JAVA: The Course of Empire

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Fighting flared anew in The Netherlands East Indies last week. The nationalist movement seemed to be getting out of its leaders' control. At Surabaya 1,600 British troops, attacked by large Javanese forces, well armed with Jap equipment, including tanks, had some 100 casualties. President Soekarno of the "Indonesian Republic" flew from Batavia to give a cease-fire order. The next day native hotheads killed Surabaya's British Commander, Brigadier Aubertin W. S. Mallaby.

British reconnaissance showed that up to 100,000 Indonesian troops, whose Jap materiel included 62 planes, were massing in central Java. The British themselves began landing a second division, rushed up more warships and planes. Most of the British troops were Indian soldiers who had little liking for the job.

Soekarno appealed in vain to his followers to stop fighting. Bespectacled, experienced Hubertus van Mook, the acting Governor, had his ears pinned back by his Government for deigning to confer with Soekarno. The Dutch do not want to lose the richest part of their empire, do not forget that Soekarno was chief Jap puppet in Java, and still hate to admit that Indonesia may have matured politically during the Jap occupation. They told Van Mook that he might deal with other native leaders, but never with Soekarno.

The Nationalists. Events have already brought trim, smooth-talking Soekarno a luxurious house in Batavia's European section. There he gladly poses for homey pictures with his beautiful Javanese second wife and ten-month-old son. He brushes aside queries about his anti-Allied broadcasts and his wartime trip to Japan by claiming that he merely cooperated to get concessions for his people. If the interviewer keeps on questioning him about collaboration, there is usually an intermission while handsome Indonesian girls serve cakes and hot ginger water.

If eloquent Soekarno is the Kerensky of the Indonesian revolution, his vice president, Mohammed Hatta, 43, may be the Lenin. Sharp, shrewd, European-educated Hatta formed his first nationalist group at 15, like Soekarno was exiled by the Dutch.

The two apparently do not wholly trust each other, are usually interviewed together so that each can check on what the other says. Hatta drafted the movement's constitution, which is full of escape clauses (the President has dictatorial powers "at critical times;" freedom of speech and assembly are not guaranteed, but "shall be provided").

The movement's third significant figure and elder statesman is Palim, 61, one of its founders. He worked in the Dutch colonial service for many years, led an undercover drive for independence until 1938, is now consulted by the younger leaders on all major problems. Warn Palim: "We have had 350 years of promises from the Dutch: We want no more of them. If you want to start Armageddon again, send the Dutch back to Indonesia." Asked if he would prefer British colonial administration to Dutch rule, he retorted: "Would you rather be bitten by a cat than a dog?"