Home > Uncategorized > Jakarta is coming – posted 3/10/2021

Jakarta is coming – posted 3/10/2021

It has now been over five years since the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian genocide. That 1965 genocide remains largely unknown. No genocide has received less mass media attention.

In that genocide carried out by the Indonesian military and death squads, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people perished. The Indonesian military herded another million into concentration camps. The murders were directed against the Indonesian Communist Party, the broader left wing community, trade unionists, teachers and loyalists to President Sukarno who was then the leader of the country.

Estimates have varied about how many died. Some estimates go as high as a million dead. The killing got completely out of hand sweeping up many thousands who were deemed to have insufficient loyalty and fervor for the new military regime of General Suharto.

A big part of the reason that genocide has received less attention is because of whom the victims were. Defeating the Indonesian left was seen as a huge win for the United States. At the time, the Indonesian Communist Party, called the PKI, was the third largest communist party in the world besides China and the Soviet Union.

The PKI’s strategy of non-violent, direct engagement with the masses of people had made it very popular. Almost a third of the country’s registered voters were PKI-affiliates.The PKI had a close alliance with President Sukarno. They had no arms and they were pursuing a peaceful transition to socialism. They relied on their relationship with President Sukarno for influencing policy.

We are now learning more about the Indonesian genocide. Although it received little publicity in the United States, there was an International People’s Tribunal held in The Hague in 2015 about the Indonesian mass murders. An independent tribunal of judges issued a final report with a concluding statement:

“The judges consider that allegations by the prosecution of cruel and unspeakable murders and mass murders of over tens of thousands of people, of unjustifiable imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people without trial and for unduly long periods in crowded conditions, and the subjection of many of the people in prison to inhumane and ruthless torture and to forced labor that might well have amounted to enslavement, are well founded.”

The Tribunal found that the Indonesian mass killings of 1965 were crimes against humanity and they also found the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia were complicit in the mass murder. The judges found the United States supported the Indonesian military “knowing well that they were embarked upon a program of mass killing”.

The United States had a long history training the Indonesian military. When General Suharto seized power, the United States, through Voice of America, spread propaganda to demonize the left. Also, Washington provided vital mobile communications equipment to the military.

Most tragically, the U.S. embassy, with help from CIA analysts, prepared lists with the names of thousands of leftists and leftist sympathizers and handed them over to the Indonesian Army. These people were then murdered and checked off the list.

The Washington Post reporter, Vincent Bevins, in his book, The Jakarta Method, has looked more deeply into these events. Bevins says the United States won the Cold War but, in the process, it created a loose network of U.S. backed anticommunist extermination programs that carried out mass murder in multiple countries. 

The Jakarta method refers to the model of mass extermination employed by the Indonesian military. Bevins says that Jakarta became an explicit model for military dictatorships in the 1970’s including Brazil, Chile and Argentina. He argues 22 countries with U.S.-backed anticommunist extermination programs carried out mass murders between 1945 to 2000. Bevins distinguishes these mass murders from regular war and collateral damage from military engagements.

In Chile, before the coup against President Salvador Allende, the word “Jakarta” started appearing, plastered on walls in Santiago. Left wing activists started receiving postcards saying “Jakarta is coming”. To quote Bevins on Jakarta:

“It meant anticommunist mass murder. It meant the state organized extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of capitalist authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States. It meant forced disappearances and unrepentant state terror. And it would be employed far and wide in Latin America over the next two decades.”

Operation Condor was one subsequent expression of Jakarta. In 1975, representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile decided to work together to torture and kill those they considered subversive. The U.S. government provided planning, coordinating, training on torture, technical aid and military support to the various authoritarian governments. This was largely a CIA project. The alliance set up a program to collaborate to exterminate their enemies worldwide.

Most famously, a Condor operative, Michael Townley, an American with CIA and Chilean secret police connections, organized the murder of the former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffett, by car bomb in Washington DC in 1976. The Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, ordered the murder.

General Antonio Domingo of Argentina explained the outlook of those behind Operation Condor:

“First we will kill all subversives, then we will kill all of their collaborators, then those who sympathize with subversives, then we will kill those who remain indifferent and finally we kill the timid.”

Jakarta was about the mass murder of unarmed civilians. Bevins shows how events in Indonesia in the 1960’s-1970’s were actually far more consequential for American foreign policy than events in Vietnam. Indonesia was far larger and of more geopolitical importance than Vietnam.

Before 1965, Indonesia had been a leader of the non-aligned movement and the struggle against colonialism. After centuries of exploitation, Indonesia and other Third World countries wanted economic sovereignty and better terms within the global economic system. The genocide kept Indonesia in the American sphere of influence but, in effect, the country evolved into a grossly under-developed neo-colony. If anything, over time, the economic gap between U.S. wealth and Indonesian poverty has widened.

Bevins shows the demonization, isolation, and trauma experienced by the victims of the Indonesian military that continues to this day. He also shows the dilemma the extreme violence has posed for those who advocated a peaceful transition to democratic socialism. In Indonesia, the peaceful path resulted in annihilation. Bevins does not deny the brutal crimes carried out by communists such as in Cambodia but he says those events are much better known.

The government of Indonesia has failed to take responsibility or even acknowledge the horrible atrocities of the genocide. Similarly, the U.S. has hidden its role in this massively shameful crime. Our media has abetted the crime by failing to cover and educate the public about the genocide. Maybe someday though justice will demand an accounting. 

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Val Long
    March 14, 2021 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Jon – Just wanted to tell you that I love your column in the Concord Monitor. Your piece on the January 6th insurrection was amazing. Really gave a clear explanation of the situation. Best, Val Long

    • March 14, 2021 at 4:13 pm

      Hey Val, it is great to hear from you after all these years. I will email you privately. Thanks for reading my articles!

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