U.S. Policy / Indonesia

Caldwell, Malcolm, ed. Ten Years' Military Terror in Indonesia. Nottingham, England: Spokesman Books, 1975. 297 pages.

"I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad. There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment." So said Robert J. Martens, formerly a political officer in the U.S. embassy in Indonesia, as he described to reporter Kathy Kadane how U.S. diplomats and CIA officers provided up to 5,000 names to Indonesian army death squads in 1965, and checked them off as they were killed or captured. The death toll reached a half million or so. Kadane's article was reprinted in the San Francisco Examiner (5/20/90) and the Washington Post (5/21/90), but soon the New York Times checked in with a damage control effort by Michael Wines (7/12/90), which had the effect of proclaiming the end of the story.

Despite the NYT, some of us have not lost interest in the issue. This book is a collection of essays on various aspects of the first ten years of military rule in Indonesia. One contributor is Peter Dale Scott, who examines American involvement in the coup in an essay that includes 139 end notes (pages 209-261). Scott updated this research with new sources in the journal Pacific Affairs (Summer 1985, pp. 239-264). His research on Indonesia also triggered his book-length poem about terror titled "Coming to Jakarta" (New York: New Directions Books, 1989, 160 pages). If Kadane and Scott have their way, someday not only the CIA will know the full truth about Indonesia 1965.

Kahin, George McT. and Kahin, Audrey R. Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia. New York: The New Press, 1995. 318 pages.

George Kahin has taught at Cornell University since 1951 and is one of the leading scholars of Southeast Asian history. This book covers Indonesian history from the end of the colonial period through the Eisenhower years. It stops short of the 1965 coup, which a CIA study described as follows: "In terms of the numbers killed the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia 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." To get anything else out of the CIA about Indonesia, you still need a crowbar, even if you leave out 1965.

But George Kahin was personally acquainted with most of the key players in Indonesian politics during the 1950s, and he managed even without the CIA's documents. The importance of this work is that it exposes the covert policy of Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers in Indonesia during the 1950s. This policy set the stage for the 1960s. The events of 1965-1966, dismissed at the time by the world's media as an "abortive Communist coup," are still hotly disputed, and appear suspicious by any reasonable standard -- the whole thing could have been set up by the CIA. That's a book that cannot yet be written, but at least we're off to a reliable start.

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