John Gittings

The Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66

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[Published in Mark Levene & Penny Roberts, eds., The Massacre in History, New York: Berghahn Books, 1999, pp. 247-262]


The large-scale killings which occurred in Indonesia in 1965-66 extended over many months and took place in many locations. Some were conducted directly by the armed forces, others were instigated by the authorities and quite a few were the expression of previous conflict or tension within communities. Because of the secrecy surrounding these events, then and since, it is impossible even to guess at how many separate incidents occurred, how many were killed and how many participated in the killings. They constituted not one massacre but a whole set, loosely connected and with significant regional variations but nevertheless all triggered by events which had occurred and decisions which were taken at the national level of rule. This makes the whole affair an extraordinarily complex phenomenon which it would be hard to analyse even with more adequate information. Yet in spite of many variations in type and character, all of these killings bore the features of a `massacre' in the usual sense of the word: they involved the mass slaughter of sizeable numbers of individuals who were usually unarmed and defenceless; they happened swiftly and unpredictably; the methods of killing were extremely savage and the victims were treated, dead or alive, with huge contempt.

Several types of question have to be asked about this period. First, was this blood-letting on such a colossal scale sanctioned or even encouraged by outside forces such as the U.S. and Britain? This question has occupied a large part - perhaps the greater part - of academic and journalistic attention in recent years. The answers to it, suggestive but not yet conclusive, tell us more about the nature of Cold War politics elsewhere than about what actually happened in Indonesia. Second, did this protracted sequence of savagery constitute a single all-embracing massacre in the sense of a deliberate and sustained exercise to physically eliminate a large identifiable section of the population? This was contested by the regime which emerged from these events and which, led by President Suharto, remained in power for over three decades. (Suharto was finally overthrown in May 1998 after the mounting internal tensions of Indonesian society were exposed by the Asian financial crisis, leading to mass popular demonstrations and unrest). During all this time the regime avoided analysis of what had happened without seeking to offer its own alternative explanation. Yet, if it occurred as critics claim, then this was a massacre, or massacres, whose spontaneous' character was an instrument of sustained policy with a particular end in mind. While all massacres are appalling, this gives a particularly vicious complexion to this case. It helps to explain why, more than thirty years after the events, so little is still known about it, and why it remains an unusually sensitive subject.

A third question, which may begin to be addressed now that the Suharto regime has fallen, has to do with the scale of the massacre. With estimates of those slaughtered ranging from one hundred thousand to more than a million, the possibility of exaggeration and double counting has to be reckoned with. If the process of revolutionary change begun in May 1998 continues, the official files may eventually be opened up, although there will be vested interests among the armed forces opposed to an objective enquiry. Such an enquiry could lead to the higher estimates being scaled down: some aspects of this `massacre' appear no more immune to myth-making than similar occurrences elsewhere. Yet all contemporary accounts, including those of Western intelligence services, agree that a very substantial number of people was murdered - at least several hundreds of thousands. Statistically this does not begin to match Stalin's purges, the Nazi exterminations, the Khmer Rouge terror, or even the more recent genocides of Rwanda and Burundi. Yet occurring as it did over a short space of time, it may be regarded as comparable in its ferocity and intensity. Serious study of the Indonesian massacres of 1965-66, as and when this becomes possible, will throw light on an important and so far neglected example of a phenomenon which may be abhorrent to humanity, but nevertheless continues to occur - and which still needs to be much better understood.

Coverage of the Massacres

No one who writes about modern Indonesia can avoid mentioning the massacres, though they often get little more than a passing mention. Relatively little research has been conducted on them (with some notable exceptions) and even less is reflected in the secondary literature.[1] They remain to a large extent a series of events located outside any meaningful context, historical framework or explanation. Indeed, the very fact that so little is known or understood about them has become their most noted characteristic thereby serving, perhaps, as a substitute for more extended analysis.

In common journalistic shorthand, the massacres are portrayed as an episode when the `mob' (not the ruling authorities) moved to `crack down on the Communists' after the abortive Gestapu coup of 30 September 1965: `An orgy of violence broke out across the nation, targeting suspected Communists and sympathizers and also ethnic Chinese. An estimated three hundred thousand people died. Soon the Communists were crushed, and the next year Sukarno, a broken man, handed the presidency to Suharto.' [2]. The victims, in this view, were targeted by the act of violence itself rather than as a result of conscious action, or even as the consequence of elemental human emotion, though almost assuming the force of a natural disaster such as a flood or typhoon. Thus, they have been described as a 'blood-letting' in which `more than half a million people were killed' [4]. This use of the passive rather than active mood has led Robert Cribb to observe that, the Indonesian killings have been treated as if they fall into an anomalous category of "accidental" mass death.

This is all the more surprising because, at the time and soon afterwards, there was no secret about the savagery and extent of this 'blood-letting' or about the identity of those who led and participated in it. Contemporary news reports in the Western media spoke of mass slaughter, of nights of terror, of political killings and great purges, and cited totals ranging from three hundred thousand to one million. A remarkably full account was published in the bestselling book by John Hughes, The End of Sukarno, with the subtitle `a coup that misfired: a purge that ran wild.' Hughes, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, described the army as bent on ruthlessly dismantling the entire Communist Party organization at home', noting how `few holds were barred in whipping up anti-Communist sentiment not least amongst Muslim student leaders who were set in motion with the single-word instruction `Sikat' meaning `sweep (them away) [5].15

As for the sequence of events itself, there is little disagreement among scholars and journalists:

1. During the night of 30 September, an abortive coup was launched by a loose coalition of army officers who claimed to be anticipating an imminent move by the Generals' Council against President Sukarno. The coup organizers comprised two main groups. Gabriel Kolko has described the first as younger central Javanese who condemned the corruption, Westernization and personal laxity of the leaders of the army living in Jakarta; the second were air force officers, including the commander, who had longstanding complaints against the army over allocation of the military budget and whose careers were dependent on Sukarno remaining in power [6]. The strong legal Communist Party (PKI) was not involved organizationally, as is shown by the lack of supporting action. But its leader, Aidit, is believed to have provided covert political support through a parallel organization, the Biro Khusus or Special Bureau which reported directly to him.[7]

2. The failure of the 30 September coup left General Suharto, who had fortunately (or mysteriously) not been a target of the conspirators, in a position to exercise decisive leadership. Within a week, an elaborate funeral had been held for the generals murdered in the coup, and lurid tales (which appear to have been unfounded) were published alleging that Communist women had first mutilated the bodies and even, according to some versions, committed sexual orgies with them.[8] The army had found its martyrs and, with the encouragement of the U.S. embassy, a cause for a purge of the entire PKI [9]. On the same day as the funeral, the CIA reported to Washington that the army had taken the decision to `implement plans to crush the PKI' [10]. Two days later, the failed coup plotters were labelled the Gestapu - an acronym for 30 September Movement in Indonesian Bahasa - as if to provide a master slogan for what was to follow and who was to be targeted [11]. PKI premises and support organizations in Jakarta were sacked and their leaders seized. Aidit himself evaded arrest for nearly two months but was executed shortly after capture without being tried.

3. The clean-up in Jakarta moved to central Java, the only area outside the capital where the original coup had been supported. There was also a strong Communist organization in these rural areas. Elite RPKAD commandos under General Sarwo Edhy headed for Semarang: their arrival sparked some futile strikes, which were quickly broken by Edhy's troops. Muslims now began to attack local PKI cadres, some of whom briefly retaliated. A wave of murder, torture, arson and revenge swept across the plain of Klaten and up to the slopes of Mount Merapi with skirmishing around the Communist-held town of Solo [12]. Edhy's commandos drove into the countryside and shot all protestors including women and unarmed villagers. Then, according to Edhy's own account, the commandos embarked on a full-scale clean-up. Aware that the area was too big and crowded for the troops to tackle effectively, he explains, we decided to encourage the anti-Communist civilians to help with the job. In Solo we gathered together the youth, the nationalist groups, the religious (Muslim) organizations. We gave them two or three days' training, then sent them out to kill the Communists.' Thus began, says John Hughes, Indonesia's 'post-coup blood bath [13].

4. As the signs of a new direction under the army in Jakarta, and reports of army-inspired action against the PKI and leftists multiplied, the violence spread to other parts of Indonesia. In some cases such as Pasuruan (East Java) and Aceh (Sumatra) the action was spontaneous [14]. Elsewhere local communities acted upon an informal licence to kill from the army. This was true across much of East Java where groups of anti-Communist youth, mostly belonging to the Ansor youth organization of the Muslim Teachers' party, were supported and armed by the army, but often acted autonomously. In Bali the killings began later, after the army initiated reprisals over the murder of a soldier in a clash with Communist youth. A mass movement then developed to the extent that Edhy is reported to have said: In Java we had to egg the people on to kill Communists. In Bali we have to restrain them, make sure they don't go too far [15]. The Bali massacre was conducted with an intensity that was second only to what had happened in Aceh [16].

5. The biggest wave of killings had expired by the end of 1965 but took time to reach outlying areas. The island of Lombok suffered in early 1966 and West Kalimantan as late as October-November 1967 [17]. In the district of Banywangi, on the eastern tip of Java, mass killings occurred from late November to late December 1965, on the anniversary of Gestapu from 1 to 5 October 1966, and again from May to December 1968 [18]. There are some areas of Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Maluku, where little is known even today of the extent of the killings. Most of West Java was untouched, according to Cribb, because the local Siliwangi Division, having spent many years battling with a fundamentalist Muslim movement, would not allow local Muslim groups to take action [19].

Anatomy of the Massacres

How did the massacres actually occur? In most contemporary historical cases which are known to us, a great deal of detail is accumulated. Survivors tell their stories; some of those who participated end up on trial; physical remains are disinterred by investigative commissions; and researchers gather together all the available information to provide an authoritative secondary source. None of these materials exist for the Indonesian massacres, except for a very small number of eye-witness accounts, gathered and circulated in secret and which throw light only on a few isolated incidents. No-one has ever been tried for participation in a mass killing: the only trials have been of those accused of complicity in the original Gestapu coup and the murders at the Halim airbase.

Only one investigative commission was ever set up. This was the fact-finding commission under Major-General Sumarno, appointed by President Sukarno, in December 1965, while the massacres were still in progress. According to one anonymous member (interviewed by the author in 1990), it found that the army had set the agenda wherever it went. Loyal citizens were brought forward to present petitions for banning the PKI, and the numbers of dead were grossly under-reported.

For instance, in Denpasar, capital of Bali, a senior commission member eventually smuggled himself out through the kitchen of the hotel where they were quartered, with the help of the maitre d'hotel. Late at night he met a policeman who was still loyal to Sukarno, who advised him that the real total of killings by that stage was not three thousand as the commission had been told, but thirty thousand. Similarly, in East Java, a military police chief confessed that the official toll of five thousand should be multiplied at least eight times. On returning to Jakarta, the commission delivered its verdict to the world that seventy-eight thousand had died. Sukarno was secretly advised that the real figure must be four to six times higher. A similar tale about under-reporting was told by a commissioner to the journalist John Hughes, within a year of the events. He calculated that about ten times as many people were killed as we actually reported [20]. The report of the commission was never published, nor did it go into the question of responsibility. An army survey by Kopkamtib (Suharto's Command for the Restoration of Security and Public Order), conducted in 1966, appears to have concluded that around one million people died. It too was never published [21]. Thirty years later, there had still been no proper enquiry or any other form of investigation. This protracted investigative hiatus can be compared to treatment of the Katyn massacre, where reliable evidence proving beyond doubt Soviet responsibility was only unearthed nearly fifty years later, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is probable that persistent enquiry by the media, even long after the event, would still uncover eye-witnesses or participants prepared to reveal what they had seen - or done. The Indonesian media self-evidently has not been in a position to pursue such an enquiry. The mainstream Western media has taken no retrospective interest in the subject, even in years when it could be presented in the light of a significant anniversary (e.g. thirty years afterwards in 1995-6). On the twenty-fifth anniversary, a brief enquiry by this writer was - as far as he is aware - the only attempt of its kind in the British press [22]. A conference held in the run-up to this anniversary produced what remains the most substantial academic monograph on the subject though no more obviously accessible study has been published in book-form [23]. By contrast, other Asian massacres, such as My Lai and Tiananmen Square, have been the subject of numerous successful popular journalistic accounts.

Most of the research so far undertaken has focused on the events in Bali - notorious in folklore surrounding the massacre as scene of the most extreme and savage episodes of violence. In the only book on the subject, Geoffrey Robinson suggests that support in Bali for the abortive Gestapu coup came primarily from within the army. The subsequent aggressive campaign to punish the PKI can be understood as an attempt to deflect attention away from this awkward fact. Local military authorities claimed to uncover evidence that the PKI in Bali were planning to stage their own coup. There was an echo of the accusations made against Communist women at the Halim airbase murder scene. Local members of the Bali chapter of the PKI-affiliated women's organization were said to have been instructed to sell themselves to soldiers and then murder and castrate them. The mass killing began in mid-November, after several weeks of official military action in which PKI-related people were arrested or intimidated, while possessions were stolen, houses burnt and women raped. In the first stage of the massacre, vigilante groups took to the streets and countryside, often with logistical support from the army in the form of trucks, weapons and intelligence [24].

A glimpse into the next stage was gained by this writer who, on a brief two-day visit to Bali, in 1990, was able to contact one eyewitness who, though he did not admit his participation, gave a reluctant but revealing account. The informant identified a nearby well into which he claimed a hundred bodies had been thrown after the victims were lined up and killed with knives, apparently without resisting. He described a belief, unrecorded elsewhere, that those who were killed must not take the picture of their slaughters to the other world. Consequently their eyes were daubed with whitewash. He claimed too that those committing the deed drank the blood of their victims, so that the spirits of the dead would not follow them for seven generations [25].

We also possess a remarkable document written for publication in the December 1967 issue of a Bandung student newspaper which reached galley-proof stage but was never published. The writer states that he in no way defends the Gestapu/PKI, but takes the view that their uncivilized and cruel methods of behaviour should not have been used against them in retaliation. This is the main source for the assertion that pro-coup army officers encouraged the massacres in order to cover their own traces, and it claims that the main victims were not PKI members but those who were deceived by them [26]. Whether or not the argument is sincere, or used to increase the chance of publication - if so, unsuccessfully - it points to the strong element of score-settling mentioned in many other accounts. There seems little doubt that previous disputes over land played a large part, particularly in Bali where tenancy campaigns had been pursued aggressively by Communist-backed peasant organizations. Kenneth Young also describes attempts to seize land in Kediri (East Java) where, during PKI-inspired land campaigns, in 1963-64, Muslim landlords were attacked by hundreds of peasants armed with sharpened bamboo spears and other crude weapons. It is hardly surprising that two years later the massacres were particularly intense in Kediri [27].

The Bandung student newspaper's account also discusses another much-noticed phenomenon, suggested also in the eye-witness account quoted above - the passivity of those who went to their deaths:

There was no resistance in Bali, no resistance of any importance. Those who admitted they were PKI or who were accused of being PKI gave themselves up voluntarily to the authorities. When the killings were being carried out, it often happened that people who had been arrested wanted to be killed because they knew that their days were numbered any way. They preferred to be killed because they were afraid of torture or other methods of mass murder which are totally unacceptable to normal human beings who say they believe in God [28].

John Hughes gives a similar explanation for what he describes as those eerie stories of party members in Bali donning white burial robes and marching calmly with their captors to execution [29]. Other explanations have been given in terms of assumed social characteristics: resignation in the face of death, acting out of the appropriate part in a wayang shadow-puppet play, Javanese mysticism, etc. But as Young notes with reference to Kediri, the victims were mostly trapped in hopeless situations. Many sought arrest hoping for relative safety but were frequently traded off to vigilante groups for slaughter. The phenomenon of passivity in relation to Java or Bali has also been noted with regard to Jews in the Holocaust [30].

As with other massacres, the evidence for their commission can be divided into two categories: first, incidents which have been directly witnessed, and second, incidents recounted at second-hand or as hearsay. Not surprisingly, the detail in the first category of incidents is more specific and the numbers involved are more precise and usually smaller. The second category is more likely to recount stories of large numbers being massacred in a single incident, or of many thousands being murdered over a short period of time.

For evidence, particularly of the first kind, from Indonesia, we rely on materials collected covertly and made available through the excellent British organization, Tapol (the organization has taken its name from the common abbreviation for political prisoners - who are also probably the source for much of this material). Though the cases which are revealed cannot be regarded as a cross-section, they do reveal an interesting consistency. Most of them describe incidents where a mob of varying size pursues a small number of targeted individuals, who are then butchered often with extreme cruelty. They do not describe mass pogroms or military-type operations. The atmosphere is rather that of an excited witch-hunt or hunting-party. It is probable that such affairs are often led by a few activists with the majority tailing along out of curiosity, although perhaps becoming infected by the atmosphere of violence. (I make this suggestion on the basis of my own study of mob violence during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, also in rural areas, which in several parts of one province involved cases of cannibalism) [31]. Some features of the Tapol reports are worth noting:

(a) In many cases the neighbouring villagers are not involved, having themselves fled or remaining silent out of fear.

(b) There may be a suggestion of vengeance on the part of one or more ringleaders for some previous assumed injury committed by the victim.

(c) There may be some social sanction against the murderer(s), or occasionally intervention by the police or army.

Here are some typical reports, slightly paraphrased from the original source:

1. (from Kediri) It was 3 p.m. and the village was quiet. Suddenly, many people (from the Ansor Muslim youth organization) were heard yelling, Allah Huakbar. A crowd of people arrived at Pranggang village. These people then entered the home of Pak Legi (a peasant) and took him away. Pak Mulyo (another peasant) was also there. Their hands were tied together with plastic cords. They were taken to a forest on the other side of the river Banjarjo. There they were butchered and their bodies were left on the bank of the river, behind Pak Kalim's orchard. At the time, the village was deserted. All the men had fled and were in hiding. After things quietened down and the gang had left, the villagers who knew the two dead men buried them behind Kalim's house.

2. (Kediri) Sumo Kemin (aged sixty, a peasant) was having a siesta in the early afternoon when, at about 2 p.m., a large crowd of people suddenly appeared at his home. Sumo Kemin's wife was astonished to see this happen: she soon realized that these people were part of an Ansor terrorist gang. In the village of Banjarjo where this incident happened, the villagers were all quiet at the time. Then at 3 o'clock that afternoon, in October 1965, without any questions being asked, Sumo Kemin was butchered, his stomach was cut open, his intestines disembowelled and he was left there, just like that. When she saw what had happened, his wife became hysterical: the neighbours arrived to take care of the body and bury him there on the spot.

3. (Kediri) Tuni, twenty-seven, a Pemuda Rakyat (PKI) trade union) member, was taken away by an Ansor gang on 15 October 1965. The district of Kediri became known as a centre of mass murder in that year. The victims were PKI members or people thought to be in the PKI; in some cases, people were just settling old scores. This Pemuda Rakyat member, Tuni, who lived in Pranggang, was visited by a gang organized by the village head who took him to the village hall. Without any questions being asked, he was mercilessly tortured. Maksum, the village head, was in charge of this murder. After having been tortured, he was butchered like a lamb and his headless body was thrown onto a heap of bodies, twenty metres north of the Pranggang health centre. These days, Maksum, the village head, is nowhere to be seen.

4. (From Petemon, Surabaya) One morning in October 1965, a number of PKI members and sympathizers were assembled in the neighbourhood hall, by a group of about one hundred people armed with sickles and machetes, who had been dropped from outside. Then the assembled group of people were killed off quickly. It so happens that a policeman saw what was happening and quickly phoned his commanding officer; the officer said that he had no troops and told him to phone the Mobile Brigade (BriMob). Company D was on picket duty: two teams were sent from it under company commander, Pak Budi. After reaching the place where the killings were going on, the police immediately fired warning shots but the mob took no notice. The BriMob men then began to use their automatic weapons and some of the murderers were shot dead; some of the survivors (from the mob) were captured while others fled.

Even less is known about killings of those taken prisoner and committed to gaol, in some cases many months or even years after the original period of massacre. The same sources have provided some further episodic memories. Murders on Buru island - the island in the Moluccas used from 1969 to 1978 as a large prison camp - were frequent. One case is reported from Ciku and dated 3 October 1973. The soldiers on guard duty were from South Sulawesi and known for their extreme bestiality. Six tapols were said to have been executed, on grounds which are unknown, by soldiers who were ordered to place the barrels of their AK rifles close against the victims' bodies.

Another category of killings arises from the murder of prisoners who had not been sentenced but were being held in detention. The reason for them being taken out and disposed of is usually unclear, though sometimes it occurred when they were being transferred - perhaps into the jurisdiction of a harsher command, or as a pretext for their disposal. An incident on 7 July 1968, in Wonogiri, Central Java, is said to have resulted in the death of 111 tapols, carried out on the orders of the Surakarta Military Commander. They were shot one by one, then bayoneted and thrown into a grave. One named victim was said to have been thrown in while still alive although shot several times. The only survivor was a rich Chinese businessman who bought his freedom on condition that he gave a house to the commander. In another incident, in Wonosari, near Jogjakarta, about forty tapols were summoned and told they were about to be released. They were then taken by an army unit to a place close to a luweng or deep well. Still alive, they were unloaded from the back of the truck like garbage and tipped into the lowing [32].

The source for the Wonogiri massacre is said to be a captain in the group which carried out the killings and gave the information after retirement. The source for the Wonosari incident is a comrade who was detained in the same camp as the victims and who almost suffered the same fate. Clearly, such statements cannot be taken as necessarily accurate in detail or even outline. Their credibility depends largely on the way in which they fit in to a wider pattern of reporting. It would require close interrogation to establish how much depends on hearsay or second-hand knowledge. Even long after the event, forensic investigation of reported land-site graves would provide supporting evidence. The use of wells could also be investigated. Rivers and the sea feature in many accounts. There are suggestions that the perpetrators were not only trying to dispose of the evidence but to wash away the crimes which they had committed.33

Foreign Involvement

However obscure or poorly reported the Indonesian massacres may have been, those foreign powers with a special interest in the matter (the U.S. and Britain in particular) were more aware than they claimed to be. A note written by a diplomat at the British embassy to his ambassador, unearthed thirty years later when some - but not all - of the archives were opened, is revealing:

You - like me - may have been somewhat surprised to see estimates by the American embassy that well over a hundred thousand people have been killed in the troubles since 1 October. I am, however, readier to accept such figures after [receiving] some horrifying details of the purges that have been taking place ... The local army commander ... has a list of PKI members in five categories. He has been given orders to kill those in the first three categories. So far, some two thousand people have been killed in the environs ... A woman of seventy-eight ... was taken away one night by a village execution squad ... Half a dozen heads were neatly arranged on the parapet of a small bridge [34].

The results of the Suharto-led counter-coup were hailed by the White House as the great bonus of 1965, leading to decisive changes that have permanently altered Indonesia's political face ... [deletion by US censor]. In any event, the PKI is dead in any recognizable form, and Sukarno is apparently doomed [35]. A year later a senior State Department official, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Alexis Johnson, summed up U.S. satisfaction in what has become the classic quotation: The reversal of the Communist tide in the great country of Indonesia [is] an event that will probably rank along with the Vietnamese war as perhaps the most historic turning-point in Asia of this decade. [36]. His judgement on Indonesia - though not on Vietnam - was correct: the turning-point ushered in a pro-Western regime which has remained in place to this day.

It is also uncontested that both the U.S. and Britain acted promptly to express their sympathy and support for General Suharto's operation. In another famous quotation, the deputy chief of mission in Jakarta, Francis Galbraith, reported back to Washington that he had made it clear to a high-ranking Indonesian army officer that the embassy and the U.S. G[overnment] were generally sympathetic with and admiring of what the army was doing. Research into declassified U.S. documents reveals, according to one careful study, no instance of any American official objecting to or in any way criticizing the 1965-66 killings [37]. Britain also communicated its sympathy to the good generals, as they were described by its ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist. Specifically. it was decided to let the generals know that Britain (engaged at the time in Borneo against Indonesian armed confrontation over the establishment of Malaysia) would not take advantage of the confusion in Jakarta. It was agreed that the Indonesian army should not be distracted from what we consider to be a necessary task. Gilchrist thereupon sent a secret communication to the generals through an American contact [38].

The question still waiting to be fully researched and documented is how far the U.S., and to a lesser extent Britain, went beyond approbation and encouragement to provide active, though covert support. The evidence is necessarily fragmentary because so much of the documentation remains out of reach. One researcher concluded, in 1990, that it was premature for any analyst to render final judgement on the CIA's role in the Suharto coup, or in other clandestine activities before or afterwards. Few documents relevant to CIA activities have yet been declassified and censors have been skilful in `sanitizing' ostensibly declassified NSC [National Security Council] staff memoranda [39].

However in spite of these difficulties there is sufficient evidence to show that practical assistance, as well as moral' encouragement, was provided after the coup and counter-coup. Shortly after the initial events of 30 September, a U.S. official at the embassy, Robert Martens, was asked for help by an aide to the pro-Western minister of trade, Adam Malik. He obliged with a list of several thousand names of Communists which he had carefully compiled. Interviewed in 1990, Mr Martens said that I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. After this was reported Mr Martens protested that if he had made this comment, it could only have been as a wry remark. Following these revelations, U.S. sources claimed that Mr Martens had worked entirely alone, without authorization from any senior officials. But Francis Galbraith has described Martens as a unique asset who did an amazing job. Indonesian generals do not deny that information was exchanged with the U.S., but claim with nationalistic pride that they did not need any U.S. data to obliterate the Communists: General Suharto was quite capable of doing the job well enough by himself! [40]

It has also been well established that in November 1965 the generals asked for weapons and communications gear to arm the Muslim and nationalist gangs who were hampered by primitive equipment. The U.S. quickly promised such covert aid, labelled as medicines. It was described by their ambassador in Jakarta as exemplif[ying the] kind of covert low visibility commo[dity] assistance we might be [in the] best position to provide that would have maximum immediate utility [for Indonesian] armed forces. The ambassador explained that there were constraints upon opening a forward- looking dialogue with the generals, principally because they were up to their neck in [the] struggle with [the] PKI. However this hydra-headed adversary was being attacked relentlessly ... and even ruthlessly. The generals' next task, he concluded with optimism, would be to clean out the Augean stable (i.e., dispose of President Sukarno) and then establish a more moderate, truly independent foreign policy course [41]. The connection between U.S. covert means and strategic ends could not have been more clearly demonstrated. Because of the Borneo connection, the British were also involved in giving their approval to the U.S. supply of radio equipment and the ambiguously referred to medicines, to a value of nearly one million dollars. The U.S. had promised to consult Britain before doing anything to support the generals, and it is probable that London was well aware of the real significance of this aid [42].

One more question remains buried even more deeply in the secret documentation and the disinterest which has surrounded the subject - except among a few determined scholars - over the past three decades. Was there any specific encouragement in advance to the generals to take action, or perhaps even some indirect incitement to the original authors of the failed coup? A termination of the Sukarno regime was in the clear interests of both the U.S. and Britain. A CIA memorandum of June 1962 claims that Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and President Kennedy had agreed in April to liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities. It is not clear whether this refers to physical or political liquidation [43]. It was also well understood that, as U.S. Ambassador Jones put it in a pre-coup briefing, an unsuccessful coup attempt by the PKI might be the most effective development to start a reversal of political trends in Indonesia [44]. It is hard to believe that the notion at least of provoking such a coup was not entertained by Western intelligence. Several operatives have hinted after the event that it was a brilliant stratagem, but this type of retrospective boasting should be handled with caution.

The last word - and many preceding sentences, pages and perhaps whole chapters - still have to be written on these external aspects of the Indonesian tragedy. Many more chapters and books remain unwritten on the actual events. These remain buried in what must be one of the biggest black holes of modern history. We must hope that with the long overdue fall of the regime which profited from it, the search for serious answers will at last begin.


1. Robert Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali (Melbourne, 1990). This is the only book-length study and is of enormous use both for its analysis (see especially the editor's introductory chapter) and as a source-book.

2. Los Angeles Times, 10 August 1996.

3. John McBeth, `Red Menace', in Far Eastern Economic Review, 2 November 1996.

4. Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 16.

5. John Hughes, The End of Sukarno (London, 1968), 151-6.

6. Gabriel Kolko, Confronting the Third World: US foreign policy 1945-1980 (New York, 1988), 178.

7. John Gittings, `The Black Hole of Bali', The Guardian, 8-9 September 1990.

8. This myth is celebrated in the sculptured memorial at the site of the killing at Crocodile's Hole near Halim airbase outside Jakarta. In the central scene, the officers are bound and tipped head first down the well shaft- where their bodies were found - while the women clad in flimsy upper garments frolic in the foreground.

9. H. McDonald, Subarto's Indonesia (London, 1980), 50.

10. Kolko, Confronting the Third World, 180.

11. Carmel Budiardjo and S. L. Liem, `The Reckoning with the PKI', unpublished MS, n.d., 60.

12. Budiardjo and Liem, 'The Reckoning', 62; Hughes, End of Sukarno, 147.

13. Hughes, End of Sukarno, 151. ,

14. Kenneth R. Young, `Local and national influences in the violence of 1965', in Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 85.

15. Hughes, End of Sukarno, 181.

16. Harold Crouch, The Army and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY, 1978), 152.

17. Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 25.

18. Tapol, Bulletin no.1S, April 1976, 3.

19. Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 25-6.

20. Hughes, End of Sukarno, 183.

21. Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 8.

22. Gittings, `Black Hole of Bali'.

23. Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings.

24. Geoffrey Robinson, The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Revolution in Bali (Ithaca, NY, 1995), chap. 8, `After the Coup'.

25. Gittings, `Black Hole of Bali'.

26. Young, `Local and National Influences', 82-5.

27. Ibid.

28. Robert Cribb, Soe Hok Gie et al., `The mass killings in Bali', in Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 252-3.

29. Hughes, End of Sukarno, 191.

30. Young, `Local and National Influences', 85.

31. John Gittings, Real China: From Cannibalism to Karaoke (London, 1996), chap. 8.

32. These accounts are translated in, `Data on atrocities of the Suharto regime', translated by Carmel Budiardjo/Tapol, typescript, n.d. On Buru, see also, `The Story of the Buru Forced Labour Camp', Tapol, no. 128, April 1995.

33. Gittings, `Black Hole of Bali'.

34. Mark Curtis, `Democratic Genocide', The Ecologist, 26, 5 (1996): 202-4.

35. Frederick Bunnelt, `American "Low Posture" Policy toward Indonesia in the Months Leading up to the 1965 "Coup"', Indonesia (Cornell Modern Indonesia Project), no. 5O (1990), 58.

36. Kolko, Confronting the Third World, 183.

37. Audrey R. Kahin and George McT. Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia (New York, 1995), 230.

38. Curtis, `Democratic Genocide', 202-4.

39. Bunnell, `American "Low Posture" Policy', 30.

40. Kathy Kadane, `U.S. Officials' Lists Aided Indonesian Bloodbath in `60s', Washington Post, 21 May 1990; Robert Martens, letter, Washington Post, 2 June 1990; Gittings, `Black Hole of Bali'.

41. U.S. ambassador, Jakarta, telegram of 6 November 1965, copy in Lyndon B. Johnson Library.

42. Curtis, `Democratic Genocide', 202-4.

43. Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities o f Power: British Foreign Policy since 1945 (London, 1995), 217.

44. A. and G. Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, 225.