Organized Panel Session
In March 1942, Japan captured the Netherlands East Indies and began a military occupation advertised as liberation. For the mass of the Indonesian people, early hopes of a better life were soon dashed amid discrimination, exploitation, deprivation, and ultimately starvation. Yet like all modern colonial and military occupations, the Japanese-Indonesian wartime interaction was shaped and enabled not only by the interaction between powerful victimizing leaders at the top and powerless victimized masses at the bottom, but by the experiences and agendas of people “in the middle” who acted as social and cultural mediators between them. And for many of these, the envisioned potential of this exchange transcended the mere colonial. In occupied Java, a diverse array of Japanese and Indonesians envisioned and propagated Japan’s occupation as a shared, brotherly project to lead Asia to a bright modern future through a “restoration” of its indigenous culture and spirit. Subsequently discredited and dismissed in light of a disastrous war and a postwar world dominated by nation-states and their neat-and-tidy narratives of heroes and villains, the wartime dream of a “Greater Asia,” and the cautionary story of its proponents and victims, calls attention to a messier and more ambivalent history of the Second World War and its legacies. My presentation will highlight the intersecting histories and interests that drew specific groups of Japanese and Indonesians to the wartime seductions of a Greater Asia, and the significance of their transnational experience for a broader understanding of 20th-century social and cultural history.