Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Correcting some Indonesian History

Air Marshall Omar Dani - From Glory to Controversy

Omar Dani died at the age of 85 from lung complications. The government needs to put right his roles in history. Omar’s coming into office as Minister and the youngest Air Force Chief of Staff in Indonesian history on January 19, 1962 was preceded by a controversial occurrence. His fall was also triggered by a controversial action: the outbreak of the September 30 Movement (G30S).

Omar was sworn in by President Sukarno as Minister/Air Force Chief of Staff when he was still not yet 38. He replaced Suryadarma who had been in charge of the Indonesian Air Force for 16 years. The replacement was made suddenly because on January 15, 1962 there was a battle at the Aru Sea that led to the death of Vice Admiral Yos Sudarso. In Nasution’s book, the Indonesian Air Force (AURI) was seemingly made the scapegoat for not helping the navy ships. As a matter of fact, the battle was a clandestine action that was not part and parcel of the joint Mandala command.

In the G30S incident, Omar made a statement on October 1, 1965 that “AURI was not involved in the September 30 Movement.” This statement which was actually neutral was questioned by Suharto’s group because the statements of navy, army and police corps—which were released later—rejected the September 30 Movement. President Sukarno mentioned that Omar’s statement was made public too abruptly amid a political situation that was not clear yet.

Omar then submitted a letter of withdrawal but this was rejected by Sukarno. As a way out, Bung Karno assigned him to visit European and Asian countries to look for possible collaborations with AURI. Omar could have stayed longer abroad by making use of his expertise as a pilot. But he chose to go back to Jakarta for the sake of “taking responsibility”, he admitted. From December 1966, Omar was jailed. He was only freed 29 years later.

The G30S incident changed history. AURI was accused of involvement. As a result, throughout the New Order, the negative stigma stuck to the corps. The chance of rectifying the history of the air force was available only after Suharto’s fall. An association of retired air marshals represented by Air Marshal Saleh Basarah took an initiative to call Minister of Information Yunus Yosfiah and Minister of Education Juwono Sudarsono requesting an end to screening of the movie Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (The G30S/PKI Treachery) as a compulsory spectacle on September 30. The movie gave an impression that “Halim (Halim Perdanakusuma was a major air force base in the 1960s—Ed) airport was a lair for rebels.”

The air force then put the history on the right track by launching a book titled Menyingkap Kabut Halim 1965 (Unveiling the Shroud Over Halim 1965, 1999). It was made clear that: first, the training for Dwikora volunteers was carried out in Lubang Buaya village, Pondok Gede, not at AURI’s quarters. Second, institutionally AURI was not involved in the coup, although some personnel were involved. Third, President Sukarno’s coming to Halim Perdanakusuma on October 1, 1965 was in accordance with standard military procedure in emergency. When something untoward happened, the President could be flown abroad or anywhere with a special aircraft through Halim airbase.

The rectification of AURI’s history went smoothly and could apparently be a model as to how past problems could be solved satisfactorily. Now the past trauma has gone. Air Marshal Djoko Suyanto could even become the Commander in Chief of the Indonesian Military.

After resolving the historical puzzle, the actual problem now is the real condition of AURI itself. Will the defense system for such a huge country still rely on a land defense system as it was in the New Order era? Or is it air (and sea) defense that must be strengthened at a faster pace?

The late Wisnu Djajengwinardo, the ex-commander of Halim Perdanakusuma Airbase of 1965-1966, in his memoir mentions that AURI at that time had various sophisticated military planes. In 1962, our neighboring countries did not have the MiG-21 supersonic fighter plane. AURI also had an Mi-6, one of the biggest helicopters in the world. It was so big that when it arrived in Indonesia via the sea and was loaded onto a special truck from Tanjung Priok to Halim Perdanakusuma to be assembled, the tail rotor touched high voltage cables. Major Tek Atang Senjaya who was holding the fuselage got an electric shock and died immediately. (His name was immortalized at Semplak Airport, Bogor.)

With the present condition of minimalist weaponry and the high frequencies of plane crashes, the prospect of making the Indonesian Air Force a respected air defense system in Southeast Asia, or even in Asia, is still far from reality. Ironically, AURI once had a glorious past under Omar Dani’s leadership.
Asvi Warman Adam, LIPI historian Tempo Magazine

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