• Share
  • Read Later

A brooding quiet settled over Indonesia. It was the quiet of a faintly smoking volcano. Here & there snipers' rifles cracked. But mostly the British and Dutch sat waiting behind their guns in strongholds of European authority like Batavia, Surabaya, Semarang, Bandung. Beyond these cities, in the rich hinterland of Java, under the red-&-white flag of the Indonesian Republic, the nationalist leaders of 50,000,000 people were also marking time.

The onetime masters and onetime colonials were waiting for Dr. Hubertus J. Van Mook, the East Indies Acting Governor General. In London and The Hague, determined Dr. Van Mook had pressed for a semi-autonomous Indonesia within a new Netherlands Commonwealth, and he had sold his idea, despite the opposition of diehard Dutch imperialists. Last week, as he prepared to fly back to Batavia, he said: "I am convinced that after one generation the Indonesians can reach full equality of status with Europeans. I hope we will come to terms. . . . There are groups in Java suitable for us to negotiate with. . . ."

Promise & Threat. For sensitive Indonesians Dr. Van Mook's words held a threat as well as a promise. Were the Dutch planning to split the nationalist Government, to divide and rule, in the best tradition of European imperialism?

Indonesian President Soekarno and Premier Sutan Sjahrir had a working agreement, but there was no love lost between them. While the moderate Premier carried on in Batavia, the less moderate President established headquarters in Jokyakarta, an inland city of Central Java known as the citadel of Indonesian independence.

Neither leader could make a move without an eye on the country's ardent, revolunonary, well-organized youth movement. Insisting on an end of colonialism. Indonesia's youth fought the Europeans, spread the slogans of a new order. If Premier Sjahrir agreed to Dutch terms, the youth movement, led by demagogic President Soekarno, might well repudiate him.

Reason & Unreason. Between Indonesians and Dutch, the British muddled. (Technically they were present in the Indies to accept the Jap surrender and to keep order during the process.) With India, Burma and Malaya in the back of their minds, they trod warily, favoring neither full native autonomy nor a return to prewar colonialism. "If the Dutch make a reasonable offer," said a British spokesman, "the rest depends on the Indonesians. We can only satisfy reason; then we must deal with unreason." Significantly he added: "If matters come to the use of force by the Dutch, world opinion will not stand for it."

Meanwhile, John Bull dandled the unwanted Indonesian baby on his lap, alternately caressing and cuffing it. On the soft side, Britain's Lieut. General Sir Philip Christison attended an Indonesian art show with Premier Sjahrir (the Premier's eye was blackened from a beating administered by Dutch troops); British and Indonesian teams played a soccer match (scoreless tie). In sterner mood, the British skirmished with Indonesian guerrillas, and jailed as "undesirables" a good many members of Premier Sjahrir's Peace Preservation Corps; showing no favoritism, they also cracked down on trigger-happy Netherlands forces, sending back as unwanted 1,200 of 2,000 Dutch Marines newly arrived from Malaya.