Djakarta in 1952–53: A Moment of Nation-building Optimism
This semi-autobiographical paper has two sources: the official written record of the author’s father, John S. Reid, the first United Nations Resident Representative in Indonesia (1952–53); and the author’s memory of his teenage expat life there, stimulated by the discovery of his sister’s Djakarta diary (written when she was sixteen years old and he was thirteen). The author’s archival research regarding John Reid’s diplomatic assignment revealed something of the idealistic but ad hoc beginnings of international aid programs for Indonesia, notably through the United Nations. The cabinets of prime ministers Wilopo (1952–53) and Ali Sastroamidjojo (1953–55) were awash with high hopes of building a modern state. Reid was impressed at the way postcolonial nation-building had thrust a talented but tiny Dutch-educated elite into high office, and also by their enthusiasm for “disinterested and effective” United Nations assistance—as compared to the large number of retained Dutch officials and overbearing American newcomers who seemed to serve only their own national interests. Reid saw vocational and technical education as the most urgent priority, although Indonesia’s leaders appeared to stress transmigration and agriculture, and Reid was careful not to criticize these. Despite the challenges and limited resources, Reid’s enthusiasm was unabated and shines through both his official report and his memoirs of much later. As recounted in this narrative, much of what Reid accomplished and attempted was unorthodox and surprising. At the same time, his young family’s circumstance was turned on its head for both good and bad, for hardship and enjoyment. Complementing Reid’s story are his children’s firsthand accounts of moving and settling in; learning, playing, and traveling; and navigating cultural differences.
Volume & Issue:
Page range: 65-88
Cornell University Southeast Asia Program
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