In the early 1940s the Balinese were rudely shaken out of the political isolation and benign lethargy which typified the latter years of Dutch rule. On 10 January 1942 the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies, landing troops on Celebes and Borneo. Denpasar's airfield was taken on 20 February, cutting communications with Australia and the Indies. Bali was used as a Japanese base for the invasion of Java on 26 February. On 8 March 1942 the Dutch surrendered with hardly a fight.
During the ensuing three years of Japanese occupation, while the rest of the eastern islands were subject to the oppressive arrogant control of the Japanese Navy, the occupier's treatment of the Balinese was comparatively indulgent. Nevertheless, Bali's population suffered critical food and medical supply shortages, while the island's transport system was almost totally disrupted.
With his oratorical power and dominating, charismatic style, an ex-engineer named Sukarno (1901-1970) had emerged as Indonesia's most forceful nationalistic political personality during the 1930s. Sukarno cut deals with the Dutch to avoid being sent into exile. Later, the Japanese used him to help them govern more effectively. During the Japanese occupation Sukarno seized every opportunity to educate the masses, inculcating in them nationalistic fervor.
In spite of their arbitrary cruelty and oppression, the Japanese offered an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity for independence. The Japanese indoctrinated and politicized the Balinese, trained and armed paramilitary youth groups, and generally encouraged consciousness of what it means to be an Indonesian.
In April 1945, with the war turning against them, the Japanese even sent Sukarno and other independence figures on a speaking tour to promote nationalism. But the most useful contribution the Japanese made to Indonesia, in the end, was to lose the war.
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