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|Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66|
|Part of Transition to the New Order|
|Target||PKI members, sympathizers, ethnic Abangans (less orthodox Javanese) atheists, "unbelievers" and ethnic Chinese|
|Politicide, mass murder, genocide|
|Deaths||500,000:3 to 3,000,000|
|Perpetrators||Indonesian Army and various death squads, facilitated and encouraged by the United States and other Western governments|
Part of a series on the
|History of Indonesia|
The Indonesian mass killings of 1965–66 (also variously known as the Indonesian massacres, Indonesian genocide,:4 Indonesian Communist Purge, Indonesian politicide, or the 1965 Tragedy) were large-scale killings and civil unrest that occurred in Indonesia over several months, targeting PKI party members, Communist sympathizers, ethnic Abangan Javanese, ethnic Chinese and alleged leftists, often at the instigation of the armed forces and government. It began as an anti-communist purge following a controversial attempted coup d'état by the 30 September Movement in Indonesia. The most widely published estimates were that 500,000 to more than one million people were killed,:3 with some more recent estimates going as high as two to three million. The purge was a pivotal event in the transition to the "New Order" and the elimination of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as a political force, with impacts on the global Cold War. The upheavals led to the fall of President Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto's three-decade authoritarian presidency.
The claims of a coup attempt by Communists released pent-up communal hatreds; these 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 disbanded and 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. Killings occurred across the country, with the worst 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 and communism) had unravelled. His most significant pillar of support, the PKI, was 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 textbooks, and have received little introspection by Indonesians, due to their suppression under the Suharto regime. The search for satisfactory explanations for the scale and frenzy of the violence has 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 and stigma against a perceived communist threat remained a hallmark of Suharto's doctrine, and it is still in force even today.
Despite a consensus at the highest levels of the US and British governments that it would be necessary "to liquidate Sukarno", as related in a CIA memorandum from 1962, and the existence of extensive contacts between anti-communist army officers and the US military establishment – training of over 1,200 officers, "including senior military figures", and providing weapons and economic assistance – the CIA denied active involvement in the killings. Declassified US documents in 2017 revealed that the US government had detailed knowledge of the mass killings from the beginning, and was supportive of the actions of the Indonesian Army. US complicity in the killings, which included providing extensive lists of communist party officials to Indonesian death squads, has previously been established by historians and journalists. A top-secret CIA report from 1968 stated that the massacres "rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s."
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 Communist Party of Indonesia (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 frightened those who controlled the land, and threatened the social position of Muslim clerics. Sukarno required government employees to study his Nasakom principles as well as Marxist theory. He had met with Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People's Republic of China, and after this meeting had decided to create a militia, called a Fifth Force, which he intended to control personally. Sukarno ordered weapons from China to equip this Fifth Force. He declared in a speech that he favoured revolutionary groups whether they were nationalist, religious or communist, stating "I am a friend of the Communists because the Communists are revolutionary people." He said at a Non-Aligned Movement summit meeting in Cairo in October 1964 that his current purpose was to drive all of Indonesian politics to the left and thereby to neutralise the "reactionary" elements in the army that could be dangerous for the revolution. Sukarno's international policies increasingly reflected his rhetoric.
As early as 1958, Western powers—in particular the US and the UK—pushed for policies that would encourage the Indonesian Army to act forcefully against the PKI and the Left, which included a covert propaganda campaign designed to damage the reputation of Sukarno and the PKI, and secret assurances along with military and financial support to anti-communist leaders within the army.:83
On the evening of 30 September 1965, a group of militants, known as the 30 September Movement, captured and executed six of Indonesia's top military generals. The movement proclaimed itself as Sukarno's protectors, issuing a pre-emptive strike to prevent a possible coup by the "anti-Sukarno", pro-Western Council of Generals.
After the execution of the generals, the movement's forces occupied Merdeka Square in Jakarta and the presidential palace. Shortly afterward, however, President Sukarno refused to commit to the movement, for it had captured and assassinated many of his top generals. As the night continued, the movement's poor leadership began to show, starting with a series of incoherent radio messages. The movement mainly aimed to occupy the main telecommunications building; however, it ignored the east side of the square, which was the location of Kostrad, the armed forces strategic reserve. At the time, Major General Suharto was in control of the reserve, and upon hearing the news of the takeover, he quickly capitalized on the movement's weaknesses, regaining control of the square without resistance. Following the surrender, the movement's troops did not take further action. At the same time, the Indonesian military slowly gained influence as Sukarno's waned, and within days, the government was under the control of Suharto. He immediately deployed troops and dispersed the movement, while trumpeting the movement's actions as a "danger" to the nation.
A military propaganda campaign to link the coup attempt with the PKI, masterminded by Suharto and the military, began to sweep the country on 5 October. Graphic images and descriptions of the murdered, tortured, and even castrated generals began to circulate the country. Despite falsified information, the campaign was successful, convincing both Indonesian and international audiences that the murders were a PKI attempt to undermine the Indonesian government under President Sukarno. Though the PKI denied involvement, pent-up tension and hatred that had built up over years were released.
Even though the 30 September Movement killed 12 people, Suharto ultimately presented it as a nationwide conspiracy to commit mass murder. Millions of people associated with the PKI, even illiterate peasants from remote villages, were presented as murderers and accomplices of the movement. In early 1966, two Indonesian specialists at Cornell University, Benedict Anderson and Ruth McVey, observed in their Cornell Paper that Suharto's army began the anti-communist campaign well after the 30 September Movement had collapsed. Between the moment that the movement ended and the moment that the army's mass arrests began, three weeks had elapsed in which no violence or trace of civil war occurred, even according to the army itself. Sukarno constantly protested the purge, stating that the army was "burning down a house to kill a rat", but he was powerless as Suharto commanded a firm hold on the military.
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 Students' Action Front (KAMI), the Indonesian Youth and Students' Action Front (KAPPI), and the Indonesian University Alumni Action Front (KASI). In Jakarta and West Java, over 10,000 PKI activists and leaders were arrested, including famed novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer.
The initial deaths occurred during organised clashes between the army and the PKI, including some Indonesian armed forces units who were sympathetic to communism and were resisting General Suharto's crackdown. For example, much of the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the Police Mobile Brigade Corps 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 PKI support, 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.
—Time, 17 December 1965.
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 characterised Communists as villains, and many Indonesian civilians took part in the killings. The worst massacres were in Aceh, Bali, 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 US 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  or were victims of grievance settling with little or no political motive. Anti-Communist killings were then instigated with youths, assisted by the Army. Most of the victims were not major political figures, and were largely among the poor and lower-middle class such as farmers, plantation laborers, factory workers, students, teachers, artists and civil servants. They were often targeted because they or someone they knew, such as a friend or family member, had joined the PKI or affiliated organizations.:122
With very few exceptions, the killings were not spontaneous but carried out with a high degree of organization. Most of the victims were also detainees of the Indonesian Army, making the killings summary executions.:123 The killings were done 'face to face' as in Rwanda or Cambodia, unlike the mechanical methods of killing used by Nazi Germany.:123 The methods of non-mechanised violence and killing included shooting, dismembering alive, stabbing, disembowelment, castration, impaling, strangling and beheading with Japanese-style samurai swords. Firearms and automatic weapons were used on a limited scale, with most of the killings being carried out with knives, sickles, machetes, swords, ice picks, bamboo spears, iron rods and other makeshift weapons.:123 Islamic extremists often paraded severed heads on spikes. 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 Youth Movement) members lined up Communists, cut their throats and disposed of the bodies in rivers. Rows of severed penises were often left behind as a reminder to the rest. 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 Indonesians were killed in some areas, and their properties looted and burned as a result of anti-Chinese racism, on the excuse that D.N. 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, signalled 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. 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, along with 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 the 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-majority 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 personnel from both the Army Para-commando Regiment and 5th Brawijaya Military Region units arrived in Bali after having carried out killings in Java. Led by Suharto's principal troubleshooter, Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, 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", Bali's eagerness to kill was so great and spontaneous that, having initially provided logistic support, the Army eventually had to step in to prevent chaos. Sukarno's choice of Bali's provincial governor, 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, 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 population 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 five percent of the island's population at the time, and proportionally more than anywhere else in Indonesia.
PKI-organised movements and campaigns against foreign businesses in Sumatra's plantations provoked quick reprisals against Communists, following the 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 organisations 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 18 months after the killings in Java, indigenous pagan Dayaks expelled 45,000 ethnic Chinese from rural areas, killing up to 5,000. The Chinese refused to fight back, since they considered themselves "a guest on other people's land" with the intention of trading only.
Islam in Java was divided between Abangan, who mixed Islam with other religions like Hinduism and native religious practices, and the Santri, who followed standard orthodox Islam. Many Abangans were supporters of the Communist Party, and their interests were thus supported by the PKI. They subsequently made up most of the people who were slaughtered in the killings. Abangans were targeted for attacks by Ansor, the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama and the Santri with help from the Indonesian army. To avoid being classified as atheist and communists, Abangan Muslims were forced by the Indonesian government to convert to Hinduism and Christianity in the aftermath of the slaughter.
In Sumatra, youths massacred Javanese plantation labourers who made up the membership of the PKI in the province of North Sumatra.
The targeting of ethnic Chinese played an important role in the killings in Sumatra and Kalimantan, which have been called genocide. Charles A. Coppel is sharply critical of this characterisation, in which he sees a western media and academics unwilling to face the consequences of an anti-communist agenda that they endorsed, instead scapegoating Indonesian racism and indulging in extravagant and false claims of hundreds of thousands or millions of Chinese killed. Charles Coppel wrote of the distorted coverage in an article titled: "A genocide that never was: explaining the myth of anti-Chinese massacres in Indonesia, 1965–66". Coppel sees the same bias in coverage of the May 1998 riots, where the Volunteer Team for Humanity noted non-Chinese looters made up the majority of those who were killed. His thesis continues to inspire debate.
An estimate is that around 2,000 Chinese Indonesians were killed (out of a total estimated death toll of between 400,000 and 3 million people), with documented massacres taking place in Makassar and Medan and on the island of Lombok. Robert Cribb and Charles A. Coppel noted that "relatively few" Chinese were actually killed during the purge while the majority of the dead were native Indonesians. The death toll of Chinese was in the thousands while the death toll of native Indonesians was in the hundreds of thousands. Balinese and Javanese made up the majority of people who were massacred.
Indigenous, non-Muslim, pagan Dayaks expelled 45,000 ethnic Chinese from rural areas, killing 2,000–5,000. The Chinese refused to fight back, since they considered themselves "a guest on other people's land" with the intention of trading only.
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 Communism during 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, 39 serious estimates of the death toll were attempted. Before the killings had finished, the Indonesian army estimated 78,500 had been killed, while the PKI put the figure at 2 million. The Indonesian army later[when?] estimated the number killed to be 1 million. In 1966, Benedict Anderson had set the death toll at 200,000. By 1985 he concluded that a total of 500,000 to 1 million people had been killed. Most scholars now agree that at least half a million were killed, thus more than in any other event in Indonesian history. An armed forces security command[which?] estimate from December 1976 put the number at between 450,000 and 500,000.
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 Ananta Toer, and peasants and soldiers. Those incarcerated in the vast network of prisons and concentration camps faced "extraordinarily inhumane conditions." 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. Methods of torture included severe beatings with makeshift materials like electric cable and large pieces of wood, breaking fingers and crushing toes and feet under the legs of tables and chairs, pulling out fingernails, electric shocks, and burning with molten rubber or cigarettes. Detainees were sometimes forced to watch or listen to the torture of others, including relatives such as spouses or children. Both men and women were subjected to sexual violence while in detention, including rape and electric shocks to the genitals.:215–216 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.
Sukarno's balancing act of "Nasakom" (nationalism, religion, communism) had been unravelled. 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 People's Consultative Assembly formally elected Suharto as president.
Several hundred or thousand Indonesian leftists travelling abroad were unable to return to their homeland. Djawoto, the ambassador to China, refused to be recalled and spent the rest of his life outside of Indonesia. Some of these exiles, writers by trade, continued writing. This Indonesian exile literature was full of hatred for the new government and written simply, for general consumption, but necessarily published internationally.
In December 1965, the US embassy in Jakarta had sent a telegram to Washington stating that without the uprising, "removal of foreign oil companies would have been a certainty." In late 1968, the National Intelligence Estimate for Indonesia reported: "An essential part of the Suharto government's economic program ... has been to welcome foreign capital back to Indonesia. Already about 25 American and European firms have recovered control of mines, estates, and other enterprises nationalized under Sukarno. Liberal legislation has been enacted to attract new private foreign investment. ... There is substantial foreign investment in relatively untapped resources of nickel, copper, bauxite, and timber. The most promising industry ... is oil."
The killings served as a direct precedent for the genocidal invasion and occupation of East Timor. The same generals oversaw the killing in both situations, and encouraged equally brutal methods—with impunity.
To Western governments, 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 and the increasingly leftist "Old Order". The British ambassador, Andrew Gilchrist, wrote to London: "I never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change." News of the massacre was carefully controlled by Western intelligence agencies. Journalists, prevented from entering Indonesia, relied on the official statements from Western embassies. The British embassy in Jakarta advised intelligence headquarters in Singapore on how the news should be presented: "Suitable propaganda themes might be: PKI brutality in murdering Generals, ... PKI subverting Indonesia as agents of foreign Communists. ... British participation should be carefully concealed."
A headline in U.S. News & World Report read: "Indonesia: Hope... where there was once none". Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt commented in The New York Times, "With 500,000 to 1 million Communist sympathizers knocked off, I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.":177 The right-wing oilman H. L. Hunt proclaimed Indonesia the sole bright spot for the United States in the Cold War and called the ouster of Sukarno the "greatest victory for freedom since the last decisive battle of World War II." Time described the suppression of the PKI as "The West's best news for years in Asia," and praised Suharto's regime as "scrupulously constitutional." "It was a triumph for Western propaganda," Robert Challis, a BBC reporter in the area, later reflected. Many Western media reports repeated the Indonesian army's line by downplaying the army's responsibility for and the rational, organised nature of the mass killing, and emphasised the role of civilians instead, invoking the orientalist stereotype of Indonesians as primitive and violent. A New York Times journalist wrote an article titled "When a Nation Runs Amok" explaining that the killings were hardly surprising since they occurred in "violent Asia, where life is cheap."
In recalling the attitudes of US government officials regarding the killings, State Department intelligence officer Howard Federspiel said that "no one cared, as long as they were Communists, that they were being butchered." Within the United States, Robert F. Kennedy was one of the only prominent individuals to condemn the massacres. In January 1966 he said: "We have spoken out against the inhuman slaughters perpetrated by the Nazis and the Communists. But will we speak out also against the inhuman slaughter in Indonesia, where over 100,000 alleged Communists have not been perpetrators, but victims?"
USSR's Andrei Sakharov called the killings a 'tragic event' and described it as "an extreme case of reaction, racism and militarism", but otherwise the Soviet response was relatively muted. This was likely in response to the PKI siding with China in the Sino-Soviet split.:23 Other Communist states issued strong criticism of the killings. The Chinese government stated they were "heinous and diabolical crimes ... unprecedented in history." China also offered refuge to Indonesian Leftists fleeing the violence.:185 One Yugoslav diplomat commented that "even assuming the guilt of the politburo [PKI leadership], which I do not, does this justify genocide? Kill the Central Committee, but do not kill 100,000 people who do not know and had no part in it [the 30 September Plot]." The Suharto government was condemned as a "military fascist regime" by the government of North Korea.
—Robert J. Martens, political officer at the US Embassy in Jakarta, who provided lists of communists to the Indonesian military.
While the exact role of the United States government during the massacres remains obscured by still sealed government archives pertaining to Indonesia for this period, it is known that, "at a minimum," the US government supplied money and communications equipment to the Indonesian Army that facilitated the mass killings, gave fifty million rupiah to the KAP-Gestapu death squad, and provided targeted names of thousands of alleged PKI leaders to the Indonesian Army. Robert J. Martens, political officer at the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1963 to 1966, told journalist Kathy Kadane in 1990 that he led a group of State Department and CIA officials who drew up the lists of roughly 5,000 Communist Party operatives, which he provided to an army intermediary.:202–203 Kadane asserts that approval for the release of names came from top U.S. Embassy officials, including US Ambassador to Indonesia Marshall Green, deputy chief of mission Jack Lydman and political section chief Edward Masters, who all later denied involvement. Martens claimed he acted without approval to avoid red tape at a critical time. The State Department volume Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, which the CIA attempted to suppress in 2001, acknowledges that the U.S. Embassy provided lists of communist leaders to Indonesians involved in the purges, and notes that Marshall Green stated in a 1966 airgram to Washington, which was drafted by Martens and approved by Masters, that the lists of communists were "apparently being used by Indonesian security authorities who seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership." Scholars have also corroborated the claim that U.S. Embassy officials provided lists of communists to Suharto's forces, who, according to Mark Aarons, "ensured that those so named were eliminated in the mass killing operations." Geoffrey B. Robinson, professor of history at UCLA, asserts that U.S. government officials, among them Marshall Green, "published memoirs and articles that sought to divert attention from any possible US role, while questioning the integrity and political loyalties of scholars who disagreed with them.":11
Robert Cribb, writing in 2002, claims "there is considerable evidence that the U.S. encouraged the killings, by both providing funds to anti-communist forces and supplying the Indonesian army with the names of people whom it believed were PKI members. There is no evidence, however, that U.S. intervention significantly increased the scale of the killings." Mark Aarons contends that Marshall Green is "long seen as one of the principal officials involved in encouraging the slaughter." Kai Thaler asserts that declassified documents show that "U.S. officials were accessories to this mass murder" and "helped create the conditions for the killings." Bradley Simpson, Director of the Indonesia/East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, contends that "Washington did everything in its power to encourage and facilitate the army-led massacre of alleged PKI members, and U.S. officials worried only that the killing of the party's unarmed supporters might not go far enough, permitting Sukarno to return to power and frustrate the [Johnson] Administration's emerging plans for a post-Sukarno Indonesia." He claims that documents show "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 U.S. 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. Geoffrey B. Robinson posits that, based on documentary evidence, powerful foreign states, in particular the United States, Great Britain and their allies, were instrumental in facilitating and encouraging the Indonesian army's campaign of mass killing, and without such support the killings would not have happened.:22 He elaborates in his 2018 book The Killing Season:
The United States and other Western states have steadfastly denied any responsibility for the terrible violence that followed the alleged coup of October 1, 1965. That violence, they have maintained, was the product of domestic political forces over which outside powers had little, if any, influence. That claim is untrue. There is now clear evidence that in the crucial six months after the alleged coup, Western powers encouraged the army to move forcefully against the Left, facilitated widespread violence including mass killings, and helped to consolidate the political power of the army, In doing so, they helped to bring about the political and physical destruction of the PKI and its affiliates, the removal of Sukarno and his closest associates from political power, their replacement by an army elite led by General Suharto, and a seismic shift in Indonesia's foreign policy towards the West and the capitalist model it advanced.:177
Western support for the Indonesian Army solidified as it demonstrated its "resolve" through the mass killing campaigns.:179, 204 US President Lyndon B. Johnson's Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy reported to the president that the events since 1 October had been "a striking vindication of US policy towards Indonesia in recent years: a policy of keeping our hand in the game for the long-term stakes despite recurrent pressure to pull out" and that it was made clear to the Indonesian army via US Embassy's deputy chief of mission, Francis Joseph Galbraith, that "Embassy and the USG generally sympathetic with and admiring of what Army doing.":183
The United States, along with Great Britain and Australia, also played an active role in "black propaganda operations" during the killings, which included clandestine radio broadcasts being transmitted into the country that repeated Indonesian Army propaganda as part of a psychological warfare campaign designed to encourage support for the killings and to discredit the PKI.
Of all countries, Swedish arms supplies seem to have been the most substantial. According to a report by an Indonesian refugee in Japan, from early December 1965, Indonesia signed "a contract with Sweden for an emergency purchase of $10,000,000 worth of small arms and ammunition to be used for annihilating elements of the PKI." The Swedish Embassy's concerns about the slaughter did grow some months later, with Sweden's ambassador openly critical of the campaign of violence, but apparently after the fact.:185
Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence, called on the U.S. to account for its role in the killings during a screening of the former for U.S. Congress members. On 10 December 2014, the same day The Look of Silence was released in Indonesia, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a "Sense of the Senate Resolution" which condemned the killings and called for the declassification of all documents pertaining to US involvement in the events, noting that "the U.S. provided financial and military assistance during this time and later, according to documents released by the State Department."
Declassified documents released by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in October 2017 show that the U.S. government had detailed knowledge of the massacres from the start, and specifically refer to mass killings ordered by Suharto. The documents also reveal that the U.S. government actively encouraged and facilitated the Indonesian Army's massacres to further its geopolitical interests in the region, and that U.S. officials and diplomats at the embassy kept detailed records of which PKI leaders were being killed. US officials, dismayed at Indonesia's shift towards the left, were "ecstatic" over the seizure of power by right-wing generals who proceeded to exterminate the PKI, and were determined to avoid doing anything that might thwart the efforts of the Indonesian Army. The U.S. also withheld credible information which contradicted the Indonesian Army's version of events regarding the abortive coup by junior officers on 30 September 1965, which triggered the killings. On 21 December 1965, the Embassy's first secretary, Mary Vance Trent, sent a cable to the State Department which provided an estimate of 100,000 people killed, and referred to the events as a "fantastic switch which has occurred over 10 short weeks." Bradley Simpson said these previously secret cables, telegrams, letters, and reports "contain damning details that the US was willfully and gleefully pushing for the mass murder of innocent people."
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Discussion of the killings was heavily tabooed in Indonesia and, if mentioned at all, usually called peristiwa enam lima, the incident of '65. Inside and outside Indonesia, public discussion of the killings increased during the 1990s and especially after the fall of Suharto in 1998. Jailed and exiled members of the Sukarno regime, as well as ordinary people, told their stories in increasing numbers. Foreign researchers felt more empowered to publish on the topic, with the end of intimidation by the military regime.
The killings are skipped over in most Indonesian histories, and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention. Indonesian textbooks typically depict 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. John Roosa's Pretext for Mass Murder (2006) was initially banned by the Attorney General's Office. The Indonesian parliament set up a truth and reconciliation commission to analyse the killings, but it was suspended by the Indonesian High Court. An academic conference regarding the killings was held in Singapore in 2009. 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 Supardjo Document is a copy of the personal notes of General Supardjo regarding the 30 September Movement. It is one of the few primary sources of this event and gives insight into the movement from a military perspective, including Supardjo's opinion on what may have caused the movement to fail.
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 three-decade presidency.
Although largely unknown in the West compared to the Vietnam War and various right-wing coups in Latin America, the massacres and Suharto's rise to power are considered by historians to be a major turning point in the Cold War. The massacres were also crucial to the expansion of capitalism in Indonesia, with Suharto rapidly implementing the economic policies of the "Berkeley Mafia", whose training had been funded by the Ford Foundation, to liberalize the economy. Given US foreign policy goals of stopping the spread of communism and bringing nations into its sphere of influence, the bloody purge which decimated the PKI, the third largest Communist party in the world at the time, was considered a huge victory. Historian John Roosa, after viewing declassified documents released in 2017, notes that much "of the U.S. foreign policy establishment viewed it as a great victory that they were able to sort of 'flip' Indonesia very quickly." He also asserts that the US did not simply "stand by" and allow the killings to happen, stating "it's easy for American commentators to fall into that approach, but the U.S. was part and parcel of the operation, strategizing with the Indonesian army and encouraging them to go after the PKI."
Geoffrey B. Robinson asserts that while there is no consensus on the matter, some scholars have described the mass killings as a genocide.:4 Jess Melvin claims the 1965–66 massacre constitutes genocide under the legal definition as particular religious and ethnic groups where targeted collectively for their relations to the PKI. She cites Matthew Lippman and David Nersessian stating atheists are covered under the genocide convention, and argues the Indonesian military proscribed the elimination of "atheists" and "unbelievers" collectively for their association with communism and the PKI, and thus these killings would constitute genocide. Melvin also emphasizes the extermination of the PKI as an act of genocide by pointing out that the PKI themselves identified with a particular religious denomination known as "Red Islam" that mixed Islam with communism. She further argues the killings constitute genocide because the PKI constitute an ideologically based "national group."
In November 2015, the International People's Tribunal on 1965 Crimes Against Humanity in Indonesia, presided over by seven international judges, was held in The Hague, Netherlands. It was formally established in 2014 by human rights activists, academics, and Indonesian exiles in response to an "absence of an official domestic process of transitional justice based on truth finding." In July 2016, chief judge Zak Yacoob publicly read the tribunal's findings, which called the state of Indonesia directly responsible for the events and guilty of crimes against humanity, blamed Suharto for spreading false propaganda and laying the grounds for the massacres, and concluded that the massacres "intended to annihilate a section of the population and could be categorized as genocide". The report also highlighted other allegations which the panel found to be well-founded, including enslavement in labor camps, ruthless torture, systematic sexual violence and forced disappearance. Indonesia rejected the tribunal's ruling; Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan said the killings were "none of their business, they are not our superiors and Indonesia has its own system." The court has no legal authority to issue binding decisions or rulings.
Judge Yacoob stated that "the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Australia were all complicit to differing degrees in the commission of these crimes against humanity." The judges conclude that the US supported the Indonesian military "knowing well that they were embarked upon a programme of mass killings," which included providing lists of alleged communist party officials to Indonesian security forces with a "strong presumption that these would facilitate the arrest and/or the execution of those that were named", where as the UK and Australia repeated false propaganda from the Indonesian Army, even after it became "abundantly clear that killings and other crimes against humanity were taking place." Australia's foreign affairs ministry rejected the conclusion of the tribunal, which it described as a "human rights NGO", and denies the country was in any way complicit in the killings. The US and the UK have not responded to the tribunal's findings. Indonesian human-rights lawyer Nursyahbani Katjasungkana(Indonesian) called on all three countries to admit their complicity, stating that it had been proved from their various diplomatic communications and could no longer be denied.
—Adi Zulkadry, death squad leader quoted in The Act of Killing.
During Suharto's regime, the media was heavily influenced and censored to show a 'certain' history of the 1965 incident: a history which purely and undoubtedly blamed the PKI for this political tragedy. However, in recent articles such as by 'The Jakarta Post', a more in-depth and complex story is recognized by the media offering conflicting views on who the blame should really fall on. A film supporting the New Order's version of events, Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Betrayal of Indonesia Communist Party) was broadcast annually on the government television station TVRI every 30 September. This version was the only one allowed in open discourse in the country. After Suharto's removal from power, many people, including those involved, told other versions of the events in various books and films. One, the documentary film The Act of Killing, included interviews with individuals who had participated in the mass killings, and its companion piece The Look of Silence follows one grieving family trying to understand why it happened and exposes how those behind the Indonesian massacres still revel in their crimes 50 years on, including boasting on camera how they dismembered, eviscerated, castrated and beheaded alleged communists. The film The Year of Living Dangerously, based around events leading up to the killings, internationally released in 1982, was banned in Indonesia until 1999.
The killings inspired many novelists to write their own rendition of the event, either on a more local, socio-cultural level, or on a national, political level. Books that were written in Indonesia during the time of the New Order often faced censorship of certain concepts, while books written and published abroad were banned from the country.
John Roosa's Pretext for Mass Murder traces a historical path through the 1965 event, painting a scenario of explanations for what preceded, caused and followed the coup. It focuses on several aspects of the coup such as the incoherence of facts and the incompetence of coup organizers to provide four main interpretations of the coup:(1) the movement as an attempted coup d'état by the PKI, (2) the movement as a mutiny of junior officers, (3) the movement as an alliance of army officers and the PKI, and (4) the movement as a frame-up of the PKI. It also looks at material previously left unexplored in traditional discussions of the incident to give a reconstruction of the chaos that surrounds this period of time in Indonesian history.
Ahmad Tohari's trilogy novel The Dancer (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk) depicts a village community caught in a revolution, giving readers a perspective less acknowledged in the more popular account of the massacres. By having its two main characters, Srintil and Rasus, on opposite ends of the revolution, the novel sketches not only the circumstances that could have drawn the greater rural public into communist practices, but also the mindset of the people who were tasked with carrying out the killings. As the novel was published in 1981, certain aspects were censored by the New Order, but all the same, the trilogy provides valuable insight into the grass-root level of the anti-communist coup and the tragedies that followed.
The nights at the beginning of the dry season of 1966 were very cold, and there was widespread anxiety amongst the people. Wild dogs roamed the area, savage, aroused by the smell of blood and corpses that had not been buried properly. The southeasterly breeze carried the smell of rotting carrion. The stillness of the nights was broken by the sounds of the heavy footfalls of boots and the occasional reports of gunshots.— Ahmad Tohari in his novel The Dancer 
Eka Kurniawan's Beauty is a Wound (2002) weaves history into satire, tragedy and the supernatural to depict the state of the nation before, during and after 1965. There is less focus on the military aspect of the coup, but a good deal of focus on the communists themselves through the form of interpersonal relationships and communist ghosts who could not find peace. Without meaning to, perhaps, the novel also gives readers a glimpse of the economy of Indonesia at the time using the example of a flourishing prostitute business and a temporary swimsuit business, among others. Kurniawan projects his feelings about the revolution and coup by constructing a story of theatrical characters around it and delivers a history of the nation all the way from Dutch occupation to Suharto.
Revolution is nothing more than a collective running amok, organized by one particular party.— Eka Kurniawan in his novel, Beauty is a Wound 
All Communists end up in front of a firing squad.— Eka Kurniawan in his novel, Beauty is a Wound 
Louise Doughty Black Water (2016) deals with the 1965 event by exploring them from a European viewpoint. Shifting between California and Indonesia as settings for the novel, the book is written from the perspective of a single man working as an operative for an international company. The novel focuses more on foreign reactions to the coup rather than the coup itself, especially from the foreign journalist community.
In short, Western states were not innocent bystanders to unfolding domestic political events following the alleged coup, as so often claimed. On the contrary, starting almost immediately after October 1, the United States, the United Kingdom, and several of their allies set in motion a coordinated campaign to assist the army in the political and physical destruction of the PKI and its affiliates, the removal of Sukarno and his closest associates from political power, their replacement by an army elite led by Suharto, and the engineering of a seismic shift in Indonesia's foreign policy towards the West. They did this through backdoor political reassurances to army leaders, a policy of official silence in the face of the mounting violence, a sophisticated international propaganda offensive, and the covert provision of material assistance to the army and its allies. In all these ways, they helped to ensure that the campaign against the Left would continue unabated and its victims would ultimately number in the hundreds of thousands.
The new telegrams confirm the US actively encouraged and facilitated genocide in Indonesia to pursue its own political interests in the region, while propagating an explanation of the killings it knew to be untrue.
Washington did everything in its power to encourage and facilitate the army-led massacre of alleged PKI members, and U.S. officials worried only that the killing of the party's unarmed supporters might not go far enough, permitting Sukarno to return to power and frustrate the [Johnson] Administration's emerging plans for a post-Sukarno Indonesia. This was efficacious terror, an essential building block of the neoliberal policies that the West would attempt to impose on Indonesia after Sukarno's ouster.
In 1967, Dayaks had expelled Chinese from the interior of West Kalimantan. In this Chinese ethnic cleansing, Dayaks were co-opted 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.
the role of indigenous Dayak leaders accounted for their "success." Regional officers and interested Dayak leaders helped to translate the virulent anti-community environment locally into an evident anti-Chinese sentiment. In the process, the rural Chinese were constructed 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.
The exact role played by the United States in the genocide remains unclear, as US government archives relating to Indonesia from the period remain sealed. It is known, however, that at a minimum, in addition to openly celebrating Suharto's rise to power, the United States supplied money and communications equipment to the Indonesian military that facilitated the killings, gave fifty million rupiah to the military-sponsored KAP-Gestapu death squad, and provided the names of thousands of PKI leaders to the military, who may have used this information to hunt down and kill those identified. The United States, Britain and Australia additionally played an active role in "black propaganda operations" in Indonesia during the genocide, including broadcasting clandestine radio broadcasts into the country. These broadcasts repeated Indonesian military propaganda as part of a psychological warfare campaign to discredit the PKI and encourage support for the killings.