When a country must fight to gain its independence, heroes are made. Thus, in Indonesia, November 10 is commemorated as National Heroes’ Day in recognition of the brave men and women who joined the struggle against the Dutch colonial government. The date refers to the Battle of Surabaya in 1945 when, less than three months after Indonesia’s proclamation of independence, Indonesian freedom fighters fought a losing battle against British and Allied troops. It was the bloodiest single armed confrontation in the war for Indonesia’s independence and demonstrated the fierce determination of the nationalist forces whose resistance to re-colonization became a symbol and rallying cry for the revolution.
Indonesians also recognize the unsung heroes of the independence struggle, such as the writers and artists of the “Generation of ‘45” (Angkatan 45) who set up radio stations, established underground newspapers and journals, and painted nationalistic graffiti on public walls around the country to ensure the populace was kept informed about the battle for independence.
One member of this group was Sumatra-born poet, Chairil Anwar, whose poems continue to inspire people to this day. Another was Idrus, author of the lengthy short-story, “Surabaya,” a wry retelling of the Battle of Surabaya.
Two artists from that period were awarded the title of national hero. They are WR Supratman, the composer of Indonesia Raya, which eventually was adopted as the country’s national anthem. Another was Ismail Marzuki, the composer of numerous patriotic songs.
Main streets and avenues in most all major cities in Indonesia are named after the country’s founding fathers—Soekarno and Hatta—and military leaders such as General Sudirman. But how many streets are named after authors whose creative work helped to forge this nation: Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Armijn Pane, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Soewarsih Djojopoespito, and so on? Having their names on street signs would help to remind Indonesia’s future generations that the pen is more important than the sword.
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