EDITOR'S NOTE 11/19/2014: This is the first in a series of posts that we published on a most unfortunate situation between Singapore and Indonesia, two small but well developed nations that need each other as China continues to exert pressure on their maritime exclusive economic zones. The two nations are also small but skilled and competent naval powers. But in March of 1965 they were enemies at war. In February of 2014 we became aware of a painful naval diplomatic incident that still today haunts relationships between the two powers. On revisiting the issue this week we find that it may have stopped occupying the local front pages but no real accommodation was reached , the wound still festers. We are rerunning the series and alerting our new readers who may have missed this analysis via Tweets. There are many lessons in this still ongoing story. EDITOR'S NOTE:In March of 1965 two Indonesian special force marines, during a period of hostilities between Indonesia and the Federation of Malaysia of which Singapore was then a part, infiltrated Singapore with orders to disrupt the new nation. They deviated from purely military targets and bombed an office building killing 3 people and injuring 33. They were caught, tried, and executed by Singapore authorities. Now Indonesia plans to name one of their navy vessels after the two executed marines. This action is stirring a lot of long buried anger on the part of Singapore. Here is a link to the full story as produced by Agence France-Presse and published in The Jakarta Globe: STORY LEAD IN AND LINK:
Singapore.Singapore has voiced concerns over Indonesia’s reported plans to name a naval ship after marines who were executed for bombing an office complex in the city-state during a period of tense relations in the 1960s.
Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement issued late Wednesday that Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam had spoken to his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa over the issue.
It said that Shanmugam, who visited Jakarta this week, registered “Singapore’s concerns over the naming of the navy ship and the impact this would have on the feelings of Singaporeans, especially the families of the victims” of the bomb attack for which the two Indonesian marines were executed.
“The two Indonesian marines were found guilty of the bombing, which killed three people and injured 33 others,” the statement said.
Indonesian daily newspaper Kompas Tuesday reported that the country’s navy was planning to name a recently refitted frigate “KRI Usman Harun,” after Osman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said, who were executed in Singapore for their role in bombing a downtown office complex in March 1965.
The attack was part of an effort by then Indonesian president Sukarno to stage an armed confrontation against the newly formed federation of Malaysia, which included Singapore. To Read the rest of the story click here: Jakarta Globe::
OUR OPINION: As veterans of the U.S. naval services including at least one veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps we can understand the feelings of the families of the executed marines. "They were just following orders". But we also have to agree that if there was a specific order to take out an office building that was probably an illegal order under the international law of armed conflict. If they chose their own target it was an illegal and immoral choice. The international community affirmed in the 1940s at the Nuremberg Tribunals that "obeying military orders" is not a defense against carrying out crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of armed conflict. Soldiers are not supposed to be merely armed thugs sponsored by the state. Yes, in many armed services they may be summarily executed for refusing to carry out an illegal order. But, the international law is harsh for exactly that reason. Carry out a deadly illegal order and you may be made upon capture, or after hostilities have ceased, to pay with your life. The two Indonesian marines probably felt that they did what they had to do thanks to the typical faulty instruction for soldiers in their international legal and moral obligations that typify armed services in authoritarian regimes. The authorities in Singapore who captured, tried and executed the two marines did what they had to do and they were within the guidelines of international law. We have seen members of our own armed forces in recent decades accused of similar crimes and some have been tried and convicted. Surely no soldier wakes up and thinks ..."today I'll perform a heinous deadly act". But in combat situations things happen, people snap, people make bad decisions with deadly results. The two marines were the victims not of Singapore justice but of faulty training. Its not wrong for Indonesia to try and rehabilitate their memory, but they were not heros and should not be honored with a war ship named after them. What they did may have been an act that they stumbled into and would have never intended or even thought of doing on their own. But it was murder. It must remain murder for the sake of humanity and the benefits humanity receives from the international law of armed conflict. These marines were not evil people they were tragic people caught up in the evils of their day and not of their own making. If Indonesia wants to rehabilitate their memories from criminals to victims, a movie on the order of "BREAKER MORANT, the story of two Australian soldiers executed for war crimes in South Africa would be the thing to do. The two Australian soldiers who definitely deviated from the laws of armed conflict and killed unarmed men in the heat of conflict are looked upon in Australia as victims, not villians. As time passes the views in South Africa seemed to have softened a bit as well. Singapore needs to understand the feelings of the Indonesians about the incident but the government of Indonesia should avoid the incendiary action of naming a naval vessel after these two marines. Its not just the people of Singapore who would find that offensive. Now is a really bad time to be offending neighbors. The region needs naval cooperation against a roving dragon with a beady eye on everybody else's territory. The two marines could serve a vital purpose if their stories were incorporated into Indonesian military training in international law as it applies to soldiers in the field and especially behind enemy lines. They should be presented as victims of faulty training and uninformed decision making , as the tragic not evil figures that they are in the regional history. Their executions should be portrayed not as an act of vengeance, but as the sad, tragic inevitable result of operating outside of the international law of armed conflict. If we are ever going to move away from the necessity of having armed conflict capabilities, we have to obey and uphold the laws that place limits on what harm can be done in the name of state on state armed conflict. Its a sad step forward but a step forward. Nothing can restore the three lives lost in the office building, or repay the 33 injured civilians, or resurrect the two executed marines. But only when the whole story is told with an even hand of both sides can the victimhood of all of the now dead be revealed. Only when it is so revealed does the cautionary value of the story emerge. This was an incident that no one wants repeated. If armed conflict can't be avoided it must be conducted within the strange and tragic law of armed conflict, even if one side ignores it. Johnas PresbyterRead More : The Singapore Book shelf Link will Take you to most books in print about SingaporeSINGAPORE BOOK SHELF