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Brocades Zaalberg, Thijs

Brocades Zaalberg, Thijs

NIAS-Theme group Coordinator

Comparing the Wars of Decolonization. Counter-Insurgency and Extreme Violence, 1945-1962.

The project’s main question will be what structural comparative research teaches us about forms and scale of, the motives for and the conditions conducive to the use of (extreme) violence by Dutch security forces during their attempt to re-establish authority during the Indonesian struggle for Independence (1945-1949).

Project Description

This subproject of the comprehensive program Decolonization, violence and war in Indonesia, 1945-1950 starts from the premise that comparative research into wars of decolonization is essential to further our understanding of the use of violence during the Indonesian struggle for independence. For this project, a team of selected foreign experts will be invited to contribute to achieving this goal. Over the past decade and a half, in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, counter-insurgency research has flourished. In the process, historians and military theorists have started to re-evaluate the experience and lessons of the wars of decolonization and have launched critical new analyses. The struggles in Malaya (1948-1960) and Algeria (1954-1962) have attracted particular attention, but other conflicts have also been studied frequently. Overall, however, the violent Dutch experience is seriously underrepresented in counter-insurgency studies. Only in recent years the Indonesian case started to feature more regularly in English-language scholarly work.

Much can still be learned from a more systematic comparison that includes the Indonesian struggle for independence. In doing so, this project will structurally improve our understanding of the scale and forms of, motives for, and the conditions conducive to the extreme use of violence used in the course of decolonisation. Comparative research will also allow us to move beyond historiographic parochialism and help dispel lingering notions of colonial exceptionalism in the Netherlands as well as in other former imperial powers. Rather than providing an exhaustive history of colonial counter-insurgency, this project will contribute to an analytical framework supporting both the synthesis and the other subprojects in the research program.

For this purpose, the Indonesian case will be compared in-depth with several cases with similar characteristics such as the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), the Indochina War (1945-1954), the Algerian War (1954-1662) and the British occupation of the Dutch Indies (1945-1946), as well as in more general terms with other decolonization conflicts and civil wars. Foreign experts will shine their light on the Indonesian case, in order to better draw out the general and specific aspects of the Dutch-Indonesian conflict. These experts have been selected (among other criteria) on the basis of a proven track-record of detailed empirical work in one of the above-mentioned conflicts combined with more generalist theorizing on (civil) war, decolonization, and extreme violence. Their perspective will be supplemented with further input from experts on other conflicts during seminars and a final conference. The selected foreign experts will be asked specifically to identify which aspects of the war in Indonesia have thus far been overlooked and may thus help contextualize the severity of Dutch atrocities in the wider framework of imperial retreat. This comparative research shall be conducted by creating an international research group at NIAS, which will be coordinated by Thijs Brocades Zaalberg with intensive cooperation from researchers in the other subprojects of the research program.

Selected Publications

Soldiers and Civil Power: Supporting or Substituting Civil Authorities in Modern Peace Operations (Amsterdam 2006)

American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies: US Foreign Policy and Indonesian Nationalism, 1920-1949 (Amsterdam 2002)

A Gentle Occupation: Dutch Military Operations in Iraq, 2003-2005 (Leiden 2014)


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