May 28, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Not Fade Away

Muhammad Fauzi

Hario Kecik is an old soldier who refuses to fade away. At 81 years of age, he remains a fireball of creative energy. He has just published a novel and is just about to publish the third volume of his autobiography. For hobbies, he paints, sings (in six languages, including Chinese), and writes poetry. He is a natural public speaker who, with a vast repertoire of jokes and stories, can keep an audience entertained for hours. When telling stories, he frequently breaks into Javanese and raises the tone of his voice in such a way that one can not help but laugh at his expressiveness. He is like a one-man culture industry where rough East Javanese humour mixes with refined cosmopolitan learning. It is difficult to believe, given the cultural abilities of today's military officers (just listen to Gen. Wiranto's CD of his karaoke favorites!), that Hario Kecik was once a Brigadier General in the Army.

As we sit in his home on the outskirts of Jakarta, he describes the formative event of his youth: the Surabaya uprising of November 1945. It was a popular revolt against the British troops that had just arrived to secure the surrender of the Japanese. The British troops were seen, rightly as it turned out, to be the advance guard of a Dutch attempt to recolonise Indonesia. A guest in Hario's house is left in no doubt of the importance of the event for him: a massive canvas about it painted by Hario himself hangs in the front room.

One legacy of those early street fighting years is his name. His full Javanese name, Soehario Padmodiwirio, was hardly suitable as a nom de guerre. It betrayed his aristocratic ancestry. All these years, he has kept the diminutive name that his friends in the struggle gave him: Kecik, meaning small in the East Javanese dialect. Despite his short stature, even by Indonesian standards, he excelled in warfare because he was gutsy, clever, and agile.

Beginning and end of an era

For Hario, the formation of the Indonesian army emerged out of the spontaneous effort of the youth (pemuda) to seize the weapons of the Japanese in 1945 and resist the incoming European troops. He did not enter the army by signing up at a recruiting office: he and four friends created their own little unit. Many such units sprouted up at that time. Each group chose its own leader from among its own ranks. As these units merged and the leaders were accorded ranks, Hario was accorded the rank of Major. In Hario's experience, the national army, in its early years, was created by civilians. Its leaders emerged organically from below.

Following the departure of the Dutch troops, Hario stayed within the army and rose up through the ranks. He became the commander of the military region of East Kalimantan in 1959 and a Brigadier General in 1962. Despite the fact that he had attended two officer training courses in the United States at Fort Benning in 1958, he had a reputation for being left-wing. His experience with the 1945 revolution and with the United States attempts to sabotage Sukarno in the late 1950s had made him decidedly anti-imperialist.

At the time of Suharto's takeover of power in late 1965, Hario was in the Soviet Union. He had been sent to study at the War College there in early 1965 by the army commander Gen. Yani. Given both his left-wing reputation and his stay in the Soviet Union, he knew he would be arrested or worse if he returned to Indonesia. In exile in Moscow, he took advantage of the time by studying. He was appointed senior associate at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Eventually, he decided to return to Indonesia in 1977 and face whatever awaited him there. Immediately after landing at the airport in Jakarta, he was hauled off to prison by army soldiers. He spent the next four years in a military detention jail in central Jakarta. No charges. No trial. No idea when he would be released. It was four years of waiting punctuated by the occasional interrogation in which he was respectfully referred to as 'Professor Hario'.

Punish the generals

After years of exile and imprisonment, Hario looks upon the army that developed under Suharto as a kind of freakish mutant. He hardly recognizes it as the army that emerged out of a social revolution. The army today still sticks to the rhetoric of that time "the people and the military are one" but has completely changed the meaning. Now the army employs the old populist rhetoric to justify its civilian militias that commit crimes for which the army wants plausible deniability.

Hario notes that the officer corps graduating from the military academy since the late 1960s have not been able to understand the army's history. What they learn is how to please their superiors, make a lot of money from corruption, and advance quickly up the ranks. 'It's too easy for them to gain promotions, especially when there isn't even a war going on.' Any military, Hario believes, faces problems in peace time. Without a war or the potential for war, 'an army loses its identity.' The Indonesian army has not faced any external threat since 1965 yet it has arrogated enormous powers to itself inside the country. It has focused on policing and waging war on other Indonesians.

The usual response of TNI officers to the crimes of soldiers is to say that the soldiers were acting on their own as individuals; they were oknum. According to Hario, 'If there is a brawl, the ones that are dismissed from the military are the lower ranking ones. Just recently, the Chief of Staff of the Army himself tore off their ensignia and discharged some privates because of a discipline problem. That kind of thing is really odd. If I was the Chief of Staff, I would first punish some generals. I would throw out the generals who are causing the problems.'


Hario sees the problem of corruption as an institutional one for which the high officers are primarily responsible. He mentions a story that a private told him last year. 'After returning home at night, he goes out again and works as a security guard at a warehouse. He only gets 15,000 rupiah a night. He does the work but his commander, a colonel, demands money from the industrialist. The colonel doesn't do any work but he gets much more money than the private does.' This kind of situation is ruinous for the morale of an army.

As Hario remembers, the military's corruption was not so institutionalised and routine before 1965. When he was the commander of East Kalimantan, there were many opportunities to enrich himself had he so desired. He could have taken money from the timber barons and oil companies and used his troops to serve their interests - the pattern of the army commanders today.

Since East Kalimantan was largely undeveloped and the civil government was so meager, Hario thought his troops had to be involved in economic development. But his model of development was different than that of the big private companies. As a populist, Hario had his troops help build schools and run cooperative enterprises. While commander, he wrote a book about the army's economic role in the region titled People, Land, and the Military.

The general who replaced Hario as commander of East Kalimantan in February 1965, Sumitro, later became one of Suharto's closest allies. It is interesting that Sumitro's biography begins with a description of the ceremony for the transfer of the command. In the book, Sumitro presented Hario as a leftist who thought his transfer was a sign that the army high command did not understand 'the revolution' he was leading in East Kalimantan. Hario laughs while dismissing the description as entirely fanciful.

At the end of our discussion, Hario promises that the forthcoming installment of his memoir is focused on his reflections and analyses of the nation's military. He briefly outlines his analysis of the political differences in the 1945-65 period between officers deriving from the Dutch military, the Japanese military, and the people's militias (laskar). He laughs, 'but you'll have to read the book for the complete analysis.'

Muhammad Fauzi ( is a historian and librarian with Jaringan Kerja Budaya in Jakarta. Hario Kecik's memoirs have been published in two volumes: Autobiografi Seorang Mahasiswa Prajurit (Jakarta: Yayasan Obor Indonesia, 1995 and 2001). See

Inside Indonesia 73: Jan - Mar 2003

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