From Warriors to Pioneers: Veterans and State-Building in Early Postcolonial Indonesia

Mr Woonkyung Yeo1

1Seoul National University, South Korea

This paper explores the significance of veterans of the Revolutionary War (1945-49) in Indonesia in the mid-twentieth century. After the war, while being praised as heroes saving the nation, veterans often became social problems and potential threats to the government. Many ex-soldiers had difficulties in returning to “normal life”, and some of them who were not unarmed were often involved in military affairs, even regional rebellions. Thus, one of the urgent tasks of the government for social stability was to demobilize and “resocialize” them. From the early 1950s, the government encouraged veterans to participate in “development” program, especially “transmigration.” Veteran organizations, especially the Legion of Indonesian Veterans established in 1957, got involved in diverse economic activities with governmental support and became powerful organizations. As such, from the mid-1950s, symbiotic relationship between the government and veterans grew, and many warriors of the Revolution became pioneers in national development. By analyzing archives on government policies and propaganda, and periodicals of veteran organizations, this paper attempts to investigate how the veterans’ organizations and the interplay between them and government worked, and to show that their transition from warriors to pioneers testifies to continual but transformed legacies of the Revolution in postwar Indonesia.


Woonkyung Yeo is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies in Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, Seoul National University. His research interests include transnational socioeconomic mobility, nationalism and the politics of culture, and state-society relations in Indonesia in the context of decolonization and the Cold War.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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