Skip to comments.Survivors detail Suharto-era massacres
Posted on 01/27/2008 3:11:35 PM PST by NormsRevenge
BLITAR, Indonesia - Hiding out in the dense, humid jungle, Markus Talam watched Indonesian soldiers herd manacled prisoners from trucks, line them up and mow them down with round after round of automatic weapons fire.
It was 1968, and the killings were part of a final offensive by forces under Gen. Suharto to wipe out the communist party and secure his position as leader of Indonesia, now the world's most populous Muslim nation.
"They gunned them down and dumped their bodies in a mass grave dug by other prisoners. I remember the sound of the guns clearly: tat-tat, tat-tat, tat-tat ... over and over again," said Talam, 68, who was later jailed for 10 years after being named a leftist sympathizer.
Suharto, who died on Sunday at a Jakarta hospital, seized control of the military in 1965 and ruled the country for 32 years, suppressing dissent with force and supported by an American government at the height of the Cold War.
Estimates for the number killed during his bloody rise to power from 1965 to 1968 range from a government figure of 78,000 to 1 million cited by U.S. historians Barbara Harff and Ted Robert Gurr, who have published books on Indonesia's history. It was the worst mass slaughter in Southeast Asia's modern history after the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia.
A frenzy of anti-communist violence stained rivers with blood and littered the countryside with the bodies of teachers, farmers and others.
"They used to dump the bodies here," recalled Surien, a 70-year-old woman who lived near a bay used as an execution ground. "People called it the beach of stinking corpses because of the smell."
The CIA provided lists of thousands of leftists, including trade union members, intellectuals and schoolteachers, many of whom were executed or sent to remote prisons.
Another 183,000 died due to killings, disappearances, hunger and illness during Indonesia's 1975-1999 occupation of East Timor, according to an East Timorese commission sanctioned by the U.N. Similar abuses left more than 100,000 dead in West Papua, according a local human rights group. Another 15,000 died during a 29-year separatist rebellion in Aceh province.
In recent interviews around the city of Blitar, a former communist stronghold, survivors of the atrocities recounted a life on the run, living in caves, being beaten and beheadings of other captives.a
"I am disappointed. I saw great cruelties and am lucky I am not dead," said Talam, whose simple two-room home overlooks a valley dotted with overgrown mass graves.
Dragging on a clove-cigarette with trembling hands, he described how he was detained by police but escaped. He stumbled across dead bodies in shallow graves and slept in dank caves with hundreds of others, eating what the jungle had to offer for 50 days, until being picked up.
Talam, a former member of a left-wing union for park rangers, said he was tortured and beaten repeatedly during interrogations while detained on remote Buru island, where about 12,000 political prisoners were held, 1,100 miles east of the capital, Jakarta. "Why has no one been put on trial?" he asked.
In fact, the dark era remains largely unknown to many Indonesians. Those believed responsible still wield influence in politics and the courts. Details of the communist purge are banned from school books, and the military has blocked efforts by relatives to unearth mass graves.
Near Blitar, a prominent monument and museum honors the crushing of the communist threat, and the Communist Party is still banned in Indonesia today.
There is no official record of the shootings Talam said he witnessed by the Indonesian army near Blitar, which lies 310 miles east of Jakarta.
Though Suharto was swept from power in a 1998 pro-democracy uprising in this nation of 235 million people, no one has ever been tried for the bloodletting, in part because some of Suharto's former generals remain in powerful posts today.
"One of the enduring legacies of Suharto's regime has been the culture of impunity," said Brad Adams, the head of Human Rights Watch Asia.
Moreover, public interest in reviving a turbulent past is muted in the largely poor country, where people are more concerned with day-to-day survival, said Putmuinah, an 80-year-old former communist city council member in Blitar.
"The ones who should be held accountable for those crimes are Suharto, his government and his regime," she said. "Suharto ordered the elimination of communists and left-wing sympathizers."
Putmuinah hid in a cave south of Blitar before being picked up and detained for 10 years. "They robbed me of the opportunity to raise my seven children," she said.
"They beheaded many of us because we were members of the union for women," she added. "I was spared torture because I knew the commander who arrested me."
Suharto's regime capitalized on existing tensions between Muslims and atheist communists, inciting the nation's powerful Islamic groups to join the purge.
Hasyim Asyhari, 67, a former member of a conservative Sunni Islamic youth group in the Blitar region, said the group received army orders to identify, hunt down and kill communists.
He said he is proud of saving the nation from communist domination and helping "turn communist sympathizers into good Muslims."
"We used farm tools, daggers and clubs" to kill prisoners, Asyhari said in an interview. "I followed the orders of the government."
Don’t forget Korea on that list of hot cold warism.
and Mozambique and Angola and Peru and China and Quemoy and Burma and Algeria and... and... and...
“Another 186,xxx died due to killings.” Makes sense.
Their is no doubt that the communists in Indonesia were backed by Russian and China. Killing off the communists and back Soeharto gave Indonesia a whole new direction and opened it to US and the west and drove out the Soviets.
This was part of the containment and reversal strategy in Asia.
I started working with Indonesian business’s in 1971 while based in Asia and helped to organize and develop one of the biggest private companies there. That company now has hundreds of “middle class” employees.
and... and... and...
For a Cold War, it had a lot of hot fronts.
The sad thing that is overlooked in the discussion of Suharto is how his victory over Indonesian Communism rendered the whole Vietnam war so goddammed unnecessary.
The ‘Domino Theory’ was based on the assumption that if Vietnam fell then so would Thailand and Malaysia and then the Communists would get what they really wanted; Indonesia. Indonesia was the target of the Japanese in the Second World War and it was the target for the Communists. With its vast reserves of oil, rubber, tin, copper, bauxite, gold etc it was the jewel in the crown.
In 1965 Indonesia had the third largest Communists party in the world and they looked set to take over the country from the shambolic rule of Sukarno. But then Suharto handed their asses to them on a plate and in three months without using a single US soldier he wiped out the Communists and utterly destroyed them. After that Indonesia was firmly anchored in the western sphere of influence.
With Indonesia secure, and Malaysia and Singapore likewise under the Brits and Australia in the south and an American supported Philippines there was no need to worry about Indo-China, if they fell to Communism it would be no great loss to the world, as indeed happened but instead 55,000 young Americans were to die in a pointless war and America was to suffer a defeat from which it has still not fully recovered.
The one strategic benefit of the Vietnam War was sucking the USSR into Afghanistan. That was the Big Domino.
Indonesia’s dark year shut the lights off for the USSR and China in Indonesia.
Indonesia was, indeed, the prize for that whole part of the world. Control of Indonesia would have given the Communists control of the major part of world sea traffic including oil transport, as well as another large source of oil.
You are comparing apples to oranges here. Nobody on this board would say Suharto was a "saint."
The truth was Suharto used brutal methods to eradicate the communists threat.
The only other option for the people would be total capitulation to the communists. Then we would be talking about this thirty some years later about how MILLIONS of people died...
Ethic Chinese disguise their roots with weird names like Soeryadjaya to blend in with their dangerous hosts.
Economics was a major part of it. Politics played its part, too. The Communists tried to organize a coup and the reaction did not stop with the dead and captured actors. It was an excuse to capture the Chinese money and eliminate them from positions of power and influence, social as well as political. Henry VIII’s move against the Catholic Mmonasteries and Catholics generally came from the same desires. The Catholics controlled much of the wealth in Britain and Henry was broke. That move also served to detach Britain from the Continent. Suharto detached Indonesia from the Communist enterprise while getting control the resources. There is not much new under the Sun.
All his people suffered while he prospered
Which leads to the question, what were the conditions that recruited people to the communists?
Oh they were worse. much worse.
No doubt about it.
The Indonesian communists were worse than Suharto, I presume you mean. How so? Did they kill as many as Suharto did?
But back to my question, what were the conditions that made the Communists attractive to so many poor Indonesians?
I mean the conditions were bad under Sukarno.
That lead to the popularism of communism.
Suharto didn’t really alleviate the oppression he just rounded up the rabble rousers and killed them.
Megawati Sukarnoputri finally brought some democracy to the place, though there are so many poor with no opportunity’s there it is staggering.
You might want to ask yourself what still makes communism so attractive to so many mindless idiots here in the US.
Rational reasoning is not always required or even desired. Fairy tales and make believe are a huge portion of the communist pipe dream. That, and appealing directly to the most base and destructive hatred of envy that can reside in men’s souls.
Of course, among the elites of the world, there’s ever only been two options since the fall of the aristocracy.
Everything must either be fascism or communism. The uniquely evil American thing is never even considered as a possibility.
“I mean the conditions were bad under Sukarno.”
I think of Sukarno as being a Robert Mugabe type leader, a man who fought for his people’s independence but who then went on to bankrupt his country in pursuit of his own egomania.
Or you can find and eliminate the factor which makes them your implacable enemy.
The radical element is supported by Saudi oil money. We started really having problems with them once Saudi money started funding radical madrassahs and radical imams. The radical mosques would dry up and blow away if they had to get their funding from people who needed to actually work for a living
I think the communists also frequently exploit real injustices. For example, in South Vietnam, the US kept urging the government there to implement land reform, also a communist cause.
In Indonesia during Suharto's time, I wonder what injustices, like feudal land arrangements perhaps, the communists exploited.