Jo van Heutsz, also known as General J.B. van Heutsz, lived from 1851 (born on February 3) to 1924. The officer’s son from Coevorden (the Netherlands) made career in Dutch East India and at one point became the highest official in the Dutch colony.
Tenacious and stubborn, the army man set little store by outward appearances. He said what he thought, even to his superiors, and decorum was not his style. Joannes Benedictus van Heutsz was a practical man, a go-getter and an achiever. He liked to fight, had little patience and hated theoretical matters. Van Heutsz looked down on parliamentary democracy with disgust, repulsed by always talking politicians. What the ambitious officer liked best was leading his men in battle.
The appointment of Van Heutsz as governor general of the Dutch East Indies in 1904 was the highlight of a long-lasting career. He had set his name as basher in Aceh, the always-violent robbers’ den that would not give in to Dutch supervision. The guerrilla was an ugly stain on the Dutch colonization efforts.
“The Aceh war gnaws our Colonial Possessions, it must stop. At last let us prove to the world we are capable of that”.
Van Heutsz proclaimed this in his brochure De Onderwerping van Atjeh (The Submission of Aceh) in 1893. It was an unsolicited application for the governor post in the rebellious province. But his superiors disliked him very much, so Van Heutsz had to look for support. A pact with the academic Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje proved to be of assistance. Snouck had studied the Islam and speculated that the battle with the Islamic Aceh fighters could only be won with a well-balanced variety of violence. In Snouck’s words the Dutch had to hit the local rebels sensitively and then quickly put the Dutch foot on their necks.
Assisted by later Prime Minister Hendrik Colijn as his adjutant, Van Heutsz was the right man for the job. He sent small mobile forces into the Aceh territory to surprise and punish the locals. In many cases this resulted in excessive violence, but in the euphoria of victory no one seemed to care. One by one the local princes signed the so-called Korte Verklaring (Short Statement) in which they submitted themselves to Dutch rule. In 1903 the last Mohicans of the Aceh resistance surrendered. Van Heutsz proudly declared the Pacification succeeded.
In the Netherlands the Pacificator of Aceh became a hero. Queen Wilhelmina just loved the moustached war-horse and comedians praised him in their rhymes. The time was right for the job of jobs: Van Heutsz was appointed governor general of the Dutch East Indies.
But at the top his aura started to decline. Soon the rumours of terror against women and children in Aceh reached the Dutch Parliament. Thanks to his former adjutant Colijn he could stay on the post, but his image was gone. When Van Heutsz returned to the Netherlands in 1909, the national hero had turned into a symbol of dreadful imperialism. He retired, and died in Switzerland on July 11, 1924.