Introductory Note: My upcoming novel opens with a prominent disclaimer that includes: “This is a work of fiction. All of the events described are imaginary, taking place in the future, and do not represent the world as we know it in the present day. It does not reflect the current geopolitical situation, governmental policies, or the strategic posture of any nation. It is not intended to be commentary on the policies, leadership, goals, strategies, or plans of any nation. This novel is not intended to be predictive of the territorial aspirations tactics of any nation or any planned use of terrorist tactics. Again, it takes place in the future, under fictional new leadership. Any resemblance to living people is purely coincidental.”
Chapter 11: The Missing Umbrella
“All politicians will allow, and most philosophers, that reasons of state may, in particular emergencies, dispense with the rules of justice, and invalidate any treaty or alliance, where the strict observance of it would be prejudicial, in a considerable degree, to either of the contracting parties. But nothing less than the most extreme necessity, it is confessed, can justify individuals in a breach of promise, or an invasion of the properties of others.” – David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 1777
Surabaya, Indonesia, August, The Second Year
Soekirnan Assegaf was excited to get his first command, even if it was one of the smallest ships in the Indonesian Navy. His most recent assignment had been as a weapons officer aboard the large patrol boat KRI Tenggiri. (The ship had formerly been called the Ardent when it was in service with the Royal Australian Navy.) Much of that time had been spent cruising the Strait of Malacca. It had only been three months since Assegaf had been advanced in rank from Letnan Satu (First Lieutenant) to Kapten (Captain). Unlike most of his contemporaries who were receiving logistics and staff officer assignments, he was getting his own ship.
The bad news for Assegaf was that his new home port would be at Manado on Sulawesi island. This port was considered the gateway to the Celebes Sea. It was 675 miles from Surabaya and more than 1,000 miles from his family’s home in Jakarta. He would only have one or two leaves each year, and undoubtedly his transport to Jakarta would be on slow and noisy C-235 or C-295 combination cargo and passenger logistics flights, with several island-hopping stops along the way.
Assegaf’s new assignment was to command KRI Sadarin. Depending on the perspective of who saw it, Sadarin could either be described as a large boat or a small ship. It was fifty-one feet long and displaced twenty-three tons when fully fueled. It was in the Hawker-De Havilland Carpenteria class, powered by a pair of MTU diesels. These engines produced 1,360 horsepower and gave Sadarin a top speed of twenty-nine knots. The boat had been built in 1977, but since then it had been re-engined twice—most recently in 2010.
With its standard fuel tanks, Sadarin had a range of 950 miles at eighteen knots. A typical patrol was five days, but the frequent picket duty patrols were an agonizing fourteen days. Living for such a long stretch of time in cramped quarters and subsisting on plain, uninteresting rations often led to short tempers. Stowing extra fuel (in 45-liter bladders strapped down in spare berths), extra water (in crates on deck) and extra provisions (in every available space) made the small ship seem even smaller.
The crew of Sadarin was normally ten, but for picket duty the crew had just eight men, and three of them weren’t even sailors. They were otaks (“brains”) that had been detailed from Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara–the Indonesian Air Force. These three men had no other duty than to stare at air-surface radar screens around the clock.
Assegaf loved the power and agility of his boat. He became famous for shouting in English the command, “Ludicrous Speed!”— quoting from one of his favorite American comedy films. Seldom content with cruising Sadarin at the nominal fuel-conserving sixteen knots, he often came back into port dangerously low on fuel. Behind his back, Assegaf’s men called him either Speed Racer or Kapten Ludicrous.
In 2002, Indonesia had been forced to cede the islands of Ligitan and Sipadan (near eastern Borneo) to Malaysia by order of the International Court of Justice. This made the entire Indonesian military machine obsessed with defending their territory and exclusive waters. In particular, the Indonesian Navy had closely watched the oil-producing Ambalat region of the Celebes Sea since 2002. The frequent patrols of Sadarin were just one small part of that increased vigilance.
Even before he was given command of Sadarin, Soekirnan Assegaf had earned a reputation for being impulsive and stern in handing out reprimands to subordinates. But he was also fairly sensitive to the needs of his men while on long patrols. Unlike most other skippers of patrol boats, he encouraged his men to fish once they were well away from the port of Manado. The fresh fish supplemented their usual diet of yams, breadfruit, rice, sago, kangkung (water spinach), dried fish, krupuk crackers, canned chicken, and canned mutton.
Assegaf also allowed movies and music to be played on board, often piping songs from MP3 players directly into the ship’s speakerphone system. Both when he was a naval cadet and later in his career, he spent an inordinate portion of his pay on movies for his collection. Many of these were pirated copies that he bought on the back streets of Surabaya for only 20,000 Rupiah apiece or about two dollars each. Some of the more recently released films were muddy duplicates that had actually been surreptitiously videotaped inside Jakarta movie theaters, so occasionally they’d see the silhouette of a head popping up at the bottom of the screen, or the conversation of obnoxious movie patrons would be mixed in with the movie’s dialogue. On board Sadarin, almost every night at sea was movie night, and there was seldom a repeat. The exception was usually Maria Ozawa movies.
Assegaf’s penchant for American movies did not go unnoticed by his superiors. Without his knowledge, he was placed on a watch list by Indonesian Naval Intelligence. His personnel file was flagged by one of the more devout Muslims on the counterintelligence staff at his base headquarters. Even though Assegaf was loyal to the Jakarta government, some of his personal habits were flagged as “suspicious.” Members of his crew were questioned at intervals about his behavior, his religious practices, his preferences in entertainment, any foreign contacts, and whether or not he had made any comments about the Jakarta government, or about Indonesia’s role in the expansion campaign in the Philippines.
There was an unspoken division and preference within the Indonesian military that viewed “seculars” with suspicion, and gave promotion and assignment preference to devout Muslims. In the last few years before the global Crunch period began, rapid promotion blatantly went to those who were outwardly devout carpet-bowers. Indonesia’s secular constitution was sharply eroded, most noticeably starting in 2003 when Sharia law was recognized in Aceh province. This process started to spread in the early 2010s, and by the time of the Crunch, it went into high gear. The increasingly muzzled Indonesian press at first called this Aechinization, but later more discreetly called it “moderation of morals” or “return to devout values.”
Aechinization flew in the face of the nation’s tradition of Pancasila state ideology, which had asserted that Indonesia would recognize multiple religions but be secularly governed. Most recently, under legislation spearheaded by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Justice Welfare Party (PKS), kissing in public had been banned, as well as “lascivious clothing”. To some clerics, the new dress code was interpreted as head-to-toe coverage for women, even in Indonesia’s sweltering climate. All of these steps were heralded as “defense against western decadence.”
The PKS, which was directly patterned after the Muslim Brotherhood, began to assert more and more control over all the branches of the Indonesian military. Non-Muslims were increasingly marginalized and sometimes targeted for malicious rumors, “morals investigations,” and negative efficiency reports.
Indonesia’s population of 225 million included 197 million Muslims. Kapten Assegaf was one of the many that were “Muslim in name only.” In the eyes of the new Aechinated Navy, his stance was not career enhancing. In the new Indonesia, the radical imams had slowly been putting a theocracy in place for more than a decade. Most of Assegaf’s contemporaries saw it as inevitable. Some of the more radicalized ones that were PKS members actually embraced the change. The dissenting “decadent” minority started derisively calling the fundamentalists The Jerks of Java.
In the early 2000s, the Laskar Jihad, led by Ja’far Umar Thalib was in the media spotlight. These jihadis were directly influenced by modern Saudi Wahhabism. After a couple of years, Laskar Jihad appeared to die out. In actuality, it went underground, burrowing into many government ministries in Indonesia and Malaysia. The jihadis eventually gained control of every branch of government, including the armed forces. The culmination came with the seating of the new President, just before the Crunch. His green lapel pin told the world that the radical Islamists controlled every apparatus of the government, from top to bottom.
The Reformasi (Reformation) era had ended and the “Sarip” era—the era of the theocrats–had begun. They had completed their silent coup with little more than whispers of dissent in the heavily state-controlled press.
The Crunch was the final blow for the Indonesian moderates. The radical fundamentalists that dominated under the new President pointed to the economic collapse as an “ah-ha” moment and proof that “western decadence” and non-Islamic banking practices had been what precipitated the collapse. This cemented their power and marked a radical shift in their foreign policy. From then on, open jihad became their byword.
Indonesia and Malaysia had experienced a simmering conflict since the end of hostilities in 1966. But as time went on, the tensions lessened, and they became regular trading partners. As The Crunch set in, this bi-lateral trade grew increasingly more important, as global trade collapsed.
Several things worked synergistically to unite Indonesia and Malaysia: The new presidents of both countries were distant cousins and both were strident Wahhabists. Just before the Crunch, Indonesia had assisted Malaysia in both earthquake relief and in setting up desalinization plants during a drought. Then came the “fairytale romance” between the son of the Indonesian president and the daughter of the Malaysian president which culminated in a marriage that was played up intensely by the mass media in both countries, much like British Royal weddings. Ironically, the conservative clerics, who had ordered the removal of the mushy soap operas from Indonesian television left a vacuum that was partly filled by media coverage of the romance and marriage.
As Caleb Burroughs heard all this on the BBC broadcasts, he thought about how his mates over in Afghanistan would go on high alert when the word “wedding” was listed in the Intel Officer’s portion of the Commander’s brief. “Wedding” was almost always was a code word for a jihadi attack. It seemed a cruel irony to have it actually touted as such in the media. “Life imitates art,” he thought to himself.
Shortly after the much-publicized wedding, a variation on the Austrian anchsluss occurred in Malaysia wherein it quickly became a puppet state of Indonesia. The state-controlled mass media in both countries tried to put a positive spin on the takeover, calling it “the perkawinan” (marriage) of the two countries.
The kingdom of Brunei also made special concessions that effectively put Indonesian theocrats in control of the country. Remarkably, these changes in Malaysia and Brunei all took place without a shot being fired. These anschslusse were the ideal outcome for Indonesia because they needed all of their available military power for their planned invasion of The Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. They could not have spared the manpower that otherwise would have been needed to occupy Malaysia and Brunei.
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) soon transferred most of their large ships to the Indonesian Navy at nominal cost. These included their recently launched guided missile destroyer (KD Sabah), two frigates, two corvettes, three nearly-new landing craft, sixteen Ligan-class new generation fast attack craft, two 37-meter Fast Troop Vessels (FTV), as well as the majority of their replenishment ships and military transport ships.
Meanwhile, the Sultan of Brunei “gifted” Indonesia his navy’s four 41-meter Ijhtihad-class fast patrol boats and all three of his 80-meter Darausalam class multi-purpose patrol vessels, complete with missiles and helicopters. All of these Bruneian ships were only a few years old and had been built to be state of the art. With all this talk of jihad, the Sultan felt obliged to donate the ships. To do anything less might have triggered a fundamentalist uprising in Brunei.
Ironically, the Indonesian government which under previous leadership had spoken out so forcefully against the Jamaal Islamiyah militants and the Bali bombing would less than two decades later be espousing many of the same fundamentalist Islamic goals, and building their own time bombs.
o o o
A few years before the Crunch, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged schoolchildren to prepare for “The Asian Century” by learning Asian languages. Little did she know that Bahasa Indonesia would become the most important language to learn because Indonesian culture would soon be forcefully injected into Australian life.
It was no great surprise when China invaded Taiwan. They’d been itching to do so for decades. But Indonesia’s next moves had not been fully anticipated by Australia’s strategic analysts. What the analysts overlooked was the full significance of the loss of American military power in the Pacific region. Without the American presence, many nations in East Asia felt emboldened.
Australia signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 and ratified it in 1973. But even before then, they were dependent on America’s military might to assure peace in the Pacific region. Now the Americans were gone. All around the eastern periphery of Asia, alliances were shifting. The posturing and saber-rattling began. Borders were stretched. Old territorial disputes re-emerged. Ethnic minorities were sent packing. Darkness was falling on the Pacific.