THIRTY FIVE YEARS OF COMPLICITY
Indonesia, master card in Washington’s
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.
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
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
After the second world
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
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
"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
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."
"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"
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
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,
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
immediately stepped up the flow of arms while declaring an arms
The UN Security Council
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,
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
- 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
So matters continued
until General Suharto made his first mistakes...
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Role in 1965 Massacres
Confessions from the U.S. State Department
Worker #1116, August 26, 2001,
posted at http://rwor.org
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
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
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."
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
supported and aided this mass murder.
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.
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."
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.
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 (www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
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.
early August, the State Department backed down and released the volume
in the 1960s -- denying there had been an attempt to censor the volume.
the Horse’s Mouth
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.
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.
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."
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’’.
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.
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
officials in providing lists of names of PKI
members and leaders to the Indonesian military.
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.
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."
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.
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."
1962, when Colby took over as chief of the CIA’s
Far East Division and discovered the U.S.
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
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.
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
to a friend
HAPPENED IN INDONESIA?
R. Anderson, Ruth McVey
response to What Happened in Indonesia?
An Exchange (February 9, 1978)
"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.
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.
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." For
despite Mr. Galbraith's high opinion of the CIA's historiographical
effort, he seems oddly ignorant of its findings.
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:
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]
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
some unexpected factor—like the dire illness of
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…"
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?
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:
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
was the goal of the Special Bureau's subversive manipulations of military
officers? Not, it surprisingly turns out, the seizure of state power:
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
"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:
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]
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.
CIA analyst is puzzled by this:
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]
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:
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….
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
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.
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.
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:
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]
Professor of Government
Reader in Politics
School of Oriental and African Studies
 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
 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.
 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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