NEW YORK – For a talk at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, I was searching the internet to see what I could find about Shimpei Fukue, one of the Japanese generals who were sentenced to death for war crimes after World War II. Lt. Gen. Fukue had left a couple of remarkable “farewell-to-the-world” haiku before facing a firing squad on April 27, 1946.
Among the several items I readily found on him was a Straits Times article, “Jap General Executed in Singapore,” that began with “A red patch of sand on Changi beach early yesterday morning marked the spot where a Japanese General met his death as a war criminal.” But just below it was a one-paragraph dispatch with the headline, “Dutch-Indonesian Clash.”
“Batavia, Apr. 27 — Referring to the reported clash of Dutch and Indonesians outside Batavia, an official Dutch report today stated that Allied troops attacked a concentration of terrorists near Tjiteureup, south of Batavia, yesterday killing 19 and taking 150 prisoners. — Reuters”
“Terrorists”? My father, an officer of the Special Higher Police, was stationed in Java during the war, so he, like many of his fellow officers, was detained on suspicions of war crimes when the Dutch came back on the heels of Japan’s defeat in August 1945.
He was released by the following summer. However, the Dutch revanchism was not just to “deal with all of the ‘war criminals’ who had collaborated with the Japanese, but to hang ‘traitors’ like the nationalists Sukarno and Hatta” — an idea that struck Laurens van der Post as “incomprehensible and frightening” as he wrote in “The Admiral’s Baby” (1996). He knew that meant a new war for the Netherlands to regain its glory as a colonial power.
Readers of this paper may know Van der Post, as he’s the author of the 1963 book “The Seed and the Sower,” which was turned into the film “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” in 1983. A South African officer under the British Army, Van der Post had become a Japanese POW in Java. Upon Japan’s surrender, he was thrust into the role of liaison between the Dutch, British and Japanese forces in the power transfer, becoming Adm. Louis Mountbatten’s aide: hence “The Admiral’s Baby.”
As he explained in a “secret” report he wrote at the end of 1946 for the Foreign Office, which is included in the book, even while in a Japanese POW camp with little contact with the outside world, Van der Post had learned of “a tremendous legacy of nationalism” the Japanese would leave. After all, Japan’s ostensible aim of invading the region was to liberate it from Western colonialism — just as, you might say, the United States invaded Iraq in the name of democratization.
During the ensuing war, the Dutch and their allies killed 6,000 Indonesians in the one month from October to November 1945 alone, as Van der Post noted in his report. But they would persist in revanchism for four more years, killing up to 200,000........