Political and military developments


The Indonesian archipelago had many rulers. These included the kingdoms of local monarchs, but also outside influences, such as from the Arab world and China. From the sixteenth century onwards, western powers were also among the archipelago’s rulers. For a short time, the Portuguese and the British exercised power in the area. The period of Dutch rule was the longest in the archipelago’s history. In order to be able to control and administer the immense island empire, the Dutch made use of the native population. In this way, mainly Christian Moluccans were employed as local officials, curates, teachers and soldiers.

The ethical policy

Around 1900, the archipelago was almost entirely under Dutch rule. The Netherlands began to implement its ‘ethical policy.’ This aimed for more independence for the colony, better education and better living conditions for the Indonesian population. Very gradually, the Netherlands opened up low- and mid-ranking positions in the colonial administration to Indonesians.


Around 1920, the rise of Indonesian nationalism became clearly visible. In 1927, along with a number of other leaders, Sukarno founded the Indonesian National Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, or PNI), which had Indonesian independence as its goal. The Dutch colonial authorities kept a close watch on the party, and limited freedom of expression and the right of assembly. At the end of 1929, the PNI’s leaders were arrested and exiled.

War in Europe

In Europe, Adolf Hitler’s aggressive policies led to mounting tensions. The outbreak of the Second World War affected the export of goods and transport of passengers to the Netherlands East Indies. Jewish refugees from Europe fled to the Netherlands East Indies. On 10 May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands. Indo-European, Moluccan and Indonesian students in the Netherlands joined the resistance against Germany.

Consequences in the Netherlands East Indies

In response to the German invasion of the Netherlands, the Dutch authorities in the Netherlands East Indies interned all German male citizens who were older than 17. They were considered to be enemies of the state. The authorities seized German ships and possessions. The Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger, or KNIL) had a monopoly on the use of violence in the colony. The KNIL decided to mobilise in preparation for a possible Japanese attack. Men set to work as civic guards and national guards, while women joined the Women’s Automobile Corps (Vrouwen Automobiel Corps, VAC) and the COVIM (Centrale Commissie tot Organisatie van Vrouwenarbeid in Mobilisatietijd), the central organising commission for women’s labour during the mobilisation.