(Year of the Protests: Cornell and the Vietnam War, 1969-70)
Cornell is an Ivy League university and so belongs to the elite of US private universities, along with Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia. But whereas all these latter four are located in or near great metropolitan centres—Harvard near Boston, and Yale, Princeton and Columbia in or near New York City—Cornell was out on its own region of Upstate New York, two hundred miles north of New York City, with the city of Ithaca (population 30,000) as its sole urban companion. For us aspiring scholars this isolation was something of a blessing because there wasn’t much for us to do other than get on with our research and get to know our fellow specialists on Indonesia. In those day Cornell was, outside the Netherlands, the foremost research university specialising in Indonesian politics and history. The then dominant figures at Cornell were the late Benedict Anderson (1933-2015) and George McTurnan Kahin (1918-2000), director of Cornell’s world-famous Modern Indonesia Project. I also had the historian of Thailand, David K. Wyatt (1937-2006), and Oliver Wolters (1915-2000), a specialist on Srivijaya (650-1183) and early Southeast Asian maritime history, as members of my doctoral committee.
For us aspiring scholars this isolation was something of a blessing because there wasn’t much for us to do other than get on with our research and get to know our fellow specialists on Indonesia. In those day Cornell was, outside the Netherlands, the foremost research university specialising in Indonesian politics and history.
These were all eminent, established figures, and they were each, in their own way, inspiring teachers. Kahin and Anderson, in particular, had great integrity and gave public addresses supporting the anti-war movement which reached a crescendo in the US in my year at Cornell (1969-70) with the 29 April-22 July 1970 US invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings (4 May 1970).
Another hugely influential figure for us Cornell graduate students newly politicized by the anti-war movement was the American Jesuit priest, Father Daniel Berrigan SJ (1921-2016), then serving as assistant director of the Cornell University United Religious Work (CURW, in office 1966-70). In my last full month at Cornell (April 1970), he went on the run from the FBI having been involved with his brother, the Josephite priest, Philip Berrigan, and seven other Catholic activists in the destruction by homemade napalm of 378 draft cards (Vietnam War call-up notifications) in the parking lot of Catonsville, Maryland (17 May 1968). After the incident, this group, which became known as the ‘Catonsville Nine’, had issued a statement confronting the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America ‘with their silence and cowardice in the face of this country [the US’s] crimes’. On 9 April 1970, on the very day he was due to begin his prison term (he had been sentenced to three years for damaging US federal property) Berrigan left his Cornell Campus office, the University marking his temporarily successful absconding by a weekend long “America is Hard to Find” event at Barton Hall (17-19 April) complete with a guest appearance by the fugitive himself!
Inspired by Berrigan’s example, and the oratory of my two Cornell professors, Kahin and Anderson, I participated in the walk-out which followed the Kent State shootings, having tried, but failed, to persuade my professor, David Wyatt, to suspend his classes and lectures in solidarity. I also joined the 100,000-strong Kent State/Anti-Cambodia Incursion Protest in Washington DC on 9 May when police ringed the White House with buses to block demonstrators from getting too close to the executive mansion, and then President, Richard Nixon (in office, 1969-74), came out to meet some of the demonstrators early in the morning at the Lincoln Memorial before the march.
My presence as a foreign citizen on this march in Washington was apparently reported by the Washington DC police to the Dean of the Cornell Graduate School, W. Donald Cooke (in office, 1964-73). But a serendipitous incident, which happened immediately after the march was over, helped me to wipe my slate clean. It happened like this: as I was walking back from the downtown area of Washington and heading through the suburbs. I started passing along streets with shops, some of which had been looted. I am not sure how this happened, maybe someone called out for my help as I went past with my friends, but I turned into a jeweller’s shop which had had its windows and display cabinets smashed. I found the owner of the shop, a middle-aged lady, in a catatonic state, completely petrified and beside herself with agitation. She asked for my help, and I undertook to walk her out of the area and provide what protection I could so she could get public transport and return home safely. As we were walking together she either picked up on my English accent or possibly I told her that I was a foreign student on an English Speaking Union (ESU) scholarship at Cornell. This immediately rung a bell with her: “Ah!” she said, “after this is over, I am going to ring my good friend Dean Cooke at Cornell and tell him what you have done!” I couldn’t have scripted this! So this was how one good deed begat another, and I was able to leave Cornell later that month (May 1970) to sail to Indonesia on an Indonesian cargo ship of the Djakarta-Lloyd shipping line with my honour intact and still in good odour with the Cornell authorities!
I started passing along streets with shops, some of which had been looted. I am not sure how this happened, maybe someone called out for my help as I went past with my friends, but I turned into a jeweller’s shop which had had its windows and display cabinets smashed. I
My decision to sail to Indonesia involved gaining access to the Djakarta-Lloyd representative in New York, Mr Pamodjo, and securing passage on one of his company’s ships sailing from New York to Jakarta. Here my senior Cornell professor, George Kahin, played a critical role. It happened like this—in mid-February 1970, I had travelled to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras celebrations and had taken a Mississippi paddle steamer. As we pulled out of the wharf at New Orleans, I saw a huge sign on the dockside which read “DJAKARTA LLOYD”. Like a latter-day Lord Jim, I made a determination there and then that I would travel on a Djakarta Lloyd boat to Jakarta. With the help of Kahin, who knew Mr Pamodjo from Kahin’s days as a pro-Republican war correspondent in Yogyakarta in 1948-49 during the Second
Dutch ‘Police Action’ (19-20 December 1948), I was able to take passage on the M.V. Sam Ratulangie sailing from Staten Island to Jakarta on the night of 27/28 May 1970. It would prove a fateful voyage which very nearly cost me my life when my appendix burst on board. But that, as they say is another story!
Although my time at Cornell was overshadowed by Mardi Gras festivities, protest marches and the politics of the Vietnam War, I also benefitted hugely from the academic, teaching and library resources at Cornell. The Olin Library, in particular, had a wealth of original material on Southeast Asian history, with a strong focus on Indonesia, and this proved a great resource. Actually, I had gone to Cornell from Oxford with the idea of doing a doctoral thesis on Marshal Herman Willem Daendels (1762-1818), the Napoleonic governor-general (1808-11) who transformed the Dutch colonial administration of Java. This was a topic which had been suggested to me when I was taking my oral examination (viva) at Oxford by the head of the board of examiners, Professor Jack Gallagher (1919-1980), himself a celebrated historian of the British Empire. He recommended the topic because I said I was interested in studying the period of the French Revolution (1789-99). But fate determined otherwise. Indeed, the very first thing my Cornell professors recommended was that I should make a start on studying local Southeast Asian languages (in my case Indonesian and Javanese) so that I could see events through local eyes before deciding definitively on a thesis topic.
So, began my long journey as a student of Indonesian languages. Javanese was not taught at that time at Cornell, so I embarked initially on a study of Indonesian and Dutch, which I needed to gain access to the colonial archives. Here, I had wonderful tutors who were both native speakers—for Indonesian a sensitive Sundanese, Pak Cakra Tanuatmaja, from Bandung and for the second a humorous Flemish-speaking Belgian. I would trudge up through the snow from my student digs at my clapboard house in 15 Dryden Road to attend the Indonesian and Dutch classes which were held at 8 a.m. before the main academic lectures of the day. These language sessions provided a strong basis for my command of a reading knowledge of Dutch—vital for my researches in the Dutch archives—and my increasingly competent spoken Indonesian, later honed during my six weeks aboard the Djakarta-Lloyd cargo ship, Sam Ratulangi, sailing from Staten Island to Palembang (28 May-14 July 1970).
I am not sure exactly of the date, but I remember studying Dutch to achieve sufficient reading knowledge to tackle the Dutch-language secondary literature and ultimately archives. We were set readings from H.J. de Graaf’s classic textbook history of Indonesia in order to improve our language skills. While reading through De Graaf’s chapter on the Java War, I came across a plate of Major F.V.H.A. Ridder de Stuers (1792-1881) famous sketch of Diponegoro entering the prepared encampment at Metésih, a small settlement on the banks of the Kali Progo just below the old Residency House at Magelang on the late afternoon of 8 March 1830. This was where the prince and his followers were lodged during the twenty days (8-28 March 1830) which preceded his capture. The plate shows a sombre and slightly stooped figure on horseback clad in his signature white jubah (tabard) and turban, the holy war (prang sabil) garments which he wore during his five-year struggle against the Dutch known as the Java War (1825-30). I am not sure what attracted me to this particular sketch, but perhaps it was the mysterious nature of Diponegoro’s portrayal by De Stuers and the fact that one could not see his face. Whatever it was, it was a revelation. As the Chinese say – a glance says more than a thousand words! That was the precise moment when I knew that Diponegoro rather than Daendels would be the focus of my doctoral thesis.
The plate shows a sombre and slightly stooped figure on horseback clad in his signature white jubah (tabard) and turban, the holy war (prang sabil) garments which he wore during his five-year struggle against the Dutch known as the Java War (1825-30). I am not sure what attracted me to this particular sketch, but perhaps it was the mysterious nature of Diponegoro’s portrayal by De Stuers and the fact that one could not see his face. Whatever it was, it was a revelation.
So, these nine months at Cornell, drab though the small Upstate New York town of Ithaca was to live in after the riches of Oxford and Leiden, opened a door for me. And once I reached Indonesia, after many false starts due to my near-death experience on my arrival in Palembang (14 July 1970), I was able to walk through it and enter a new world.
That said, however, my idea of doing a PhD thesis on Prince Diponegoro and the Java War (1825-30) met with little enthusiasm amongst my professors at Cornell. Wolters, in particular, who had served in the Malayan Civil Service (MCS, 1937-57) specialising in psy-war operations in the anti-Communist Emergency in Malaya (1948-60), did not take kindly to my choice of thesis topic. “What’s so appealing about the history of wars and conflict? Why not something more focussed on socio-economic or cultural history?”, he asked me. Wolters’ wartime imprisonment during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1942-45) and his bitter experience of the Emergency still lingered in his mind making such a choice of research area distinctly unappealing. In his mind, Dutch nineteenth-century colonial history was a pale shadow of Srivijaya. I should be doing something significant like studying epigraphy (deciphering stone inscriptions), learning fifth and sixth-century Pali texts like the Mahāvamsa (Great Chronicle) and Cūļavamsa (Lesser Chronicle) or tracing the lineaments of Indonesia’s pre-colonial maritime history as he had done with his famous works on Early Indonesian Commerce; A Study of the Origins of Srīvijaya (1962) and his Fall of Śrīvijaya in Malay History (1970).
As for my other professors like Ben Anderson, I actually got to know him better through his published work after leaving Cornell than during the brief nine months I spent on the Ithaca campus. He was not really a social animal like my bibulous and clubbable Oxford supervisor, Richard Cobb. ‘Om Ben’ as I came to know him through his writings in Indonesia was the soul of kindness, but he was not the sort of person one could go for a pub crawl with or who would invite one over to his College rooms to talk French historiography over a bottle of wine during an extended lunch break. Like the poet, T.S. Eliot, he was not much given to small talk, and I gained the impression that, for him, life was too short and the problems at hand too deep and difficult to be frittered away on unnecessary distractions. But 10,000 miles away from Ithaca in the faded splendour of the Tejokusuman, I can remember the huge sense of intellectual delight and discovery which I experienced on reading his great essay on “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture” (1972), and his mesmeric, Java in a Time of Revolution, occupation and resistance, 1944-1946, which had grown out of his 1967 Cornell PhD thesis ‘Pemuda Revolution, Indonesian Politics 1945-46’, which appeared in the same year.
Then I felt like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent upon a peak in Darien.
[John Keats (1795-1821) “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”)
What more can one say, these were all great men in their day whose name lives on in the hearts of their pupils!
Stet fortuna domus Winchester, Oxford, Cornell, Leiden and Yogyakarta, groves of academe, home of the immortals.
Serpong, 17 July 2020.
* Artikel To my teachers: A Reflection on 55 Years of Learning the Historian’s Craft (1964/65 – 2020) ini, bagian terakhir dari 5 seri yang akan dipublikasikan di Langgar.co setiap hari Senin. Artikel ini juga diterbitkan di Tirto.id dalam versi bahasa Indonesia.
 The Ohio National Guard opened fire on a crowd of students protesting the US invasion of Cambodia and the widening of the Second Vietnam War (1964-73) at Kent State University on 4 May 1970, resulting in four deaths and nine injuries, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis. It marked the first time that a student had been slain in an anti-war gathering in United States history and it led to an immediate and massive outrage on campuses around the country. More than four million students participated in organized walkouts at hundreds of universities (including Cornell), colleges and high schools, the largest such strike in the history of the United States. There were further student deaths at Jackson State College (now University) in Jackson, Mississippi, on the night of 14/15 May 1970, when city and state police opened fire on a group of protesting students, killing two and injuring twelve.
 This was the umbrella organization for all religious groups on Cornell campus, including the Cornell Newman Club (later the Catholic Cornell Community), of which Berrigan later became the pastor.
 For a description of this voyage (28 May – 14 July 1970) including my shipboard diary, see “Sumatra Johnny: Personal Memories of a Sea Voyage to Palembang from Staten Island (Parts I and II), langgar.co; and Carey, “Menyusuri Jalan yang jarang dilalui’, in Hera (ed.), Urip iku Urub, pp.26-31.
 H.J. de Graaf, Geschiedenis van Indonesië (‘s-Gravenhage: Nijhoff & Bandung: Van Hoeve, 1949).
 F.V.H.A. de Stuers and published in his Mémoires sur la guerre de l’île de Java. Leiden: Luchtmans, 1833), Atlas, Plate 12.
 For a description of what happened when my appendix burst on my arrival in Palembang on 14 July 1970, see Carey, “Menyusuri Jalan yang jarang dilalui’, in Hera (ed.), Urip iku Urub, pp.28-31
 In the early 1980s, I can remember ‘Om Ben’ immediately responding to my request for help on reading up my new ‘Maritime Southeast Asia, 1830-1973’ Further Subject, by sending me a closely typed aerogramme letter listing all the essential recommended reading I would need to do before beginning my teaching at Oxford.
 Benedict R. O’G. Anderson, “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture”, in Claire Holt (ed.), Culture and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1972). pp.1-89; and Id., Java in a time of revolution, occupation and resistance, 1944– 1946 (Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 1972).