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Japanese occupation

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History > Toward independence > Japanese occupation

Population (est):
(2005) 222,781,000
730,024 sq mi (1,890,754 sq km)

Japanese military authorities in Java, having interned Dutch administrative personnel, found it necessary to use Indonesians in many administrative positions, which thus gave them opportunities that had been denied them under the Dutch. In order to secure popular acceptance of their rule, the Japanese sought also to enlist the support of both nationalist and Islamic leaders. Under this policy Sukarno and Hatta both accepted positions in the military administration.

Though initially welcomed as liberators, the Japanese gradually established themselves as harsh overlords. Their policies fluctuated according to the exigencies of the war, but in general their primary object was to make the Indies serve Japanese war needs. Nationalist leaders, however, felt able to trade support for political concessions. Sukarno was able to convince the administration that Indonesian support could be mobilized only through an organization that would represent genuine Indonesian aspirations. In March 1943 such an organization, Putera (Pusat Tenaga Rakjat; “Centre of the People's Power”), was inaugurated under his chairmanship. While the new organization enabled Sukarno to establish himself more clearly as the leader of the nation and while it enabled him to develop more effective lines of communication to the people, it also placed upon him the responsibility of trying to sustain Indonesian support for Japan through, among other things, the romusha (forced-labour) program. Later in the year Indonesian opinion was given a further forum in a Central Advisory Council and a series of local councils. At a different level, Indonesian youths were able to acquire a sense of corporate identity through membership in the several youth organizations established by the Japanese. Of great importance also was the creation in October 1943 of a volunteer defense force composed of and officered by Indonesians trained by the Japanese. The Sukarela Tentara Pembela Tanah Air (Peta) was to become the core of the republic's army during the revolution.

In March 1944 the Japanese, feeling that Putera had served Indonesian rather than Japanese interests, replaced it with a “people's loyalty organization” (Djawa Hokokai), which was kept under much closer control. Six months later the Japanese premier announced the Japanese intention to prepare the Indies for self-government. In August 1945, on the eve of the Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Hatta were summoned to Saigon, Vietnam, where Terauchi Hisaichi, commander of Southeast Asia, promised an immediate transfer of independence.

On their return to Djakarta (Jakarta; formerly Batavia), Sukarno and Hatta were under pressure to declare independence unilaterally. This pressure reached its climax in the kidnapping of the two men, for a day, by some of Djakarta's youth leaders. After the news of the Japanese surrender had been confirmed, Sukarno proclaimed independence on the morning of Aug. 17, 1945.

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