50 years later: Confronting ghosts of the past — Greg Poulgrain

OCTOBER 1 — Two months ago President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo tried to stop the discrimination still suffered by descendants of family members accused of being linked to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965. His plea was met with non-compliance, but until this moment in history is confronted and resolved it will not pass.

September 30 is the 50th anniversary of a traumatic event that has scarred the collective psyche of Indonesia, an event the Central Intelligence Agency described as one of the worst massacres of the 20th century.

From late 1965 to mid-1966, some say between one and two million people were murdered, but according to the boast of one prominent participant in the killings, Gen. Sarwo Edhie, “It was more like three million.”

The first deaths were six army generals killed during a kidnapping operation by the “Sept 30th Movement” (“G30S”); most of the remainder were from the 20 million members of Indonesia’s communist party, the PKI, nearly all impoverished rice farmers.

General Abdul Haris Nasution, defence minister and former army commander, narrowly escaped, whereas then army commander, Lt Gen. Yani, was one of the first shot. Gen. Soeharto who had taken command of the army when Yani was overseas, was not on the list of those to be kidnapped.

He stepped into blood-stained shoes and gallantly took control, blaming the PKI for the generals’ death. Proceeding tentatively at first, for Sukarno was still popular as president, Soeharto soon adopted a policy of exterminating the PKI, root and branch. By mid-March 1966, he had ousted Sukarno and taken over the presidency.

The initial killings are still riddled with intrigue because during the trial proceedings, one of the key army officers in G30S, Col. Latief, declared nobody was intended to be killed.

He confirmed this when I interviewed him in Cipinang prison in 1998: “Killing was not on the agenda. The generals were to be brought before president Sukarno and asked to explain the rumour there was going to be a coup on Oct 5.” So who actually killed the generals?

A key figure, Sjam, emerged during the trials as the real organiser of the Movement, even though Colonel Untung, of Sukarno’s Palace Guard, declared himself the titular leader. He only signed his name to the first 7am radio broadcast announcing the kidnappings, but Sjam had written it, and Sjam was solely responsible for the second announcement.

Appointed by PKI chairman, DN Aidit, to befriend officers in the armed forces who were sympathetic towards the PKI, Sjam used this position to include in the kidnapping operation persons who would later be described as “pro-PKI”, giving credence to the claim it was a communist plot.

Ranked above Latief and Untung, Brig. Gen. Supardjo was a third top member of the Movement. But he had arrived in Jakarta only days before, from his command in Kalimantan, at Sjam’s invitation.

There is a common, almost invisible thread in this matrix — Gen. Soeharto. Untung was his close friend, but Sjam was the closest. Latief explained Soeharto was not on the list of those to be kidnapped “because he was one of us (in the Movement).” Sjam’s proximity to Aidit gave him authority to confirm to others in the Movement that “Soeharto was on side,” a key deception within G30S.

From information he gathered during 33 years in prison, Latief said Sjam was an agent for Col Suwarto, an officer in charge of Seskoad, the officer training school in Bandung, West Java. Gen. Nasution, whom I interviewed many times in Jakarta, said “Suwarto was CIA.”

From his own intelligence group, Nasution revealed that Sjam and Soeharto had been seen together in Bandung visiting Suwarto. If they were conducting “official business”, it does not explain Nasution’s comment that his wife, after the death of their young daughter who was killed accidentally during the attempted kidnapping, never again spoke to Soeharto.

No doubt PKI individuals were involved in the operation. Yet the evidence, dripping into place over the last half-century, increasingly implicates both Soeharto and Sjam in primary roles. Of course, accusations of Soeharto’s inside involvement in G30S have been strenuously denied.

Latief told the court he visited Soeharto’s house a few days before Sept 30 to explain the rationale of the kidnapping operation. This and his 11th hour visit to Soeharto on the very night, to confirm the operation was about to start, were both dismissed as inconsequential. Moreover, shortly after Latief’s visit, Soeharto’s final conferral with Supardjo at the military’s Kodam V Jaya Complex, Cempaka Putih, has never been mentioned.

The kidnapping began around 3.30am on Oct 1, 1965 with disorganised truckloads of lowly-ranked soldiers and PKI youths. To kill anyone who resisted was Sjam’s order to the man in charge of the convoy, Dul Arief. A Soeharto top aide, Ali Murtopo, later hunted him down.

The generals’ bodies were thrown down a well (the “Crocodile Hole”) near Halim Air Force base. Soon after the funeral cortege on Oct. 5, accompanied by 30 truckloads of army para-commandos, violence began in Jakarta. Decades later officially revealed documents tell us the American embassy secretly supplied Soeharto with lists of 5,000 leading PKI members and arranged for state-of-the-art radio communication to organise the rampage that followed.

Within a month, violence spread. On early Nov 6 in Kudus, Central Java, a PKI stronghold, 50 persons in green, yellow and black uniforms, kidnapped five people — an old man, a water buffalo trader, a servant, a railway worker and a village official.

Their hands and heads were cut off, according to historical accounts. Authorities blamed the PKI and arrested local members, claiming they were involved in G30S.

And so the rampage began.

In village after village, the army discovered “documents” implicating local PKI members in G30S. Muslim groups were directed by the army to carry out mass killings which continued for many months. Former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid was not in Indonesia in 1965; but once he became aware of the spiritual pall that has remained over Indonesia since those days, he declared: “We have to be honest with history.” — Jakarta Post

* Greg Poulgrain teaches Indonesian history at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane. He wrote "The Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles."

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

Related Articles