The Dutch East Indies, Racism, and World War II
March 12, 2009
by William P. Meyers

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You usually don't hear much about the Dutch East Indies during World War II. There is a good reason for that, and it is not that the fighting in the Dutch East Indies was particularly significant or insignificant.

The Dutch East Indies serves as a litmus test. On the one side you had the U.S. claim that it was an entirely innocent nation fighting against the evil, undemocratic, imperialistic, militaristic, godless Buddha-worshipping transgressors, the Japanese.

On the other hand you have the claim by the Japanese that they were not conquering Asia but liberating it from centuries of domination and exploitation by European nations and the United States of America. This is a claim of which most Americans today are unaware. It was not well advertised to Americans during World War II, either, except to the GIs in the Pacific Theater who heard the likes of Tokyo Rose. After World War II a large number of Japanese were hung for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A puppet government was installed by the U.S. in Japan, then enlisted to join the U.S. in its Cold War against the communist and socialist movements. No scholar who was willing to examine Japanese war time claims objectively could keep a job in academia in either country.

Things have cooled off a bit, over six decades after Pearl Harbor and the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It should be possible to get a bit of objectivity on the subject, even in the United States of America.

I ask, does the situation of the Dutch East Indies, before, during, and after World War II support either the Japanese claims, or the American claims?

Japan can certainly claim that it was at peace with the world in the 1850's brought American war ships to its harbors, eventually ushering in an era of modernization, militarization, and westernization [See The U.S. Bullies Japan in the 1850's]. It can claim (dubiously) that its attack on China was by invitation from prominent nationalist Chinese who wanted to liberate China from Western domination, and in particular from the incompetent rule of U.S. puppet Chiang Kai Shek [See Notes from Chiang Kai-Shek by Hollington K. Tong] Certainly the French held Indochina in slavery until the Japanese arrived. Certainly the U.S. had committed genocide in the Philippines and still held the islands as a colony when Japan invaded them shortly after Pearl Harbor.

But the U.S. war propaganda may have had some substance to it. The Philippines were allowed a quasi-independent status after World War II. Truman did not accede to General MacArthur's demand to drop a-bombs on Communist China. Maybe the Japanese "liberation of Asia" was no different than Hitler installing General Petain in France or the U.S. installing any of a number of dictators in Latin American nations over the centuries.

As you might have guessed, the Dutch East Indies was a Dutch colony, or colony of the Netherlands (aka Holland). Its colonization began through trading activities of the Dutch East India Company in the 1600's. In 1800, when the company went bankrupt, it formally became a colonial empire of vast extent claimed by government of the Netherlands. Its many islands and independent tribes and principalities were brought under firmer Dutch control in the 1800s. Throughout this period and into the 19th century there were numerous rebellions against the Netherlands. [See also Dutch East Indies]

When the Japanese invaded in 1942 they dismantled the colonial government. Although Japanese occupied the top of the new government, natives filled most of the positions. For the most part the United States and its allies did not contest these islands during the war, so the Japanese and natives were still in possession when Japan surrendered. [See also Japanese Occupation of Indonesia]

The Indonesians, as they are now referred to, were ready to set up an independent government. If the U.S. was fighting Japan for good reasons, it would insisted that a native, democratic government to be set up in Indonesia.

Instead The Netherlands was allowed to use military force to try to re-establish its colony. The United States gave no aid to the Indonesian independence fighters. After three years of fighting, in 1949 The Netherlands conceded defeat and recognized the independence of Indonesia. This was one of the earliest successful fights for independence in Asia.

If the Japanese had not crushed the Netherlands' military in Indonesia, it is likely that the struggle for independence would have taken much longer. Even to the extent that the Japanese gloss of Pan Asian independence was a cover for Japanese nationalism, it still had the long term effect of liberating the nations of Asia.

The U.S. role in World War II in Asia, in contrast, was motivated only by commercial greed, imperialist pretensions, and racism. The Dutch East Indies litmus test tends to support the thesis that the U.S. went to war with Japan to protect the Euro-American colonialization project in Asia.

Weeks before Pearl Harbor the U.S. had given Japan an ultimatum amounting to an unofficial declaration of war. The U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor was intended to invade Asia and provide for another century of white racist exploitation of the nations of Asia. The destruction of that fleet by the Japanese Navy was a legitimate act of defense that targeted military installations. In contrast, the U.S. fire bombings of Japanese cities, followed by the annihilation of the civilians of Hiroshima nd Nagasaki, were war crimes and crimes against humanity of the highest order.

This does not excuse the bad behavior of the Japanese military establishment before and during World War II. But as an American, my primary aim is to correct American behavior. We have to admit to our government's war crimes and to our history of racism and imperialism. We also have to admit that most of these war crimes were carried out by the Democratic Party, which is a war-crimes organization that needs to be disbanded along with its sister Republican Party.


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