Indonesian killings of 1965–66
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The Indonesian killings of 1965–1966 were an anti-communist purge following a failed coup of the 30 September Movement in Indonesia (also called in Indonesia: the Kudeta). The most widely accepted estimates are that more than 500,000 people were killed. The purge was a pivotal event in the transition to the "New Order"; the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was eliminated as a political force, and the upheavals led to the downfall of president Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto's thirty-year presidency.
The failed coup released pent-up communal hatreds which were fanned by the Indonesian Army, which quickly blamed the PKI. Communists were purged from political, social, and military life, and the PKI itself was banned. The massacres began in October 1965, in the weeks following the coup attempt, and reached their peak over the remainder of the year before subsiding in the early months of 1966. They started in the capital, Jakarta, and spread to Central and East Java and, later, Bali. Thousands of local vigilantes and army units killed actual and alleged PKI members. Although killings occurred across Indonesia, the worst were in the PKI strongholds of Central Java, East Java, Bali, and northern Sumatra. It is possible that over one million people were imprisoned at one time or another.
Sukarno's balancing act of "Nasakom" (nationalism, religion & communism) had been unraveled. His most significant pillar of support, the PKI, had been effectively eliminated by the other two pillars—the army and political Islam; and the army was on the way to unchallenged power. In March 1967, Sukarno was stripped of his remaining power by Indonesia's provisional Parliament, and Suharto was named Acting President. In March 1968, Suharto was formally elected president.
The killings are skipped over in most Indonesian history books and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention. Satisfactory explanations for the scale and frenzy of the violence have challenged scholars from all ideological perspectives. The possibility of a return to similar upheavals is cited as a factor in the "New Order" administration's political conservatism and tight control of the political system. Vigilance against a perceived communist threat remained a hallmark of Suharto's thirty-year presidency. In the Western world, the killings and purges were portrayed as a victory over communism at the height of the Cold War.
Support for Sukarno's presidency under his "Guided Democracy" depended on his forced and unstable "Nasakom" coalition between the military, religious groups, and Communists. The rise in influence and increasing militancy of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and Sukarno's support for it, was a serious concern for Muslims and the military, and tension grew steadily in the early and mid 1960s. The third largest Communist party in the world, the PKI had approximately 300,000 cadres and a full membership of around two million. The party's assertive efforts to speed up land reform provoked existing landowners and threatened the social position of Islamic clerics. Sukarno required government employees to study his Nasakom principles as well as Marxist theory. Sukarno met with Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai. After this meeting he decided to create a militia, called a Fifth Force, a personally controlled force and ordered weapons from China to be used to equip this Fifth Force. He declared in a speech that he favored revolutionary groups whether they were nationalist, religious or communist stating "I am a friend of the Communists, because the Communists are revolutionary people." Sukarno said at a Non-Aligned summit meeting in Cairo (1964) that his current purpose was to drive all of Indonesian politics to the left and thereby to neutralize the "reactionary" elements in the army that could be dangerous for the revolution. Sukarno's international policies increasingly reflected his rhetoric. As a result the economy was in serious decline, food shortages were becoming serious and inflation began to approach hyperinflation.
On the evening of 30 September and 1 October 1965, six generals were killed by a group calling themselves the 30 September Movement. With many of Indonesia's top military leaders either dead or missing, Suharto, one of the most senior surviving generals, assumed control of the army. This after a day of chaos, during which Sukarno refused to commit himself to either side. By 2 October Suharto was firmly in control of the capital and announced that a coup attempt had failed. The military blamed the coup attempt on their arch enemies the PKI.
On 5 October, the day of the dead generals' funeral procession, a military propaganda campaign linking the coup attempt with the PKI began to sweep the country. Graffiti slogans and newspaper headlines referred to the coup attempt and the perpetrators as Gerkang/PKI, Gestapu/PKI, and Gestok/PKI. The campaign convinced both Indonesian and international audiences that the murders were cowardly atrocities committed by the PKI against Indonesian heroes, and that the coup attempt was intended to undermine the Indonesian Revolution and overthrow President Sukarno. The PKI's denials of involvement had little effect. Pent-up tensions and hatreds that had built up over years were released.
The army removed top civilian and military leaders it thought sympathetic to the PKI. The parliament and cabinet were purged of Sukarno loyalists. Leading PKI members were immediately arrested, some summarily executed. Army leaders organised demonstrations in Jakarta during which on 8 October, the PKI Jakarta headquarters was burned down. Anti-Communist youth groups were formed, including the army-backed Indonesian Student's Action Front (KAMI), the Indonesian Youth and Students' Action Front (KAPPI), and the Indonesian Graduates Action Front (KASI). In Jakarta and West Java, over 10,000 PKI activists and leaders were arrested, including famed novelist Pramoedya.
The initial deaths occurred during organised clashes between the army and the PKI including Indonesian armed forces units who were sympathetic to communism and were trying to forcibly resist General Suharto's crackdown. For example, much of the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Brigade of Police (Brimoh) were infiltrated up to commander level by the PKI. In early October, forces of the Strategic Command (Suharto's KOSTRAD), and the RPKAD paracommandos led by Colonel Sarwo Edhie Wibowo were sent to Central Java, a region with strong Communist allegiances, while troops of uncertain loyalty were ordered out. At the same time, the Siliwangi Division was deployed to guard Jakarta and West Java, both of which, unlike Central and East Java, remained relatively immune to the mass killings. Early fighting in the Central Java highlands and around Madiun suggested the PKI might be able to establish a rival regime centred on these regions. However, widespread fears of a civil war, between factions supported by the United States and China respectively, quickly evaporated, as the forces sent by Suharto took control. Many rebel commanders chose not to fight as Suharto-deployed forces arrived, although resistance came from some, like General Supardjo, for a few more weeks.
As the Sukarno presidency began to unravel and Suharto began to assert control following the coup attempt, the PKI's upper national leadership was hunted and arrested with some summarily executed. In early October, PKI chairman Dipa Nusantara Aidit had flown to Central Java, where the coup attempt had been supported by leftist officers in Yogyakarta, Salatiga, and Semarang. Fellow senior PKI leader, Njoto, was shot around 6 November, Aidit on 22 November, and First Deputy PKI Chairman M.H. Lukman was killed shortly thereafter.
The killings started in October 1965 in Jakarta, spread to Central and East Java and later to Bali, and smaller outbreaks occurred in parts of other islands, including Sumatra. The communal tensions and hatreds that had built up were played upon by the Army leadership who demonised Communists, and many Indonesian civilians took part in the killings. The worst massacres were in Central and East Java where PKI support was at its strongest. The situation varied across the country and the role of the Army has never been fully explained. In some areas the Army organised, encouraged, trained, and supplied civilian groups and local militias. In other areas, communal vigilante action preceded the Army, although in most cases killings did not commence before military units had sanctioned violence by instruction or example. It was in the earlier stages of the killings that the army's direct involvement in clashes with the PKI occurred. By the end of October, groups of devout Muslims joined the purge of Communists claiming it was their duty to cleanse Indonesia of atheism.
In some areas, civilian militia knew where to find known Communists and their sympathisers, while in others the Army demanded lists of Communists from village heads. PKI membership was not disguised and most suspects were easily identified within communities. The American Embassy in Jakarta supplied the Indonesian military with lists of up to 5,000 suspected Communists. Although some PKI branches organised resistance and reprisal killings, most went passively to their deaths. Not all victims were PKI members. Often the label "PKI" was used to include anyone to the left of the Indonesian National Party (PNI). In other cases victims were suspected or simply alleged Communists.
Methods of killing included shooting and beheading with Japanese-style samurai swords. Corpses were often thrown into rivers, and at one point officials complained to the Army that the rivers running into the city of Surabaya were clogged with bodies. In areas such as Kediri in East Java, Nahdlatul Ulama youth wing (Ansor) members lined up Communists, cut their throats and disposed of the bodies in rivers. The killings left whole sections of villages empty, and the houses of victims or the interned were looted and often handed over to the military.
Local Chinese were killed in some areas, and their properties looted and burned as a result of anti-Chinese racism on the excuse that Aidit had brought the PKI closer to China. In the predominantly Christian islands of Nusa Tenggara, Christian clergy and teachers suffered at the hands of Muslim youth.
Although there were occasional and isolated flare ups until 1969, the killings largely subsided by March 1966, when either there were no more suspects, or authorities intervened. Solo residents said that exceptionally high flooding in March 1966 of the Solo River, considered mystical by the Javanese, signaled the end of the killings.
In Java, much of the killing was along aliran (cultural stream) loyalties; the Army encouraged santri (more devout and orthodox Muslims) among the Javanese to seek out PKI members among the abangan (less orthodox) Javanese. The killings extended to more than PKI members. In Java, for example, many considered "left PNI" were killed. Others were just suspects or were the victims of grievance settling with little or no political motive. Anti-Communist killings were then instigated with youths, assisted by the Army, hunting down Communists.
Conflict that had broken out in 1963 between the Muslim party Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the PKI turned to killing in the second week of October. The Muslim group Muhammadiyah proclaimed in early November 1965 that the extermination of "Gestapu/PKI" constituted Holy War ("Gestapu" being the military's name for the "30 September Movement"), a position that was supported by other Islamic groups in Java and Sumatra. For many youths, killing Communists became a religious duty. Where there had been Communist centres in Central and East Java, Muslim groups portraying themselves as victims of Communist aggression justified the killings by evoking the Madiun Affair of 1948. Roman Catholic students in the Yogyakarta region left their hostels at night to join in the execution of truckloads of arrested Communists.
Although, for most of the country, the killings subsided in the first months of 1966, in parts of East Java the killings went on for years. In Blitar, guerrilla action was maintained by surviving PKI members until they were defeated in 1967 and 1968. The mystic Mbah Suro, and devotees of his Communist-infused traditional mysticism, built an army, but Suro and eighty of his followers were killed in a war of resistance against the Indonesian Army.
Mirroring the widening of social divisions across Indonesia in the 1950s and early 1960s, the island of Bali saw conflict between supporters of the traditional Balinese caste system, and those rejecting these traditional values, particularly the PKI. Communists were publicly accused of working towards the destruction of the island's culture, religion, and character, and the Balinese, like the Javanese, were urged to destroy the PKI. Government jobs, funds, business advantage and other spoils of office had gone to Communists during the final years of Sukarno's presidency. Disputes over land and tenants' rights led to land seizures and killings, when the PKI promoted "unilateral action". As Indonesia's only Hindu-dominated island, Bali did not have the Islamic forces involved in Java, and it was upper-caste PNI landlords who instigated the elimination of PKI members. High Hindu priests called for sacrifices to satisfy spirits angered by past sacrilege and social disruption. Balinese Hindu leader, Ida Bagus Oka, told Hindus: "There can be no doubt [that] the enemies of our revolution are also the cruelest enemies of religion, and must be eliminated and destroyed down to the roots." Like parts of East Java, Bali experienced a state of near civil war as Communists regrouped.
The balance of power was shifted in favour of anti-Communists in December 1965, when the Army Para-commando Regiment and Brawijaya units arrived in Bali after having carried out killings in Java. Led by Suharto's principal trouble shooter, Sarwo Edhie, Javanese military commanders permitted Balinese squads to kill until reined in. In contrast to Central Java where the Army encouraged people to kill the "Gestapu", on Bali eagerness to kill was so great and spontaneous that, having initially provided logistic support, the Army eventually had to step in to prevent anarchy. Sukarno's choice of provincial governor for Bali, Sutedja, was recalled from office and accused of preparing a communist uprising, and his relatives were tracked down and killed. A series of killings similar to those in Central and East Java were led by black-shirted PNI youth. For several months, militia death squads went through villages capturing suspects and taking them away. Hundreds of houses belonging to communists and their relatives were burnt down within one week of the reprisal crusade being launched on Bali, with occupants being butchered as they ran from their homes. An early estimate suggested that 50,000 people, including women and children, were killed in this operation alone. The populations of several Balinese villages were halved in the last months of 1965. All the Chinese shops in the towns of Singaraja and Denpasar were destroyed and their owners killed after summary stand-up judgements found them to have financially supported the "Gestapu". Between December 1965 and early 1966, an estimated 80,000 Balinese were killed, roughly 5 percent of the island's population at the time, and proportionally more than anywhere else in Indonesia.
PKI-organised squatters' movements and campaigns against foreign businesses in Sumatra's plantations provoked quick reprisals against Communists, following the Jakarta coup attempt. In Aceh as many as 40,000 were killed, part of the possibly 200,000 deaths across Sumatra. The regional revolts of the late 1950s complicated events in Sumatra as many former rebels were forced to affiliate themselves with Communist organizations to prove their loyalty to the Indonesian Republic. The quelling of the 1950s revolts and 1965 killings were seen by most Sumatrans as a "Javanese occupation". In Lampung, another factor in the killings seems to have been Javanese immigration.
In West Kalimantan, approximately eighteen months after the worst of the killings in Java, indigenous Dayaks expelled 45,000 ethnic Chinese from rural areas, killing up to 5,000. The Chinese refused to fight back, even though previously the Chinese had fought against the Dutch colonialist occupation of Indonesia, since they considered themselves "a guest on other people's land" with the intention of trading only.
Deaths and imprisonment
Although the general outline of events is known, much is unknown about the killings, and an accurate and verified count of the dead is unlikely to ever be known. There were few Western journalists or academics in Indonesia at the time, the military was one of the few sources of information, travel was difficult and dangerous, and the regime that approved and oversaw the killings remained in power for three decades. The Indonesian media at the time had been undermined by restrictions under "Guided Democracy" and by the "New Order's" takeover in October 1966. With the killings occurring at the height of Western fears over the Cold War, there was little investigation internationally, which would have risked complicating the West's preference for Suharto and the "New Order" over the PKI and the "Old Order".
In the first 20 years following the killings, thirty-nine serious estimates of the death toll were attempted. Before the killings had finished, the army estimated 78,500 had died while another early estimate by the traumatised Communists put the figure at 2 million. The army later estimated the number killed at a possibly exaggerated 1 million. In 1966, Benedict Anderson estimated the deaths at 200,000 and by 1985 had offered a range of 500,000 to 1 million. Most scholars agree that at least half a million were killed, more than any other event in Indonesian history. An armed forces security command estimate from December 1976 put the number at between 450,000 and 500,000. A 2012 documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing, places the number of deaths between 1 and 3 million people.
Arrests and imprisonment continued for ten years after the purge. A 1977 Amnesty International report suggested "about one million" PKI cadres and others identified or suspected of party involvement were detained. Between 1981 and 1990, the Indonesian Government estimated that there were between 1.6 and 1.8 million former prisoners "at large" in society. It is possible that in the mid 1970s, 100,000 were still imprisoned without trial. It is thought that as many as 1.5 million were imprisoned at one stage or another. Those PKI members not killed or imprisoned went into hiding while others tried to hide their past. Those arrested included leading politicians, artists and writers such as Pramoedya, and peasants and soldiers. Many did not survive this first period of detention, dying from malnutrition and beatings. As people revealed the names of underground Communists, often under torture, the numbers imprisoned rose from 1966–68. Those released were often placed under house arrest, had to regularly report to the military, or were banned from Government employment, as were their children.
Many suspected communists were shot, as well as beheaded, strangled, or had their throats slit by the military and Islamic groups. The killings were "done face to face", unlike mechanical processes of mass killing in Democratic Kampuchea or Nazi Germany.
Sukarno's balancing act of "Nasakom" (nationalism, religion, communism) had been unraveled. His most significant pillar of support, the PKI, had been effectively eliminated by the other two pillars—the army and political Islam; and the army was on the way to unchallenged power. Many Muslims were no longer trusting of Sukarno, and by early 1966, Suharto began to openly defy Sukarno, a policy which had previously been avoided by army leaders. Sukarno attempted to cling to power and mitigate the new-found influence of the army, although he could not bring himself to blame the PKI for the coup as demanded by Suharto. On 1 February 1966, Sukarno promoted Suharto to the rank of Lieutenant General. The Supersemar decree of 11 March 1966 transferred much of Sukarno's power over the parliament and army to Suharto, ostensibly allowing Suharto to do whatever was needed to restore order. On 12 March 1967 Sukarno was stripped of his remaining power by Indonesia's provisional Parliament, and Suharto named Acting President. On 21 March 1968, the Provisional Peoples Representative Assembly formally elected Suharto as president.
The killings are skipped over in most Indonesian histories, and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention. However, following Suharto's forced resignation in 1998, and his death in 2008, some level of openness about what had really happened has emerged in public discourse in subsequent years. A hesitant search for mass graves by survivors and family members began after 1998, although little has been found. Over three decades later, great enmity remains in Indonesian society over the events. The film The Year of Living Dangerously, based around events leading up to the killings, was banned in Indonesia until 1999.
Satisfactory explanations for the scale and frenzy of the violence have challenged scholars from all ideological perspectives. One view attributes the communal hatreds behind the killings to the forcing of parliamentary democracy onto Indonesian society, claiming that such changes were culturally unsuitable and unnecessarily disruptive in the post-independence 1950s. A contrasting view is that when Sukarno and the military replaced the democratic process with authoritarianism, competing interests—i.e., the army, political Islam, and Communism—could not be openly debated, rather they were suppressed and could only be expressed through violence. Conflict resolution methods have broken down, and Muslim groups and the military adopted an "us or them attitude", and that when the killings were over, many Indonesians dismissed as something the Communists had deserved. The possibility of a return to similar upheavals is cited as a factor in the "New Order" administration's political conservatism and tight control of the political system. Vigilance against a Communist threat remained a hallmark of Suharto's thirty-year presidency. Internationally, the killings and purges were seen as a victory over Communism at the height of the Cold War.
Western governments and much of the West's media preferred Suharto and the "New Order" to the PKI to the increasingly leftist "Old Order". A headline in US News and World Report read: "Indonesia: Hope... where there was once none".
Foreign involvement and reaction
Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt commented in The New York Times "With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off...I think it's safe to assume a reorientation has taken place." Time magazine described the suppression of the PKI as "The West's best news for years in Asia." According to Kathy Kadane, members of the US government provided targeted names to the Indonesian Army, which several US officials have denied. Internal memos reported an Indonesian request for "communications equipment and small arms to arm Moslem and nationalist youths in Central Java for use against the PKI", which the State Department refused. H.W. Brands wrote that the Johnson administration expressly refused to supply weapons for the mass killing of Indonesian communists. According to Robert Cribb, there is no evidence that the United States significantly increased the scale of the killings. However, Bradley Simpson, Director of the Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, claims that "the United States was directly involved to the extent that they provided the Indonesian Armed Forces with assistance that they introduced to help facilitate the mass killings," which included the CIA providing small arms from Thailand, and the US government providing monetary assistance and limited amounts of communications equipment, medicine and a range of other items, including shoes and uniforms, to the Indonesian military. In a 2008 program on the killings presented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Bradley Simpson states:
|“||These documents have enabled to gain a much clearer understanding of the precise role of the United States, Britain, Australia and other western governments in both attempting to provoke an armed takeover of Indonesia in 1965 and in supporting the mass killings by the army and civilian groups which followed the September 30 movement. Prior to the last few years scholars have largely speculated on the role of the American Central Intelligence Agency and other western intelligence agencies in pursuing covert operations aimed at provoking an armed conflict between the Indonesian army and the Indonesian communist party or the PKI. But these declassified documents lay out a picture of active engagement with one of the great atrocities of the 20th century, and make the United States and other western governments de facto accomplices in this campaign of mass murder that stretched through the end of 1965 and into 1966.||”|
Developments after the resignation of Suharto
Following the fall of Suharto in the 1998 revolution, the Indonesian Parliament set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to analyse the mass killings, but it was suspended by the Indonesian High Court. An academic conference regarding the killings was held in Singapore in 2009.
The killings have been largely omitted from Indonesian history textbooks, which depicted the killings as a "patriotic campaign" that resulted in less than 80,000 deaths. In 2004, the textbooks were briefly changed to include the events, but this new curriculum was abandoned in 2006 following protests from the military and Islamic groups. The textbooks which mentioned the mass killings were subsequently burnt, by order of Indonesia's Attorney General.
- Indonesian occupation of East Timor
- List of massacres in Indonesia
- Petrus Killings
- The Act of Killing. A 2012 documentary film by Joshua Oppenheimer.
- Schwarz (1994), pp. 16–18
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- John Braithwaite (2010). Anomie and violence: non-truth and reconciliation in Indonesian peacebuilding. ANU E Press. p. 294. ISBN 1-921666-22-6. Retrieved 15 Dec 2011. "In 1967, Dayaks had expelled Chinese from the interior of West Kalimantan. In this Chinese ethnic cleansing, Dayaks were coopted by the military who wanted to remove those Chinese from the interior who they believed were supporting communists. The most certain way to accomplish this was to drive all Chinese out of the interior of West Kalimantan. Perhaps 2000–5000 people were massacred (Davidson 2002:158) and probably a greater number died from the conditions in overcrowded refugee camps, including 1500 Chinese children aged between one and eight who died of starvation in Pontianak camps (p. 173). The Chinese retreated permanently to the major towns...the Chinese in West Kalimantan rarely resisted (though they had in nineteenth century conflict with the Dutch, and in 1914). Instead, they fled. One old Chinese man who fled to Pontianak in 1967 said that the Chinese did not even consider or discuss striking back at Dayaks as an option. This was because they were imbued with a philosophy of being a guest on other people's land to become a great trading diaspora."
- Eva-Lotta E. Hedman (2008). Eva-Lotta E. Hedman, ed. Conflict, violence, and displacement in indonesia. SOSEA-45 Series (illustrated ed.). SEAP Publications. p. 63. ISBN 0-87727-745-1. Retrieved 15 Dec 2011. "the role of indigenous Dayak leaders accounted for their "success." Regional officers and interested Dayak leaderes helped to translate the virulent anti-community environemnt locally into an evident anti-Chinese sentiment. In the process, the rural Chinese wre sonstructed as godless communists complicit with members of the local Indonesian Communist Party...In October 1967, the military, with the help of the former Dayak Governor Oevaang Oeray and his Lasykar Pangsuma (Pangsuma Militia) instigated and facilitated a Dayak-led slaughter of ethnic Chinese. Over the next three months, thousands were killed and roughly 75,000 more fled Sambas and norther Pontianak districts to coastal urban centers like Pontianak City and Singkawang to be sheltered in refugee and "detainment" camps. By expelling the "community" Chinese, Oeray and his gang... intended to ingratiate themselves with Suharto's new regime."
- Cribb (1990), p. 14.
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