History stands between facts and fiction
Iused to believe that the history we learnt at elementary and high school was based on what actually happened in the past. I had no cause to suspect that the truth might be magnified or distorted.
However, after reading the classic 1984 by George Orwell, I became aware of the possibility of a hyperbolic and distorted history. In the novel, the country where the main character lived was defeated during a war. Instead of admitting their loss, the ruling regime produced another version of history, which stated that the country had won over its enemies.
All information and facts visà-vis the loss of the country were abolished. To replace the truth, brand new (read: fictitious) information about the country’s victory was created and broadcast.
The main character was responsible for rewriting past newspaper articles, destroying documents that didn’t contain revisions, to delete all proof and to have “historical records” that would always support them.
On Sept. 30 last year, an article by Taufiq Hanafi in The Jakarta Post brilliantly exposed the problem of our history textbooks. He cited the presentation of the “Sept. 30 movement” (G30S/PKI) that he said was used to justify what can be called crimes against humanity by the New Order.
Then I began to notice pieces of information and important personalities that are glossed over in our history books and lessons.
For example, Tan Malaka, who is one of our heroes. I once shared a quote of his on my Facebook page and the only response I got was: “Is Tan Malaka a communist?”
The question irritated me. How could he be known as merely a communist while his contributions to our independence could be compared with founding fathers Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta?
Not many people know he is among our founding fathers. He was the person sought out by another architect of independence, Sutan Sjahrir, to read the proclamation text on Aug. 17, 1945.
The history of our Independence Day, too, contains distorted information. In sixth grade, I participated in a competition on history and civics. I was asked to mention one of the youth activists who kidnapped Sukarno and Hatta a day before Independence Day. That time I assumed that the young men were cruel because they kidnapped two prominent national figures.
It was only after the New Order regime fell that I learnt about their significant role in our independence. Without their analysis and pressure on the popular leaders to proclaim independence shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Indonesia would possibly have been handed over to the Allies.
However, our textbooks only instilled the impression that our independence was facilitated by Japan, the last colonial ruler, and that the youth played a peripheral role.
My own — and perhaps many people’s — partial knowledge regarding certain past events is a result of historical distortion and propaganda created by the New Order. Hardly any of us know what communism; socialism, Marxism and Leninism are all about because these ideologies are banned.
Unsurprisingly most of us are unable to differentiate between communism and atheism and many are terrified of an “Indonesian Communist Party’s resurrection.” It is also likely that many Indonesians will be aghast if you tell them that the fifth point of Pancasila — social justice for all Indonesians — reflects a socialistcommunist utopian principle.
So as history may be distorted and thus made subjective we must accept there are always several versions for a single past event. We have to be open-minded to a more accurate version out there, even if it is against what we already believe.
As Taufiq wrote, other sources of history, like fiction, need to be explored in addition to history textbooks. This is because, to certain extent, fictional works give insights to and provide divergent views of what actually happened in the past that are worth knowing or analyzing.
Most of us are unable to differentiate between communism and atheism.