Soekarno, Hero or Dictator?

A Rather Unpopular Opinion on Indonesia’s First President

Alfredo Elias Ginting for LC Society

The Big Man himself.
“Either you die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the Villain.”

LE CITOYEN — We may know that line from the famous movie The Dark Knight by Christopher Nolan when Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), that Joker (Heath Ledger) cannot be reasoned with. After all, Batman is just one man, even with exceptional intelligence, money, and power. Soekarno in the other hand is much more dangerous and powerful than Bruce Wayne. He is the President of Indonesia, he has legions of men to back him up and do whatever he tells them to do. He was proclaimed president for life and so he is much more than just a man, he is a symbol, just like Batman.

Soekarno received inspiration of his famous teaching of “Marhaenism” from a farmer named Marhaen when he skipped class in his university days in Bandung. As a young and idealistic man, he had dreamt of an independent nation called Indonesia with Marhaenism as its philosophy. It was a beautiful dream, by a great man, for an amazing nation. But then again, dreams do not always come true.

During his rise to power, Soekarno didn’t fight with guns, he fought with his brain, his reading, his writing, and most important of them all his charisma, then manifested in his roaring speeches. Whenever he speaks, it was as if God himself had written his speeches, it was magnificent, just the kind of man the Indonesian people needed to guide them to independence.

Later on, Soekarno held some very important position in the preparation of Indonesia’s independence. Long story short, he read the Proclamation of Independence (Proklamasi) with Hatta by his side, in the name of the Indonesian people. The day after, he was appointed as the first president of the Republic of Indonesia. The first years of his leadership you get everything that you hoped for from a president of a huge nation that had just gained independence through war–not a very good presidency. Well in his defence, you couldn’t expect Indonesia to suddenly send rockets to space. At first it was OK, but as the nation stabilised with the end of the Revolutionary War in 1949, Soekarno did not change his style of presidency. He focused more in showing how great he is than to feed his people. But then again, the title of this article is hero or dictator, not good or bad president.

So, Hero or Dictator?

If we want to know whether Soekarno is a dictator or not, we must first discover what a dictator is. Based on my general observations, a dictator is a ruler with total power over a country, typically obtaining power by force. By that definition, Soekarno is the ruler of Indonesia with total power over Indonesia. How can I say Soekarno had total power over Indonesia? Well first of all, as I said before he was proclaimed President for Life, never in the history of the world in a real democratic nation any human can be President for Life. Second of all, he was a narcissist who built statues all over Jakarta the capital of Indonesia to show how great he is: The National Monument (Monas), a tower with pure gold on top of it (talk about a waste of money…), the Dirgantara Statue (also known as the Pancoran Statue), and Gelora Bung Karno, a sports complex to use when Indonesia hosted The Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO). With all the examples above, we can tell that a new nation, with a lot to work on, shouldn’t waste any of its money on something not very important such as statues and sports complexes. The resources of Indonesia should be spent on something much more important than that, for example feeding its people, build educational infrastructure all over the country especially the eastern parts of the country as part of development, and maintain good diplomatic relations with other nations. Instead, he chose to build monuments and telling other nations to fuck off (e.g.: Malaysia and her Commonwealth buddies) just because they choose their independence through other meaning other than what Soekarno thinks that is the right way. Not only that he tells other nations to fuck off, he also did the same thing with other Indonesian leaders such as Mohamad Hatta (his vice president), Generals Abdul Haris Nasution and T.B. Simatupang (both high-ranking army generals and war heroes), Tan Malaka (ardent socialist activist and philosopher some claim to be the father of the Republic), and many other great men and women. His ego writes a check that his body can’t cash, and as we all know every dictator finally goes down when the people have just about enough.

From these acts we can tell that he spent lots of Indonesian resources to show the world and the people of Indonesia how mighty Indonesia (or Soekarno) is, instead of actually developing a fledgling country desperately in need of material and immaterial infrastructure and instead of maintaining friendly diplomatic relations and creating trade treaties, waged a crazed unlimited and expensive war in Borneo and Papua. He thinks himself as more than just human, he tells other human that disagree with him to fuck off. The whole western world at some point in history agrees with what I just stated.

But then again, at some point in history he is a hero, as without him the Indonesian people may not be independent until perhaps a later time. Maybe this is what Lord Acton meant when he said:

“Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

After all, even the great Soekarno himself is just a man. A man who loves his country, a man with countless great ideas, a man of courage, a man with a sense of art, and a man with a burning passion for women. But nevertheless, a man.