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The Indonesian Killings 1965-1966: Studies from Java and Bali.

The book under review is a first serious attempt to break a conspiracy of silence. In his short Preface the editor of the volume, the historian Robert Cribb, writes:

In accepting the task of editing the collection, I was aware, of course, that the killings are a topic of unusual sensitivity. Both in Indonesia and amongst Indonesians there has been a deep reluctance to recall the killings and to examine them deeply or systematically. My hope is that this volume will encourage those -- from both participants and observers -- with memories of the events of 1965-69 to see that they are recorded, and that it will stimulate further academic investigation of what were perhaps the most traumatic years of modern Indonesian history.

Dr. Cribb opens his introductory chapter, titled "Problems in the historiography of the killings in Indonesia", with the following statement of the central issue of the volume:

The killing of several hundred thousand people in Indonesia in the aftermath of the 1965 coup attempt of the 30 September Movement ranks as one of the twentieth century's more extensive mass murders. It is striking, however, how little prominence this event has been given in general histories of Indonesia. The massacre, it is true, is almost invariably mentioned in standard works, though authors vary widely in the detail they give. Missing in most cases, however, are attempts to explain and to draw conclusions from the killings.

Cribb compares this surprising neglect with other events of this kind and magnitude which often

provoke deep introspection. This historiography of modern Germany, for instance, has been confronted massively by the fact of the Holocaust (...) Similarly, the historiography of Cambodia has been transformed irreversibly by the killings carried out under Pol Pot.

According to Cribb,

the broad outline of events is clear enough.... In most regions, responsibility for the killings was shared between army units and civilian vigilante gangs. In some cases the army took direct part in the killings; often, however, they simply supplied weapons, rudimentary training and strong encouragement to the civilian gangs who carried out the bulk of the killings.

Responsible for the "conspiracy of silence" were, and still are, in the first place the military leaders who also bore responsibility for the killings. Of course, the first and foremost responsible for the massacre is the actual President of the Indonesian Republic, General Suharto, on 2 October 1965 as Commander of KOSTRAD (the Army Strategic Reserve) entrusted by the then President Sukarno with the task of "restoring law and order". Suharto has never expressed any repentance about the way he had fulfilled his task in 1965/66, which caused loss of life to at least hundreds of thousands of his compatriots. The well-known lawyer and human rights activist Adnan Buyung Nasution, in his doctoral dissertation, recently defended at Utrecht University, The Aspirations for Constitutional Government in Indonesia: A Socio-legal Study of the Indonesian Konstituante 1956-1959 (1992) quotes the way Suharto has expressed his view on his accountability as late as 1989:

Thank God, until now I have not failed in fulfilling my duty.... I have never felt that I have committed a failure".

The way the Indonesian military establishment had always presented the massacres, has been by attributing the victims to a civil war, "the people" having been so much aroused by what "the communists" had done that they had killed many of them in pure hatred. This is still the way General Sumitro, at present a political adversary of Suharto, in a recent interview published in a Dutch weekly with the journalist Wiecher Hulst, explained the massacres of 1965/66, and denied in utter rage that the army bore any responsibility for the killings (Vrij Nederland, 25 July 1992): "It was done by the people! Not by the army! Don't get me wrong!"

However, there was according to Cribb, also

something of an absence of international moral outrage at the killings which discouraged outside investigation. The killings took place at the height of the Cold War, when the West felt itself to be engaged in a global struggle with communism.

Cribb, in this connection, also refers to the callousness of Time Magazine's description of the PKI's suppression as "The West's best news for years in Asia". It was more convenient to condemn killings by Communists, like in Cambodia, than killings of Communists.

In addition, moreover, since October 1965 the Indonesian masses are living under a reign of terror:

with the regime which oversaw and approved the killings still in power, those who have stories to tell against it are understandably reticent about what took place in 1965-66, lest they themselves become victims.

However, in his contribution, titled "Making history: recent Indonesian literature, and the events of 1965", Keith Foulcher points towards some signs that since circa 1980 young writers not associated with the left, "were beginning to take up themes which reintroduced the events of 1965 and their legacy into the mainstream literary tradition".

The book under review contains several clear disproofs of the official propaganda that there had been a true civil war, with victims falling on either side. On p. 34 Cribb provides telling figures about the number of victims on the part of the military and among the murderous vigilante gangs: he mentions "the reported casualty figures for the RPKAD paracommandos in their extensive operations in Central Java and Bali, a total of two"! And in Kediri, one of the worst locations of anti-PKI massacres by civil gangs, the Ansor (Moslem youth organization) had only 15 casualties.

Kenneth Young, in a chapter titled "Local and national influences in the violence of 1965", disclaims the assertion by the military that the murders were perpetrated by the people spontaneously. According to him there are "no grounds for describing them as unpremeditated or spontaneous". Michael van Langenberg, in his chapter "Gestapu and State Power in Indonesia", specifies this point further:

The massacres occurred because of the convergence of deep communal hatreds, on the one hand, and state direction of violence, on the other. The state utilized and directed the spontaneity of those hatreds.

In his judicious analysis of the background of the killings, Van Langenberg provides a political explanation for the state-directed violence:

The legitimacy of the New Order has been built on its role as the restorer of order. The scale of the killings has served to consolidate in the public mind an image of the Old Order as a period of chaos and disorder. The New Order has used the historical memory of the killings in the establishment of its own legitimacy.

And he continues:

Events that legitimize also constitute an enabling process by which power is acquired and exercised. As an enabling process, therefore, the deliberate management of violence was crucial to the consolidation of state power in the hands of the new post-Gestapu regime.

Elsewhere the same author shows that "KOSTRAD, and the paracommando unit RPKAD, together with their allies embarked on a deliberate campaign to promote a climate of fear and retribution". Also in Cribb's introductory chapter the "carefully orchestrated campaign of disinformation about events at Halim airforce base on the night of the coup" is being exposed. The alleged role of GERWANI (Indonesian Women's Movement close to the PKI) at that occasion is exposed by Cribb as a fabrication; just as the pretended "holes dug by PKI members for the bodies of their intended victims", and the "death lists, purported to have been drawn up by the PKI in preparation for a post-coup extermination of anti-communists", which created among the people an atmosphere of "kill or be killed" (Van Langenberg, p. 49).

In his introductory chapter Robert Cribb discusses "the problems of information". For example, the number of victims of the killings remains a highly speculative issue. He refers to an unpublished report from 1966, attributed to KOPKAMTIB (Suharto's "operational command for the restoration of security and order") which "concluded that around one million people died, 800,000 of them in Central and East Java, 100,000 each in Bali and Sumatra". In several publications appreciably lower figures were mentioned, but when in July 1976 Admiral Sudomo, at that time commander of KOPKAMTIB mentioned in an interview that "around half a million people had died", this was generally accepted abroad as a minimum estimate. Cribb adds: "We are unlikely now to find empirical evidence to resolve this question".

However, Kenneth Young discusses in his chapter on the "local and national influences" the great regional and local variation both in the numbers of victims and in the patterns of group conflict. First of all, he argues that the pattern of violence in East Java, where the conflicts were most severe, should "not serve as the basis of an all-Indonesia, or even all-Java pattern". "Even East Java itself showed no strong uniformity in the dynamics of civil conflict". He points to the pattern in West Java, where "the regional military commander firmly opposed the use of civilian auxiliaries and the numbers of deaths were much less than in the other two Javanese provinces". In his view,

in the final analysis, the violence in Indonesia in 1965 would not have achieved the catastrophic proportions it did without the deliberate decision of the army leaders to licence civil violence.

A point raised by several authors is the alleged utter "meekness" of the victims, attributed by the anti-communists, particularly in Bali to "a sense of guilt" among the victims, but actually preponderantly due to lack of arms and of any preparation on the part of PKI and its allied organizations for anything like an all-out civil war.

According to Kenneth Young there was equally a lot of variation as regards the sociological and economic regional issues at the root of the polarized group conflicts. He pays much attention to the confrontation over land reform, in connection with the poor implementation by the bureaucracy of the two agrarian laws, on land redistribution and on sharecropping, promulgated by President Sukarno in 1960. In particular the aksi sepihak (unilateral actions, supported by PKI and the affiliated peasant organization BTI, to seize land owned by rich peasants, many of them devout Moslems) created a highly inflammable atmosphere. In an earlier article |"From Aliran towards class struggle in the countryside of Java", Pacific Viewpoint 10 (1969): 1-17~, I pointed out the inconsistency in the PKI strategy, when it

in the early sixties, suddenly reversed its policy towards its NASAKOM (Nationalism, religion, communism, coalition coined by Sukarno) partners by adopting a class strategy which previously had been absent from its overall internal policy (...) In so doing, however, the PKI came in serious conflict with the allies in the NASAKOM coalition.

In my view, this is a factor of major significance in explaining the fierceness of the holocaust erupting in October 1965 and lasting until March. By that time,

the state's management of violence shifted from military-promoted killings at the local level to much more centrally-directed arrests and detention of Old Order remnants, carried out through the KOPKAMTIB apparatus (Van Langenberg, p. 52).

In connection with the basic rural class conflict at the root of the killings in many areas, both in Java and in Bali, it is to be regretted that among the "consequences of the massacres", discussed by Cribb no mention is made of the major economic effect of the killings: the strengthening of the position of landowners in relation to the landless labourers, and the quiet factual abrogation of the two laws on land reform and sharecropping.

The book contains several shorter chapters, providing additional local details. One among them contains a report made in 1982 by the Centre of Village Studies of Gajah Mada University, on "rural violence in Klaten and Banyuwangi". The report confirms that at the time of writing no academic freedom existed to allow an unbiased historical analysis. The report claims that it was PKI who started hostilities on 23 October 1965. No mention at all is made of the fact that the paratroops (RPKAD), led by Colonel Sarwo Edhie, had appeared in Solo in the night of 21 October and immediately started to "purge" the surroundings |Harold Crouch, The Army and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca, 1978), pp. 149-50~, and that therefore actions undertaken by PKI had ostensibly a defensive character! The Klaten-report also contains some details about the aksi sepihak in that area. I can add that in March 1992 an important doctoral dissertation, written by Kusni Sulang, has been defended in Paris at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, dealing with the rural conflicts in that area in much greater detail, on the basis of personal knowledge, of interviews with participants, and of studied literature and documents. The title of the still unpublished thesis is: Contestation rurale en Indonesie: Le cas de Java.

The Indonesian Killings is important enough to join Cribb's hope that its publication should become a stimulus to further research on the killings, not only outside but inside Indonesia.
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Author:Wertheim, W.F.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:2156
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