Max Boon, SBY & Merah Putih: Messages of Hope

The Jakarta Globe published correspondence exchanged between Bombing victim Max Boon and Indonesian President Dr. Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono on the occasion of Indonesia's 64 year of Independence. Max Boon is a Dutch national and resident of Jakarta who was seriously wounded in the July 17th, Black Friday bombings. I have posted a PDF of the letters here: Boon and SBY Independence Day Letters This weekend a new Indonesian movie, Merah Putih, from the father and son team of Rob and Connor Allyn was released. Merah Putih, which means "Red-White", the colors of the Indonesian flag, was directed by Sugandi Yandi and is subtitled in English. The movie, set in 1947, is about "young Indonesian cadets who bond together despite their differences in religion, ethnicity, class and culture, to become guerrilla fighters for Indonesia's independence (Jakarta Post, Aug. 9, 2009)." It has the feel of those American black-and-white WWII movies we used to watch on weekend afternoons and late nights.

The film was inspired by "the real life experiences of the brave cadets massacred in Lengkong, and all the men and women who fought for a free and united Indonesia between 1945 and 1948." If the scenes depicted in the movie are true, and the violent, wonton massacres and deliberate destruction of property perpetrated by the Dutch soldiers really happened, then the relationship which exists today between the Dutch and Indonesians is truly a testament to the Indonesian's people’s warm hearts and forgiving spirits.

These letters between Boon and SBY, reaching me so soon after watching Merah Putih, made me hopeful. More hopeful that I have been since Black Friday. If after all the fighting, the killing, the destruction and oppression, Indonesians and Dutch Nationals have managed to reach the place Boon and SBY have—one of mutual respect and common humane goals (just as many other opponents from other wars have)— then one day, if we can manage to lift these children from poverty, if we can alleviate some of the suffering and hopelessness of poor families, if we can provide them a more hopeful future than that which comes from martyrdom, we have a chance.

As an aside, what is truly amazing and deserves to be emphasized with regards to Indonesia's fight for freedom is that the young people who came together from all over Indonesia did not share a common language. Yes, in 1945, along with Indonesian’s declaration of Independence from the Netherlands, the constitution stated that Bahasa Indonesia (bahasa means language) would be the official language. However, at that time, there was no clearly defined Bahasa Indonesia. People of each different region spoke different dialects and often completely different languages. If there was any common language it was Dutch, which was spoken by those who were either educated by or worked for the Dutch.

According to the Jakarta Post article, the idea for the film came after Rob Allyn (Don't know if that's the father or son) asked his friend, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, the owner of PT Media Desa Indonesia, about "two old portraits of Indonesian youths in uniform on his wall. Hashim told Allyn they were pictures of his two uncles, First Lt. R.M. Subianto Djojohadikusumo and Cadet R.M. Sujono Djojohadikusumo, who had died in the battle of Lengkong in 1946. Hashim's uncles were the brothers of Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, one of the founding fathers of Indonesia and the economic guru who helped win recognition of Indonesia's independence by the United Nations."

In 1945, after the Japanese surrender, the Dutch, recently liberated from the Nazi's, set about retaking control of Indonesia. After all, for around 300 years, Indonesia had belonged to them and they wanted it back. Many Indonesians wanted Independence strongly enough to fight for it. Intent on sharing the story of "brave young Indonesians willing to sacrifice their lives for the independence of Indonesia" with this younger generation of Indonesia - and to the world outside" the Allyns and Hashim set to researching and writing.

To know more about the movie:

Boon and SBY Independence Day Letters

Indonesian Independence Day--Forecast Cloudy

August 17th is Indonesian Independence Day. This Monday marked its 64th year of Freedom. Here in Jakarta, Independence Day is an important holiday. The streets are festooned with Red and White banners and flags. Neighborhoods host block parties with food, games and competitions for the children. It’s like Fourth of July in the U.S.—minus the fireworks and potato salad—but with plenty of watermelon.

Jakarta definitely didn’t need fireworks or bombs bursting this year. We have had our share. Exactly one month ago, on July 17th, suicide bombers wreaked havoc in two Jakarta hotels, the Ritz and the Marriott. Employees and guest died in the blast, many others were injured and are still struggling to recover. We are all suffering and who knows when or how our world will recover?

On August 11th, it was officially announced that Noordin Top: Terrorist, martyr recruiter, horror organizing, terrorist, believed to have masterminded the Black Friday bombings, was not killed in the 18 hour-long shoot-out with police last weekend. Rather, the dead man-who does not deserve to be named here-was a florist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. “It was ironic,” stated the What’s New Jakarta Newsletter of Aug 12th, “that someone who is capable of attempting mass murder was considered a funny and talented flower arranger by his colleagues.” I call it frightening.

As for the suicide bombers themselves: One has been identified as an “18 year old from a complex in Bogor” (a city near Jakarta). According to neighbors, this boy—a victim of Top’s particular brand of brainwashing—which includes the promise of heaven with virgins for the using and monetary payment and glory for the bomber’s families—was “described by neighbors as quiet and polite even though he came from a troubled home with his father imprisoned a year ago for robbery and his mother living in Kalimantan after a messy divorce.”

Who can celebrate freedom and independence when boys and girls are so trapped and hopeless they can be conned into believing in Top’s “ticket to heaven”? That their salvation comes in the form of explosives strapped to their backs?