A Fictional War: Dutch propaganda and the Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949)

Commander-in-Chief of Dutch forces, Lieutenant-General Spoor, was cognisant of the fact that the conflict was one of representations in the public arena as well as military combat. Consequently, he set up a military information service with headquarters in the colonial capital Batavia. Historian Louis Zweers demonstrates that this Dienst voor Legercontacten (DLC) [Military Contact Service] produced all sorts of propaganda in a variety of media. This was fed to a compliant Dutch press who became complicit in silencing the reality of the war. The representation mediated by the press was not so much of a war but of a humanitarian mission in which what is destroyed by the Indonesian republicans one day, is rebuilt by the Dutch on the next. This was in line with the directives of the DLC that informed their correspondents that reports should focus on the role of the army in reconstruction, re-establishing security and order as well as providing humanitarian aid in the form of medicine, food and clothing. An important source of public information came from the news journals of the Polygoon company, shown in cinemas throughout the Netherlands. The late 1940s were the golden age of Polygoon, when they enjoyed a near monopoly in cinema newsreels. Film historian Gerda Jansen Hendriks shows that members of the Polygoon leadership were happy collaborating with the military authorities in creating propaganda, its Chairman admitting: “we are in principle willing to make propaganda for the army in the Indies, as long as it is good propaganda.” Members of the Polygoon board included representatives from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Science as well as the Government Information Service (RVD). The company did not itself have any camera crew in the Indies, but proved to be more than happy to accept and broadcast film footage supplied to them by the army. The production company Multifilm Batavia provided Dutch audiences with newsreels. This company provided the facade of a private organisation, but as Jansen Hendriks shows, it was a government institution. Its weekly newsreel, Developing World was meant to give the “impression of peacefulness” in order to win over opposition to the war in the Netherlands, but also internationally. Ultimately, however, though the filmmakers may have believed they were serving a “noble purpose”, in essence they were “pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”

Paul M.M. Doolan in A Fictional War: Dutch propaganda and the Indonesian War of Independence (1945-1949) (Imperialglobalexeter.com)