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Paper Generals Fail to Recognize the Role of Military in Indonesia

Our million-dollar and paper general ministers need to know more about the history and role of military in Indonesia. Ministers speaking on the naming issue of an Indonesian navy ship have exposed themselves their ignorance in history and military as a key institution in some countries.

In our ASEAN region, the role of military in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and of course, Indonesia and the Philippines is or was an important pillar in maintaining social orders and stability (no matter we like it or not, whether they are right or wrong).

In the Muslin world, we also see the traditional role of military in nation-state building of Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and even the troubled Syria.

The role of military is a unique feature of institution in some countries, including Indonesia. This is especially true when the civil institutions are weak, fail to deliver and build up the nation. The military in this case is the only institution due to its discipline can hold the country together.  Just a little hint, more than 100 Indonesian ‘disciplined’ military personnel as a bloc are absent from the Singapore Airshow.  

This is why we always hear that there may be a military coup in Thailand due to the recent political crisis. The military in Turkey thinks they have a duty to remind the civilian administration their role in nation building. So do the military in Pakistan and Egypt.

The military as an institution has to keep their promises and position themselves as a protector of the nation. Even though they may make mistakes in the past, for example military coups, they still maintain their position and continue their role that they think is right. These promises include honouring the dead soldiers as shown in the case of Japan (further discussion later) have become a tradition.  

So when Sukarno as a military leader ordered the two marines to plant the bombs at MacDonald House, even his opponent Suharto cannot deny the contributions of the two marines to the Indonesian military.  So, despite differences, from Sukarno to Suharto, the two camps in the Indonesian military still have to agree with the sacrifice of the two marines. Leadership changed hands but the military continues as one institution and honour its promise.

So when the marines become heroes, the role of military as one voice has to recognise this fact.  And they had demanded Singapore to do some things:
[“Singapore had considered this difficult chapter in the bilateral relationship closed in May 1973 when then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew visited and scattered flowers on the graves of the two marines,”] #1

It is not clear whether scattered flowers are a way to recognise the two marines as heroes or just a good will gesture.   Each side may have different interpretations and Indonesian military would also have its own reading.  This perhaps has become the tradition interpretation of the military. Not to forget even current President Yudhoyono who is linked to the military cannot break this tradition.   

When Lee Kuan Yew agreed to scatter flowers, he too has his interpretation.  Why this understanding was not transferred to the paper generals who supposed to have a better military understanding and reading?  

How about Japanese occupation
The MacDonald House bombing happened when the PAP was in power. How about the killings during Japanese Occupation? The PAP seems to have different memories.

Singapore remains silent whenever Japanese leaders pay their respects at Shinto shrine. Prime Minister Abe told reporters in late 2013: 
["I prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace," ]#2
We are concern and dismay on the naming of the Indonesian war ship. And we don’t have any feeling about the killing during the Japanese occupation. If you are part of Indonesian military, what will be your reading?  

Singapore’s position at the two killings (MacDonald House and World War II) is contradicting. If we oppose the naming of the Indonesian war ship, we should also oppose the visit of shrine visits by Japanese leaders. Is this because Japan is a bigger economy than that of Indonesia? Is this because the British as colony master has a duty to answer to the World War II dead in Singapore and not the PAP?  I would like to leave this to your imagination and judgement!

Quality of our ministers

5 Singapore million-dollar and paper-general ministers have commented on the war ship naming. Now comparing their comments with their Indonesian counterparts, I don’t see their arguments or debates better than their counterparts.

They are of course very happy to see the commentary of Jakarta Post that seems to be on their side and calling the naming an insensitive act.  Is our silent on killings during Japanese occupation sensitive or insensitive? Maybe we always like to choose the easier route and choose the area of our responsibility?

If the PAP thinks the social media and Internet are irresponsible, what about their own ministers on the naming issue? They thought they could score political points by ‘defending’ Singaporean interests. Unfortunately, their arguments are so weak and unintelligent (I hope readers do have time to read the comments on both sides).

We have to acknowledge that Indonesia is a big country with big population. A certain percentage of their population is smarter than us and receives much less than a million dollar salary. We have to be humble and accept the fact of history, the role of military of other countries. Our ignorance of historical fact will make us weak in defending Singaporean interest. A better understanding and appreciation of history will strengthen our positions and debates.

So, do Singapore ministers need an urgent course on history, on constitutions, on press freedom? Perhaps the most urgent one is on political competition as they will face more demanding voters and stronger opponents.  Understanding the past history of political competitions and the monopoly role of the PAP may help them a bit.  But will they take up the history lesson when they already have their millions?




  1. Sorry, I think in this case, the Indons are to be blamed.

    Soldiers fighting a declared war and dieing in action are indeed heroes. But soldiers disguised as civilians and attacking civilian buildings and killing and maiming civilians are more terrorists than soldiers, let alone heroes. There is no excuse in "we are only following orders". Those who commit atrocities under orders are still subject to be tried as war criminals.

    LKY scattered flower petals on the graves was to appease their souls and to bring closure to this sorry episode. They committed premeditated murders, they were tried, and hanged. Justice served, our principle demonstrated, and time to forgive and forget.

    And then the Indons decided to re-open the issue by naming their friggiing frigates after saboteurs.

    /// In the Muslin world, we also see the traditional role of military in nation-state building of Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and even the troubled Syria.///

    Muslin is a loosely woven cotton fabric.

  2. A good neutral article:

    OUR OPINION: As veterans of the U.S. naval services including at least one veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps we can understand the feelings of the families of the executed marines. "They were just following orders". But we also have to agree that if there was a specific order to take out an office building that was probably an illegal order under the international law of armed conflict. If they chose their own target it was an illegal and immoral choice.

    The international community affirmed in the 1940s at the Nuremberg Tribunals that "obeying military orders" is not a defense against carrying out crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of armed conflict. Soldiers are not supposed to be merely armed thugs sponsored by the state.

  3. It's very interesting to read.


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