Rationale for 1965 Indonesian Massacres. Assignment

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Indonesia emerged from the 20th century as a new nation. Independence from the Dutch was
declared in 1945, but Dutch refusal to grant was followed by an onslaught of violence and conflict,
until 1949, when international pressure forced them to grant independence to Indonesia. The
onslaught of the fight for independence was nothing compared to the violence that erupted twenty
years later. Widespread massacres shook the nation and claimed thousands, perhaps millions, of
lives. To this day, the massacres of 1965 are stigmatised and shrouded in mystery. The massacres
have left deep-rooted wounds on Indonesia that are yet to be healed. Fictional newspaper “Small
World, Big News” published a special edition pull-out magazine that looks at the time during the
massacres, the effects they have had on Indonesia today and what could happen in the future.

Eyewitness Account – The Want for Truth
One section of the magazine is an eyewitness account “By the Bank of the Brantas’ (Cribb, R; 2008).
It describes some of the events that make it hard for people to talk about the massacres today. This
account was specifically chosen not only because of its uniqueness in detailed description, but
because, although anonymously written, much of its content aligns with that of scholarly findings and
news articles. Most namely is the want for truth and justice by everyday Indonesians. At the end of
the account the witness says “At the very least, I hope this little account of the last moments of the
many victims can become a kind of explanation for their children, wives, and even grandchildren.
Because one thing is clear, not a single person has taken responsibility for all those murders, let
alone officially informed the families of those killed.” An International People’s Tribunal (IPT) was held
in 2016 to try to investigate the events and compensate the victims of the massacres’ families.

A CNN report written by Hong Kong based reporter, Juliet Perry, says that the judges on the International
People’s Tribunal for the 1965 Indonesian Massacre case recommended Indonesian authorities
apologise to the victims and compensate their families. The article then goes on to say that the
Foreign Security Minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, told press that Indonesia has its own legal system and
no external party can dictate how it deals with its problems (Perry, J; 2016). This shows that one of
the main reasons Indonesia is unable to reconcile is due to its leaders. For example, the PKI has
been officially illegal since 1966 – making life hard for communists in Indonesia to this day. Perhaps
those who carried out the murders are afraid that exposing the truth will mean prison for them, or that
they will be targeted. Robert Cribb, a professor of history who was also a judge on the tribunal wrote
in Century of Genocide that some scholars and Indonesians believe that bringing up such an old topic
can result in no good for a country that’s already beset with violence and conflict, however, this view
is not representative of most scholars and Indonesians. Whether the conflict is a result of the
massacres or events that have occurred since, it’s hard to tell (Cribb, R; 2008). But Yenni Kwok,
another Hong Kong based journalist who writes for Time explained that the first president of
Indonesia to have no military or political-elite connections has expressed a desire to put to rest the
events of 1965 through reconciliation. As much as it is a first step, many critics have complained that
it focuses too much on reconciliation and not enough on the truth. Joshua Oppenheimer, the producer
and director of the documentary of the massacres, backs up the IPT’s decision, telling Time that
“National reconciliation is only possible if there is an acknowledgment of what’s wrong. Enforcing a
reconciliation without acknowledging the truth is tantamount to pressurise the survivors to forgive,”
meaning that if the people don’t know the truth, what are they supposed to forgive? One way the
Indonesian people have taken reconciliation into their own hands is through the use of artwork. An
article appeared in the Jakarta Post on January 31, 2016, saying that “Indonesian artists … are
calling for the greater use of visual artworks as a medium for the survivors of the 1965 anticommunist
purge to share their experiences. The medium is seen as quite effective for speeding up
reconciliation between the 1965 tragedy’s survivors and non-victims. Such a method would promote
dialogue that would reconstruct the public’s perception of the 1965 tragedy, which was not only new
but also not dominated by a single narrative created by the New Order regime.” This provides a
positive and perhaps safer means of allowing people to share their experiences and maybe even find
out the truth along the way.
Naomi Marsden | 1965 Indonesian Massacres | MHS
Movie Review and Advertisement – What People Experienced
A review and advertisement for the controversial movie,
directed and produced by Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Look
of Silence,” were published in “Small World, Big News:
Special Edition.” The movies were made in hope that it would
create dialogue between people and allow the entire story of
what happened to finally be told – to help heal the wounds
left by of 50 years ago. Robert Cribb – a professor at the
forefront of Indonesian history – describes with most detail some of
the happenings of the massacre. After the failed coup attempt of
September 30th was blamed on communists, a mass “hunt the
communist” campaign began. Unfortunately for Indonesia, it had
the largest communist party (PKI) in a non-communist nation. It
wasn’t just communists who were targeted either, but also ethnic
Chinese (due to the communist ruling of People’s Republic of
China) and anyone who was against Suharto’s New Regime.
Those doing the killing could have been anyone from army units to
civilian vigilantes to religious groups. Many communities felt a
mass responsibility for a murder, even if only one member
committed it (Cribb, R; 2008). PD Richards explains in his book on
Asian history that raids were mostly done under the cover of
darkness by mobs. Its targeted victims were either taken to a
nearby location such as a forest of plantation and killed or detained for several years. While they were detained
they lived through hunger, humiliation and neglect and some were taken from detention and killed secretly. A
quote from documentary film series Riding the Tiger (Richards, P; 1994) is representative of many people’s
stories from the massacres:
“The killings were done in a way that wasn’t modern…Their heads were cut off…, among those
doing it there was even a woman. Doing it, not being killed, but doing it… Sometimes the killings
were carried by hacking people to pieces. One rope was attached to a tree, another to a car then
pulled. This meant, you know, their head was severed by being pulled by the rope. There were
many stories like this among my friends.”
Much like the Riding the Tiger quote, Al Jazeera news has in recent years followed the story of the
massacres and one interviewee who experienced the horrors firsthand says:
“The horrors that happened – bodies thrown in garbage cut after killing, a baby thrown into
the air and killed with a bayonet – these horrors, how can I not be sad? How can we stay
silent? What happened was wrong.” (Al Jazeera English; 2016).
The communist response to the massacres at the time was mostly free of resistance. In places like North
Sumatra and Bali, people waited in lines to be killed, without trying to escape. Most probably believed that by
doing so, they were showing that they had had nothing to do with the coup and were willing to co-operate, but
to no avail (Cribb, R; 2008).
Infographic – International Involvement
“Small World, Big News” published a simple infographic illustrating the major international response and
involvement and how they have contributed to the mystery surrounding the massacres. The background is the
flag of Indonesia (ie. Indonesia is the setting) and the flags of USA, Britain and Australia are arranged in the
form of a winner’s podium to symbolize how each played a role. The US is number 1, in that they had the most
known involvement. Because just like the killings themselves, not everything was documented or known. In
2016, Juliet Perry reported that “The US supported the Indonesian military “knowing well that they were
embarked upon a programme of mass killings,” (Perry, J; 2016). John Gittings, in writing his piece on the
massacres, would agree with Perry. He says that the Whitehouse had labelled the massacres as The Great
Bonus of 1965 and that the US were ‘sympathetic and admiring of the Indonesian army’s doings.’ One US
official at the embassy was asked to help the Indonesian trade minister. He obliged and was given a list of
thousands of communists’ names. The official said when he was interviewed years later “I probably have a lot
Naomi Marsden | 1965 Indonesian Massacres | MHS
of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad.” It’s also been alleged that the US supplied weapons and
communication gear to the Nationalist army and Muslim groups, labelling them as medicines (Gittings, J;
Gittings also found that the US had said that they would not do anything in Indonesia without first consulting or
informing Britain. So it’s likely Britain knew what this ‘aid’ entailed. At the time, Britain was fighting in Borneo
and made it clear to Indonesia that they wouldn’t attack since they believed that the Indonesian army was
fighting a necessary cause. But the major way that Britain and Australia were complicit in these crimes against
humanity by the International People’s Tribunal was through false propaganda, even after it became blindingly
evident that mass killings were underway. One British diplomat wrote a letter to his ambassador saying;
“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 given orders to kill those in the first three categories. So far,
some two thousand people have been killed in the environs.”
This is proof that even though there was little doubt that estimates of people killed were exaggerated, British
officials continued with false propaganda. For example, one Time article published about the massacres was
entitled “The West’s Best News for Years in Asia”. But not all international involvement was supporting the
massacres. An organisation – Tapol – was formed by a British political prisoner of the massacres that
documents and helps to correct the human rights abuses that occur in Indonesia. The organisation grew out of
the massacres and today, continues to help Indonesia regarding any human rights issues (Gittings, J; 1999).
In the end, Indonesians, regardless of the side they were on to this day remain affected by the massacres of
1965. 2016 seems to be the year that things may change for them, with the first tribunal being held to try to
uncover the truth and reconcile Indonesia. Of course, there are still so many obstacles yet to overcome, like
stubborn leadership and the stigma that’s grown around it. Hopefully, in a few years Indonesia will take action
and decide the best way to heal the wounds of the past that ultimately, they inflicted upon themselves.


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