Liquidating President Sukarno ... and 500,000
excerpted from the book
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
"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
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
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 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."