Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Requiem for Usman and Harun (MacDonald House Bombers)

Osman & Harun were professional soldiers. 

No soldier trains to kill civilians. No soldier wants to dishonour himself by fighting unarmed non-combatants. But all soldiers learn to obey orders. Even questionable orders. Difficult orders. 

These two marines sacrificed their honour for their country, and to non-Indonesian they are terrorists. But to other soldiers, Indonesian soldiers, they were simply soldiers who sacrifice the most for their country - not their lives, their honour. 

They may act like terrorists, but they were soldiers first. Not terrorists. They did what they did because they believed it was what their country wanted. They were patriots. And their country owes them a debt that can never be repaid. Indonesia can never restore their honour to them. But still she tries. She tries by naming a ship after them. And it has backfired. But what can Indonesia do now? Backtrack? 

In commenting and arguing about this incident I have begun to empathise with the two Indonesian Marines. Of course some of the empathy is idealistic or even academic. But I will assume some universal "truths": 
1) No professional soldiers trains for the opportunity to kill civilians. It is dishonourable. 
2) No soldier would prefer to be executed as a criminal than to die on the field of battle. All soldiers face death. They best they can hope for is to die well, die fighting, and die with honour.

In this case, Indonesia had asked these two young men to sacrifice their honour in obedience to their country. And their country has failed them. The two answered the call to serve their country honourably as soldiers, and they died as criminals, executed for a dishonourable, immoral, criminal act in a foreign land.

And their country could not save them. 

So their country did the next best thing for them. It honoured them. Called them heroes. named streets and military complexes at several Naval Bases after them. But it was not enough. It did not, cannot change how they died - without honour for a dishonourable act. It did not, cannot change what they did, in the service of their country.

Nothing Indonesia does now can restore their honour to them. Personal Honour comes from doing what is right and honourable. "Honours" may be what people give you. What people accord you. You can have honours and accolades heaped on you, and still be a dishonourable man. You can live honourably all your life, and still be remembered for one dishonourable act. It is the way it is.

Indonesia knows it can never set right what it asked these men to do, but it doesn't stop Indonesia from trying. Indonesia can never undo the dishonourable and immoral thing the two soldiers did under orders from Indonesia. Indonesia can never undo the unsoldierly thing that the two were asked to do. And Indonesia can never change the way they died - executed as criminals for a heinous crime against unarmed, civilian, non-combatants.

And that is why Indonesia has given them honours. Buried them in Heroes Cemetery. Named military complexes after them. And now, named a ship after them.

It is to assuage Indonesia's guilt.

Guilt for spending two men's honour so frivolously, so callously, almost cavalierly. Guilt for exploiting the faith of two young men, the obedience of two patriots, the professionalism of two soldiers.

Guilt for the shameful death these two men received for their dishonourable yet obedient acts.

I think I understand.

But it doesn't mean I accept the naming of the ships after the two soldiers.

It is a futile act. This honouring of the two soldiers cannot atone for Indonesia's guilt. Try though they might. All it will succeed is to remind Singapore of the invidious, dishonourable bombing of MacDonald House carried out by these two men under the orders of Indonesia. All it will do, is to remind people of their guilt, their dishonour, and Indonesia's guilt and shame.

But, that is simply my opinion. How I feel about it. And possibly how many Singaporeans feel about it.

Indonesia has shown that Singapore's feelings are irrelevant to Indonesia.

Which may be the way it should be.

But, what best serves the memory of Usman and Harun? For them to be buried in Heroes Cemetery, honoured and respected by Indonesians? Or for their name to be pasted on a WARSHIP, for their names to remind Singaporeans of the MacDonald House Bombing in 1965, for Indonesia to be remembered for a time when Indonesia was no friend but an enemy? For their names to remind Indonesia of a time when it was thinkable and doable for Indonesia to carry out terrorism in Singapore.

If this is to honour Usman and Harun, it is probably the worst thing Indonesia can do. Because rather than burying the past, it revives it, reveres it, and redoubles the dishonour done to Usman and Harun. 

But Indonesia will do it. Because it can think of nothing else.

And she still feels guilty about how she failed these two young men.

[Update: Why the Indonesian Military feels guilty about Usman and Harun.

From Global Security: Konfrontasi:
"Relations between the military and the President deteriorated in 1965 partly due to Konfrontasi.... It was his attempt to infuse communist ideology into the military structure that contributed to the split between President Sukarno and the military. The military witnessed the spiraling inflation, the growing influence of the PKI and the general disintegration of the state. Factions within the military saw themselves as the only hope for the nation from an out-of-control dictator."

By 1965, the Indonesian military was starting to part ways with Sukarno. The "sacrifice" of Usman and Harun must have been painful for the military. They would see in Usman and Harun, their own fate if fate had been unkinder to them. Or a similar fate might still defall them if Sukarno continued to have his way. Thus the execution of Usman and Harun, their inability to save their soldiers would have rankled, would have been a sore point, would have been grievous guilt.]


ndru1 said...

Thanks you for sharing this alternative perspective, you have helped me rethink how to perceive these two men. I do not fully agree, but it comes down to a matter of opinion and interpretation of history. I have also added to my own blog post and linked to you.

El Lobo Loco said...

Thanks.I read your post and I was having many of the same questions, and your post was quite informative.

And having read your post and the info within, I think my post is much too kind to Usman and Harun. In another news article the prosecutor referred to them as mercenaries who had been paid $350 to carry out the mission.

The info in your blog suggests that they were not very strategic. Or tactical. Or even particularly well-trained. Or professional.

If I were to change my narrative in the post above, I would change it to "Indonesia dupes two poor Indonesian (a farmer and a fisherman) into committing terrorism. "

But whether they were honourable professional soldiers or naive peasants, they were used.

But it may be that Indonesia feels no guilt and they are just doing this by the numbers. And my post is simply dramatic fiction. But when the world doesn't make sense, we need to have stories to help us make sense of it. As long as we keep in mind that they are stories, and be prepared to dump the stories when new facts some to light.

You may have read this other blog, but if not, I recommend it for the realistic speculation as future relationships with the Indonesian military.:

ndru1 said...

Thanks, I had not read his blog, but saw the same main points raised in his commentary for the Straits Times. It is a very practical point that he has raised. And yes, I think your new narrative sounds about right ;p

leonwhy said...

I wish I had read this earlier; this really lends perspective, particularly since I hail from a service which interacts regularly with the Indonesian Navy. I am assured that our government took a calibrated response in making our dissatisfaction recorded, but not going so far as to cut off diplomatic ties.

Having said that, I couldn't help but notice the sudden attention Macdonald's House was given in the aftermath of the incident, possibly for purposes other than to remember those who died. (read: well-publicised memorials which did not take place before)

El Lobo Loco said...

Leonwhy, your comment is intriguing - a service that interacts regularly with the Indonesian Navy. But I shall not pry. I am glad to have been able to offer a perspective.

My view is that the Indonesian military is probably one of the less corrupt institutions in Indonesia. I could be wrong, but my impression is that they are quite professional and respectable. You may have a different (more accurate) view based on your regular interactions.

It is the politicians that I do not trust or respect.

The ST article (8 April) on Suharto & LKY's friendship was interesting and informative.