Terror in Indonesia

by Mickey Z.

Dissident Voice

October 21, 2002


A recent top story at www.alternet.org detailed the "worst terrorist attack in Indonesia's history." The author, of course, was writing about the recent bombing in Bali.


But what about the "boiling bloodbath" that took place in 1965-66 after the US-trained Indonesia military provoked a leftist coup against its leader General Suharto? When the coup failed, the military initiated what The New York Times called, "one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history."


A little background:


In 1948, George Kennan, head of the State Department post-war planning staff, called the resource-rich Indonesia "the most crucial issue of the moment in our struggle with the Kremlin." At that time, Sukarno had been president of the world's largest Muslim nation for three years.


"A star among Third world leaders, active in the nonaligned, anti-imperialist movement," journalist Mark Zepezauer says Sukarno had "long been a thorn in the side of the US. Worse yet, the Communist party (PKI) was part of his governing coalition." 


"The PKI, nominally backed by Sukarno, was a legal and formidable organization and was the third largest Communist Party in the world," writes former CIA agent Ralph McGehee. "It claimed three million members, and through affiliated organizations-such as labor and youth groups, it had the support of 17 million others."


Inevitably, the Sukarno regime garnered the attention of the gang at the Central Intelligence Agency. Covert US support for Sukarno's rivals in the Indonesian military hit full stride by 1957 as the CIA hatched a scheme to bring down the popular leader by portraying him in a pornographic film with his supposed Soviet spy mistress. The idea was to develop a full-face mask of Sukarno and hire an American porn actor in Los Angeles to wear it.


When that dubious effort fizzled, the Agency began to give covert assistance to rebel groups inside Indonesia. CIA B-26s carried out bombing missions. On May 18, 1958, one such B-26 was shot down and his own country called the captured pilot, Allen Pope, a "soldier of fortune". In reality, Pope was an employee of a CIA-owned proprietary company, Civil Air Transport.


Sukarno survived the pornography and B-26s. Clearly, a more direct approach was needed.


"In 1963, U.S.-trained Indonesian trade unionists began gathering the names of workers who were members or sympathizers of unions affiliated with the national labor federation, SOBSI," says McGehee. "These trade unionist spies laid the groundwork for many of the massacres of 1965-1966. The CIA also used elements in the 105,000 strong Indonesian national police force to penetrate and gather information on the PKI."


William Blum describes what followed as: "a series of events, involving a supposed coup attempt, a counter-coup, and perhaps a counter-counter-coup, with American fingerprints apparent at various points." On October 30,1965 Major General Suharto, in a speech before a military audience, angrily denounced the PKI and demanded that the "Communists be completely uprooted."


"Uprooted" was putting it mildly.


Estimates of those murdered by Suharto's thugs vary widely. The scale of the massacre is unknown. The CIA: 250,000. The head of the Indonesia state security system: over 500,000. Amnesty International: "many more than one million."


Again, even The New York Times called it "one of the most savage mass slayings of modern political history" but left out any reference to US culpability.


As Mark Zepezauer explains, "the death squads had been working from hit lists provided by the US State Department." One US diplomat called the lists "a big help" to the Indonesian army. "They probably killed a lot of people and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands," the diplomat commented afterwards. "But that's not bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."


Time magazine celebrated Suharto's rise to power with a cover story calling it a "boiling bloodbath that almost unnoticed took 400,000 lives," and characterized the new regime as "scrupulously constitutional," lauding the "quietly determined" Suharto with his "almost innocent face."


Innocent, like a terrorist bomb in Bali.


Mickey Z. is a historian and lecturer based in New York. He is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “The Good War” (Soft Skull Press, 2000). His work has appeared in the Village Voice, Street News, Anarchy, Poets and Writers, and Alternative Press Review. Email: mzx2@earthlink.net.