Oei Eng Goan
As solemn ceremonies commemorating Heroes Day were held across the nation last Saturday, a private television station aired news about a 103-year old war veteran widow who occupies a dilapidated hut next to a cowshed in Pamekasan, East Java, and lives simply on charity.
She is just one of many widows who have barely been able to reap the benefits of the country’s independence despite the fact that their husbands were freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives during the revolutionary wars in the 1940s. Many war veterans themselves also live in alarming conditions.
According to the Indonesian Veteran Legion’s data, released last month, there are about 360 thousand veterans who currently live in or own houses unfit for human habitation, most of which are found in Java and South Sulawesi.
In a show of solidarity with its veterans, the government plans to subsidize the renovation of around 1,300 old, battered houses, each with a Rp 11 million ($1,143) repair fee. This is a small but good beginning to truly appreciate the deeds of former soldiers, the nation’s patriots.
Heroes are needed both in times of war and peace. Apart from a few countries in the Middle East, peace reigns in most parts of the world.
Hence, what the world needs now are heroes whose outstanding bravery is no longer shown by the number of enemies they kill in battlefields but by their philanthropy benefiting the needy and the sick, as exemplified by computer-wizard-cum-billionaire Bill Gates.
Patriotic words like Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” are out of time. Instead, one often hears “Save the earth and save the environment” warnings, a reminder that mankind could be exposed to weather hazards if natural resources were excessively exploited.
In the case of Indonesia, we need heroes who will stand invincibly in their fight against corruptors, as spearheaded by officials of the Corruption Eradication Commission and the antigraft activists.
In the political and economic spheres, younger generation of politicians and economists should take their cue from Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, the country’s founding fathers and proclaimers of independence, who last week were named National Heroes, an honor that was long overdue.
The duo, according to historians, even had to sell their personal belongings to help finance the people’s struggle for independence, a stark contrast to scores of present-day politicians and lawmakers who have shamelessly stolen the state’s money for their own personal interest.
Indonesia is also in dire need of new heroes to make breakthroughs in law enforcement matters, such as courageously defending and protecting the basic rights of the minority groups who have been repeatedly attacked and harassed. Like what happened to followers of the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect and the Shiite Muslim branch as well as to the Yasmin church congregation.
Police and other law enforcement officials should never hesitate — in the same manner as they clamped down on terrorist networks and drug trafficking rings — to undertake firm and concrete measures against those who take the law into their own hands. People who violate the Constitution so severely, should be punished severely.
A ray of flickers amid this gloomy picture of the country, is brought by thousands of young Indonesian volunteer teachers, innovators and athletes who shine in the eyes of the international community.
The teachers enlighten students in remote outlying areas in poorly equipped classrooms, the innovators won several international robot-making contests and boxer Chris John retained his WBA featherweight title championship for the 17th time.
Nowadays, heroes do not carry weapons. Instead they arm themselves with broad knowledge, high skills and a creative mind with which they are expected to make the world a better and safer place to live in.
Heroic deeds last forever.
Oei Eng Goan, a former literature lecturer at National University (UNAS) in Jakarta, is a freelance journalist.