil Affairs Agreement in Chequers, London, on Aug. 24, 1945,” said Batara.

Former deputy commander of the East Java military police, Suhario K. Padmodiwirjo, recalled that at that time, when Mallaby and his army arrived, they received a telegram from Jakarta to let Allied forces take care of the prisoners of war.

“We agreed to obey the order but what they did later was suspicious. We found out that the dropped food packages for the Dutch internees often contained weapons,” he said.

He said the Surabaya battle could not be seen as an independent occasion, but it related to the proclamation of the country’s independence on Aug. 17, 1945

“At that time, we had nothing. We didn’t have military support in Jakarta or even weapons to defend ourselves. The power of our government was being underestimated. That was why the Dutch were not afraid to raise their flag at the Oranje hotel, which led to a bloody incident in Surabaya,” Suhario said.

Batara said that on Oct. 27, 2000, the committee worked together with the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas) to organize a seminar, titled “The Battle of Surabaya November 1945: Background and consequences”.

The meeting between KUKB Jakarta and the Dutch Parliament on Oct. 9. (Courtesy of Batara Hutagalung)
 In his book, titled 10 November ‘45, Mengapa Inggris Membom Surabaya? (10 November ‘45, Why Did Britain Bomb Surabaya?), Batara mentioned during the seminar that British ambassador Richard Gozney, on behalf of the people of Britain, conveyed deep sympathy for the incident.

The ambassador, he said, explained that during war time, Britain had tried to help the Dutch regain control of its colony and had asked people not to judge the past from a present point of view.

In his book, Batara also expressed two main reasons why Britain, which did not hold colonial authority over Indonesia, had launched the invasion.

First, there were psychological and emotional reasons at play, since Britain was victorious in World War II. Second, the British were bound by a treaty with the Dutch stemming from the conference at Yalta on Feb. 11, 1945, and the Potsdam Declaration, which took place on July 26, 1945.
The objectives of the treaty were “to reestablish civilian rule, and return the colony to Dutch administration”, as well as “to maintain the status quo, which existed before the Japanese invasion”.
They can be found in a letter dated Sept. 2, 1945, by the Allied Forces’ Supreme Commander Southeast Asia Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten.
British assistance was also in line with the Civil Affairs Agreement between the Dutch and Britain in Chequers, Britain, on Aug. 24, 1945.

Although the KPHARS was dissolved and the November ’45 Friendship Foundation was set up in its place, Batara said the struggle for justice for the Surabaya bombing victims was not over yet, as they planned to take the next step to the Dutch government.

A thousand flowers are placed to honor the victims during the “Bersiap” in the Indonesian revolution period (Courtesy of Prima Kirti, Roode Brug Soerabaia)                                                                                                                            
“Until now, the Dutch Government still does not give de jure recognition to our country’s independence proclamation on Aug. 17, 1945. It means that all aggression taking place between 1945 and 1949, including the Surabaya bombing, would be justified as a ‘police action’ in order to maintain ‘domestic security’,” Batara said.

“Our freedom fighters, who sacrificed their lives in the war, are branded as extremists and criminals armed by Japanese. It’s a serious insult to the honor of our nation.”

Despite its controversy, the Battle of Surabaya has left a precious legacy of heroism.

Deputy chairman of the November ’45 Friendship Foundation, Bambang Sulistomo, was inspired by his late father Soetomo — one of the battle’s iconic heroes who is well-known for his “Freedom or Die” speech. Soetomo, popularly known as Bung Tomo, was named a national hero in 2008, 27 years after his death in the Holy Land of Mecca.

“I’m very proud because my father was consistent with his struggle for Indonesia,” he says. “He always told me to keep dignity and show a good example as an Indonesian fighter’s son.”

Historian Soekotjo Tjokroatmodjo, who is vice chairman of the Indonesian Veterans Legion (LVRI), urged young Indonesians to find the spirit of heroism within.

“You don’t have to fight in the war to become a hero. But when you dedicate all your talent, effort and hard work for this nation, you are the real hero,” he says.

“I admired Ismail Marzuki, who created hundreds of songs to show the love for his nation.”

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