J.B. van Heutsz (1851-1924) gained national fame as the man who brought peace to Aceh. In 1904 he was widely celebrated as a hero and appointed as governor-general of the Netherlands-Indies. Van Heutsz knew the problems all too well: there was no peace in Aceh, the colony needed a better infrastructure, as well as more education and development. There was no unity of colonial power.
Despite debates on his use of military force – especially against women and children – he stayed on the colonial throne and managed to build some sort of unity, laying down the foundation of Indonesia. After his return to the Netherlands his fame slowly faded, until three years after his death. In 1927 he received a state funeral; several statues were build to honour him as an empire builder.
Nowadays the name of Van Heutsz stands for an archetypical abuse of military violence. It has even become a taboo to point at his merits. What explains these changes in dealing with the legacy en memory of Van Heutsz?
Dr. Vilan van de Loo is an independent writer and researcher. She is affiliated fellow at KITLV and guest researcher at Museum Bronbeek. At present she is working on a biography of Van Heutsz. Her latest book is Nota Geheim, an edited publication of a letter written by Van Heutsz in 1908. The book will be for sale after the seminar.
De Volkskrant: ‘Een blijvende morele verantwoordelijkheid stelt vragen over de koloniale tijd’
Leidsch Dagblad: ‘Van Heutsz, held of schurk’
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