I am reading an excellent book by famed Cornell scholar George Kahin, Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia.


The book is remarkable.  The depth of Kain’s research and access is meticulous and humbling.


Only about half way through the text, and have really learned the roots the cultural movement towards independence.  And here there are two things I’ve found striking and informative, well three things actually.


First is the long and covert development of nationalist movements and identities.  Chief among the leaders towards a modern Indonesia were Muslim political leaders and Communists.  And even these movements were divided.  The Muslims – not unlike some of the controversies of today – were divided between Modernism and Fundamentalism (the Modernists seemed the stronger voice).  In the communist movements, again divisions along the lines of a progressive Social Democracy and a more traditional Stalinist perspective.


And secondly, is the magnitude of the Communist presence in Indonesia.  Really, the emergence of the nation was the result of a populist revolt, born in the mind of a progressive socialist perspective.  Indonesia was an early battle ground state in what became the Cold War (and thus it is easy to imagine an American voice or initiative behind the second revolution led by Suharto).

Khrushchev and Sukarno Greeting

Lastly, is the remarkable complexity of the Japanese occupation, and the counter initiatives developed by the occupying power.  Japan was readily seen as a liberator from the Dutch, and thus welcomed by the archipelago.  Quickly, the Japanese proved themselves more brutal and less competent than the Dutch.  The Japanese also saw the developing threat of the Nationalist movements, and worked to both eliminate it.  Kahin offers interesting insights and several theories about the latter.  Most interesting to me – a probably the most championed by Kahin himself – is that the Japanese knew they’d lost the war, and worked to see a future with Russia rather than the Allied powers.

Presidents Kennedy and Sukarno

And reading all this just stirs more interest in Sukarno.  His charisma, leadership and vision were undeniable.  In detail I’ve never read, Kahin spells out the speech in which Sukarno declared the 5 founding principals of the Indonesian nation – nationalism, internationalism (defined as a sense of being of a global, human community), the need for a representative government of consent,  social justice, and a nation under one God (though not defined by denomination).  Really remarkable, too, given the historical important of the speech, it wasn’t written before hand, thus really indicated the oratorical skill and vision of Sukarno.


And so I’ve started to collect picture of Sukarno off the internet.



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