November 10th, 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of Hari Pahlawan (Heroes’ Day). Though Hari Pahlawan has now become a day for remembering all of those who fought for Indonesian independence, the date specifically commemorates the Battle of Surabaya, which occurred on November 10th, 1945.

Brigjen Mallaby's burnt-out car in Surabaya. Photo: Sergeant D Davis and Sergeant D MacTavish

Brigjen Mallaby’s burnt-out car in Surabaya. Photo: Sergeant Davis and Sergeant MacTavish

The Battle of Surabaya was the largest battle of the Indonesian National Revolution. Ironically, it was not fought between nationalist fighters and Dutch colonial soldiers. Instead, the nationalists found themselves facing the British Army. The British forces that landed in Surabaya, East Java were tasked with accepting the surrender of Japanese soldiers and disarming them. They were opposed by the nationalists who, seeing themselves as representatives of an independent Republic of Indonesia, believed that they should receive Japanese arms.

Tensions between the nationalists and the British grew and eventually culminated with the assassination of the British commander, Brigadier General AWS Mallaby on October 30th, 1945. Mallaby’s death sparked anger amongst the British high command, who then proceeded to increase the British military presence in Surabaya. The British demanded that the nationalists surrender, but the nationalists refused.

On the early morning of November 10th, British forces stormed Surabaya from land, sea and air. The poorly armed nationalists offered staunch resistance, but were ultimately unable to hold back the well-armed British and were forced to retreat from Surabaya

While the British were able to occupy Surabaya, the battle was a moral victory for the nationalists. The battle was hard fought, and while the nationalists lost more men than the British, the level of casualties was much higher than the British could tolerate. The British had long believed that the disarmament of Japanese soldiers and the securing of Java for the Dutch would be an easy task. The Battle of Surabaya proved otherwise. After the battle, British commanders realised that a war in support of the Dutch in Indonesia would be a costly one.

After the Battle of Surabaya, the British pushed the Dutch to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict, culminating in the Linggadjati Agreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia in November 1946. Though fighting would continue till 1949, the British would never again be involved in large scale operations against the nationalists.

Australia has its own Hari Pahlawan in the form of Remembrance Day. When I first arrived here, I found it funny that Remembrance Day was commemorated on November 11th, just one day after Hari Pahlawan. Remembrance Day marks the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the First World War. Similar to Hari Pahlawan, Remembrance Day has evolved over time. Initially used as a day to remember soldiers who fought in the First World War, it is now used to remember Australian soldiers who have fought in many different wars, ranging from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

While Hari Pahlawan and Remembrance Day are both sources of nationalism for Australia and Indonesia, their similarities don’t stop there. One can also say that they are ‘lesser days’ when compared to other, more prominent holidays. In Indonesia, Independence Day on August 17th gets much more attention. In Australia, Anzac Day gets pride of place because of its supposed commemoration of ‘the birth of the nation.’

In Indonesia, maybe its status as a ‘lesser day’ is what causes large-scale public commemorations of Hari Pahlawan to be few and far between. While I’ve never been to a Hari Pahlawan ceremony, I’ve been to two Remembrance Day commemorations in Melbourne. I found the ceremony to be solemn and respectful. Many in the crowd wear red poppies as a sign of respect to the fallen. Sailors march forward towards the Shrine of Remembrance to the tune of martial music, a cannon fires at the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, and Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘Ode to the Fallen’ ends with all present saying ‘Lest we forget.’ Like Hari Pahlawan, Remembrance Day reminds us to never forget those who have died in the defense of their country.

Remembrance Day commemoration in Melbourne 2013. Photo: Jonathan Tehusija

Remembrance Day commemoration at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne 2013. Photo: Jonathan Peter Tehusijarana

While there are many similarities between these two days, we should also acknowledge their differences. The biggest difference between Hari Pahlawan and Remembrance Day is the way they inform a sense of nationalism and national identity in Indonesia and Australia. Though Remembrance Day and Anzac Day are militaristic sources of Australian nationalism, they do not wholly dominate Australian national identity. From the interview with Pak Kresno Brahmantyo, we can see that mateship and heroism, values seen as essential to Australian national identity, are not the monopoly of fighting soldiers. They can also be seen in outlaws like Ned Kelly, sportsmen like Don Bradman, or even racehorses like Phar Lap. Even the Shrine of Remembrance, the site of Remembrance Day commemorations in Melbourne, remembers factory workers and nurses in addition to soldiers.

Largely due to the dominance of the military in government during Suharto’s New Order, notions of heroism in Indonesia are almost exclusively the domain of the military profession. Indonesians are taught this in history textbooks and the many military monuments that litter the country. While I do not aim to deny that guerillas and pejuang played an important role during the revolution, it is also important to remember our other heroes.

In the current narrative, it’s as if civilians had little to do with Indonesian independence, outside of being the supporting cast of the military’s heroic undertakings. In reality, this was far from the case. Diplomats like Mr. Mohammad Roem, who helped broker the deal through which the Netherlands recognised Indonesian independence, ‘fought’ in their own capacities as Indonesia’s mouthpieces to the international world. Though some diplomats are recognized as national heroes, such as Sutan Syahrir and Lambertus Nicodemus Palar, their names get short shrift in official commemorations when compared to military heroes like General Sudirman or I Gusti Ngurah Rai. In my view, this is an error that should be corrected.

One does not need to bear a rifle to become a hero. On the 70th anniversary of Hari Pahlawan, I see nothing wrong in looking admirably at Australia’s more inclusive approach in understanding sources of national identity. Hari Pahlawan is not only a day to celebrate the military’s role in achieving independence. Instead, it should be a day to celebrate the bravery and heroism of all Indonesians, from farmers to diplomats. These people, in spite of their lack of military training, were all heroes who contributed to the struggle for independence in their own way. Selamat Hari Pahlawan!

Jonathan Peter Tehusijarana was born in Jakarta and is currently studying Indonesian History at the University of Melbourne.