Pacific News Minute: Conference in Jakarta Breaks Taboo on Atrocities of 1965

Apr 19, 2016

Suharto in his office as the head of the Strategic Reserve, 1963
Credit Wikipedia Commons

A two-day conference in Jakarta this week broke more than 50 years of official silence on one of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century.  Security Minister Luhut Panjaitan said Indonesia must make peace with its past, but ruled out an official apology, while a retired general called for a truth and reconciliation commission.  More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

By 1965, President Sukarno had dispensed with parliament and set himself up as dictator.  He seized the western half of New Guinea as the last vestiges of Dutch colonial rule crumbled, loudly protested US imperialism, took Indonesia out of the United Nations and right to the brink of economic collapse.

Then… as the novel and later… the Oscar winning movie put it, the year of living dangerously. 

After Indonesia's powerful communist party staged a suspiciously inept coup, a general named Suharto unleashed a well-planned counter attack.  The plotters were rounded up in less than a day, and then over the next four months at least half a million people were killed: communists, communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese, intellectuals and many others.  At least a hundred thousand more suffered torture and long years in prison.  Among many unanswered questions, is the extent of US complicity.

Suharto ruled for more than thirty years and, while parliamentary democracy was eventually restored, until this week, Indonesia's political and military leadership violently opposed any re-examination of history.  If the symposium in Jakarta does actually begin some kind of accounting, some of the credit will go to two other movies, the Award winning documentaries, "The Look of Silence," and "The Act of Killing", where survivors and perpetrators relived the atrocities.