Indonesia 1965

Liquidating President Sukarno ... and 500,000 others

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum


Estimates of the total number of Indonesians murdered over a period of several years following an aborted coup range from 500,000 to one million.

In the early morning hours of 1 October 1965, a small force of junior military officers abducted and killed six generals and seized several key points in the capital city of Jakarta. They then went on the air to announce that their action was being taken to forestall putsch by a "Generals' Council" scheduled for Army Day, the fifth of October. The putsch they said, had been sponsored by the CIA and was aimed at capturing power from President Sukarno. By the end of the day, however, the rebel officers in Jakarta had been crushed by the army under the direction of General Suharto, although some supportive army groups other cities held out for a day or two longer.

Suharto-a man who had served both the Dutch colonialists and the Japanese invaders-and his colleagues charged that the large and influential PKI was behind junior officers' "coup attempt", and that behind the party stood Communist China. The triumphant armed forces moved in to grab the reins of government, curb Sukarno's authority (before long he was reduced to little more than a figurehead), and carry out a blood bath eliminate once and for all the PKI with whom Sukarno had obliged them to share national power for many years. Here at last was the situation which could legitimate these long- desired actions.

Anti-Communist organizations and individuals, particularly Muslims, were encouraged to join in the slaying of anyone suspected of being a PKI sympathizer. Indonesians of Chinese descent as well fell victim to crazed zealots. The Indonesian people were stirred in part by the display of photographs on television and in the press of the badly decomposed bodies of the slain generals. The men, the public was told, had been castrated, their eyes gouged out by Communist women. (The army later made the mistake of allowing official medical autopsies to be included as evidence in some of the trials, and the extremely detailed reports of the injuries suffered mentioned only bullet wounds and some bruises, no eye gougings or castration.)

What ensued was called by the New York Times "one of the most savage mass slaughters of modern political history." Violence, wrote Life magazine, "tinged not only with fanaticism but with blood-lust and something like witchcraft."

Twenty-five years later, American diplomats disclosed that they had systematically compiled comprehensive lists of "Communist" operatives, from top echelons down to village cadres, and turned over as many as 5,000 names to the Indonesian army, which hunted those persons down and killed them. The Americans would then check off the names of those who had been killed or captured. Robert Martens, a former member of the US Embassy's political section in Jakarta, stated in 1990: "It really was a big help to the army. They probably killed a lot of people, and 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."

"I know we had a lot more information [about the PKI] than the Indonesians themselves," said Marshall Green, US Ambassador to Indonesia at the time of the coup. Martens "told me on a number of occasions that ... the government did not have very good information on the Communist setup, and he gave me the impression that this information was superior to anything they had."

"No one cared, as long as they were Communists, that they were being butchered," said Howard Federspiel, who in 1965 was the Indonesia expert at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "No one was getting very worked up about it."

Although the former deputy CIA station chief in Indonesia, Joseph Lazarsky, and former diplomat Edward Masters, who was Martens' boss, confirmed that CIA agents contributed in drawing up the death lists, the CIA in Langley categorically denied any involvement.


The CIA, in its intimate involvement in Indonesian political affairs since at least the mid-1950s, had undoubtedly infiltrated the PKI at various levels, and the military even more so, and was thus in a good position to disseminate disinformation and plant the ideas for certain actions...

The desire of the US government to be rid of Sukarno-a leader of the non-aligned and anti-imperialist movements of the Third World, and a protector of the PKI-did not diminish with the failure of the Agency-backed military uprising in 1958. Amongst the various reports of the early 1960s indicating a continuing interest in this end, a CIA memorandum of June 1962 is strikingly to the point. The author of the memo, whose name is deleted, was reporting on the impressions he had received from conversations with "Western diplomats" concerning a recent meeting between President Kennedy and British Prime Minister Macmillan. The two leaders agreed, said the memo, to attempt to isolate Sukarno in Asia and Africa. Further, "They agreed to liquidate President Sukarno, depending upon the situation and available opportunities...

Whatever was intended, Sukarno was now, for all practical purposes, eliminated as an international thorn in the flesh. Of even greater significance, the PKI, which had been the largest Communist Party in the world outside the Soviet bloc and China, had been decimated, its tattered remnants driven underground. It could not have worked out better for the United States and the new military junta if it had been planned.

If the generals had been planning their own coup as alleged, the evidence is compelling that the United States was intimately involved before, during and after the events of 30 September/1 October. One aspect of this evidence is the closeness of the relationship between the American and Indonesian military establishments which the United States had been cultivating for many years. President Kennedy, his former aide Arthur Schlesinger has written, was "anxious to strengthen the anti-communist forces, especially the army, in order to make sure that, if anything happened to Sukarno, the powerful Indonesian Communist Party would not inherit the country.''

Roger Hilsman, whose career spanned the CIA and the State Department, has noted that by 1963

"... one-third of the Indonesian general staff had had some sort of training from Americans and almost half of the officer corps. As a result of both the civic action project and the training program, the American and Indonesian military had come to know each other rather well. Bonds of personal respect and even affection existed."

This observation is reinforced by reports of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs:

"At the time of the attempted Communist coup and military counter-coup [sic] of October 1965, more than 1,200 Indonesian officers including senior military figures, had been trained in the United States. As a result of this experience, numerous friendships and contacts existed between the Indonesian and American military establishments, particularly between members of the two armies In the post-coup period, when the political situation was still unsettled, the United States, using these existing channels of communication, was able to provide the anti-Communist forces with moral and token material support.

When the average MAP [Military Assistance Program] trainee returns home he may well have some American acquaintances and a fair appreciation of the United States. This impact may provide some valuable future opportunity for communication as occurred in Indonesia during and immediately after the attempted Communist-backed coup of October 1965."

The CIA, wrote the New York Times, was said "to have been so successful at infiltrating the top of the Indonesian government and army that the United States was reluctant to disrupt CIA covering operations by withdrawing aid and information programs in 1964 and 1965. What was presented officially in Washington as toleration of President Sukarno's insults and provocations was in much larger measure a desire to keep the CIA fronts in business as long as possible.''


Finally, we have the testimony of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara before Senate Committee in 1966:

Senator Sparkman: At a time when Indonesia was kicking up pretty badly-when we were getting a lot of criticism for continuing military aid-at that time we could not say what that military aid was for. Is it secret any more?

McNamara: I think in retrospect, that the aid was well justified.

Sparkman: You think it paid dividends?

McNamara: I do, sir.


There are other statements which may be pertinent to the question of American involvement. Former US Ambassador Marshall Green, speaking in Australia in 1973 where he was then ambassador, is reported as saying: "In 1965 I remember, Indonesia was poised at t razor's edge. I remember people arguing from here that Indonesia wouldn't go communist. But, when Sukarno announced in his August 17 speech that Indonesia would have a communist government within a year [?] then I was almost certain.... What we did we had to do, and you'd better be glad we did because if we hadn't Asia would be a different place today."


James Reston, writing in the New York Times in 1966:

"Washington is being careful not to claim any credit for this change [from Sukarno to Suharto] ... but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it. There was a great deal more contact between the anti-Communist forces in that country and at least one very high official in Washington before and during the Indonesian massacre than is generally realized. General Suharto's forces, at times severely short of food and munitions, have been getting aid from here through various third countries, and it is doubtful if the [Suharto] coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.


Neville Maxwell, Senior Research Officer, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Oxford University:

"A few years ago I was researching in Pakistan into the diplomatic background of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan conflict, and in foreign ministry papers to which I had been given access came across a letter to the then foreign minister, Mr. Bhutto, from one of his ambassadors in Europe (I believe Mr. J.A. Rahim, in Paris) reporting a conversation with a Dutch intelligence officer with NATO. According to my note of that letter, the officer had remarked to the Pakistani diplomat that Indonesia was "ready to fall into the Western lap like a rotten apple". Western intelligence agencies, he said, would organize a "premature communist coup ... [which would be] foredoomed to fail, providing a legitimate and welcome opportunity to the army to crush the communists and make Sukarno a prisoner of the army's goodwill". The ambassador's report was dated December 1964."

It should be remembered that Indonesia had been a colony of the Netherlands, and the Dutch still had some special links to the country.

The record of the "New Order" imposed by General Suharto upon the people of Indonesia for almost three decades has been remarkable. The government administers the nation on the level of Chicago gangsters of the 1930s running a protection racket. Political prisoners overflow the jails. Torture is routine.' ... Death squads roam at will, killing not only "subversives" but "suspected criminals" by the thousands.' ... "An army officer [in the province of Aceh] fires a single shot in the air, at which point all young males must run to a central square before the soldier fires a second shot. Then, anyone arriving late-or not leaving his home-is shot on the spot."

Killing Hope