How can such a gentle people as we are be so murderous? a prominent Indonesian asks. That question--and the mysteries of the archipelago's vast contradictions--haunt Theodore Friend's remarkable work, a narrative of Indonesia during the last half century, from the postwar revolution against Dutch imperialism to the unrest of today. Part history, part meditation on a place and a past observed firsthand, Indonesian Destinies penetrates events that gave birth to the world's fourth largest nation and assesses the continuing dangers that threaten to tear it apart. Friend reveals Sukarno's character through wartime collaboration with Japan, and Suharto's through the mass murder of communists that brought him to power for thirty-two years. He guides our understanding of the tolerant forms of Islam prevailing among the largest Muslim population in the world, and shows growing tensions generated by international terrorism. Drawing on a deep knowledge of the country's cultures, its leaders, and its ordinary people, Friend gives a human face and a sense of immediacy to the self-inflicted failures and immeasurable tragedies that cast a shadow over Indonesia's past and future. A clear and compelling passion shines through this richly illustrated work. Rarely have narrative history and personal historical witness been so seamlessly joined.
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Of the major countries in Asia, Indonesia is the least known to Americans, and Friend, a distinguished educator and scholar, hopes to provide a sense of that country's history over the past half ... Read full review
Indonesian Destinies by Theodore Friend provides a highly readable account of modern Indonesian history, roughly from the time of its independence from the Dutch up through the initial presidency of Megawati.
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The book is based largely on the personal accounts, often in the form of face-to-face encounters, experienced by the author following about 40 years of visits to Indonesia. As a Senior Fellow of the U.S. Foreign Policy Research Institute and through various other high level appointments he regularly had access to leading Indonesian politicians and observers.
The book is quite anecdotal, opinionated and felt to me very much like it was written by an American for fellow Americans. By this, I mean that it placed many of the idealized expectations for political leaders felt by Americans into a framework to judge Indonesia's leaders. For example, while showing no tolerance for corruption, especially when perpetrated by high level leaders that had obtained their education and early professional experiences in America, Friend often didn't offer a solution for how Indonesia could reasonably break out of its corruption cycle, particularly bearing in mind how poorly funded the government has generally been. Perhaps it should be noted that Friend appears to be a fairly religious evangelical Christian who didn't hesitate to offer prayers to many of his acquaintances.
However, the analysis by an American and from an American viewpoint may in fact be an appropriate lens through which to view Indonesian history. After all, America played a significant role in Indonesia's independence and it's history throughout the cold war. Friend does a fairly good job documenting this history, although other books I've read devote a bit more space to America's (often bungled) CIA interventions in the 1950s and 60s. While Friend becomes increasingly critical of Suharto's rule (particularly the last 15 years), he does not place any culpability on the US for his over-extended tenure (presumably because he didn't believe America had any fault in effectively supporting his regime).
The final chapter, and in particular the last few pages of the final chapter, provide some very thought-provoking context by which to imagine how Indonesia might evolve, and the dynamic of the relationship it may have going forward with USA. He places a significant amount of responsibility on America to pro-actively work on foreign policy that would see countries such as Indonesia evolve to fulfill the hopes of a free democracy. At the same time, he points out that the nature of this freedom and democracy may not conform to the spirit of what Americans like, and to some degree, it is up to Americans to learn to accept these differences. While having correctly lambasted various high-ranking Indonesian politicians for variously describing the 9/11 attacks as a Zionist conspiracy or simply a deserved attack, he does suggest that post-cold war negligence and arrogance were at stake in facilitating the unchecked growth of communities that would ultimately end up supporting and training fanatics.
He quotes Michael Ignatieff, a historian and politician, and Reinhold Niebuhr, a protestant theologian, to hammer down the point that America's arrogance and naivete made it extremely vulnerable to a 9/11 type of attack. He quotes Ignatieff who says "[American administrations of the 1990s] thought they could have imperial domination on the cheap, ruling the world without putting in place any... new military alliances, new legal institutions, [or] new international development organizations." And from Reinhold Nieber he quotes "Among the lesser culprits of history are the bland fanatics of western civilization who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence... Our
THE LARGEST MUSLIM NATION
INDONESIA THE DEVOURING NURTURER
EGO VOICE VERTIGO
THE SMILE OF PROGRESS
THE NEW MAJAPAHIT EMPIRE
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
NEW LEADERS NEW ISLAM
ELECTION 1999 REDS GREENS BLUES YELLOWS
SUKARNOS DAUGHTER IN THE PALACE