Vol. 2, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS, YAMAMOTO Nobuto

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3

The Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War: In Cooperation with the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation
Peter Post, William H. Frederick, Iris Heidebrink, and Shigeru Sato, eds.
Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2010, xxix+684 p.

The twentieth century has been characterized as the century of wars. It experienced two world wars, many regional wars in the context of the Cold War, and various kinds of internal wars. These wars produced many casualties, both military and civilian. In return, the many nation-states that the two great wars brought into being have made it a habit to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for their countries. By the end of the century, “remembering war” has become a common exercise for national governments and a civic duty for citizens. In this context, intensive efforts at recollection, collective reflection and redress in relation to these wars have materialized in academia as well as public sectors. In addition, international and intergovernmental cooperation has produced new memories, understandings, and interpretations of the wars. As such, the “memory boom” has taken place in many parts of the globe (Winter 2006, 1).

Two reasons deserve to be mentioned regarding this trend from a global perspective. First, as those who experienced war age, they are eager to archive their memories for future generations. In the Netherlands, many memorials and statues bearing the names of those who fell in a war have been established by local communities. Second, many developing countries that were also former European or American colonies have been democratized in the process of “the Third Wave” ­(Huntington 1991). For these countries, democratization has been a process of confronting colonial and authoritarian legacies through historical fact-finding efforts that are concerned with addressing human rights violations that occurred under authoritarian regimes (De Brito et al. 2001). Thus, the politics of memory sheds light on those who suffered as well as the oppressed. This process has made possible, for instance, international cooperation between a former colony (Indonesia) and its erstwhile suzerain power (The Netherlands) to present the truth about what happened during the war period.

Under these changing international and domestic socio-political circumstances, over the years, tremendous international collaborative efforts have borne fruit in the form of the Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War. It is a timely publication and provides a broad understanding of the topic. It has 56 contributors from various parts of the globe with 684 and xxix pages, plus 24 pages of pictures at the end of the volume. It has eight major chapters—chapter one general introduction; chapter two historical overview; five middle chapters on matters directly related to the Japanese occupation (chapters three to seven), namely, administration and policies, coercion and control, economy, society and social change, and culture; and chapter eight on postwar burdens and memory. The 156-page long “Lexicon of People, Events and Institutions” addendum to the book is especially useful for readers and scholars in need of quick reference. To describe this Encyclopedia as “a strong encyclopedia” that “can help you to get an early, broad understanding of a topic” (Storey 2008, 5) is indeed accurate.

In his introduction Peter Post, one of the editors of the Encyclopedia, explains the purpose of the tome. It “aims to go beyond the myths and misconceptions and treats the varied aspects of the Japanese occupation period in a comparative way,” “gives factual details of how different groups of people initially reacted towards Japanese military rule and how these groups experienced the changes in their living circumstances,” and “pays attention to the legacies of the war in the three main countries concerned, e.g. Japan, Indonesia, and The Netherlands” (p. 2). According to Post, four major advancements in the historiography of the Japanese period in Indonesia over the last two decades have made this Encyclopedia project possible. Two of the new developments relate to the availability of records and materials; these were made possible through a project of the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records initiated by the National Archives of Japan, which has made public all Asia-related records, and the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation which has digitized relevant Malay-language newspapers and periodicals and made them publicly available. The other two advancements were the oral history projects—one was “The End of The Netherlands’ Colonial Presence in Asia” undertaken by the Foundation for the Oral History of Indonesia of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, while the other was the “South Sulawesi under the Japanese Occupation” by the Center for Regional and Multicultural Studies of Hasanuddin University in Makassar, Indonesia (p. 3). Nevertheless, Post acknowledges that due to the still-limited availability of the sources the Encyclopedia spends more pages on developments in Java and Sumatra than in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and the islands of the eastern archipelago (p. 4).

The main body of the book is devoted to the description and analysis of “occupation” by the Japanese. But since the chapters do not have footnotes or detailed references (only selected references), the readers will have some difficulties if they wish to pursue further information or even to crosscheck the accuracy of an introduced fact. There is no information on how the reader can access the sources or the materials on which contributors have relied. The Encyclopedia appears to have been built upon many untouched and scattered materials gathered and analyzed in the course of their research. It is, therefore, regrettable that such new and no doubt valuable sources are not available to the reader. This shortcoming also makes it difficult to measure the original contributions offered by this Encyclopedia compared to the existing literature on the subject.

Some of the new findings and developments in the scholarship are made implicit in the text. For example, William Bradley Horton’s piece on “Comfort women” would not have been written without the comprehensive research conducted and funded by the Asian Women’s Fund established in 1995 (active until 2007). The chapter on “Postwar Burdens and Memory” also points out some new aspects concerning Japanese, Dutch, and Indonesian individuals as well as governmental efforts in remembering World War II. The newness of these sections reflects the recent development of international norms concerning human rights that focus more on individual memory and the present actions of those who suffered for redress.

The Encyclopedia, however, does not address the current politics of war memory, such as redress. The issue of reparations entered a new phase at the end of the twentieth century ­(Bottigliero 2004; Miller and Kumar 2007) and it was a major concern among states after World War II. Japan, as a defeated nation paid reparations to its Asian neighbors after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed in 1951, as proposed by the United States. On the state-to-state level, by paying reparations, the Japanese government perceived it had fulfilled its duty and redeemed its past transgressions to its neighbors. But these reparations rarely reached local individual victims. In the meantime, a new idea regarding reparations has gained currency since the 1990s, an idea that is rooted in the concept of human rights and has created opportunities for individual victims to demand their rights for reparation independently from the state. Victims such as “comfort women” in the former Japanese imperial territories and atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have raised their voices with the support of non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. It should be noted, however, that the former case draws more attention in the international arena than the latter one, in part because it intersects with gender issues.

The voices of marginalized groups also remain to be heard in the Encyclopedia. One representative group was the ethnic Chinese. They constituted a major group within the local populations in the Indies, and yet their socio-political position and experience during the Japanese occupation is understudied. It is partially because the Japanese imagined them as their main enemy when they fought against China, while the Indonesians were their younger brothers, and therefore not many official sources on the Chinese are available. To be fair, the Encyclopedia pays careful attention to the Chinese population. Gin Keat Ooi’s essay recounts the series of Chinese massacres that took place in South and West Kalimantan, while Didi Kwantanada illustrates the radical socio-cultural and educational changes this ethnic group had to confront. But as these accounts are without noted (primary) sources, thus one hardly gets to hear a “Chinese” voice in them. It is a historical fact that the Japanese military authorities interned many Chinese in concentration camps, although few sources are available on the matter. Their experiences and afflictions during this time, however, are vividly featured in literary works published after Indonesia gained independence in August 1945 (Chandra 2012). Although documenting violence against prisoners of war is a challenging task (Jones 2011), it is regrettable that the Encyclopedia does not provide new evidence on prison life from the period in question.

The other invisible group is the so-called collaborators with Japanese authority. Such people were not always opportunists; some were realists. In the case of the Philippines, this group includes notable names such as Emilio Aguinaldo, José P. Laurel, and Manuel Roxas. In the case of Indonesia, one may recall Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta as collaborators, and yet many other names are “unknown” or forgotten. For instance, there were many prominent journalists, Indonesian as well as Chinese, who worked for the occupying regime and maintained their reputation even after independence. As I understand that writing about the collaborators is politically sensitive, the Encyclopedia appears to maintain a safe distance from this issue.

There is another kind of challenge in constructing historical reality. We still know little about those who died for the “imperial nations” (Winter 2006). In the case of the British Empire, various war memorials record the names of those who “sacrificed their lives” for it. However, in the case of the Netherlands and its former colonies, the remembrance of war “heroes” seems to exclude those who had died, especially those in the colonies. It is natural to commemorate those who died for the Dutch fatherland, while those who fell defending the colony and sacrificing themselves for an imperial possession, it appears, remain a forgotten issue in Dutch and Indonesian historiography.

Ultimately, does this Encyclopedia contribute to construct a common understanding of history concerning Indonesia in the Pacific War? Overcoming “the myths and misconceptions” of occupied Indonesia may not be easy because some of them inevitably are linked with personal and collective experiences and memory. The essays in the Encyclopedia may not be accepted by all parties concerned, yet they provide basic elements of the historical facts and developments. This is the first step towards an ideally more complex, multi-faceted understanding of Indonesia during the Pacific War, and is therefore a valuable contribution to future projects of history writing on this topic.

Yamamoto Nobuto 山本信人
Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Keio University


Asian Women’s Fund. 2007. Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund. Accessed February 10, 2013, www.awf.or.jp.

Bottigliero, Ilaria. 2004. Redress for Victims of Crimes under International Law. Leiden: Brill Academic Publications.

Chandra, Elizabeth. 2012. Indies Prison Notebooks. IIAS Newsletter 62(6). Accessed February 10, 2013, http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL62_06.pdf.

De Brito, Alexandra Barahona; Enriquez, Carmen Gonzalez; and Aguilar, Paloma, eds. 2001. The ­Politics of Memory and Democratization: Transitional Justice in Democratizing Societies. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Jones, Heather. 2011. Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany, 1914–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, Jon; and Kumar, Rahul. 2007. Reparations: Interdisciplinary Inquiries. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Storey, William Kelleher. 2008. Writing History: A Guide for Students. 3rd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Winter, Jay. 2006. Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.


DOI: doi.org/10.20495/seas.2.3_605