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American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia

American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia: US Foreign Policy and Indonesian Nationalism, 1920-1949

Frances Gouda
with Thijs Brocades Zaalberg
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 382
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  • Book Info
    American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia
    Book Description:

    The authors of this book challenge the view that was current among many people in the Netherlands during the period 1945-1949 that the American government and its foreign policymakers unequivocally backed the Indonesian Republic's struggle for independence. The same myth of America's political endorsement of Indonesians' quest for independence continues to reverberate in the United States itself. In fact, ex-President Clinton repeated the story as recently as 1995 when he wrote to ex-President Suharto that in the post-World War II era, President Truman and the U.S. Congress had actively supported Indonesia 'as the nation was being born'. On the basis of research in American, Indonesian, Dutch, and Australian diplomatic records and in the archives of the United Nations, Gouda and Brocades Zaalberg describe and analyze American visions of the Dutch East Indies/Indonesia from the 1920s to December 1949, when the Kingdom of the Netherlands relinquished its sovereignty over the archipelago in southeast Asia to the United States fo Indonesia. Their historical analysis suggests that the American diplomatic establishment was not as ignorant of conditions in the Indonesian archipelago as many Dutch people assumed, both before and after World War II. They also chronicle the unfolding of America's steady but tactic backing of its faithful Dutch ally in northern Europe until early 1949, when U.S. assessments of the regions in the world where the Cold War might ignite into a 'Hot War' began to incorporate the anti-colonial, nationalist struggles in Indonesia and Vietnam. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0503-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-7)
  3. [Illustration]
    (pp. 8-8)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. 9-12)
    Frances Gouda and Thijs Brocades Zaalberg
  5. Abbreviations and Glossary
    (pp. 13-16)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 17-24)

    This book examines American perceptions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia and indirectly, the Dutch nation in northern Europe itself. It covers the period from the 1920’s through the end of the year 1948, when US foreign policymakers in the Truman Administration had completed their gradual political reorientation from a residual pro-Dutch stance to a position that supported the imminent independence of the Indonesian Republic. Once this dramatic transition in Washington’s perspectives on the Indonesian archipelago’s decolonization had occurred, the transfer of sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia would take place exactly one year later, on December 27, 1949. The...

  7. CHAPTER ONE American Foreign Policy and the End of Dutch Colonial Rule in Southeast Asia: An Overview
    (pp. 25-43)

    “Curiously enough,” George F. Kennan told US Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, on December 17, 1948, “the most crucial issue at the moment in our struggle with the Kremlin is probably the problem of Indonesia.” A friendly and independent Indonesia, the powerful director of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department informed Marshall, was vital to US security interests in Asia. Kennan emphasized that America’s dilemma in mid-December 1948, was not merely the question of whether the Netherlands or the Indonesian Republic should govern the region and thus control the rich agricultural and mineral resources of the archipelago....

  8. CHAPTER TWO “It’s 1776 in Indonesia”
    (pp. 44-65)

    “The American people know how precious national freedom and human liberties are,” theFree Trade Union Newsof the American Federation of Labor (AFL) announced in a front-page editorial on January 7, 1949. Our American ancestors also fought a bold revolutionary war to gain our nation’s independence, the article stated. “We therefore view with the keenest sympathy” the dreams of millions of Indonesians striving for their own country’s sovereignty. The author, Andrew Woll, ended his editorial with a note of incredulity: “We simply can’t believe that the Dutch will condone the use of their forces and resources for depriving other...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The United States and the Dutch East Indies: The Celebration of Capitalism in East and West during the 1920’s
    (pp. 66-82)

    American policies toward the decolonization of the Dutch East Indies during the years following World War II did not emerge from an empty void. Throughout the decades of the 1920’s and 1930’s, members of the US diplomatic corps forwarded a steady stream of assessments from Batavia, Surabaya and Medan to the State Department. These dispatches reflected the geopolitical concerns of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, in which oil, rubber, tin, and tobacco interests as well as a range of other economic investments figured prominently. The impact of consular reports concerning the Dutch East Indies was muted as far as...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR American Visions of Colonial Indonesia from the Great Depression to the Growing Fear of Japan, 1930-1938
    (pp. 83-99)

    The decade of the 1920’s unleashed a gold rush in the Dutch East Indies. These were the proverbial fat years, and in the imagination of shortsighted Western residents, this era of prosperity would last forever. Rather than preparing for the lean years that might follow, Europeans and Americans dreamed they could defy the Old Testament’s warning. Almost all Westerners in Sumatra who worked on rubber or tobacco plantations or in the expanding oil industry had grown accustomed to a life of hard work and generous financial rewards. They approached their ample incomes and their equally lavish spending habits with an...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Specter of Japan and America’s Recognition of the Indonesian Archipelago’s Strategic Importance, 1938-1945
    (pp. 100-118)

    The State Department’s growing preoccupation with the belligerence of Japan compelled the US Consul General in Batavia, Erle Dickover, to respond to nervous inquiries concerning Japan’s commercial activities in the Dutch East Indies. In early 1939, he sent several elaborate reports to Washington, in which he detailed the scope of Japan’s economic enterprise in the Dutch East Indies. The Consul General described in great detail the more than “one hundred Japanese corporations” doing business in Java, Sumatra, Celebes (Sulawesi), and some of the smaller islands. He also informed his superiors in Washington that Japanese companies leased approximately 380,000 acres of...

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Politics of Independence in the Republik Indonesia and International Reactions, 1945-1949
    (pp. 119-141)

    At 10 o’clock in the morning on August 17, 1945, in front of Sukarno’s house in Batavia (or Jakarta), the independence of the Indonesian Republic was broadcast to the rest of the world. Sukarno, looking feverish and tense, with a sedate Mohammad Hatta standing nearby, introduced and then read the official proclamation of independence. The document had been typed the previous night from a hand-written piece of paper, containing several hastily made corrections. The text itself was composed during a contentious discussion that took place at the residence of Japanese Navy Admiral, Tadashi Maeda, whose role in the Indonesian archipelago...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN The Emerging Cold War and American Perspectives on Decolonization in Southeast Asia in the Postwar Era
    (pp. 142-164)

    On December 1, 1945, the US ambassador in The Hague, China specialist Stanley K. Hornbeck, sent a confidential telegram addressed to President Truman and the US Secretary of State, James Byrnes. In his lengthy cable, Hornbeck speculated about the ways in which developments in the Netherlands East Indies might negatively affect America’s interests. He thought that if Dutch political influence in the region were to become even more “tenuous” or vanish altogether, and if there was not an “adequately compensating substitution” of either British or American political power, then a political vacuum might very well emerge. Such a void, in...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Indonesia’s Struggle for Independence and the Outside World: England, Australia, and the United States in Search of a Peaceful Solution
    (pp. 165-199)

    On October 31, 1945, a telegram from the American Consul General in Batavia to the Secretary of State painted a picture of the chaotic situation in Java in rough brush strokes. Serious fights had just occurred in Surabaya, Semarang, and Batavia involving groups of Indonesian nationalists, armed Japanese troops, and Louis Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC) forces trying to get a handle on the situation. A brigade of British soldiers had taken Surabaya “sansfiring a shot,” the US envoy asserted, only to be attacked by bands of Indonesians with Japanese guns. In the ensuing battle, the young Indonesian...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Armed Conflict, the United Nations’ Good Offices Committee, and the Renville Agreement: America’s Involvement in Trying to Reach a Settlement
    (pp. 200-236)

    In October 1947, Charles Livengood settled in as the new American Consul General in Batavia, with a reputation of being an accomplished diplomat of the highest caliber. Within the State Department, Livengood was known as a Foreign Service officer who did his presentation and reporting work impeccably. Upon his arrival in Java, it was expected he would convey a far more objective and evenhanded analysis of the situation in the Indonesian archipelago than his predecessor, Walter Foote. The latter, meanwhile, stayed on temporarily to serve as Chairman of the Consular Council in Batavia, charged with overseeing the implementation of UN...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Soviet Strategies in Southeast Asia and Indonesian Politics: US Foreign Policy Adrift during the Course of 1948
    (pp. 237-265)

    Not being able to read the handwriting on the wall – the year 1948 marked the beginning of the end as far as the Truman Administration’s support for its faithful Dutch ally was concerned – authorities in The Hague and Batavia interpreted the Renville Agreement, concluded in mid-January 1948, as a tangible pro-Dutch breakthrough. An important factor in convincing Dutch politicians in both the Netherlands and the Indonesian archipelago that an auspicious shift in US foreign policy had taken place in their favor was a leak that occurred on January 5, 1948. E.F. Drumwright, a Far Eastern Affairs specialist in...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Rescuing the Republic’s Moderates from Soviet Communism: Washington’s Conversion to Unequivocal Support of Indonesia’s Independence
    (pp. 266-293)

    Coert du Bois left Batavia in late June 1948. In all likelihood, he was embittered by the failure of his mission; perhaps he was also annoyed with Dutch machinations in Washington that prompted the State Department to recall him. Du Bois vacated his position on the UN Security’s Council’s Good Offices Committee in Java without taking leave of old friends such as Van Mook, whom he had known since the late 1920’s. The ostensible reason for being summoned back to the United States was a recurrence of his long-standing problems with coronary disease.

    His abrupt departure from the diplomatic scene...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 294-305)

    Approximately twenty-four hours before the Netherlands government in The Hague authorized its second military campaign against the Indonesian Republic, George Kennan had a confidential conversation in Washington DC focusing specifically on the Dutch-Indonesian conflict with the US Secretary of State, George Marshall, and his Under Secretary, Robert Lovett. Their discussion was based on a memorandum Kennan had previously submitted on behalf of the Policy Planning Staff. On December 17, 1948, Kennan stressed that the most significant issue facing the United States in its Cold War with the Soviet Union, at that very moment, was located in the faraway Indonesian archipelago....

  19. Archival Sources and Selective Bibliography
    (pp. 306-312)
  20. Sources of Illustrations
    (pp. 313-314)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 315-368)
  22. Index
    (pp. 369-382)