Military Leadership: Grand General TNI Sudirman

Military Leadership: Grand General TNI Sudirman

With his various exemplary decisions as the first Commander of the TNI, General Sudirman has given the next generations of TNI soldiers a formidable and honourable legacy: A tradition of heroism in its purest form.

He left the TNI a foundation of self-esteem and pride for the future generations of TNI leaders. Pak Dirman’s character and actions at the time exemplify the character and actions of a true warrior-leader.

His heroism has given the TNI its reputation as a relentless force that puts the nation’s interests and the country above the interests of individuals or groups. He cements the idea that TNI soldiers must dare to sacrifice everything for the sake of honour and the nation’s glory.

General Sudirman was born in Purbalingga on January 24, 1916. He was an elementary school teacher in a Muhammadiyah-run school in Solo, then called Surakarta. When Indonesia’s Independence movement leaders managed to convince the Japanese occupiers that they should allow Indonesian natives to form a self-defence military organisation, various military organisations were organised under strict Japanese supervision.

In Java, this force was called Pembela Tanah Air (PETA), the Defenders of the Homeland. PETA in Java was organised at the district level (Kabupaten), and there were approximately 60 battalions of PETA volunteers trained and organised. The battalion commanders were selected from native leaders who were much respected in their Kabupaten.

In Purwokerto, a young headmaster of an Islamic secondary school under the aegis of the Muhammadiyah was selected. This indicated how, as a young headmaster, Sudirman was already well-known and respected for his integrity and upright character. Younger youth with some education and good reputations were selected to be company commanders and platoon commanders. The Japanese trained them in the officer training centre in Bogor. Amongst the company commanders were names like Suharto, Ahmad Yani, Kemal Idris, Surono, Sarwo Edhie and many other names that were to become later famous as leaders of the TNI.

During the war, these PETA commanders immediately took leadership of their battalions and pledged their allegiance to the new republic proclaimed on August 17, 1945. As the leader of the Purwokerto battalion, Sudirman immediately moved toward Magelang, one of the centres of military concentration since the Dutch colonial days. After seizing Magelang in late 1945, Sudirman relentlessly pursued British forces occupying the Netherlands East Indies.

Although the British had planned to withdraw, Sudirman’s units continuously harassed the British forces so much that their departure was precipitated. In the perception of Indonesian freedom fighters, he thus became a heroic figure representing the TNI’s fierce fighting spirit. He is credited with pushing and chasing the British forces out of Magelang and leading the Ambarawa offensive against them. This was a decisive blow in ensuring that central Java became under the complete control of the Indonesian Republic.

After the events in which Sudirman achieved fame and gained the respect of his fellow battalion commanders around Central and East Java, President Sukarno, through the Minister of Defense, appointed Urip Sumarjo as the first Commander of The People’s Security Army (TKR) October 5, 1945. The most senior officer of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL) at the time, Urip Sumoharjo, was appointed as Commander-in-Chief.

He pledged allegiance to the TNI. He was considered the most professional and knowledgeable active soldier in Indonesia. However, the leaders of all the battalions of Java protested that they did not want to have a Commander-in-Chief that the Dutch trained. They all elected Sudirman as Commander-in-Chief. Their decision was communicated to President Sukarno. To maintain the unity and the peace of the young republic, President Sukarno changed his decision. Sudirman was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the TKR, and Urip Sumoharjo became the Chief of the General Staff under him.

On December 19, 1948, despite a ceasefire agreement brought about under the auspices of the United Nations, the Dutch launched a military operation in the form of a surprise attack on Yogyakarta, the then Capital of the Republic of Indonesia. Many liken this attack to Japan’s sudden attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 or Signor Mussolini’s stab in the back against France in 1940. Faced with this reality, many of the country’s leaders at that time decided not to stand their ground and fight and prove the illegitimacy of the Dutch’s action through diplomatic and political means.

In late 1948 General Sudirman, the first Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, suffered from severe tuberculosis. His health was very poor, and he only had one functioning lung after surgery. Despite his illness, Sudirman left the hospital where he was treated and went to see President Sukarno at the beginning of the Dutch surprise attack. He suggested that the President leave Yogyakarta with Vice President Mohammad Hatta and Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir and lead the guerrilla war against the Dutch incursion. However, President Sukarno refused to lead the guerrilla war.

Sukarno even ordered General TNI Sudirman to stay in the city because of his severe medical condition. President Sukarno, along with almost all members of his cabinet, chose not to leave town to fight and offered very little resistance when the advancing Dutch troops captured them.

General Sudirman decided to leave Yogyakarta and wage guerrilla warfare against the enemy. Based on historical accounts, it can be gleaned that the Indonesian people were extremely disappointed with the news of the arrest of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister of Indonesia. However, the fierce resistance conducted by General TNI Sudirman and his men boosted the morale of the entire nation, and the TNI eventually gained the upper hand.

With his various exemplary decisions, General Sudirman has given to the next generations of TNI a formidable and honourable legacy, namely a tradition of heroism in its purest form. His leadership in the guerilla warfare against the Dutch left a foundation of self-esteem and pride for the future generations of TNI leaders.

General Sudirman has shown that he had a strong personality and no shortage of courage, a firm stance and a spirit of sincere sacrifice. He was well aware that there was a high probability he could get wounded and not receive adequate medical treatment during such a guerilla war. But he chose to put his life on the line in the interest of the Indonesian nation. His action lifted the confidence of his subordinates and the people at large in the face of the Dutch offensive.

It is difficult to imagine what it would have been like if, at the time, General Sudirman had also been held captive by the Dutch. Pak Dirman’s attitude and actions at the time were nothing but the attitudes and actions of a true warrior-leader. His heroic deeds have given the TNI its reputation as a relentless force that puts the nation’s interests and the country’s interests above the interests of individuals or groups. He puts a TNI tradition to sacrifice everything for the sake of honour and the nation’s glory.