Wars in Indonesia - 10 Wars in Indonesia That Shaped The Nation

War, as we know, is an instrument of death capable of levelling cities and wiping countries off the face of the Earth. Unfruitful means like these should be the last thing that a nation should resort to. Millions of lives are lost in this despicable act which has no undoing. Inflicting wounds on individuals and the country as a whole, takes years, if not decades, to even show the slightest signs of fading away. 

Over time, various organisations, beneficial as well as harmful to the Republic of Indonesia, have cropped up trying to shape this country and set it onto their desired path. Striving to protect its sovereignty, Indonesia has fiercely fought these entities and guarded its borders onto its dying breath. Whether these wars in Indonesia were fought to retain their freedom or fend themselves against invaders, these have now become a thing of the past and are best remembered as baggage of yesterday’s history.

1. Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949)

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Before the second world war taking place, Indonesia was under the regime of the overly ambitious Dutch, perpetually seeking to establish control and spread their empire far and wide. Adversaries were met with deadly force and taken down in the most fearsome of ways fathomable, capable of evoking the deepest of fears even in their most hated foes. Colonies were ruled over with an iron fist, and any signs of insurgency or mutiny were dealt with severely and extinguished no sooner than the news of their arrival.

The due course of the war had Japan annexe Indonesia while the Dutch’s guard was down, leaving them with no time to respond. Post the war’s end and the Japanese's subsequent retreat in 1945, the Republic of Indonesia was established. Eyeing this opportunity, the Dutch along with its allies, pounced upon this, to ‘claim’ what was rightfully theirs. Several atrocious acts were committed in the name of ‘restoring chaos and order’ against the ‘rebellious’ Indonesians, and severe punishments were handed out along with jingoistic laws being enacted. 

Several talks were held, ceasefires were announced, treaties were signed, all of them - redundant, leading to no concrete solution. Ultimately, when international pressure was mounted, in addition to the financial plug being yanked, the Dutch were sent reeling back and were coaxed to withdraw. Coming across as a significant blow, the constitution was signed, with the Dutch officially vacating the country in 1949.

2. Madiun Affair (1948)

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Free from the clutches of the Dutch, the downfall of the existing government was imminent. The wheels of democracy set into motion once again, various political opinions were staunchly defied and swept aside, resulting in the formation of factions within the new government. Coming together under one umbrella, these factions emerged out as the FDR (Front Demokrasi Rajkat) which made unfazed attempts at rejecting every move of the government’s. Radical reforms such as the downsizing of the army and decommissioning of various departments were met with strikes organised all over the country, culminating into the FDR’s local leaders taking up arms and waging war against the government. 

Seizing control over the city of Madiun to kickstart the chain of events which would assist them in overthrowing the government, the leaders committed several vile blunders in haste. After some days, a handful of these leaders broke away, citing their willingness to reconcile with the government and their split with the FDR’s beliefs. 

However, these claims were dismissed by the government who in full swing intended to capture these terrorists. Swift military action was carried out, and within two weeks, Madiun was regained leading to most of the rebels fleeing from the region. This war in Indonesia ender with over 1500 rebels was arrested, interrogated and subsequently executed.

3. Darul Islam Rebellion (1949-1962)

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The crisis averted, and the shift of power restored, Indonesia didn’t fall short of any such adversities capable of plunging it down to its very beginning. Seeking to establish the Islamic State of Indonesia, a fanatic organisation refused to recognise the Republic of Indonesia. Garnering the support of prominent Indonesians including several army men, a rebellion was led which was quickly defeated by the Indonesian forces. This war in Indonesia was the Darul Islam Rebellion.

Radical elements of various groups joined them too. Having several attempts thwarted, the members resorted to the despicable act of assassinating the then President. However, the plan was foiled, and a crackdown was led to get rid of these extremists by exterminating them. Launched in 1956, the government conducted several lethal strikes and had them executed. Suffering from the lack of leaders, this extremist organisation collapsed and was eventually declared inoperative by 1965. 

4. APRA coup d'etat (1950)

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Despite the withdrawal of the Dutch, many supporters sympathized with them and hailed them as their founding forefathers. Raymond Westerling, the brains behind orchestrating this failed coup, sought to overthrow the government by destabilising it. Named the ‘Legion of Ratu Adil’ (APRA), this sinister organisation commanded a force of over 2,000 men. Looking forward to restoring Indonesia to its former glory, Raymond intended to gain control of the government by employing radical means. Issuing an ultimatum to the administration of Jakarta, he had several ridiculous demands which were neglected by the former. Furious over the dismissal of his claims, he launched an attack on Jakarta. 

Striking significant strongholds in the city, he took over military bases, police stations, government buildings and communication facilities. However, the plan having several flaws, coupled with the delay in the arrival of the ammunition trucks led to it being aborted, with the troops retreating from Jakarta and surrounding areas. The botched coup, in addition to the trail of clues, led to several vital conspirators being captured and subsequently executed. Raymond, on the other hand, fled to Singapore with the assistance of the Dutch government and remained in exile for the rest of his existence.

5. Invasion of Ambon (1950)

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This war in Indonesia started by the dutch being reluctant about handing over the reins of its freedom to Indonesia and left several islands scattered sans the sovereignty of a nation. Contemplating over their fate and mulling over their choices, a majority of them chose to become a part of Indonesia while some, like Ambon, declared themselves as an independent island country. The declaration was not recognised internationally as the island was still inhabited by the Dutch troops stationed there. In a bid to reclaim what was rightfully theirs, Indonesia led an attack on Ambon. 

Inexperienced, their soldiers couldn’t keep up with the guerilla tactics employed by the Dutch troops, but somehow managed to conquer the island and claim their victory. The aftermath resulted in the Indonesians incurring heavy casualties and loss to life. Eventually, Ambon was integrated with the Republic and whatever remained of the Dutch troops was taken care of. While most of them were disbanded and transported back to the Netherlands, the indigenous ones were permitted to live in Indonesia.

6. Operation Trikora (1961-1962)

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Post-independence, current parts of Indonesia were still under the rule of the Dutch. As a young country blazing its path towards success, Indonesia had numerous agendas, many of which can be either termed as illegitimate or unfair. One such was the annexation of New Guinea. Believed that New Guinea was an integral part of Indonesia, arguments rose from either side laying claims over the ethnicity, and geographical aspects of the people present there. Several talks were held, which yielded no conclusion. Seeking military aid, both parties approached various countries. While the USSR backed Indonesia, the Dutch failed to garner any support and was met with only closed doors. Codenamed ‘Operation Trikore’, Indonesia vested in all its efforts into reclaiming New Guinea. 

While the latter was prepping for a full-fledged assault, the Dutch were taking adequate measures and steps, to help New Guinea establish itself as a country. Unable to muster support, the Dutch solely put up a fierce fight but were outnumbered in terms of the frigates, submarines and bombers threatening its borders. Paratrooper commandos swept in, and the waters were patrolled continuously by the former. Eventually, Netherlands gave into Indonesia’s resolve and reluctantly handed over New Guinea to it, through an interim committee formed by the United Nations which overlooked the operations and supervised the transfer.

7. Brunei revolt (1962)

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Formerly a British territory, Brunei housed people of various ethnicities and was ruled over by the Sultan. Sharing borders with Indonesia, this colony was destined to gain independence in the coming few years, with the British relishing the control of its territories worldwide. However, their withdrawal led to them suggesting Brunei to become a part of the Malaysian federation, while retaining its autonomous status. Convinced that Brunei would enjoy its position and standing in the league, the Sultan agreed. This is often said to be the first event which acted as a cog in the machinery leading to the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. Opposed by Indonesia, a proposal of Brunei merging with Malaysia and Singapore was set forward. Blatantly rejected by Indonesia, the ramifications of this proposal were unprecedented and are still a source of tension between the two nations. 

With no signs of Brunei walking away from the inception of this federation, a rebellion broke out. Major government establishments were targeted, citizens were assaulted, and highway robberies were committed. However, swift action from the paramilitary forces, army regiments and naval vessels led to the capture of rebels who were subsequently detained and executed. All this uproar led to the Sultan disapproving of the federation and establishing his own country, Brunei.

8. Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation (1963-1966)

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Agonised over the approach of Malaysia to integrate and take over a part of their supposed territory - Brunei, this feud took a turn for the worst. Stemming from the Indonesian belief of merging and becoming a global power, no attempt at hiding their reluctance was made.  The Brunei revolt served as setting fire to this issue and blazed its way through the world of politics, sending shockwaves across the international community. The British upheld their decision to liberate Malaysia and Brunei and intended to assist them in the federation’s inception. 

With no heed being paid to their demands, Indonesian squadrons were deployed, infiltrations into base camps were made, air raids were conducted, and naval vessels were sent over to the Malaysian peninsula to respond with deadly force. Fanning the flames, the British, along with their allies, launched an offensive of the highest degree. Ingenious tactics used, and various strategies were put into motion to unseat the then ruler. Feeling the heat, hasty decisions were taken, and in a bizarre turn of events, the then President stepped down following a coup backed by the West. His successor bearing a pro-west attitude served to diffuse the tensions between the two nations and set them at ease.

9. Invasion of East Timor (1975-1976)

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Codenamed Operation Lotus, this covert mission was carried out under the orders of the topmost officials of the Indonesian government. Following the withdrawal of the Portuguese from East Timor, local parties rapidly sprang up to claim power and declared themselves as a newly independent country. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity to annex East Timor, military operations were carried out in arms with the West. Artillery and firepower, along with advanced weaponry were procured from the West. All the stages of the plan set into action, the invasion was carried out. 

Paratroopers are descending from the sky, frigates and submarines patrolling the East Timor sea, advancing warships led to East Timor becoming a battleground set ablaze fueled by the passion of Indonesians to capture it. Ingenious guerilla tactics used served to flush out the enemies or had them retreat into the mountainous regions. Bombings served to obliterate villages, with survivors being shot at sight. Ensuing for more than two decades, this conflict ended with the independence of East Timor with the aid of the United Nations in 2002. 

10. Other Wars in Indonesia (1980-Present)

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While these wars have had a significant impact on the trajectory of Indonesia’s course to establish itself as a superpower, they have proved instrumental in shaping the country into what it is today. With time flying by, Indonesia turned out to be that country standing beside another one in need. Becoming an honorary member of the United Nations and various other world organisations, was a notable feat achieved by Indonesia which led to it participating in several human rehabilitation programs around the world. Several Indonesian soldiers drafted into the United Nations peacekeepers and the Unified taskforce, were sent to ground zero or deployed to war-torn areas. Many of these war zones were due to the Somali civil war, Bosnia civil war, Congo crisis and the Horn of Africa war, to name a few.

Existing War Memorials in Indonesia 

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A number of war cemeteries have been built to commemorate the sacrifice of the Indonesian soldiers who laid their lives in the Indonesian War of Independence. Also serving as burial grounds for soldiers of various ethnicities martyred in World War 2, several cemeteries in and around, on multiple islands were built to honour them. Each of these cemeteries has a small memorial installed to pay respect to the soldiers whose bodies couldn’t be recovered. No stone was left unturned in ensuring the generosity of these graveyards, and the land was donated time and again to add several more soldiers. The cemeteries are listed as follows:
  • Jakarta war cemetery
  • Tantoey war cemetery
  • Lamaru Japanese cemetery
  • Kalibanteng Dutch cemetery
With this ends another chapter in the bloody conquests a.k.a the wars in Indonesia. Adversaries vanquished, Indonesia has victoriously stepped into an era devoid of bloodshed and conflict. Seeking to build a better and brighter future for itself, Indonesia strives to work towards these goals, achieve them and make the world a better place to live in.

This post was published by Sufiyan

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