Anti Communist Massacres

Jan 25th, 2008, in History, by

The nature of the massacres of 1965-66.

Guest Writer Spew It All writes about the nature of the anti-communist massacres of 1965-66.

Misunderstandings

One regular writer for Indonesiamatters.com (Ross) submitted his article on communism and genocide in Indonesia, a riposte to a piece by Julia Suryakusumah in the Indonesian English-language newspaper the Jakarta Post. The article succeeded in provoking much debate, but sadly, some of the discussion still reflects how poorly misunderstood the killings of 1965/66 are.

History

The massacres of 1965 have been the biggest conundrum in Indonesian history. The communist members and their partisans were hunted and killed gruesomely by their fellow Indonesians with support from the military. The killings took place following the failed coup attempt carried out by several military officers and a few members of the Communist Party. Parallel to this, transition of power also occurred. Sukarno, who reigned in the country for more than twenty years, was replaced by Suharto, an army general who later headed Indonesia for more than thirty years.

Official Accounts

During the Suharto period, the stories of massacres seemed to be forgotten. Official history only highlights the heroic action of the Indonesian army that successfully crushed communism in Indonesia. This constructed truth is perpetuated further through enactments in various museums, films and school history textbooks.

Much worse than that is the New Order's representation of that bloody event seeing it as merely horizontal conflicts between the PKI masses and their bitter rivals. Any alternative interpretation was an anathema in Indonesia during Suharto regime. Gaol and others sanctions would be the consequence for contesting the New Order version of history. Books written by scholars were banned and the writers were refused to enter the country.

Research

Despite these problems, some scholars succeeded in conducting researches on what happened in 1965 including Hermawan Sulistyo, Iwan Sudjatmiko, Clifford Geertz, Geoffrey Robinson, Harold Crouch, and John Roosa. Not all these scholars agree with the idea that the killings were state-sponsored violence.

Horizontal-Spontaneous Conflict

Sulistyo, Sudjatmiko and Geertz are the proponent of "horizontal theory". There seems to be no dissimilarity between their conclusions and the official version released by the government of Indonesia. The Army Information Centre (PUSPENAD), which launched its report a year after the coup took place, suggested that the mass anger could not be controlled. Pusat Penerangan Angkatan Darat, Fakta-Fakta Sekitar "Gerakan 30 September", Penerbitan No. 1, 2, 3, Jakarta, P.N Balai Pustaka, 1966, p.105. Likewise, twenty years later, the Indonesian State Secretary used the term, "spontaneous mass action against the PKI" to describe the ferocity of the event. Sekretariat Negara Republik Indonesia, Gerakan 30 September Pemberontakan Partai Komunis: Latar Belakang, Aksi dan Penumpasannya, Jakarta, PT. Ghalia Indonesia, 1994, p. 134.

Military-State Sponsored Violence

A differing view is put forward by another historian, Hilmar Farid, who suggested that the task of disputing this view is not too intellectually challenging, because blatant evidence can reveal the involvement of state apparatus. Hilmar Farid, 'Indonesia's Original Sin: Mass killings and Capitalist Expansion 1965-66', Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Volume 6, Number 1, 2005, p. 8.

Early Military Role

There are important factors that should be taken into account, if we want to look at the military role in the killings. Firstly, the military's immediate action to control media by closing down all media except Angkatan Bersenjata and Berita Yudha, which were owned by the Army. Pusat Penerangan Angkatan Darat, 'Fakta-Fakta', p. 48. By closing down media outlets, it enabled them to create fear through propaganda and the fabricated story of the PKI as the main culprit in the killings of seven generals spread out easily.

Moreover, the military publications also reported that military operations to purge communism in Indonesia's outer region had succeeded in seizing firearms, grenades and documents revealing the coup plans. This would clearly make people under the impression that the PKI was ready to launch a coup.

Secondly, Suharto was appointed to head the Operational Commander for the Restoration of Security and Order (Pangkokamtib) and commenced an effective campaign against the PKI. In conjunction with the military campaign, KAP Gestapu (Action Front to Crush the Thirtieth of September Movement) was formed by an alliance of anti-Communist organisations and their overall campaign mantra and objective was to

"crush the PKI down its roots."

Secret Cable Message

There was also a report that the military was involved in the training of youth organisations. According to a cable sent by the US embassy in Jakarta to State Department in November 1965, the Indonesian Army would try to avoid direct confrontation with the PKI.

In Central Java, Army (RPKAD) is training Moslem Youth [probably either Banser or HMI] and supplying them with weapons and will keep them out in front against the PKI. Army will try to avoid as much it can safely do so, direct confrontation with the PKI "¦ Army is letting groups other than Army discredit them [the PKI] and demand their punishment. Cited in Robinson, Hilmar Farid, 'Índonesia's Original Sin', p.8.

Having said this, it can be argued that the training was inextricably linked to the campaign programme and the strategy of avoiding direct confrontation with the PKI.

Bali

The support from the military is significant as in some areas the number of the PKI members and its opponents seemed to be on a par. For example, the killings in Bali did not take place until the middle of December 1965. Although tension heightened between two dominant factions in Bali, the PNI and the PKI, it did not culminate in the bloodshed. With the arrival of troops from Jakarta, the anti-communist camp held more sway. Geoffrey Robinson, The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1994, p. 295.

Central Java

In Central Java, the arrests and killings took place not long after the arrival of RPKAD (the Indonesian Special Forces) headed by Sarwo Edhie Wibowo. The troops arrived in Semarang on 18th October 1965 and then fanned out to other towns. A witness, Suparno, recalled what happened before he was accused of planning to overthrow the head of the region and arrested and imprisoned for decades. He remembered that the troops paraded in his town Pati, before stopping at the town hall and delivering a speech on what had happened in Jakarta. The operations were then carried out in the next days. Rinto Tri Hasworo, 'Penangkapan dan Pembunuhan di Jawa Tengah Setelah G-30-S', in John Roosa, Hilmar Farid and Ayu Raith (eds), Tahun Yang Tak Pernah Berakhir: Memaham Pengalaman Korban 65, ELSAM, Jakarta, 2004, p. 29. With the support from civilian militias, the operations were done easily. The military provided trucks and the militias helped with information or even took part in the killings.

Rivers of Blood

As many may have heard the colour of the River Brantas in East Java, turned to red during the horrific months. Rivers were perhaps the "favourite" places for the killers to dump the bodies. The reason might be practical as the current would take the bodies away. However, the floating bodies in the river might be containing a powerful message for Indonesians. As if they liked to say through the river:

communists should end up like this!

Associate Organisations

Noteworthy, not all of victims were actually communists. Even Gerwani and the labour unions were not officially part of the Communist Party. These organisations worked together with the PKI on several occasions, unlike Pemuda Rakyat, which was officially the youth wing of the party.

One survivor admitted that he was a member of an Islamic party, Masyumi, but was arrested. Ibid.,p.31. It is denunciation behind this false accusation.

Chinese people were amongst the victims but they were by no means a majority.

Imprisonment

The fates of victims in prisons were not better than those who were summarily executed. Tortures and killings could happen even in the prisons. Some commentators suggested that the number of inmates shrank in several regions. Zakaria, a leader of youth organisation, who carried out interrogations of prisoners in Lombok, admitted that after August 1966, the number of communist prisoners had decreased. Roosa (et al), 'Tahun Yang Tak Pernah Berakhir', p. 16.

In Kediri, this similar method of killings also took place, albeit under the different name of Operasi Teratur or Organised Operation, and resulted in a greater number of victims. Hermawan Sulistyo, Palu Arit di Ladang Tebu: Sejarah Pembantaian Massal Yang Terlupakan 1965-1966, Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, Jakarta, 2000, p. 173.

For female prisoners, beside tortures, they were also subject to sexual harassments. Nona, a woman who was arrested, was forced to have sex with the military officer and then became pregnant and delivered her baby in the camp. Rinto Tri Hasworo, 'Penangkapan dan Pembunuhan', p. 48.

For three decades this horror remained untold. But following the downfall of Suharto, many stories of the massacres began to emerge. Survivors who were released from prison wrote their memoirs giving their accounts on that crucial moment in Indonesian history.

The Future

Discussion on what happened on 1965 is still centred on the mastermind of the coup, however. The pitfall of this over-attention on mastermind may lead to assuming the killings as separated from the establishment of the New Order. As Robert Cribb lamented in his article, the unsolved biggest question is not

"whodunit"

but

"can it happen again?" Robert Cribb, 'Unresolved Problems in the Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966', Asian Survey, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Legacy of Violence in Indonesia. (Jul. - Aug., 2002), pp. 550-563.

It is important for Indonesians to contemplate the later question if they want to build a more democratic Indonesian in the future.


69 Comments on “Anti Communist Massacres”

  1. avatar John Orford says:

    Very informative post Spew!

    I suppose, as you suggest, both horizontal and military backed killing took place.

    This has happened around the world over and over again, so it’s by no means surprising, and is unfortunately part of human nature in these situations it seems — e.g. Rwanda, cultural revolution China etc. etc.

  2. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Thanks John! I would not say that both horizontal and military backed killing took place. Bitter rivalry does not always lead to blooshed. Before independence, there was a tension between Islam and communism, but again why did this end up in massive scale of killing?

    As for Rwanda, the context is different. Racial segregation during colonialism emphasised the differences from which both Hutu and Tutsi perceived their subjectivity.

    Human nature? You are not bringing Hobbes and his state of nature into the discussion, are you?

  3. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Dear Spew,

    Awesome piece. Many thanks. Just my tuppence worth — I don’t think Ross deserves the credit of a mention in the opening here. A lot of people will just read the first few paras and it might be better to re-edit and stick him in par 2 or 3. There’s a lot of work that’s gone into this and it deserves to be showcased.

  4. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Here we go:

    Clifford Geertz, Geoffrey Robinson, Harold Crouch, and John Roosa. Not all these scholars agree with the idea that the killings were state-sponsored violence.

    Horizontal-Spontaneous Conflict

    Sulistyo, Sudjatmiko and Geertz are the proponent of “horizontal theory”. There seems to be no dissimilarity between their conclusions and the official version released by the government of Indonesia.

    So scholars think that maybe there was a bit of hands-on work from the Rakyat in the killings. Makes apportioning blame a little difficult, right ?

  5. avatar Janma says:

    The question “Can this happen again?” is the most important one. Until Indonesia can be open and frank about what really happened, until they stop whitewashing and burying the facts no one can learn from this period in history. The only way for it to not happen again is to make people aware of what really happened in the first place.
    Thanks Spew it all, great article!

  6. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Chinese people were amongst the victims but they were by no means a majority.

    The Chinese liked to make it out as if it was genocide. It was an insult to thousands of Pris who had lost familiy members through their close association with the Chinese.

  7. avatar David says:

    the colour of the River Brantas in East Java, turned to red during the horrific months.

    There’s a water gate/dam in the river at Jagir in Surabaya, another story that’s famous is that it got so clogged up with bodies the water stopped flowing through it. It’s very near Wonokromo, which was supposed to be a big PKI area.

    More photos of it these days –
    http://www.eastjava.com/tourism/surabaya/jagir-dam/.

  8. Great piece! Whether it can happen again depends on how we deal with this dark part of history.

  9. avatar WP says:

    Good piece.

    Do you perhaps have more compilations on e.g. Soeharto?

  10. avatar Olympus says:

    What is frequently overlooked in this discussion is the prevalence of aksi-aksi in the eighteen months prior to the coup. Communist cadres were sent down to villages and started confiscating land from anyone they considered to be a “landlord” or “capitalist”, frequently lands belonging to high profile Muslims were particularly targeted.

    Many people in the villages, not unnaturally, banded together to resist these land thefts, and anti-Communist violence was already well under way by the time of September 30th. The army merely allowed the people off the leash and the Communists got bitten in the ass big time, here’s a hint; if you go around stealing other people’s property be prepared to be on the receiving end of a serious backlash.

    I regret anyone who was killed that was not a Communist but frankly a massacre of Asian Communists in 1965 would elicit as much sympathy from me as if I heard of a massacre of Nazis in Europe in 1943.

    The Communists got a taste of their own medicine, hell rub it up them.

  11. avatar Neil of Newcastle says:

    Bodies, boyz, where are they buried??

  12. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Olympus,

    Yes aksi-aksi happened due to land reform. But seriously how many confiscation or reclaim made by the PKI? Here i am not making good and bad logic of thinking. One particular example of aksi-aksi was ‘Jengkol Incident’ near Kediri, East Java.

    Communist cadres were sent down to villages and started confiscating land from anyone they considered to be a “landlord” or “capitalist”, frequently lands belonging to high profile Muslims were particularly targeted.

    Any examples or references would be fantastic for the discussion. Otherwise it would be pointless, wouldnt it?

  13. avatar tomaculum says:

    I saw headless corps swimming in a river, the water wasn’t red but the air was polluted by decay scent, during the night cries of help and plead concured with the screaming of the night bird.
    These are my memory as a 10 ys. old kid.
    “whodunit”? We did it…….
    “can it happen again?” tomorrow? the day after tomorrow? next hour?

    The Chinese liked to make it out as if it was genocide. It was an insult to thousands of Pris who had lost familiy members through their close association with the Chinese.
    Which chinese, Aluang?
    Why insult? The are also many chinese who had lost familly members, but no one of those I know said that it was a genocide. And I know many chinese! Some of foreign observer said this.

    Btw: the PKI people wasn’t so helpless and defenseless.

    I know also many non-PKI village men and women denunciated and killed.

  14. avatar spew-it-all says:

    So scholars think that maybe there was a bit of hands-on work from the Rakyat in the killings. Makes apportioning blame a little difficult, right ?

    That’s what they think, Ahmad. But clearly the military was involved and the people would not go to hunt communist if the military didn’t back them up, as i mentioned in my article.
    What really matters is what happened after the communists being crushed? This is the important question that helps to understand the context. The military regime came to power, of course. What might have happened if there was no coup attempt? Will the military take over? I doubt it as civilians government characterised that period. It was not coincidence that after the bloodshed and total defeat of communism, the New Order emerged. John Roosa’s argument is that the coup was used as a pretext by the military to oust Sukarno and his supporters, nationalists and communists. So the killings was part of dismantling his power.

    If we believe the horizontal conflict theory–albeit it is hard to hold on to this, then it would be a bad precedent for the Indonesian future. Recurrence is the one that Indonesians should work on.

    Suharto did perhaps not know about the coup. But he was the highest active general at that time who has authority to restore order. If we think that the bloodshed took place because he could not be able to restor the task, this is crime by ommission. Interestingly, training provided by the military and the connection between the arrival of RPKAD and the killings spree in the regions, might give us a clue who should be responsible for this.

  15. avatar Dragonwall says:

    Angke in N Jakarta is actually a Chinese word spoken in Indonesian when the river was flowing red with blood.

  16. avatar Olympus says:

    Spew it All,

    Rex Mortimer’s Indonesian Communism Under Sukarno, Ideology & Politics, 1959-1965, Chapter 7, “Class War in the Countryside”, pp. 266-328.

    Sixty odd pages giving you all the examples, quotations, references and citations you could require.

    Pop down to Kinokuniya bookshop, look for the selection of “Equinox Classic Indonesia Books” and you’ll find Professor Mortimer’s thoroughly researched book, available for the reasonable sum of 279,000 Rupiah.

    Anything else I can assist you with?

  17. avatar spew-it-all says:

    The army merely allowed the people off the leash and the Communists got bitten in the ass big time, here’s a hint; if you go around stealing other people’s property be prepared to be on the receiving end of a serious backlash.

    So you think the army merely allowed the people off the leash? What happened to training militias then? My understanding of it, this would be more than allowing them off the leash. The practice of ‘bon’ (picking up communist inmates from prisons and executed them) had been happening since 65-68. Never did i know civilians entering the prisons and picked communists inmates to be murdered. Who held the leash in this respect?

    I totally agree that the role of communism in Indonesia prior to the massacres should be critically studied and if there is an investigation through truth and reconciliation process, it should not be meant to purify the PKI–if there are some mistakes made by the party prior to the ferocity. However, this does not necessarily mean we justified the killings. If they are murdered for being communist, following this logic, we can accept people to be killed because they are Christian or Muslim.

  18. avatar Olympus says:

    In central and eastern Java as well as in Bali there was a nascent civil war raging in the eighteen months before September 30th. This was a result of the chaotic incompetence of Sukarno’s idiotic misrule.

    In villages where people faced starvation Muslims confronted Communists, ethnic Chinese faced off against ethnic Arabs, Hindus opposed Christians. It was a time bomb not only set to explode but whose fuse was already burning. Inter communal violence was already rife, I certainly agree that the Army took full advantage of this chaos by uniting everyone else against the Communists. But to imagine for one second that the whole thing was created from nothing by the Army is absurd naivety. There were many willing executioners of Communists and as a result the Communists met their greatest defeat up until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Communism is the biggest ideology of mass murder in the past century, they have the blood of perhaps a hundred million people on their hands, they systematically set out to liquidate their opponents in every society in which they took control. Tens of millions of people were murdered, tortured, imprisoned, raped and starved throughout Asia and around the world by Communists.

    Communists make the Nazis look like hopeless amateurs when it comes to the process of mass murder, terror and genocide.

    People who grew up in the west and never suffered under Communist tyranny generally take a somewhat rose tinted view of Communists believing them to be misguided idealists whose heart is in the right place but who sometimes let themselves get a wee bit carried a way, they aren’t. Communists are political thugs of the most brutal type, attracting psychopaths and paranoid shizophrenics in whatever society they flourish be it Pol Pot, Stalin, Caucescu, Mao Tse Tung or Kim Il Sung, Communist societies always end up the same way.

    I would shed not a single tear about the slaughter of a million Nazis, I would be as equally unconcerned about the slaughter of Communists. Unlike western liberals, the people of Indonesia knew their enemy, they confronted them up close in their towns and villages and they realised that there is only one solution when faced with psychopathic terrorists, wipe them out or be wiped out by them.

    The good guys won.

  19. avatar John Orford says:

    Olympus: “I would shed not a single tear about the slaughter of a million Nazis”

    Well you are as bad as them then. Go to Germany, and everyone over 70ish was probably a fully paid up member of the Nazi party or a subscriber to their weekly newsletter.

    I dare you not to cry over the /slaughter/ of at least one of them, never mind a million.

    Similar thing applies for people in Russia, East Germany and China.

    Believe it or not, Nazis and Communists are human too. It’s unthinking like yours that causes genocides.

    Spew It All: just about Rwanda etc. Actually many Hutus were killed by Hutus. The point was that in times like those it’s kill or be killed.

    If you are not seen to be part of the killing and persecution, you become a victim yourself. Horrifyingly, this happens over and over. Suspect something similar happened in parts of Indonesia.

  20. avatar Olympus says:

    I dare you not to cry over the /slaughter/ of at least one of them,

    Absurd, emotive nonsense; millions of Nazis were killed during the war and neither I nor anyone I know ever shed a tear for a single one of them.

    Did you? Really?

    I don’t believe that anyone sheds a tear about the death of a member of a discredited political movement whom they never knew and who was killed in a war in a foreign country six decades ago, if they do then they’re seriously mentally unstable.

  21. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    I would like to read testimonies of people directly involved in the massacres. From all sides, victim’s families as well as participants in the murders, also the military. But how many are still alive and willing to talk? Scholarly studies usually tend to favour certain theories or paradigms, but however useful they may be for explaining backgrounds and possible motives, they don’t contain the practical information to avoid similar catastrophes.

  22. avatar John Orford says:

    “Absurd, emotive nonsense”

    No, I suggested that you couldn’t even stomach watching the slaughter of one /living/ Nazi or Communist.

    You are parroting precisely the inhumane calculus that killed millions of Jews in Europe and thousands of people in Indonesia.

    You seem to be aping the evil you say you despise.

  23. avatar spew-it-all says:

    You have shifted the topic too far, Olympus. I am not talking about communism in general–and if I did, clarification should be made on which communist as they are not the same. But that’s different story.

    I guess I would not be able to carry on this discussion with you as you seem to have a preconception about communism. Moreover, it is absolutely not my interest to make moral judgement on ideology, let alone on the grim and disturbing subject such as massacres of 1965. I should leave this moral judgement to Taufik Ismail and others narrow-minded clerics.

    My initial idea to post the article was to give an alternative interpretation of historical period and move the topic away from communist is bad or good. Alas, you wrapped it up with: the good guys won.

    As for massacres of 1965, I already mentioned in my article about the rivalry between the PKI and others and never did I say that the army created chaos out of nothing. Yes, maybe many people volunteered themselves to kill communism but they would not be brave enough to do it if there was no back-up from the military.

    John, yes I am aware that hutus killed hutus. But if you are talking about genocide in 94, the hunt against Hutu mostly happened after Tutsis were wiped out. The construction of enemy changed from Tutsi to moderate Hutu.

  24. avatar Olympus says:

    I’m sorry you feel unable to continue debating me, it seems rather odd that you start a debate and then object to people continuing it, how and ever we’ll let that pass, as well as your nonsensical use of the word “preconception” as if my idea that Communists are mass murderers is some sort of figment of my fevered imagination rather than a blunt historical, undeniable fact.

    What I can not allow to pass is the notion that it is I who skewed the debate to a moral argument over whether it was justifiable to fight the Communists, you did that;

    However, this does not necessarily mean we justified the killings.If they are murdered for being communist, following this logic, we can accept people to be killed because they are Christian or Muslim.

    It was you who compared the self defence of the Indonesian people against a murderous ideology to murdering people for their religious viewpoint, in doing so you equate Communism with religion.

    If you don’t want a skewed debate then kindly don’t skew the debate.

  25. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Olympus, I am not feeling uncomfortable of having debate with you. But since the start, you seem to set your opinion of communism in Indonesia. What really frustrates me is that the discussion is getting out of the track. Communism in general and the killings of 1965 is completely different matter, however.

    I can agree with you that ‘unilateral actions’ or problem within the communism itself, tension between the PKI and Islam were important to understand what happened in that crucial period. I already acknowledged these factors. Their tactics may have worsened the tension and were not beneficial for the party.

    As for moral judgement, I was just afraid that this going to end up with bad or good argument. But in fact, I get trapped in my own fear and may have projected it on you. My apology.

    Having perused your postings, generalisations are often found when it come to communism. Adamantly, you contended that mass murder seems to exclusively belong to communist ideology. I can’t relate this to what happened in 1965. The killings in Cambodia was awful and I am not condoning it for whatever reason. But I won’t talk about Cambodia. Maybe we shall go back in the context, which is the massacres of 1965.

    So do you really think the killings were just a culmination of ongoing strife between the PKI and Islam? And the military merely took advantage of it. How do you explain the trainings and the executions in prisons by the military? These are some questions that haven’t been addressed by you.

  26. avatar Olympus says:

    So do you really think the killings were just a culmination of ongoing strife between the PKI and Islam?

    No, not simply between Islam and the Communists, there were an awful lot more groups involved, the Protestants and the Catholics were also heavily involved and given that the worst massacres happened in Hindu Bali it can not simply be put down to a PKI versus Islam affair. I mentioned some conflicting parties in the post above to which you can add peasant versus landowners, rural versus urban and Javanese versus Madurese, they were all at each other’s throats.

    In these occasions context is everything, Communism was on the rise throughout Asia in the mid 1960’s, nowhere more so than in Indonesia which had the biggest Communist party outside of China and the Soviet Union at that time.

    The Communists felt their time had come, they would work with Sukarno and then when he left the stage they would have control of the entire country, to this end they began targeting their opponents, this is the policy of Communism, it is always necessary to eliminate all opposition to gain power, this must be done ruthlessly. The Communists thought under Sukarno’s benevolent gaze they could wipe out their political enemies, they almost succeeded. Sukarno was a fool, he thought he could use the Communists to reinforce his position but he was ‘riding a tiger’ and would have been dumped by the Communists when he was no longer useful.

    Apart from Islam, the last bastion of anti-Communism was the Army high command. Given the excuse of September 30 (not a Communist coup but a pro-Sukarno coup by Communists sympathising officers, a subtle but important difference) the generals seized their chance and helped all political opponents of Communism to defeat the Communists. Yes of course the Army trained militias, provided information and assisted the anti-Communist factions and of course the Army themselves killed the Communists, but to draw the conclusion from this that the massacre was all simply inspired by the Army is utterly wrong.

    The anti-Communist purges were very popular, the killers were local people killing their neighbours with the help of the Army, that is why it is hushed up today; not because anyone is afraid of the army any more, but because most people are afraid of admitting their own role or the role of their families in massacring the Communists.

    As I said above there were many, many willing executioners of the Communists, the Army gave these executioners the opportunity to do what they would have done anyway if they had the chance.

  27. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Yes what happened in Bali was not Islam versus the PKI. In fact, it was the PNI versus the PKI. As for other religious groups, in Blitar, East Java, Catholic youth was also involved. But in Sumatra, Islam was involved. I agree with you.

    I’ve also never thought that the coup was a communist coup. Like you said, it was communist and pro-sukarno generals.

    However, i still believe that the killings were triggered by the Army. Of course, there were many locals who were willing to murder the communists. There were series of events leading up to the killings, which were also important to support that argument. The arrival of RPKAD, the campaign launched by Pangkokamtib, the closing of media outlets, and the trainings were crucial in that moment. Surely local people would have killed the PKI if they had a chance. In this respect, the Army created a chance and played really well to avoid a direct confrontation with the communists and let the angered mass to do the job. Without propaganda, it would not be easy to transfer a bitter rivalry into a bloodshed.

    The anti-Communist purges were very popular, the killers were local people killing their neighbours with the help of the Army, that is why it is hushed up today; not because anyone is afraid of the army any more, but because most people are afraid of admitting their own role or the role of their families in massacring the Communists.

    This is interesting point that many people are afraid of admitting their own role. Some people from NU admitted that they killed communism after being trained and received briefing from the military.

  28. Thanks to all the contributors, the comments make interesting reading, and tell us more about some of the commentators than about the events!

    ‘Spew-it-all’ (come on, you can do better than that in the nom de plume department) is basically right in most of his account, and most of my colleagues who have read the documents and, as I have, carried out oral history interviews, agree that the military should be held responsible for the killings, either having carried them out themselves, or set them up directly or indirectly (even one of the leaders of Ansor admits that he was probably taken in by military propaganda that the PKI had ‘death lists’, meaning that the military set the situation up as ‘kill or be killed’, when in fact that was not really the case).

    Having said that, there are clear indications that the PKI were organising their own militias because they were worried about the strength of the right-wing generals, however the key problem for those who want to blame the victims is that the PKI was actually ordered to stand down and not react after 30th September, so as an organisation they were hardly ready for military actions. The ‘defence’ argument for the killings doesn’t stack up against the evidence, although it’s a nice excuse if you’re a mass murderer (by the way, what’s Indonesian for ‘guilt’?)

    Sorry Olympus, but murder is murder, and you give up your humanity if you try to argue that it’s OK to summarily execute one person, let along hundreds of thousands. Does the aksi sepihak justify mass murder? I doubt it; the research on the aksi shows that the majority of the land the BTI and others attempted to claim was actually state-owned land, not land in private hands. Rich muslim landlords were attempting to manipulate the system of land ownership in East Java by claiming some of this state land as ‘religious’ land, and this increased the tension around the aksi, which happened at a time of drought. After the killings lots of people were able to steal the land, houses etc of the victims, again very convenient. There are still some very nice houses in Jakarta owned by people with military connections that were the spoils of the killings.

    There are no ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ in this situation. I hope nobody still believes the old Suharto myth that the deaths of 6 generals justifies the killings, but sadly some people are still taken in by this. I suppose if you’ve grown up with the propaganda all your life it is hard to get over it.

    The story about the killings being an anti-Chinese genocide was not, as far as I know, put about by Chinese, but by some Western writers who misinterpreted the secondary sources. There is no evidence of genocide, but as usual, whenever something happens wrong on Java, there are anti-Chinese riots and Chinese are killed. The propaganda that China was sending arms to the PKI (apparently a CIA story) meant that there was official blaming of Chinese for 30th September.

    One correction to the initial account, I have trouble calling this ‘state-sponsored violence’. During the last months of 1965 it’s a bit hard to work out who was in charge of the state, and the US Documents present the situation of Indonesia having 2 governments well into 1966. Let’s call a spade a spade: ‘military sponsored violence’.

    In South Africa reconciliation was achieved by all sides confessing their mistakes and accepting responsibility. Is such a thing possible in Indonesia?

  29. avatar Olympus says:

    Ask yourself which was a better society to live in, Indonesia in 1975 or Cambodia in 1975?

    Year Zero was what the Communists were lining up for Indonesia, instead they got the Year of Living Dangerously. Biter bit, tant pis.

  30. avatar Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Adrian,

    Thanks for this. Exactly what’s needed, when it’s needed. Questions:

    * How conclusive do you think the proof is and the level of documentation and oral history ?

    * Specifically, do you know anything about Sarwo Edhie ? As I’m sure you know, he was SBY’s father-in-law.

    Finally, I’m going to write on Pak Patoeng’s blog here a ‘hypothetical’ of scenarios of what happened if the communists actually did take over in 1965 and call for submissions.

    To me Soeharto’s death presents a lot of unanswered and difficult philosophical questions. And – I’m sorry here – but most Australian academics & commentators who are lining up to call Soeharto and the military murderers aren’t helping. (Bob Elson’s done an even-handed and thorough treatment in his biography on Soeharto).

    In fact, I think they’re failing. Damien Kingsbury, Tim Lindsay, Scott Burchill, Hamish McDonald, Soeharto the tyrant, blahdy-blah-blah-f–kn–blah. Nuance ? Ambiguity ? Forget it, let’s boost our media sexiness by dodging a complex discussion.

    Surely reducing history to a litany of accusations is a disservice to the memory of the dead. Surely they deserve as close to the truth as we can get.

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