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Seluruh Korban Rejim Jendral Suharto

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Dedicated to:
all the Victims of General Suharto´s Regime


Indonesia, master card in Washington’s hand

The Asian crisis has claimed its first victim - apart from the millions of workers now unemployed - General Suharto. President for over thirty years, he had a monopoly of power based on emoluments and corruption. Finally, he proved unable to carry out the reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund or to stop the riots. On 21 May 1998 he resigned. His successor, Jusuf Habibie, has given some signs of change with the announcement of elections, the release of political prisoners and changes at the top of the army. But will the country get the thorough-going change it needs?

By Noam Chomsky

On May 20 1998 United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called upon Indonesia’s President Suharto to resign and provide for "a democratic transition." A few hours later, Mr Suharto transferred formal authority to his hand-picked vice-president. The two events were not simple cause and effect. They do, however, give some indication of the nature of the relations that have evolved over half a century.

Four months earlier, an Australian publication had reported that while "IMF Director Michel Camdessus stood over Suharto with his arms folded in true colonial style, Suharto signed a new IMF agreement." The photo showing the "humbling of Suharto" was "plastered across the local papers" the next day (1). Whatever the circum-stances, the symbolism was not missed.

Mr Suharto’s rule relied crucially on US support. He has been a favourite of Western governments and investors since he took power in 1965. To sustain his power and violence, the White House has repeatedly evaded congressional restrictions on military aid and training: Jimmy Carter in 1978, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1998. The Clinton Administration also suspended review of Indonesia’s appalling labour practices while praising Jakarta for bringing them "into closer conformity with international standards."

Mr Suharto’s recent fall from grace follows a familiar course: Mobutu, Saddam Hussein, Duvalier, Marcos, Somoza, etc. The usual reasons are disobedience or loss of control. In Suharto’s case, both factors operated: his failure to follow IMF orders that were subjecting the population to cruel punishment, then his inability to subdue popular opposition, which made it clear that his usefulness was at an end.

After the second world war, Indonesia had a prominent place in US efforts to construct an international political and economic order. Planning was careful and sophisticated; each region was assigned its proper role. The "main function" of Southeast Asia was to provide resources and raw materials to the industrial societies. Indonesia was the richest prize. In 1948 the influential planner George Kennan described "the problem of Indonesia" as "the most crucial issue of the moment in our struggle with the Kremlin" - that is, the struggle against independent nationalism, whatever the Kremlin role might be (in this case, very slight).

Kennan warned that a "communist" Indonesia would be an "infection" that "would sweep westward" through all of South Asia. The term "communism" is routinely used to cover any form of independent nationalism, and it is understood that "infections" spread not by conquest but by example.

"The problem of Indonesia" persisted. In 1958 US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles informed the National Security Council that Indonesia was one of three major world crises, along with Algeria and the Middle East. He emphasized that there was no Soviet role in any of these cases, with the "vociferous" agreement of President Eisenhower. The main problem in Indonesia was the Communist party (PKI), which was winning "widespread support not as a revolutionary party but as an organization defending the interests of the poor within the existing system," developing a "mass base among the peasantry" through its "vigor in defending the interests of the...poor (2)".

The US embassy in Jakarta reported that it might not be possible to overcome the PKI "by ordinary democratic means", so that "elimination" by police and military might be undertaken. The Joint Chiefs of Staff urged that "action must be taken, including overt measures as required, to ensure either the success of the dissidents or the suppression of the pro-communist elements of the Sukarno government."

The "dissidents" were the leaders of a rebellion in the outer islands, the site of most of Indonesia’s oil and US investments. US support for the secessionist movement was "by far the largest, and to this day the least known, of the Eisenhower administration’s covert militarized interventions," two leading Southeast Asia specialists conclude in a revealing study (3). When the rebellion collapsed, after bringing down the last residue of parliamentary institutions, the US turned to other means to "eliminate" the country’s major political force.

That goal was achieved when Suharto took power in 1965, with Washington’s strong support and assistance. Army-led massacres wiped out the PKI and devastated its mass base in "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century," comparable to the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, the CIA reported, judging "the Indonesian coup" to be "certainly one of the most significant events of the 20th century (4)". Perhaps half a million or more were killed within a few months.

The events were greeted undisguised euphoria. The New York Times described the "staggering mass slaughter" as "a gleam of light in Asia," praising Washington for keeping its own role quiet so as not to embarrass the "Indonesian moderates" who were cleansing their society, then rewarding them with generous aid (5). Time praised the "quietly determined" leader Suharto with his "scrupulously constitutional" procedures "based on law, not on mere power" as he presided over a "boiling bloodbath" that was "the West’s best news for years in Asia" (6).

The reaction was near uniform. The World Bank restored Indonesia to favour. Western governments and corporations flocked to Suharto’s "paradise for investors," impeded only by the rapacity of the ruling family. For more than 20 years, Suharto was hailed as a "moderate" who is "at heart benign" (The Economist) as he compiled a record of slaughter, terror, and corruption that has few counterparts in postwar history.

Suharto is also hailed for his economic achievements. An Australian specialist who participated in economic modeling in Indonesia dismisses the standard figures as "seriously inaccurate": the regularly reported 7% growth rate, for example, was invented on government orders, overruling the assessment of the economists (7). He confirms that economic growth took place, thanks to Indonesia’s oil reserves and the green revolution, "the benefits of which even the massive inefficiency of the system of corruption could not entirely erode." The benefits were enhanced by extraction of other resources and the supply of super-cheap labour, kept that way by the labour standards that impress Washington. Much of the rest is "a mirage," as was quickly revealed when "foreign investors stampeded."

The estimated $80 billion private debt is held by at most a few hundred individuals, Indonesian economists estimate, perhaps as few as fifty. The wealth of the Suharto family is estimated at roughly the scale of the IMF rescue package. The estimates suggest simple ways to overcome the "financial crisis," but these are not on the agenda. The costs are to be borne primarily by 200 million Indonesians who borrowed nothing, along with Western taxpayers, in accord with the rules of "really existing capitalism".

In 1975, the Indonesian army invaded East Timor, then being taken over by its own population after the collapse of the Portuguese empire (8). The US and Australia, at least, knew that the invasion was coming and approved it. Australian Ambassador Richard Woolcott urged his government to follow the "pragmatic" course of "Kissingerian realism," (Kissinger was then secretary of state in the Ford Administration). This was for one reason, because Australia might be able to make a better deal on Timor’s oil reserves with Indonesia "than with Portugal or independent Portuguese Timor."

The Indonesian army relied on the US for 90% of its arms, which were restricted to use in "self-defense." The rules were followed in accord with that same "Kissingerian realism" and scant attention was paid to the restriction. Adhering to the same doctrine, Washington immediately stepped up the flow of arms while declaring an arms suspension.

The UN Security Council ordered Indonesia to withdraw, but that was an empty gesture. As UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan explained in his memoirs, he followed the directives of the State Department to render the UN "utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook" because "the United States wished things to turn out as they did" and "worked to bring this about." He also described how "things turned out," noting that within a few months 60,000 Timorese had been killed, "almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the second world war."

The massacre continued, peaking in 1978 with the help of new arms provided by the Carter Administration. The toll is estimated at about 200,000, the worst slaughter relative to population since the holocaust. By 1978 the US was joined by Britain, France, and others eager to gain what they could from the slaughter. Under the presidency of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, French Foreign Minister Louis de Guiringaud visited Jakarta to arrange for the sale of French arms, judging his visit to have been "satisfying in all respects" and adding that France would not "embarrass" Indonesia in international forums (9). Protest in the West was minuscule; little was even reported.

Atrocities continue to the present with the decisive support of the US and its allies, though popular protest has increased, within Indonesia as well, where courageous dissidents, also unreported, have been calling on the West to live up to its fine words. To bring this horror to an end requires no bombing, sanctions or other drastic means: simple unwillingness to participate might well have sufficed. But that was never considered an option. The implications remain unexamined, dismissed in favour of ritual and irrelevant appeals to the cold war.

In 1989 Australia signed a treaty with Indonesia to exploit the oil of "the Indonesian Province of East Timor" - which sober realists tell us is not economically viable and therefore cannot be granted the right of self-determination affirmed by the Security Council and the World Court. The treaty was put into effect immediately after the army massacred several hundred more Timorese at a graveyard commemoration of a recent army assassination. Western oil companies joined in the robbery, eliciting no comment.

So matters continued until General Suharto made his first mistakes...

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Indonesia:  U.S. Role in 1965 Massacres

Confessions from the U.S. State Department

Revolutionary Worker #1116, August 26, 2001, posted at

"Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote jails…The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies."

Time, December 17, 1965

The exact number of people killed in dictator Suharto’s rise to power in Indonesia in 1965-1966 may never be known. A U.S. State Department estimate in 1966 placed the figure at 300,000. Official Indonesian data released in the mid-1970s placed the number of deaths between 450,000 and 500,000. In 1976, Admiral Sudomo, the head of the Indonesian state security system, said more than 500,000 had been murdered. And Amnesty International has quoted one source placing the number killed at 700,000 and another at "many more than one million."

In 1990, 25 years after the massacre, a villager in a city in Northern Sumatra recalled that, "For six months, no-one wanted to eat fish from the river because they often found human fingers inside the fish."


The people of the world will never forget and never forgive this horrendous crime against the people. But government officials in the U.S. are still trying wash the blood from their hands and cover up how the U.S. supported and aided this mass murder.

In late July 2001, the U.S. government ordered all copies of a research volume recalled from libraries and bookstores. The 800-plus-page volume, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968: Vol. 26--Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philip-pines, talks about how the U.S. government provided financial and military support and lists of political activists to the Indonesian military as it carried out the huge 1965-1966 slaughter aimed at communists and other political activists.

The volume, part of a large documentary history of U.S. foreign policy, is an official publication by the U.S. State Department. Released 30 years after the period covered, these volumes are produced as "the official documentary historical record of major U.S. foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity."

The CIA also held up the release of the volume in the series that covers Greece, Turkey and Cypress from 1964-1968. This volume most likely contains information about how the U.S./CIA backed the reactionary junta which seized control in Greece in 1967. In 1990, the CIA censored the volume on Iran in the 1950s -- deleting any reference to the CIA-backed coup that brought the Shah of Iran to power in 1953.

But the U.S. attempts to censor the volume on Indonesia have so far been unsuccessful. The volume was obtained by the National Security Archives at George Washington University, which posted them on the internet ( NSAEBB/NSAEBB52/). And publicity around the attempts at censorship has only drawn more attention to the volume. At the University of California Berkeley several faculty members have written letters urging the library to refuse to comply with the government’s request to return the book.

In early August, the State Department backed down and released the volume covering Indonesia in the 1960s -- denying there had been an attempt to censor the volume.

From the Horse’s Mouth

The new State Department volume on Indonesia, while hardly a complete document-tation of U.S. covert actions related to the 1965 coup, does contain some revelations on matters previously denied by U.S. officials.

Before the coup the government in Indonesia was a coalition government headed by Sukarno. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was a major force in this coalition government.* The Sukarno government didn’t stand for genuine independence from imperialism, but it took some actions which reflected bourgeois national interests.

The new State Department book on Indonesia documents communications back and forth between the embassy in Jakarta and the U.S. State Department in 1965 and 1966 reporting on the arrests and killings of the PKI leadership. On August 10, 1966, Ambassador Green sent a memo to the State Department reporting that a "sanitized" [meaning without reference to their source in the U.S. embassy] version of the lists of PKI members was made available to the Indonesian government in December 1965 and "is apparently being used by Indonesian security authorities who seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership at the time."

The volume also documents direct U.S. financial support for the Indonesian death squads called Kap-Gestapu. On December 2, 1965 Ambassador Green wrote a memo to Assistant Secretary of State Bundy about providing 50 million rupiahs to a leader of the death squads:

"This is to confirm my earlier concurrence that we provide Malik with fifty million rupiahs requested by him for the activities of the Kap-Gestapu movement…The Kap-Gestapu activities to date have been important factor in the army’s program, and judging from results, I would say highly successful. This army-inspired but civilian-staffed action group is still carrying burden of current repressive efforts targeted against PKI, particularly in Central Java.… The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be."

Horrific Massacre: Made in the USA

The U.S. had major strategic concerns about Southeast Asia. At this time, the U.S. was getting in deep trouble in Vietnam. Maoist China had become a powerful revolutionary influence throughout Asia and the world. Anti-U.S. sentiment was growing in Indonesia. And given all this, the U.S. wanted a more reliable pro-U.S. regime in Indonesia.

Right before the coup in Indonesia, U.S. President Johnson said, "There are great stakes in the balance. Most of the non-Communist nations of Asia cannot, by them-selves and alone, resist the growing might and the grasping ambition of Asia communism. Our power, therefore, is a very vital shield."

Guy Pauker, an analyst for the RAND Corporation (a U.S. government think tank) who also was on the CIA’s payroll, produced reports advocating military and economic aid to the Indonesian military in order for them to "succeed in the competition with communism." He expressed doubts that Indonesia’s leaders were capable of doing "what was necessary" to combat what the U.S. saw as a "communist threat." In a 1964 RAND memo Pauker wrote, "These forces would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany." According to Pauker, the military had to be relied on and strengthened and he explicitly mentioned Suharto as a figure the U.S. should groom for power.

By 1965, the United States had trained 4,000 officers in the Indonesian military. The CIA built networks of agents and informants in the trade unions, where the PKI had a lot of influence. And U.S. dollars also went towards strengthening Pertamina, the oil company run by the Indonesian army. Foreign oil money, particularly from U.S. and Japanese oil companies, was channeled through Pertamina and became another way that the U.S. built and strengthened the military forces it wanted to come to power.

The Indonesian army, led by the U.S.-trained generals, played a key role in the massacres--doing a large part of the killing directly, supplying trucks, weapons and encouragement to paramilitary and vigilante death squads, and actively promoting an anti-communist hysteria that spurred on the bloody murders.

The New York Times described the Johnson administration’s "delight with the news from Indonesia" and the private responses of U.S. officials who were "elated to find their expectations being realized." President Johnson’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, cabled his encouragement to the Jakarta embassy. The "campaign against the communists," he wrote, must continue as the military "are [the] only force capable of creating order in Indonesia’’. The U.S. ambassador replied that he had assured Suharto and his generals "that the U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing."

U.S. Lists, U.S. Denials

In 1990, Kathy Kadane, a reporter with States News Service, published an article that appeared in the South Carolina Herald Journal, the San Francisco Examiner and the Boston Globe. Quoting senior officials in the U.S. embassy in 1965-1966, Kadane’s article documented the role of U.S. officials in providing lists of names of PKI members and leaders to the Indonesian military.

In lengthy interviews, former senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officers revealed how the U.S. compiled comprehensive lists of Communist activists--as many as 5,000 names--and gave them to the Indonesian army.

Robert J. Martens, a former member of the embassy’s political section who was responsible for compiling the lists and turning them over to the Indonesian military, told Kadane, "It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."

Top U.S. Embassy officials approved release of the list, which was a detailed who’s-who of the leadership of the PKI. It included names of provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders of mass organizations such as the PKI national labor federation, women’s and youth groups. Embassy officials carefully recorded the subsequent destruction of the PKI organization. Using Martens’ lists as a guide, they checked off names of captured and assassinated PKI leaders, tracking the steady dismantling of the party apparatus. Detention centers were set up to hold those who were not killed immediately. By the end of January 1966, the deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta said the checked-off names were so numerous CIA analysts in Washington concluded the PKI leadership had been destroyed.

Former CIA Director William Colby, director of the CIA’s Far East division in 1965, revealed that compiling lists of members and leaders of liberation movements is a key part of the CIA strategy of repression. Colby compared the embassy’s campaign to identify the PKI leadership to the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam. Phoenix was a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese program set up by the CIA in December 1967 that murdered suspected members and supporters of the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. During Nixon’s first 2 1/2 years, State Department officially admitted that the CIA-run Phoenix program murdered or abducted close to 36,000 civilians. Speaking of the Phoenix program, Colby said, "The idea of identifying the local apparatus was designed to--well, you go out and get them to surrender, or you capture or you shoot them."

In 1962, when Colby took over as chief of the CIA’s Far East Division and discovered the U.S. didn’t have comprehensive lists of PKI activists, he said not having the lists "could have been criticized as a gap in the intelligence system," and that such lists were useful for "operation planning." Without such lists, he said, "you’re fighting blind."

Despite overwhelming evidence, the CIA denied the allegations in Kadane’s article. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, "There is no substance to the allegation that the CIA was involved in the preparation and/or distribution of a list that was used to track down and kill PKI members. It is simply not true." Marshall Green, who was U.S. ambassador to Indonesia at the time, told the New York Times that the Kadane report was "garbage." But now, the U.S. State Department’s own official history of the 1965-1966 mass killings in Indonesia openly admits that the U.S. not only provided Suharto’s butchers with military leadership, political backing, and U.S. dollars--but the hit lists as well.

*The Maoist journal A World to Win wrote in 1998 on the coup that brought Suharto to power: "The responsibility for this monstrous crime must be laid squarely at the doorsteps of the Indonesian reactionaries and their U.S. imperialist masters. At the same time it is true that the PKI was extremely vulnerable to such an onslaught, and no effective organized resistance to the massacre was ever built. By the mid-1960s, the core of the PKI leadership had become rotten with years of revisionism. The PKI put forward a wrong view of the state and in practice participated in and glorified Sukarno and the coalition government which decidedly was not under proletarian leadership. The PKI also went down the revisionist path on the process of revolution, seconding the thesis of a ‘peaceful road to socialism’ advocated by the Soviet revisionists who came to power in 1956." For more on this see "Self-Criticism of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) – 1966" in AWTW #24.

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Volume 25, Number 9 · June 1, 1978

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By Benedict  R. Anderson, Ruth McVey

In response to What Happened in Indonesia? An Exchange (February 9, 1978)

To the Editors:

As the "Cornell scholars" to whose study of the October 1, 1965 coup in Indonesia Francis Galbraith alludes in his attack on Amnesty International's criticism of extensive human rights' violations in that country (see his letter in The New York Review of Books, February 9, 1978), we feel that his remarks deserve some comment.

Mr. Galbraith's view of things is simple: the "coup" of 1965, in which six generals were killed, was a bungled communist attempt to seize power. He asserts that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) has made "repeated and bloody" attempts to over-throw governments in Indonesia, namely, in 1926, 1948, and 1965—but neglects to mention that the first of these was a rebellion against Dutch colonial rule! The Party's penchant for violence, he suggests, was demonstrated before the coup by the fact that it "stimulated conflict in the villages of East and Central Java by a program of land expropriations carried out by force by PKI followers." The unwary reader should be advised that this "program," carried out in 1964, was an attempt to obtain compliance with statutes on land-reform and share-cropping, dating back five years. Much of the actual violence of 1964 was the result of landlord efforts to extract (illegally) the usual high rents in the face of heightened peasant resistance.

After the coup, Mr. Galbraith writes, "the PKI led a second-stage attempt to dominate Indonesia. They were killing those who opposed them; non-Communists struck back." This is not quite what happened, if we are to trust the CIA history of the coup, which Mr. Galbraith recommends as giving "an excellent account of what happened and why."[1] For despite Mr. Galbraith's high opinion of the CIA's historiographical effort, he seems oddly ignorant of its findings.

In fact, the CIA study is quite specific on the absence of Communist-sponsored violence. Commenting on the activities of PKI chairman Aidit in Central Java immediately after the coup, it notes that he warned subordinates:

at all costs not to allow the PKI to be provoked into violent action…he told the people who assembled to hear him that there must be no demonstration of support for the coup…. A tense and watchful stillness reigned everywhere, but there was no sign of PKI activity anywhere. [Pp.77-79]

In Sumatra, the CIA report states, the communists "never challenged the army in any resort to armed force…which was the story of the PKI surrender to the army all over Indonesia after the coup" (p. 63).

In fact, in contrast to Mr. Galbraith's claims, the CIA study repeatedly, if inadvertently, reveals the implausibilities in the Suharto government's official version of the coup. There is, for one thing, the problem of sources. The Indonesian military authorities have disseminated thousands of pages of "materials" on the coup, few of them reliable and none unprejudiced. The CIA study both uses and adds to this dubious collection. For example, it cites "statements" by top communist leaders Njono and Sakirman as evidence of PKI Politburo meetings which supposedly decided to launch the coup (pp. 225-227). That Njono's "account" flatly contradicts well-established facts about Aidit's movements, and that his "statement" derives from a "confession" so improbable that it had to be replaced within a matter of hours by an "improved" version, goes unmentioned in the report.[2] The study asserts that Sakirman's "statement" was made in court; if so, it must have been made posthumously, since the Indonesian military announced that he was shot "while attempting to escape" shortly after his arrest.


Like the Suharto regime, the CIA study fails to produce a plausible explanation of the motives of the purported coup-makers; indeed its account unconsciously undermines the anticommunist case it imagines it is making. Take the question of why the PKI should have resorted to violence at all.

In the situation of Indonesia's headlong slide towards the left, with Sukarno and the PKI in the lead, the time seemed near at hand when the Communists would take over control of the country—either with the passing of Sukarno from the scene, or possibly before that. Most observers in the West conceded this…. Indonesians seemed resigned to it. Certainly, the PKI had good reason to believe it.

On 12 October 1964 [Aidit] answered a series of questions on the PKI and the Indonesian revolution with the unprecedented claim that "Among the world communist parties the PKI is the one that has the most authority to talk about the 'peaceful transition' toward socialism, because the PKI takes part in both the central and local governments and it has the actual potential to carry out its policies." [Pp. 168-170]

Or did some unexpected factor—like the dire illness of Indonesia's charismatic president, Sukarno, a patron of the PKI—persuade the Communist leaders that they had to plot a coup? The CIA report raises this possibility only to abandon it in view of Sukarno's obvious vigor and the fact that "it is unlikely that the party would have moved on the assumption that Sukarno was dying anyway…" (p. 260).

A second possible reason for the PKI suddenly to turn to violence is that the Party feared a seizure of power by the army leadership, its main political opponent. The middle-ranking officers who actually killed the six generals did, after all, announce that they were "safeguarding" Sukarno from an imminent coup by a CIA-backed Council of Generals. But if an army coup was imminent, why did Aidit—politically close to Sukarno, and in constant touch with him (pp. 234-5)—fail to alert the President to the danger that threatened them both, instead of acting on his own? And if Sukarno did involve himself in the coup (the CIA study speculates that he may have), why would he have done so in a way that used none of the legitimate authority of his office or his immense popular support and was bound to unite army opinion against him?


In spite of these enigmas, the CIA study is definite that in November 1964 the PKI established a clandestine organization to penetrate and subvert the Indonesian armed forces. Named the Special Bureau, it was allegedly headed by a certain Sjam. This Special Bureau was a very deep secret indeed:

Apparently, only a very few people in the Politburo even knew of the existence of the Special Bureau; it is not at all clear whether anyone besides Aidit knew the identity of the man who headed the organization. [Pp. 265-266, and cf.p. 101]

Aidit being dead, the CIA's authority for the existence of this Bureau is Sjam himself—whose name is pronounced, perhaps not inappropriately, Sham. Fortunately, he has proved to be "the most cooperative of witnesses." "Once the Army got Sjam to talk, it seems that he was almost anxious to tell everything he knew about the coup—almost out of a sense of pride, it seems" (pp. 76 and 76a, note). Perhaps his talkativeness derived from ten years' experience as a professional informer for Indonesian military intelligence, reporting on the doings of the PKI and other political parties (p. 107). The CIA takes these facts to show the shocking extent of PKI penetration of the military apparatus—but it is surely not the only way they can be read.

What was the goal of the Special Bureau's subversive manipulations of military officers? Not, it surprisingly turns out, the seizure of state power:

For it now seems clear that the Indonesian coup was not a move to over-throw Sukarno and/or the established government of Indonesia [sic!]. Essentially, it was a purge of the Army leader-ship, which was intended to bring about certain changes in the composition of the cabinet. In this sense, it is more correct to refer to [it] as a purge, rather than a coup. [N.p.; from the Foreword by John Kerry King, Chief of the DDI Special. Research Staff; and cf.pp.29-30]

This "purge"—the murder of six top generals—was accomplished in the dead of night by the obscure Lt.-Col. Untung and one battalion of troops (p. 64). Oddly drastic means to secure a cabinet reshuffle; oddly few men to ensure immunity from retribution by fellow-officers. The CIA study's comment is no less bewildering:

It bespeaks both the success of the Special Bureau's program of subversion in the Armed Forces that the PKI could even bring off such a thing as the kidnapping of the Army's whole top command, and also the general state of unpreparedness [sic] of the PKI at the time for an all-out challenge from the military. [P. 180]

To compensate for their woeful lack of military strength, one would have expected the coup-makers to exploit Sukarno's name and authority. Yet strangely enough, they did not do so, even in their first triumphant broadcast.

The CIA analyst is puzzled by this:

It is almost inconceivable that anyone staging a coup in Indonesia in 1965 would not have tried to make use of Sukarno's authority to swing public support behind the movement…. The fact that Sukarno was mentioned only as being "under the protection" [of the coup group] created a vague impression that the coup might be anti-Sukarno. [P. 22]

A strange error for Sukarno-protected communists to make. Stranger still, as the CIA study makes clear, the coup-makers did not mobilize the mass support which the Communists could muster:

If the PKI had engineered the coup…why had it failed to mount an all-out propaganda campaign in support of it…the PKI was unique in its ability to mobilize public opinion in Indonesia…. [P. 128]

The one exception to this puzzling passivity was a 200-word editorial in the PKI newspaper on the morning of October 2 which, by endorsing the acts of the coup leaders "provided the army with the documentary justification for the PKI's own obliteration" (p. 67). It is curious that the editorial appearing on October 2, well after the coup collapsed, was so rash, when on the previous day Communist journals were notably cautious. The CIA report assumes that the editors thought the coup was still going well when the newspaper was set on the afternoon of October 1 (p. 68), yet elsewhere it says that by early afternoon it was clear to all that the coup had gone awry. Stranger yet, the newspaper's appearance was not stopped by General Suharto, who by early evening on October 1 had taken control of the capital and placed all media under strict military control. How did the incriminating editorial appear on the newsstands the next morning? The CIA report suggests that it must have been composed beforehand (p. 68). Perhaps it was, but not necessarily by the Party leadership.

If, as some of this evidence suggests, the coup was intended not to enhance, but rather to break the power of the Communists, it is very unlikely that such a maneuver was set in motion by the army leadership, whose bloody deaths it entailed. But the higher echelons of the Indonesian army were far from united. One of the senior generals who had not been admitted to the cliques around the two top generals—Nasution and Yani—was the man whom the coup actually brought to power, namely General Suharto.

Suharto was commander of KOSTRAD, the crack strategic army reserve, and, after Yani, the most senior general on active service. He maintained only very cool relations with Nasution and Yani.[3] As the CIA study notes, he was not a target of the coup group—"certainly a major error of the coup planners" (pp. 2-3). This is particularly curious since the three top military coup-makers had special reason to know what kind of man Suharto was and why KOSTRAD was so important: Lt.-Col. Untung, Brig.-Gen. Supardjo and Col. Latief had once or were currently serving directly under Suharto. Shortly before the coup, Latief led combined-service exercises to test the capital's defenses—so it is inconceivable that he did not know what were the installations vital for military control of the city.

Yet Suharto was not molested. Indeed, no attempt was made to seize or surround KOSTRAD HQ, where Suharto established his counter-coup command post. And although the coup troops seized civilian communications centers, they made no attempt to control nearby KOSTRAD's highly sophisticated communications, the principal military emergency system—through which Suharto proceeded to gather the reins of power into his own hands. In fact, Suharto's main problem on October 1st was not the coup group but President Sukarno, who rejected Suharto's claim to army leadership and put forward instead the more trusted Pranoto—a long-time rival of Suharto. Eventually though—after encircling the airbase where Sukarno had taken refuge, and delivering a virtual ultimatum to the President—Suharto had his way.

The CIA's interest in all this? Perhaps merely scholarly historiographical concern. Or possibly the Agency had a closer connection to what its analyst concludes "may well prove to be one of the most significant events of the post war [World War II] period. The political repercussions of the coup have not only changed the whole course of Indonesian history but they have had a profound effect on the world political scene, especially that of Southeast Asia" (p. 70). Indeed, for the CIA, it would presumably have been worth no small risk to stop the "headlong slide to the left" of the world's fifth largest nation, particularly at a time when the United States was committing itself to all-out opposition to Communist advances in Vietnam. If so, the Agency has been very modest about its accomplishments. But perhaps that is understandable, for the move involved not only the murder of six generals but, in the anti-Communist pogroms which followed, one of the great slaughters of our time. As the CIA's analyst concludes:

In terms of the numbers killed, the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s. In this regard, the Indonesian coup is certainly one of the most significant events of the twentieth century, far more significant than many other events that have received much more publicity. [P. 71, note]

Benedict Anderson

Professor of Government

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York


Ruth McVey

Reader in Politics

School of Oriental and African Studies

London, England


[1]    CIA, Directorate of Intelligence, Indonesia—1965: The Coup That Backfired, (1968) oddly enough, the only CIA study of Indonesian politics ever released to the public on the Agency's own initiative.

[2]    On this point, see our A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965 Coup in Indonesia (Ithaca, Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, 1971), pp.157-162.

[3]    Acting on information supplied by Pranoto, Suharto's chief of staff, Nasution had dismissed the latter from his Central Java divisional command in 1959 for smuggling. See Harold Crouch, "The Indonesian Army in Politics: 1960-1971" (PhD thesis, Monash University, 1975), pp. 164, 207, and 228.

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