Colonialism: over there or underfoot

It’s not a word the Dutch have much trouble with. “Yes, of course we had colonies and got rich from them.” Most would likely be able to say this without a shudder. Many live in fine houses, some more than a century old, built with salaries, pensions or dividends derived from the colonies. The largest and most lucrative was what is now Indonesia. The colonial history Dutch schoolchildren learn centres on the Golden Age when Amsterdam was the financial capital of the world and on the exploits of the VOC, the United Dutch East Indies Company, which for almost two centuries was the country’s military-commercial complex. Historians have uncovered some dark corners of the story but that hasn’t much altered the hue of what the kids take away. Towards the end, some of the darkness came home. In the late 1940’s the Dutch fought rearguard actions against Indonesian independence, the Politionele Acties. They’ve been called the Netherlands’ Vietnam. Veterans returned disgusted by what they saw and the lies they had been told. Opposition built at home and abroad. The Dutch soon pulled out. Some 12,500 Moluccans went with them, soldiers who had fought for the Dutch, and their families. The government promised to negotiate for a homeland in the Moluccan Islands, in the meantime housing them in former Nazi concentration camps. The promises lapsed. In the 1970s, frustrated, 2nd...

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