Excerpt from Chapter 5 (“The CIA and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967”)

Excerpt from Chapter 5 (“The CIA and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967”)

It seems clear that from as early as 1953 the U.S. was interested in helping to foment the regional crisis in Indonesia, usually recognized as the “immediate cause” that induced Sukarno, on March 14, 1957, to proclaim martial law, and bring “the officer corps legitimately into politics.”

By 1953 (if not earlier) the U.S. National Security Council had already adopted one of a series of policy documents calling for “appropriate action, in collaboration with other friendly countries, to prevent permanent communist control” of Indonesia. Already NSC 171/1 of that year envisaged military training as a means of increasing U.S. influence, even though the CIA’s primary efforts were directed towards right-wing political parties (“moderates … on the right,” as NSC 171 called them): notably the Masjumi Muslim and the PSI “Socialist” parties. The millions of dollars which the CIA poured into the Masjumi and the PSI in the mid-1950s were a factor influencing the events of 1965, when a former PSI member – Sjam – was the alleged mastermind of Gestapu, and PSI-leaning officers – notably Suwarto and Sarwo Edhie – were prominent in planning and carrying out the anti-PKI response to Gestapu.

In 1957-58, the CIA infiltrated arms and personnel in support of the regional rebellions against Sukarno. These operations were nominally covert, even though an American plane and pilot were captured, and the CIA efforts were accompanied by an offshore task force of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. In 1975 a Senate Select Committee studying the CIA discovered what it called “some evidence of CIA involvement in plans to assassinate President Sukarno”; but, after an initial investigation of the November 1957 assassination attempt in the Cikini district of Jakarta, the committee did not pursue the matter.

On August 1, 1958, after the failure of the CIA-sponsored PRRI-Permesta regional rebellions against Sukarno, the U.S. began an upgraded military assistance program to Indonesia in the order of twenty million dollars a year. A U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff memo of 1958 makes it clear this aid was given to the Indonesian Army (“the only non-Communist force … with the capability of obstructing the … PKI”) as “encouragement” to Nasution to “carry out his ‘plan’ for the control of Communism.”

The JCS had no need to spell out Nasution’s “plan,” to which other documents at this time made reference. It could only imply the tactics for which Nasution had distinguished himself (in American eyes) during the crushing of the PKI in the Madiun Affair of 1948: mass murders and mass arrests, at a minimum of the party’s cadres, possibly after an army provocation. Nasution confirmed this in November 1965, after the Gestapu slaughter, when he called for the total extinction of the PKI, “down to its very roots so there will be no third Madiun.”

By 1958, however, the PKI had emerged as the largest mass movement in the country. It is in this period that a small group of U.S. academic researchers in U.S. Air Force- and CIA-subsidized “think-tanks” began pressuring their contacts in the Indonesian military publicly, often through U.S. scholarly journals and presses, to seize power and liquidate the PKI opposition. The most prominent example is Guy Pauker, who in 1958 both taught at the University of California at Berkeley and served as a consultant at the RAND Corporation. In the latter capacity he maintained frequent contact with what he himself called “a very small group” of PSI intellectuals and their friends in the army.

In a RAND Corporation book published by the Princeton University Press, Pauker urged his contacts in the Indonesian military to assume “full responsibility” for their nation’s leadership, “fulfill a mission,” and hence “to strike, sweep their house clean.” Although Pauker may not have intended anything like the scale of bloodbath which eventually ensued, there is no escaping the fact that “mission” and “sweep clean” were buzz-words for counterinsurgency and massacre, and as such were used frequently before and during the coup. The first murder order, by military officers to Muslim students in early October, was the word sikat, meaning “sweep,” “clean out,” “wipe out,” or “massacre.”

— from Poetry And Terror: Politics and Poetics in Coming To Jakarta, by Peter Dale Scott and Freeman Ng, Lexington Books, all rights reserved.