In the country house of Britain's Prime Minister the generation of empire menders was at work. The worried ghosts of the empire buildersamong them. Raffles of Singapore and Coen of Batavialooked on. The great Far Eastern domain they had helped create was badly cracked, in danger of breakdown.
Clement Attlee played the firm but friendly host to Holland's Premier Willem Schermerhorn. Guests included British Minister of State Philip Noel-Baker, who had publicly demanded that Indonesians and Dutch get together; Netherlands Minister for Overseas Territories J. H. A. Logemann, who had publicly barred a return of "the extinct past" to the East Indies; Old Etonian Sir Nevile Bland, who as Ambassador to The Hague has the delicate job of relaying British views on how the Dutch should run their empire; Java-born Dr. Hubertus J. Van Mook, the Acting Governor General, fresh from the rebellious East Indies. No Indonesians were present. The empire-menders came quickly to the point.
While Mrs. Attlee filled the teacups, her husband let his guests know that his Labor Government did not intend indefinitely to prop up unenlightened Dutch imperialism in the East Indies. Too much was at stake. Half-a-billion Asiatics, from Bombay to Bali, were watching the European masters return to their old Southeast Asia house. The house had changed. The masters had to change, too. If the Dutch blinked the fact, the matter would be brought before the UNO Assembly. . . .
The guests had an answer, largely drafted by Dr. Van Mook.
Rising Price. The imperial-minded Acting Governor General had told equally imperial-minded homeland ministers some unpalatable truths. Indonesian nationalism had come to stay. It was not transitory, as they wished to believe. It permeated 72 million people, and it could not be put down by a few divisions of troops. It had to be recognized.
Dr. Van Mook recalled Queen Wilhelmina's pledge of 1942: a new policy for the Empire, a Commonwealth composed of the homeland, Indonesia, Surinam and Curasao. Now was the time to set it up. He agreed with Premier Schermerhorn that full Indonesian self-government was out of the question for 15 to 20 years. But something limited must be granted; it must be worked out with "moderate" Indonesian leaders. He proposed the calling of an Indonesian Assembly under a Cabinet to be headed by himself.
As he listened to Van Mook, Clement Attlee visibly brightened. By dinner, the atmosphere was almost gay. The host had expected his company to stay three days. But things were going so well that, over coffee, he proposed a late night session to tidy up loose ends. By 3 a.m. the business was done. A vague communiquè cloaked a definite though general plan.
The British agreed not to withdraw their troops from Indonesia but to clear an area sizable enough to impress the nationalists and give the Dutch a base from which to negotiate. The Dutch agreed to initiate talks with the moderate nationalists, to pay a higher political price for order in their Empire. Dr. Van Mook prepared to return immediately to the trouble zone.