Report from East Java

Mar 28th, 2011, in Featured, History, by

A particularly striking part of “Report from East Java”, which was written by a military intelligence officer in November 1965, where he details the progress of the “crushing actions” against the Communist Party:

In Kediri some of the killings were “joint action”s [E] with the military (sometimes in civiele [D: civilian dress], sometimes officially as military). Killings of this kind may have a boomerang effect, in that they can also be utilized by the PKI itself. The effect upon economic life will also be felt. Small traders are now afraid to sell their wares. Peasant farmers are afraid to go to the rice fields. And many do not want to work on the Plantations, for example on the
tea and sugar plantations, because corpses are spread everywhere.

By way of clarification, several events are explained below: In the Paree (Kediri) area there is a village in which the lurah [village headman] and Ansor together took the initiative to protect the [PKI] peasant farmers—who were only taggers-on—by giving them badges as members of Ansor or NU. They were gathered together, and coincidentally, there happened to be an operation by the military and Ansor going on. Seeing many people gathered together, the soldiers and Ansor asked the lurah who all these people were. The lurah, nervous and panicked, responded that they were PKI.

Before he had finished speaking, every one of the approximately 300 people was killed, and their families were not permitted to remove their bodies so that they were buried where they lay. This shocked the people, and within Ansor itself mutual mistrust arose.

Another event occurred in Wates, where approximately 10,000 members of the PKI and its Mass Organizations gathered together. They were going to make a “long-march” [E] to Madiun, destroying factories along the way.

This was discovered by the military, which initiated a “joint-action” [E] together with Ansor. When they were sommeer [sic] [D: called upon] to surrender they refused, and so they were crushed. The victims totaled 1,200.

In an incident in Ponggok, a soldier who was disseminating information was killed by the Pemuda Rakyat [People’s Youth]. In represaille [D: reprisal] the military attacked, killing about 300 people.

The wave of killings is still continuing, and many of those who are being killed are followers who did not know much. Many excesses have emerged, and it could happen that the PKI will join in so that they can attract “public opinion” [E] to their side.

The bolded bit I know off by heart now as it keeps coming into my head for some reason. The sting is in its tail, the last detail that they didn’t allow the families to recover the bodies, in the cultural-religious context it strikes as the most astonishing vicious spite; the dead people don’t know whether they get a proper burial or not, but it’s a kind of twisting of the knife in the people who are left.

No doubt many have seen it already, for those who haven’t the whole “Report”, which is fascinating, can be read here.


164 Comments on “Report from East Java”

  1. Jesse says:

    Thanks for posting… fascinating historical document! what is the citation for this report? where was it published? who is the translator, etc.?

  2. David says:

    Hi Jesse, not entirely sure, this is where I found it years ago –

    Report from East Java
    Indonesia
    Vol. 41, (Apr., 1986), pp. 134-149
    Published by: Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University

    http://cip.cornell.edu/seap.indo/1107008153

  3. Jesse says:

    Thanks David! I was pretty sure it was from the journal “Indonesia” at Cornell, but was looking for the extra info you provided. I can add this to my bibliography library now. Cheers!

  4. Tikno says:

    Like Jesse, I’m still wondering the authenticity of this historical document.

    David, beforehand I don’t know if evidently you are also not entirely sure before I read your comment to Jesse.

    but… this was an interesting story.

  5. syonan says:

    I always wonder why has this issue pop-up again. Is this another way to show support for the PKI that the PKI was right and no faults. The way I look at it that somebody wants the revival of PKI in Indonesia to enable it to play an active role in Indonesia. The doctrine of the PKI is alien to Indonesia.

  6. Berlian Biru says:

    The appalling events of 1965 were the culmination of an undeclared civil war which had been bubbling for at least the previous decade, although in actual fact a lot longer longer, since the foundation of the state.

    In a three way split between the Islamists, the Army and the Communists, Sukharno had been playing off each side in a shameless series of manipulations in order to hang on to his shambolic rule. By the early 1960’s the Communists believing themselves to have the upper hand, safe under Sukharno’s failing administration, began to make their move, the same move that the Communists were making throughout Asia at that time.

    In central and east Java and in Bali the cadres started taking over land belonging to their ideological opponents. In any circumstances such theft would cause outrage, in land hungry Java and Bali it was exceptionally so, especially as the property owners specifically targeted by the Communists were usually the local Muslim leaders. The Communists were storing up a whole lot of trouble for themselves but believing as they did that they were in the ascendant they were unconcerned, however when their plans backfired they faced terrible retribution.

    The retribution when it came was remarkably swift and effective. Led by the Islamists a popular (and it was popular at the time) backlash against the Communists was unleashed, the Army consolidating their position in Jakarta were happy to let the Muslims get on with it. When the Army had finally gained control of the country they abandoned their erstwhile allies, the Islamists, to the political wilderness.

    So much is known about the anti-Communist purge of late 1965 what has become shrouded in the mists since then is the scale of the killings. In almost every report you read the death toll is variously put at anything from half a million to three million, I believe these figures to be absurd.

    From a purely logistical point of view we are expected to believe that the forces of the Indonesian state, an institution heretofore, or indeed since, not noted for its clinical efficiency managed to carry out one of the biggest holocausts since the end of the Second World War. Not only did they achieve this in the amazingly short period of two to three months but they were then able to wipe out almost all traces of it ever having happened. Beyond a few dozen eye witnesses and mass graves there has come to light remarkably little evidence of what if we are to believe the conventional wisdom was mass slaughter on a truly biblical scale. Such a crime would leave an indelible mark on Java and Bali for generations and yet we find very little trace indeed of it ever having occurred on the enormous scale that is alleged.

    In the UK which over a period of six years lost almost half a million citizens to war in 1939-45 to this day there is a huge wealth of personal knowledge about those events, even seventy years later every British family has a story to tell about the war and some relative that died. Every Jewish family on earth can recall members lost to the Holocaust. I have met only two people from Cambodia in my life but both of them were able to recount harrowing tales about their families’ suffering during the years of Pol Pot’s Communist rule.

    I have traveled throughout Java and Bali, I have many friends and colleagues from those areas and none of them, not one of them, has any personal or family recollections of those events. They know they occurred, they have heard the stories on TV and read about them in books and newspapers, they are not afraid to discuss the issue but they simply have no personal knowledge about what is allegedly one of the greatest crimes against humanity which took place in their or their parents’ lifetimes in their home places.

    I think we need to be a bit more skeptical about the wilder claims surrounding the killings of 1965, that they occurred is beyond doubt, that they were appalling goes without saying but that they matched anything in scale to the figures that are commonly bandied about is fairly obviously not true. Initial reports of mass killings are invariably exaggerated and this seems to have occurred in Indonesia, but the normal ratcheting down effect of calmer investigation did not occur as the whole affair was subsequently hushed up for thirty years (an example of the sort of exaggeration, understandable in the circumstances, appears above, apparently three hundred men were killed in the space of time it took for another man to say they were Communists, what was used, napalm?).

    Originally the Indonesian government stated 80,000 Communists or suspected Communists were killed in 1965. Anti-Suharto, pro-Leftist commentators, embarrassed by the fact that it was normally Communists who did the genocides in Asia, multiplied this figure out of all proportion in order to balance the death tolls a bit. The post Suharto government accepted a much higher death toll in some school texts but after protests revised the figure back down to 80,000. I suspect that figure may well be closest to the actual number killed.

  7. ET says:

    The way I look at it that somebody wants the revival of PKI in Indonesia to enable it to play an active role in Indonesia.

    It’s those damned pork-eating Chinese communists, syonan. They want to colonize Indonesia and steal its riches.
    Astaghfirullah.

  8. Arie Brand says:

    The number of people killed during the aftermath of the coup of September1965 will never be established with certainty but there is a sort of scholarly consensus that the figure is between half a million and a million with the Indonesianist Robert Cribb, who looked at the matter in detail, opining that the most plausible estimate is around half a million (see Robert Cribb , “How many deaths? Problems in the statistics of massacre in Indonesia (1965-1966) and East Timor (1975-1980)” in Wessel, I. and Wimhofer, G. (eds.) 2001 Violence in Indonesia, Hamburg, Abera, pp 82-98).

    Berlian Biru thinks that these figures are “absurd”. He advances for this various arguments. Let us have a look at them.

    Not only did they achieve this in the amazingly short period of two to three months but they were then able to wipe out almost all traces of it ever having happened

    It is generally agreed that the killings took place between middle October 1965 to March-April 1966. So that is, to begin with, about twice as long as the period indicated by BB. And as far as those wiped out traces are concerned: firstly the killings took place over an enormous area with Java, Sumatra and Bali as the main regions. Thus one is unlikely to find spectacular mass graves if people were indeed looking for those. This was of course not done in the Suharto period. The slightest interest in what actually happened in those fateful months could count seriously against you. I don’t know what has been done since but I think it is a bit premature to claim that “almost all traces of it ever having happened” have been wiped out. It is unlikely however that such traces as remain after almost half a century in a tropical soil will ever point to the full scale of the massacre. We are told that many corpses were just dumped in the rivers.

    From a purely logistical point of view we are expected to believe that the forces of the Indonesian state, an institution heretofore, or indeed since, not noted for its clinical efficiency managed to carry out one of the biggest holocausts since the end of the Second World War.

    BB talks about the ‘forces of the state’ here but he seems uncertain as to who exactly the executioners were because elsewhere he says:

    Led by the Islamists a popular (and it was popular at the time) backlash against the Communists was unleashed, the Army consolidating their position in Jakarta were happy to let the Muslims get on with it.

    BB’s uncertainty doesn’t have to afflict us however because it seems now fairly well established that the army did the bulk of the killing. It doesn’t seem impossible to me for an army of 300.000 men, aided and abetted in some places by civilians, to murder half a million individuals in an area as big as France and Germany together over half a year’s time. Admittedly I only have a vague idea of the ‘logistics’ (BB’s word) involved but suspect that BB’s notions on this point are not any clearer.

    And do I have to remind BB that in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 at least 800.000 people were killed in the space of slightly more than three months by forces that were presumably less organized than the Indonesian army?

    I have traveled throughout Java and Bali, I have many friends and colleagues from those areas and none of them, not one of them, has any personal or family recollections of those events. They know they occurred, they have heard the stories on TV and read about them in books and newspapers, they are not afraid to discuss the issue but they simply have no personal knowledge about what is allegedly one of the greatest crimes against humanity which took place in their or their parents’ lifetimes in their home places

    .?And BB compares this then to the knowledge still found in British and Jewish families about the fate of family and friends during the Second World War.

    I believe these comparisons to be totally misplaced. It was for a long time risky, and it probably still is to a certain extent, to talk of personal involvement or that of family and friends, in the killings whether as victims or executioners. This element of risk did, of course, not play a role at all in British and Jewish accounts of war experiences. Also, let us not forget that these events took place now almost half a century ago and that many of those who had closer knowledge of them have passed away.

    BB traveled through Java and Bali. So did I. But I never had the illusion that I could get Indonesians talking about these things. Why did BB expect that he could?

    As recently as 2004 the anthropologist Leslie Dwyer wrote:

    Today, many Indonesians remain seriously concerned about voicing memories of 1965-66, wary of the nationalist government of Megawati Soekarnoputri, which has revived many of the repressive laws that were favoured by the New Order regime in order to crack down on labor activists, student protestors, separatists and the media,[8] and has kept much of Soeharto’s anti-communist legislation intact.

    Of course there are people who can get Indonesians talking about these things but not at a chance meeting in railway compartments or coffee shops. I seem to remember that Andrew Beatty brings some of this up in his book about that East Javanese village. But he was for several years involved in village life there, spoke Javanese, and had probably gained the confidence of some that is withheld to other nosy foreigners.

    BB talks also about friends and colleagues, of whom we may charitably assume that he has gained their confidence, but as long as we don’t know how many people, and in what age groups, are involved, that information is not particularly impressive.

    BB has also firm notions on the roots of the matter:

    In central and east Java and in Bali the cadres started taking over land belonging to their ideological opponents. In any circumstances such theft would cause outrage, in land hungry Java and Bali it was exceptionally so, especially as the property owners specifically targeted by the Communists were usually the local Muslim leaders. The Communists were storing up a whole lot of trouble for themselves but believing as they did that they were in the ascendant they were unconcerned, however when their plans backfired they faced terrible retribution.

    Do I detect some right wing bias here?

    Java has, like so many other places in Southeast Asia, a problem with the very unequal distribution of land and a landless agrarian proletariat. In the Philippines this led, as it did in Indonesia, to legislation about land redistribution. But in the Philippines as there was in Java of the early sixties there were (and are) problems with the implementation of these laws that were sabotaged by the big landlords and colluding bureaucrats alike. The main thing that seems to have happened in Java is that in the “Gerakan Aksi Sefihak” that started around 1963 an attempt was made to hasten the implementation of these laws through bypassing the often nominal bureaucratic procedures. This movement was partly spontaneous, partly organised by the BTI and supported by the PKI.

    The whole thing got a religious aspect because many of the bigger landowners were hajis of whom some adopted the practice to donate the land they owned above the maximum allowable by law to mosques and religious foundations.

    Of course this whole movement, though mainly basing itself on existing legislation, did not go entirely by the book. In some cases bigger landowners who were members of the BTI were spared – in others again small landowners who belonged to competing peasant organizations were attacked.

    But to brand this all as simple land theft might be something for the Indonesian schoolbooks but not for informed discourse. The legislation that provided the legal underpinning could be found in the Government regulation of 29th December 1960 according to which the maximum allowable land possession per family in Java was 5 ha for wet rice land and 6 ha for dry. In less densely populated areas the respective figures were 15 and 20 ha. Land possession above this maximum would be bought by the state and sold for the same price to small farmers. Since these generally had little money, credit facilities would be created for this specific purpose. Little came of all that so peasants who could no longer be fobbed off with promises took things in their own hands.

    (I owe the information about this “Gerakan Aksi Sefihak” mainly to the book by the Dutch historian Pluvier, who once had a chair in the history of Southeast Asia at the University of Amsterdam: “Indonesie: kolonialisme onafhankelijkheid neo-kolonialisme”, Nijmegen, 1978).

  9. Odinius says:

    With Arie on this one. 500,000 is a widely accepted figure by those who have done actual research on the matter. It’s obviously an estimate, so it might be a bit higher or lower, but there’s really no reason to doubt the scholarly consensus here. Unless, of course, you’re looking for apologetics.

  10. Berlian Biru says:

    “Do I detect some right wing bias here?”

    No more bias than anyone else posting here. Right wing? Define “right wing” and I’ll tell you whether it applies to me.

    Do I dislike communism? Well I do tend to have a distinct hostility towards genocidal, anti-democratic, murderous political movements which seek to create totalitarian tyrannies, suppress individual liberty and reduce human beings to mere serfs and slaves of a political machine. Yeah, call me old fashioned but I’m funny like that.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when one looks at the horrors inflicted on Asian people by communist monsters like Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot in the period 1960-1980 one can only say that Indonesia miraculously dodged a bullet in 1965. Despite all the well documented faults of Suharto’s regime, a communist Indonesia would been an archipelagic hellhole of unimaginable terror.

    I regard the suppression of communism in exactly the same cold and calculated way I would regard the extirpation of Nazis and it is a mystery to me why so many people who have enjoyed the freedoms and welfare of a western, liberal democratic society are so willing to give communists the benefit of the doubt.

    Communists in Indonesia in 1965 only got a very small taste of the medicine which they were so happy to dish out to millions of innocent men, women and children around the globe at that time.

  11. Arie Brand says:

    So, if I understand you correctly, you claim that far less have been murdered than is generally accepted but you would have preferred it to have been far more.

  12. timdog says:

    There is something particularly repugnant about this “taste of their own medicine” line when used as an apologia – or in this case, it seems, a borderline celebration – for mass slaughter.

    The “medicine” tastes exactly the same to the youth murdered with a machete and tossed down a well regardless of whether he was one of 2 million or two hundred. It tastes the same to his mother too.

    It’s safe to assume that the vast majority of “communists” in Indonesia in 1965 were not the ideologically, intellectually developed equals of Chairman Mao or Pol Pot. Go into your average Indonesian village today and ask your average PDI-P or Golkar voter to explain their political ideology and the motivation for their allegiance (actually, you’d probably get similar answers if you asked the same questions of the candidates! But that may be beside the point). Enough said.

    In any case, a patriotic Turk would not be mistaken if he stated, proudly waving his fist, that amongst the half-million Armenians there really were a few who had traitorous Russian allegiances. Presumably that too makes what happened there acceptable, celebratable? And bodies heaped in pits on the Syrian border – or bloated corpses clogging the meanders of the Kalimas in Surabaya – can blithely be dismissed as collateral damage for the greater good…

    Nauseating.

  13. Berlian Biru says:

    The average foot soldier of the Khmer Rouge or Mao’s Red Guards would have been as equally ignorant of the finer points of dialectical Marxism as the peasant cadres of the PKI but would have been just as vicious when it came to massacring their ideological opponents.

    I return to the key point; if one heard of massacres of Fascists and Nazis in Spain in the 1930’s or Yugoslavia in the 1940’s I’ll wager most people’s reaction would be a fatalistic shrug combined with a degree of schadenfreude that the Nazis had it coming.

    Speak of communists being slaughtered (and by the way when it comes to genocidal slaughter the communists put the fascists into the ha’penny place) suddenly everyone gets choked up with emotion at the thought of all those dead Reds.

    Explain your hypocrisy and I’ll be prepared to ignore your maudlin “nauseating” shroud waving.

  14. Arie Brand says:

    I wrote the lines below (that I don’t seem to be able to delete) before I had read Timdog’s comment with which I fully agree. So the ‘nauseating shroud waving’ was directed at him not at me. But the point stands. BB came with a badly argued case. And since then he has taken his recourse to bombast.

    BB, your political convictions are of no interest to me. You made a claim about numbers. I argued against it. That was the point at issue. Your bombast about ‘nauseating shroud waving’ etc. is merely a diversion.

  15. Arie Brand says:

    We generally focus on those who were killed but the fate of those who were arrested for reasons often totally unknown to them was, I think, more terrible. They had to go on living but their life was blighted. Indonesia can never become a civilized polity if the surviving miscreants are not put on trial or there is at least a “truth and reconciliation”commission.

    Here is such a case out of tens of thousands:
    http://www.hrsolidarity.net/mainfile.php/2005vol15no06/2465/

  16. ET says:

    I cannot put my finger on the exact reason why people from time to time seem compelled to go on a killing spree or carry out ethnic cleansing in any shape or form but I doubt that it is purely for ideological reasons. To me ideology as a motive for large scale atrocities seems only to serve as a pretext, a rationalization for some basic instinct to periodically eliminate an entire population or parts of it. I can hardly imagine that during the actual act of taking someone’s life the killer has an ideological ideal before his eyes, although the war cry Allahu akbar seems to point in that direction. Could the real reason eventually be territorialism or is it about the extermination of what is believed to be a contamination or corruption of humanity, like during the Rwanda genocide when the Tutsi were constantly depicted in radio broadcasts as cockroaches? Another possibility is that the participants in the mass slaughter are each fighting their own private war but hide behind the ideological mass hysteria because it gives them the illusion of impunity.

    I wonder if during the trials for crimes against humanity attempts have been made to draw a psychological profile of the typical participant in a genocide.

  17. Odinius says:

    @ET:

    I can recommend some good books for you on that subject, both from psychological and sociological perspectives (let me know via PM), but the problem most people have found with trying to create a “psychological profile” for the killers is that, most of the time, they’re really mundane, “normal” people. Even the architects are often quite drab, ordinary before the moment of crisis comes.

    That said, there are several ways in which people come to participate in mass killings. Some do it purposively, sadistically. Some seem to just get caught up in the mob mentality, as if they temporarily lose their morals and ethics and allow themselves to be led/mobilized by purposive types into making decisions they wouldn’t otherwise choose. And others are coerced, through either explicit or implicit threats. Rwanda is a great example of this: Hutus were often killed for not participating in the slaughter of Tutsis. Less is known about Indonesia, but there are enough anecdotes suggesting that there was a LOT of mobilization and coercion going on.

  18. diego says:

    I wonder if during the trials for crimes against humanity attempts have been made to draw a psychological profile of the typical participant in a genocide.

    Agree! They should be exposed as DERANGED.

    That’s a better way to keep people away from being like one of them. Nobody wants to be associated with that group of people, it’s like being labeled as phariah.

  19. timdog says:

    BB – wonderful bit of presumption there on the “hypocrisy”.

    I wonder if you’ve read much Ernest Hemingway? He seems to do OK with the ol’ rightwingers, despite his own politics; the blustering machismo and the bloodsports, perhaps, mitigate the fact that he swung well to the left himself…

    For Whom the Bell Tolls is probably my favourite Hemingway book. The most intense, harrowing passage in the whole thing is the account of the killing of the fascists – and this despite the fact that Hemingway was very much a partisan in the Spanish Civil War.
    What that demonstrates is something that is absent to the point of obscenity in foul “taste of their own medicine” posturing. That “something” is called “humanity”.

    Any episode of mass slaughter (again, whether it’s of 200 or of 2 million) becomes detached from its political contexts, because the people killed are PEOPLE – something rather more than “communists”, “facists”, “Jews”, “Armenians” or “cockroaches”…

    To engage in historical hypothesising and retrospective “what ifs?” is all well and good – to decide that probably it’s a good thing that Indonesia didn’t turn communist and a bad thing that the fascists won in Spain, for example.
    But to cheer the mass slaughter of civilians at village level is obscene.

    ET and Odinius are taking a look at the bizarre and terrible mechanisms that allow people – people as much as their victims are people – to wield the machete in times of slaughter.
    But as you cheer and crow and celebrate you are imbibing no smoky air of dangerous times; you are sitting coolly at your desk 45 years later; you have no excuses; it’s obscene.

  20. Berlian Biru says:

    You have now used the terms “celebratory”, “cheer” and “crow” about my posts despite having not the slightest evidence for any such pejorative terms. Indeed the most perfunctory reading of my posts will show such terms as “appalling”, “crime”, “mass slaughter”, “cold and calculating” etc hardly the terms used by a cheerleader.

    I take it, timdog, that basic comprehension of plain, written English is something you have a difficulty with and therefore in the absence of such a fundamental skill in political debating you resort instead to name calling and emotionalism.

    Try harder.

  21. Oigal says:

    Communists in Indonesia in 1965 only got a very small taste of the medicine which they were so happy to dish out to millions of innocent men, women and children around the globe at that time.

    To quote from the above, its “absurd” and a deliberate misuse of English to suggest that the people slaughtered in 1965 were howling, rampaging, murdering communists. If we were talking about a select group of party officials that may hold some water (albeit toxic) but in the main we are talking the mass slaughter of innocents.

    I assume the same commentator believes 20% of the population of East Timor disappearing or being killed off, the sanctioned rape camps etc make a fair and just dose of medicine as well.

  22. Arie Brand says:

    BB compared the killings in Indonesia with those in Cambodia. Perhaps we should look at another aspect here. In Cambodia at least an attempt has been made to bring the culprits to book. And what happened to one of the great bloodhounds of the 1965-66 killings: Colonel (later Lt General) Sarwo Edhie Wibowo? Last year he was made posthumously a “Pahlawan Nasional”.

    That his killing spree had little ideological background was shown by the fact that later he killed with the same gusto in Papua.

  23. Berlian Biru says:

    As quite a few posters here are incapable of dealing with rational debate and instead substitute schoolgirl histrionics for calm logic, let me make my position plain.

    I celebrate no man’s death, I crow over nobody’s murder, I do not cheer on mass killing, I grew up in a society were too many people did so for me to indulge in such actions now at my stage in life.

    However, let us be clear about it; communism is a dreadful, barbaric ideology whose record in genocidal slaughter and continent wide suppression of liberty and human life and dignity is finally now beyond historical question (despite the best efforts of starry eyed, simple minded westerners who never had to experience the horrors of communism first hand).

    If a society is faced with a communist threat it has two options; it can submit and live for several generations under the grimmest oppression imaginable or it can fight back and survive. Many societies took the former option in the latter half of the twentieth century and lived to regret it, some chose to resist. Those who resisted had to take very stern measures indeed but eventually survived and were able to gain a degree of freedom and prosperity compared to those who submitted.

    Be under no illusion, resisting an ideology like communism is not easy and involves horrendous actions, but like defeating Nazism it is a necessary evil. There is only one thing worse than the process of extirpating communism and that is allowing communism to win.

    I do not crow about such things, I do not celebrate them, I simply accept them as unfortunate facts of life and shameful indictments of the state of the human condition. A friend of mine survived cancer only through the most appalling chemotherapy and invasive surgery, I do not “crow” about his treatment, I do not “celebrate” the surgeons I merely recognize that my friend is alive today and can now rebuild his life.

    I love Indonesia, it is my home, my wife is Indonesian as are my children, with all its faults Indonesia is a better country today than it ever would have been under communism. If in doubt the merest glimpse of the lamentable story of communist mass terror throughout Asia will confirm my thesis.

    Am I now to sit in judgment on the men who fought against communism all those years ago? Would I, indeed could I, have done what they did? I doubt it, but I sure as hell won’t sit on judgment of them, five decades later from the comfort of a relatively free and imperfectly democratic Indonesia.

    To do so would in my view be “nauseating”.

  24. Oigal says:

    Sorry you feel that way BB..Perhaps there is another way to read your small dose of medicine quote other than an pretty casual dismissal of the slaughter of villagers, mere collateral damage perhaps?

  25. timdog says:

    … to which I’d also add a note to the effect that there seems to have been some kind of slippage in BB’s position over the course of the thread.
    He started off apparently toying (to be charitable) with the idea of “holocaust denial”. Given that he was operating on not much more than bloke-down-the-pub level with this (“You know what I reckon? … All I’m sayin’ is, you never hear anyone talkin’ about it when you’re travelling ’round in Java and Bali, do you? ‘sall I’m sayin’…”) it’s unsurprising that he didn’t fight very hard once Arie and Odinius weighed in.

    This then shifted to the obnoxious “taste of their own medicine” stuff, applied to, lest we forget, in the main to rural civilians who hadn’t dished out any medicine to anyone, and an attempt to infer that said rural civilians actually were the vicious, rampaging foot soldiers of violent communism rather than agricultural labourers in an iniquitous society who had – at worst – been crudely (but quite understandably) convinced that communism, as presented, might have had something to offer given the wretched status quo and lack of alternatives (or, just as likely, had actually made no such semi-informed decision of their own and had simply signed something someone had told them to sign – or had actually not even done that…).

    From there we shifted to some out-of-the-blue – and entirely presumptious – stuff about relative reactions, hypocrisy and the Spanish Civil War.

    And then finally to “I never said it wasn’t bad, but…”

    BB, your sparing interventions on this forum are usually very high value, and often cut through the deluge of pointless noise from others – quite possibly myself amongst them. But on this occasion you started badly, and haven’t gotten any better.

  26. Stevo says:

    BB sums it up beautifully: However, let us be clear about it; communism is a dreadful, barbaric ideology whose record in genocidal slaughter and continent wide suppression of liberty and human life and dignity is finally now beyond historical question (despite the best efforts of starry eyed, simple minded westerners who never had to experience the horrors of communism first hand).

    I am surprised at some of nonsense coming from some of the regular contributors to IM. I normally see much more convincing and considered comment from them. This is classic case of ideology being put ahead of outcomes and people. A common trait amongst the left.

  27. Arie Brand says:

    I think we can dismiss the hypothesis that the “movers and shakers” in the killings were motivated by the desire to save Indonesia for communist tyranny of which they had seen the example elsewhere in Asia. BB mentioned the Khmer Rouge and the Red Guards. The Red Guards started to operate after the killings in Indonesia and the Khmer Rouge even a decade later.

    To refer to the desire of a privileged military caste to eliminate potential competitors for power does not provide an exhaustive explanation either. That desire was certainly there, I think, but if that had been the only motive it would have sufficed to eliminate the top of the PKI and demolish its party structure. Given the “aliran” phenomenon in Indonesian politics this type of “beheading” would probably have done the job.

    If we accept that Indonesians are not particularly malign and that what was done there displayed characteristics of humanity as such we are forced to the dismal conclusion that many people enjoy killing if they can do it “on higher authority”-this allows them to dismiss their own conscience for a while. And “higher authority” again is not particularly troubled because others do the killing at one remove.

    There are many examples of this beyond Indonesia. Timdog already referred to Hemingway’s description of the killing of fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In another famous novel that has come out of this war, George Bernanos’ “A Diary of My Times” (original title “Les grands cimetieres sous la lune”) the gratuitous killing of “communists” by fascists is described. Bernanos witnessed this in Majorca. Majorca was politically indifferent. According to the head of the Falange there you couldn’t even have found one hundred communists in the whole island. Nevertheless the fascists killed 3,000 people – and that on a small population. Bernanos was a pious catholic but what he saw there he couldn’t stomach.

    Another grisly example is provided by Christopher Browning’s study of the German Police Battalion 101, the group that was responsible for “relocating” and in many cases mass killings of Jews. This Battalion consisted of middle-aged people who had found to be unfit for regular military service. They were generally ordinary working class men, mainly from Hamburg, a city where the Nazi grip had come later and been less intense than in many other places of Germany. Were they forced to kill? According to Browning their commander had offered them the possibility to opt out, but only 15 out of 500 made use of that option. Obedience to authority and peer pressure, and, to a lesser extent, a sense of racial superiority played here a role as well.

    Obedience to authority is apparently on occasion a fatal trait in our species. In social psychology this was shown in the famous experiments by Stanley Milgram in which it became apparent that quite a few people were willing, on the authority of the leaders of the experiment, to administer electric shocks of up to 450 volt to people behind a screen (actors) even though these actors gave very convincing demonstrations of acute pain.

    Humanity’s grisly face comes out even more strongly when “obedience to authority” takes the more negative shape of knowing that it is unlikely that “authority” will hold you to account. This explains some of the terrible not specifically ordered things that Israelis have inflicted on the Palestinians (there are of course many specifically ordered misdeeds as well). In this case the whole thing is aggravated by the fact that it is unlikely that the “international community” (read veto wielding Americans) will hold “authority” itself to account. And recently we were made aware of this again in that video leaked to Wikileaks in which we saw a group of young Americans dealing death in a “playful way” from on high to a group of men, among whom Reuters camera men, and then for good measure and for sport killing a motorist who wanted to help one of the wounded as well.

    We don’t belong to a particularly nice species. Still in our good moments we are able to come up with laws that reflect another human trait: our desire for justice and equity. But justice and equity have received short shrift in Indonesia thus far.

  28. Arie Brand says:

    Correction: “who had been found to be unfit” etc.

  29. Oigal says:

    It should also be said that this is not a case of those “evil Indonesians running amok” bashing as the West, in particular Australia and the US don’t have much to be proud of. In fact, I think Arie was suggesting an investigation or call to trial, it will never happen as there would be far too many Western Officials including Ambassadors hiding under some very slimy rocks.

    Sadly that mindset of “shoot em in the streets that’ll bring order” still exists. You don’t have to travel far on these blogs to find that repugnant nonsense still being spouted

  30. Odinius says:

    At the end of the day, apologizing for the slaughter on the basis of other slaughters committed by communists is just as bad as apologizing for the Khmer Rouge on the basis of the US bombing campaign or the excesses of the Lon Nol regime. Or, for Stalin’s purges/pogroms/deportations on the basis of Czarist crimes. Actually, it’s worse, because communists in Indonesia, while not the sparkling heroes leftist academics sometimes portray them as, had not actually done any of those things.

    Even considering the botched coup attempt, it’s mind-boggling how anyone can justify the wholesale slaughter and imprisonment of the PKI rank-and-file. Arresting the coup plotters? Sure. Banning the party? Since banning parties for seditious activities was the order of the day, yeah. But mass murder? Really? There’s no way to make that one work.

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