Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A most unfortunate name for a ship

Feb 11, 2014

WHAT prompted the Indonesian navy to name a warship after two marines hanged in Singapore for killing innocent civilians here a long time ago is hard to fathom. Such a brutal act flies in the face of established international law and generally accepted civilised conduct. How this could be deemed "heroic" is baffling. What is clear is that Indonesian officials are not taking adequate account of the public outrage the navy's action has caused. An insensitive act which could have been contained through neighbourly consultation is developing into a diplomatic quarrel neither country wants. This is indicated in the absence, through mutual pique, of an Indonesian military delegation at the Singapore Airshow where defence discussions take place.

Most telling is that a large number of Singapore ministers have spoken out, some in unusually strong language. The message sent is unequivocal: Bilateral relations are too important to be trifled with through acts of carelessness; and Singapore acts decisively to defend itself against incursions and terrorist acts.

Indonesia regards the marines who bombed MacDonald House as "heroes" for carrying out orders. It is free, of course, to honour its citizens in an appropriate manner. But the history and circumstances of events and personalities cited for memorialisation need to be weighed objectively. The 1965 attack occurred during Confrontation, President Sukarno's ill-judged armed response to the formation of Malaysia which included Singapore. There were many terrorist incursions, with all of Malaya and Singapore placed on the defensive. Indonesian officials who liken these acts to those of nationalists fighting Dutch colonisation of their country are cherry-picking its history. They dishonour themselves. Indonesia of all countries should know what it takes to contend with organised terror, and understand the pain that families of its victims have to endure.

Singapore-Indonesia relations had their rocky patches during the Sukarno and Habibie presidencies but improved thereafter, to reach peaks of cordial and constructive dealings under Suharto and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. A new president will be elected this year. Ties should be nurtured as Indonesia, as an essential part of Asean and a rising economic power, will gain from goodwill in the neighbourhood. This will not just propel its growth but promote its standing. Higher councils in Jakarta ought to steer relations back towards the path of accommodation with mutual respect as the watchword. Good neighbours should never place allies in the position of having to decide on visitation rights for a navy ship bearing names that rake up a painful past.

[To answer the question: I think Indonesia is suffering from guilt.

No not guilt about the bombing. Guilt over Usman and Harun. How they were used. How they were executed.
Soldiers do not train for the opportunity to kill civilians. I believe this to be true of all soldiers, especially professional soldiers like those in Indonesia. Soldiers who relish killing and torturing civilians are not soldiers. They are monsters in uniform. And they have no honour. And if you have any in your military, you should discharge them before they bring dishonour to your country
Soldiers sign up to protect their country, to defend their values, their society, their community, their family. They chose to be soldiers because it is an honourable profession.
Soldiers face death in active duty. They do not want to die, but they are keenly aware that death is a distinct possibility. All they ask is that they die well, die fighting, and die with honour. No soldier will choose to be executed, over dying honourably on the field of combat.

Requiem for Usman and Harun.

Usman and Harun made the greatest sacrifice a soldier can make for their country. No. Not the sacrifice of their lives. The sacrifice of their honour.

Indonesia asked these men to sacrifice their honour in obedience to their country. They answered the call to serve their country honourably as soldiers, but received orders to carry out dishonourable acts, which led them to be arrested, charged with murder, convicted, sentenced, and executed as criminals, for an immoral, despicable, dishonourable, criminal act in a foreign land.

And Indonesia could not save them.

Konfrontasi was an undeclared war, and the soldiers were covertly engaging in violence against civilians against the Geneva Convention. As unlawful combatants, they did not have the status or protection as prisoners of war, and were tried as common criminals, and executed as common criminals.

Indonesia had used them. Indonesia had spent the honour of these two men frivolously, carelessly, callously, even cavalierly for imperialistic adventurism and aggression. And Indonesia felt guilty for exploiting the faith of two young men, the obedience of two patriots, and the professionalism of two soldiers.

And so Indonesia tried to assuage the guilt, by honouring these two men, calling them Heroes, burying them in Heroes Cemetery, naming military complexes after them. And now, a ship.

All to assuage Indonesia's guilt.

But it is futile.

Nothing Indonesia does to honour these men will restore honour to these men's name.

Personal honour comes from righteousness, doing what is morally right. No one will tell you that killing unarmed random civilians is righteous. Or moral. No soldier will prefer killing unarmed civilians surreptitiously, over fighting honourably.

Indonesia can heap honours and accolades on these two men, but it will not change what they did (under orders), change how they died (executed), or restore their honour. You can receive many honours and still be a dishonourable man. You can live an honourable life, and still be remember for the one dishonourable thing you did. That is the way of honour.

But Indonesia will try to assuage the guilt that cannot be assuaged, the dishonour that cannot be erased, to atone for a grave lapse in leadership than cannot be atoned for.

However, naming the ship for Usman and Harun to honour them is an act of futility.

What best serves the memory of Usman and Harun? Their names to remain on their graves in Heroes Cemetery, on roads in Jakarta, and on military complexes in naval bases, where they would be honoured, respected, and be called heroes? Or for their names to be plastered on a WARSHIP, to remind Singaporeans of Indonesia's folly and belligerence, for Indonesia to be remembered for the times when Indonesia was not a friend but an enemy? For indonesia to be remembered not as a victim of terrorism, but as an exporter of terrorism.

Is this the best way to remember Usman and Harun?

It is probably the worst way. But Indonesia will do it, anyway. They owe it to Usman and Harun to try. And Indonesia can't think of any other way to assuage the unassuagable guilt.

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