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Extreme violence is not allowed, but normal violence is OK – IISR

Extreme violence is not allowed, but normal violence is OK

International Institute for Scientific Research (IISR), February 17, 2022, By: Sandew Hira

Science and ideology

Today, February 17, 2022, is another day when the Netherlands is trying to come to terms with its crimes against humanity. The Royal Institute for the Linguistics, Geography and Ethnology (KITLV), the Netherlands Institute of Military History (NIMH) and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies will present the results of the study funded by the Dutch government (€ 4.1 million grant) on extreme violence during the decolonization war in Indonesia. The core of their message is contained in an interview with research leader Prof. Gert Oostindie: “Dutch soldiers, judges and politicians collectively tolerated and kept silent about the systematic use of extreme violence during the war of independence in Indonesia. Historians show how that could happen. ‘It was scandal management instead of prevention’.”

Sandew Hira

The study is presented as a scientific inquiry because scientists from universities and research institutes have done the research. But it is an ideological research – as I will show – with the aim of teaching the Dutch people to accept that the Netherlands was a bit wrong in colonial history. The goal is not to discover the truth about colonialism. The difference between ideologues and scientists is that scientists try to objectively investigate the truth with all the problems attached to “objectivity” and ideologues very consciously pursue a political goal and create a storyline for the benefit of this goal. You are not a scientist because you are a professor. A professor can be an ideologue of colonialism. You are a scientist because your research is based on a question that is not ideologically determined.

Remy Limpach

The study of the three institutes arose from the dissertation of Remy Limpach of the NIMH (Limpach, R. (2016): The burning kampongs of Generaal Spoor. Boom. Amsterdam). He laid the theoretical basis for this study. Limpach defines extreme violence as follows: “‘Mass violence’ and ‘extreme violence’ are defined in this book as the use of physical violence that was mainly used outside direct regular combat situations against non-combatants (civilians) and against combatants (military or combatants) who were disarmed after their capture or surrender. This extreme violence usually took place without immediate military necessity or without clearly defined military purpose.”(Limpach, R. (2016), p. 45).

What are regular combat situations? Well, that’s very broad. In Indonesia’s war of independence, a bombing raid against a village in which guerrillas are entrenched is regular violence. All combat operations to occupy a country are regular combat operations. The violence normally used to maintain colonialism (occupation) is not in question.

In a scientific approach to extreme violence, you would contrast normal violence with extreme violence. You would define normal and extreme violence. In an ideological approach to extreme violence, you don’t talk about normal violence. In a scientific approach you ask the question: what was normal violence? The ideological goal of the concept of extreme violence is to present colonialism as a normal phenomenon. In the activist wave that the Netherlands is currently experiencing about decolonization has led to the question of the legitimacy of  colonialism as an institution. By focusing everything on extreme violence, you shift the focus from questioning the institution of colonialism to something that everyone can accept: extreme violence is not good. And then it follows implicitly: but colonialism was OK and so was normal violence.

To legitimize normal violence, the ideologues of Dutch colonialism use two tricks.

The first trick is to use the concept of “where two people fight, both are wrong”. The treatment of the bersiap period when Indonesian revolutionary collaborators attacked the colonizer is an example of this trick. Limpach: “After initial military skirmishes and smaller and larger military actions, the fighting in the vast archipelago culminated in a fierce guerrilla war, which was structurally accompanied by extreme violence on both sides.” (Limpach, R. (2016), p. 18).

He elaborates: “I also deal with extreme Indonesian violence and discuss groups, perpetrators and victims of other ethnic groups, such as the Dutch and Indonesian use of violence against the large Chinese minority in the archipelago.” (Limpach, R. (2016), p. 38).

This trick has never been used in World War II historiography: where two people fight, both are wrong. Nazism is seen as a historic crime against humanity. Colonialism is not treated in the same way. The reason for this is racism. Nazism was a crime of Europeans against Europeans. The Nazis lost, so they end up in the dustbin of history. The colonial powers have won, so they are trying to prevent them from ending up in the garbage dump of history. Their ideologues have the task of promoting this with “scientific” research. This trick is part of that task.

The second trick is to distinguish between good colonials and bad colonials. The bad colonials are the people who use extreme violence. The good colonials normally use violence. Limpach: “I would also like to make it clear here that the majority of the soldiers who were part of the Dutch armed forces were not involved in extreme acts of violence.” (Limpach, R. (2016), p. 39). Most of the military personnel were actually development workers. They repaired devastated infrastructure and provided aid to the ailing population.

In an interview from 2021, Limpach takes a closer look at the innocence of the Dutch military in the Indonesian war of independence. The interviewer asks the question: “The majority of the Dutch soldiers behaved nicely and had nothing to do with war crimes and summary justice. What was the percentage that did indulge in extreme violence? What was the background of those who were guilty here?”

In his answer, Limpach refers to Oostindie: “I cannot give hard figures, the sources do not allow that. A lot of extreme violence was covered up and can therefore not be traced. I have opted for qualitative research. For me, for example, statements by military auditors or government officials who establish that extreme acts of violence were commonplace in their sectors. Fellow historian Gert Oostindie has recently estimated, based on an analysis of memoirs, that the proportion of Dutch soldiers with clean hands is around 80 percent. As far as the perpetrators are concerned, there seems to be no connection to specific backgrounds, anyone and every army unit could potentially cross the line – although this mainly happened with combat units with their backs to the wall, which is especially in the The last and bloodiest year of the war was 1949. Whether or not soldiers crossed the line depended among other things e of their formation, the circumstances, the authority and mentality of their commander and one’s own personality.”

Only 20%, a small minority, were guilty of extreme violence, the Leiden professor has calculated. Waw, luckily that’s not much.

Dutch historians of colonialism have turned it into a hobby: using statistics to downplay a crime against humanity. Prof. dr. Pieter Emmer does that with slavery: “It is nonsense that the Dutch slave trade is much larger than was assumed, because at the time we already estimated the Dutch share at 5 percent.” The question a decolonial person asks is: “Is it so little because you couldn’t get more or because you didn’t want more?” Brazil is the country with the largest share. The Netherlands lost Brazil to the Portuguese, not because they only wanted 5%, but because the Portuguese were stronger.

A scientist should ask him/herself: “Was 20% extreme violence enough to sustain the system, or could it have been done with more or less?”

But an ideologue does not. (S)he creates a climate of innocence for the colonizer.

Government influence

The research of the three institutes is the result of social pressure from activists from the former Dutch colonies who demand a rewriting of colonial history. To withstand that pressure, ideologists from the universities and research institutes are presented as scientists who then tell the scientific story (the true story). They adjust their story depending on the social reactions. The response to the activists come from the Dutch Indies veterans.

In Germany, the soldiers who had occupied the Netherlands are considered part of the wrong war. They don’t hold commemorations. In the Netherlands, the soldiers who went to reoccupy Indonesia are seen as sweethearts who you have to handle with velvet gloves. Oostindie wrote a book about their stories in 2015: Soldier of Indonesia. The book pays tribute to these fighters: “No moral judgments are made in Soldier in Indonesia. The aim of the research was to reconstruct, without bias, essential aspects of the war and its processing, while doing justice to those who recorded or had their own experiences and memories recorded. In that sense, Soldier in Indonesia is a tribute to these men.” (p. 13).

Times change, so does his story. Now everyone criticizes colonialism. He can’t stay behind. Now it is not about individual soldiers who cooperated in the Dutch occupation of Indonesia, but about institutions. At least that is progress. Oostindie: “Dutch soldiers, judges and politicians collectively tolerated and kept silent about the systematic use of extreme violence during the independence war in Indonesia.”

The Dutch Indies veterans are making themselves heard these days. VVD MP Han ten Broeke is their mouthpiece. He indicates the condition under which the government would have to agree to the subsidy for the research: “The requirement to involve the Bersiap in the research is as old as I am involved in the development of the discussion about this. It came about after discussions with many people (stakeholders, those who have a family history or are veterans themselves, but also those involved in politics). It was subsequently proposed by me in the VVD parliamentary party as one of the requirements that would enable us to approve this investigation. The group supported that line, and I then pushed it. Although it was not formulated as a requirement, it was an important condition under which we – the VVD – could possibly agree to such an investigation.”

A scientist would answer: with the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, there was also no question of the proposition that “where two fight, both are to blame.” We will not do that during the Dutch occupation of Indonesia. An ideologue immediately salutees and shouts: “Yes, sir, let’s do it!” And so the Bersiap has become part of this “scientific” research.

What now?

The context of this ideological inquiry is BLM (Black Lives Matter movement). A generation of activists is growing in the multicultural society who simply do not believe in what they have learned about Dutch colonial history in universities and history books. This investigation provides the government with a instrument to say: “People, sorry! Something has indeed gone wrong in colonialism. It has a name: extreme violence. We detest that. We are not going to talk about normal violence. We offer our apologies and close this chapter. Thank you ‘scientists’ who made this possible.”

Activists can now rest in peace. The Netherlands has rewritten its history. What a great achievement.

For decolonial scientists this a falsification of history. By presenting extreme violence as the problem of decolonization, you are just cheating. Imagine: someone comes 18,000 km from the Netherlands, occupies your country, forces you with ‘normal’ and ‘extreme violence’ to work for you for free or for next to nothing, steals your products, humiliates you with downright racism and if you resists, (s)he says “you can’t shoot, otherwise I’ll shoot too”. Then a bunch of “scientists” come up and say nothing about everything you’ve been through for hundreds of years and yell, “Oh, there’s shooting! Let’s map out who’s firing when and what extreme forms of violence have been used.” And in doing so, they have rewritten a black page in their colonial history. If you accept this, then your mind is well colonized.

In 2015, a large-scale attempt was also made to rewrite colonial history, namely the history of Dutch slavery. The Dutch public television produced a series on slavery with the aim of providing a final version of how slavery history should be viewed. It turned out to be a big flop. See the analysis of this story here. That will also be the fate of this ‘great’ investigation. According to KITLV, the books will be available online for free in a few weeks. We will discuss them in due course.

A decolonial answer

The decolonial movement in the Netherlands is still weak. The universities where research is conducted are more concerned with diversity than with decolonization. There is no decolonial student movement. If there was, it would have drawn up a research program from social movements. That program would consist of a fundamental criticism of the “scientists” in the universities who describe colonial history. It would raise issues that the ideologues at the universities do not dare to raise. Take the issue of reparations for colonialism.

Lambert Giebels has initiated a study on reparations paid by Indonesia to the Netherlands. He writes: “A subject that was discussed at length at the RTC [Round Table Conference of Indonesie and The Netherlands during independence] was the debt issue. The Netherlands made Indonesia pay a high price for its sovereignty. Thirty years later, Suriname received a dowry of two billion guilders, but Indonesia was saddled with the total debt burden of the former Dutch East Indies. This debt was calculated by the Netherlands at 6.5 billion guilders. It meant that Indonesia even had to pay for the costs of the military actions. This became too much for Cochran [The American observer at the RTC]. To Drees’s anger, the American managed to persuade the Dutch negotiators to drop two billion guilders – being the roughly estimated cost of the military actions, leaving a debt of 4.5 billion, in guilders at the time…

In the collective memory of us, the Dutch, it has been preserved that the Indonesia of Soekarno refused to pay its debts. Something has been repressed in this memory. When Indonesia canceled its debts to the Netherlands in 1956, the remainder of the debt was still 650 million guilders. This means that Indonesia has repaid almost four billion guilders between 1950 and 1956. The importance of this amount can be measured by the Marshall Aid. Over the period 1948-1953, the Netherlands received $1127 billion in Marshall Aid – as a loan, that is. At the dollar exchange rate of 3.80 guilders at the time, this aid was little more than what Indonesia paid between 1950 and 1956. Many believe that the Netherlands owes its post-war reconstruction solely to the Marshall Plan, the Indonesian contribution is usually overlooked.”

Decolonial historians should put the repayment of these funds to Indonesia on the research agenda. In addition, they have to calculate how much the Dutch owe their colonies in reparations. KUKB has filed and won lawsuits on behalf of widows and children of Indonesians whose husbands and fathers were executed during the decolonization war. They can claim compensation of € 5,000, provided the claim is well-founded. The compensation includes the costs that must be incurred by submitting the application.

Compare that with this news item of 15 October 2020: “Secretary of State Paul Blokhuis (Public Health, Welfare and Sport) has made 20.4 million euros available for the Dutch Indies community and is in discussion with the community about how this money can best be spent. .. The extra money is intended for the next three years: 2.4 million will be available in 2020, 15.7 million in 2021 and 2.6 million in 2022. From 2023, there will be a structural extra 0.7 million available.”

How shameful is this, when you hear the amount of € 5,000 when you look at what Indonesia has paid to the Netherlands and what the Indies community has received here.

Sandew Hira
The Hague, February 17, 2022

See also:

Decolonizing Dutch research

Decolonial Critique