The Trauma of Liberation

Dutch Political Culture and the Indonesian Question in 1945

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques

Of the mid-twentieth-century European imperial powers, only the Netherlands experienced foreign occupation during World War II, followed soon after by the declaration of independence of the East Indies, its prized possession. I argue that the first series of events constituted a “cultural trauma,” and that, after May 1945, Dutch politicians and pundits viewed developments in Indonesia through this lens of wartime trauma. By the year's end, political actors had begun to interpret the recent metropolitan past and the developing Indonesian conflict according to the same rhetorical framework, emphasizing binaries such as “resistance versus collaboration.” While those on the political Left analogized the two conflicts in order to promote a negotiated settlement, their opponents hoped that, by refusing to recognize Sukarno's Republic of Indonesia, the Netherlands could avoid a second and perhaps even more damaging cultural trauma.