Dutch state apologizes for 1947 Indonesia massacre

Tjeerd de Zwaan, ambassador to Indonesia, apologized on his country’s behalf Friday before hundreds of villagers in Rawagede, scene of the Dec. 9, 1947 killings of up to 430 boys and young men by Dutch troops.

“Today, Dec. 9,” the ambassador began, “we remember the members of your families and those of your fellow villagers who died 64 years ago through the actions of the Dutch military.”

“On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologize for the tragedy that took place.”

Dutch troops clinging to their retreating colonial empire arrived in Rawagede just before dawn 64 years ago and opened fire, sending sleepy residents scattering from their homes in panic.

The soldiers were looking for resistance leader Lukas Kustario, known for ambushing Dutch bases. When villagers said they didn’t know where he was, nearly all the men were rounded up and taken to the fields [where they were executed].

Reconciliation is often about emotion-what wartorn communities need to see is integrity and assumption of responsibility for wrongs committed.

“It makes me feel my struggle for justice was not useless,” said Cawi binti Baisa, who was 20 when her husband of two years headed to the rice paddy in the morning never to return.

Several women involved in the case — their faces lined with heavy wrinkles and their eyes milky with cataracts — said the apology was much more important than whatever money they eventually get.

However, even the Western countries which are often presumed to be world leaders tend to avoid such assumption of responsibility until there is absolutely no way out of it:

The apology — more than six decades later — followed a landmark ruling by a Dutch court in September that said the state was responsible for the massacre.

The Dutch government has never prosecuted any soldiers for the massacre, despite a U.N. report condemning the attack as “deliberate and ruthless” as early as 1948.

Finally, there is a lesson for the US to learn here about avoiding transparently nonsensical “we need to stop the turrists” rationalization:

A 1968 Dutch report acknowledged “violent excesses” in Indonesia but argued that Dutch troops were conducting a “police action” often incited by guerrilla warfare and terror attacks.

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