Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori

Last long weekend, my indolence got the better of me and I didn't manage to leave town and join the slowly snaking queues of SUVs weaving through small West Javanese towns having plastic bags full of sweaty tofu thrust through their windows whilst the kids in the back sent text messages written in words without vowels to their school friends and smeared Silver Queen bars into the upholstery. Thank the Lord I missed that one. Instead, I decided to consecrate several bottles of the blood of Christ and kickback at home. There was also the chance to see if Herr Ratzinger's Easter address would touch on the church's current, "No child's behind left" crisis, which alas it didn't.

Thankfully, an Easter miracle did take place though and the roads in town seemed to clear as if by divine providence. The city's blanketing smog bank also parted as if by the hand of Moses himself and thus I resolved to head out for a bit of a cycle ride around my local area. Donning my Viet Cong hat and hammer and sickle T-shirt, which I purchased last year in Saigon and which I like to annoy Indonesians with, I saddled up and wobbled off down the road with all these sinewy, muscular poise of a walrus in a shopping trolley.

Crossing over the traffic Rubicon of Jl. Mampnag Raya, while trying not to get mown down by a TransJakarta bus, a taxi on autopilot or a suburban all-terrain tank (it's very important to have four-wheel drive when heading down to Hero you understand) I managed to slip onto a quieter tree-lined street heading towards Pancoran and Kalibata. After a brief five-minute stop at a minimart in order to get laughed at by a parking attendant and to buy a bottle of low-calorie, isotonic sludge in a futile bid to look and feel more Lance Armstrong like, I remounted my rusty steed and hit the road again.

After a few minutes, I arrived at Kalibata Heroes Cemetery, a huge military graveyard roughly equivalent to America's Arlington National Cemetery. This one had Metro Madness written all over it I thought and I blithely cycled into the compound. I was steering my bike through the gates before a security guard caught up with me. Luckily I saw his wildly gesticulating form before I reached the Cenotaph. Popping a wheelie up there would undoubtedly have been a shooting offence.

The cemetery contains the graves of over 7000 people, including many military casualties and veterans from the Indonesian War of Independence. These take in a large number of Japanese who sided with the Indonesians against the Dutch at the end of World War II.

The cemetery is immaculately kept and the neat, well tended rows of graves stretch in all directions, a metal helmet atop each one. A few families were wandering around the grounds, presumably attending the graves of loved ones. There were also two long walls of names and corresponding years near the cemetery entrance, very similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC.

I inspected a few of the names and dates of death at random and certain years seemed to stand out for me. Indonesia's struggle for independence and release from the colonial yoke was a just and noble cause but in years such as 1975 and 1999, the jackboot of imperialism was most certainly on the other foot. In fact, since the Second World War, Indonesia has had little in the way of real conflict to deal with beyond poorly armed resistance groups struggling for the right to a bit of self determination and bewildered villagers armed with nothing more dangerous than baso balls (which admittedly can be potentially lethal in the right hands). They've been helped, of course, in their imperial adventures primarily by my own country (the UK) and the USA.

Indonesia has its independence heroes of course, but this was a popular people's struggle and everybody, to a greater or lesser extent, was part of the fight. There is a difference between such a people's struggle or citizens’ army and what Noam Chomsky has dubbed a, "Mercenary army of the disadvantaged."

Some armies, such as the French Foreign Legion, are directly mercenary however volunteer armies, such as the current Indonesian, American or British armies could be considered mercenary armies of the disadvantaged. This means that they recruit from and prey disproportionately on disadvantaged sections of society, people who have very limited options with regards to making a decent living and getting health, pension and insurance benefits. Once recruited they can then be sent out on military expeditions of dubious ethical value.

Admittedly, Indonesia's bottom rung soldiers are underpaid and under appreciated but the job still beats selling chicken noodles and living off Rp.20,000 per day. Some of you may be bristling at this analysis but ask yourself, privileged and educated sophisticate that you are, whether you yourself have ever considered enlisting? I'm guessing that most of you would probably answer in the negative.

You certainly wouldn't catch me volunteering to go and bomb the soup out of some largely defenseless race of dark skinned people. I mean, I could get hurt. Getting a medal pinned to your chest is scant consolation of having to control an electric wheelchair via a drinking straw for the rest of your born days if you ask me.

Musings on man's inhumanity towards his fellow man over, I remounted my armour plated, 18 speed, heavily armed beast and pedaled off. Hanging around graveyards on Easter weekend was starting to seem a bit macabre. It was time to get into the real spirit of Easter and buy a massive, pre-melted family sized bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut and stick it in the freezer for half an hour. It should be just about ready by now in fact.