Indonesia: “The Act Of Killing” and Noam Chomsky

The Art of Killing

As I recently saw an absolutely stunning documentary named “The Act Of Killing” and I also read Noam Chomsky’s and André Vltchek’s “On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare“, here are some very interesting words on what happened to Indonesia as their democratically elected government was toppled by western interests, and dictators followed:

Noam Chomsky

In the early years after the war, there was a conflict of policy initiatives. The U.S. was opposed to the old imperial systems in the region because they blocked U.S. economic and other interventions, but they were also opposed to nationalist movements developing. So conflicting policies were taking shape in different places.

In Indonesia, for example, after the 1948 Madiun massacre, the U.S. decided to support Sukarno [the first president of Indonesia, 1945–67]. But in Indochina, by the late 1940s the U.S. was vacillating, and it shifted towards supporting the French re-conquest. But what they were really concerned about was not Indochina, if you read the documents, but Indonesia.

Indonesia had rich resources, it was a big important country, while Indochina did not amount to much. But they were afraid that, as planners put it, “the rot would spread” from Vietnam to Thailand and even to Indonesia, and possibly even to Japan. The U.S. was concerned that Japan might “accommodate” to an independent Southeast Asia, becoming its commercial and industrial center. That would in effect mean that the U.S. had lost its Pacific phase of World War II, which was fought to prevent Japan from developing what they called a New Order in Asia. Roughly like that. The U.S. in 1950 was not prepared to lose World War II, so that’s when they began a massive support of the French in Indochina. And then in 1958 Eisenhower carried out the biggest intervention so far in the post-war period: to try to split off the outer islands of Indonesia, where most of the natural resources are, to get them under U.S. control.

The U.S. were also concerned over too much democracy in Indonesia. If you read U.S. records from that period, you can see that they were concerned that Sukarno’s government was allowing political participation by the PKI (Communist Party of Indonesia), which scholarship understands to have been basically the party of the poor. They were afraid that if this continued, if there was a democratic process, the PKI would gain control. But the U.S. intervention failed. And we know what happened in 1965.

André Vltchek

The U.S.-sponsored coup, massacres of Communists, intellectuals and the Chinese minority. About three million people died. noam chomsky I haven’t heard figures that high, but whatever it was, it was awful. andre vltchek The current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was married to a daughter of Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, a notorious special forces “Red Beret” general, who loved to brag that he and his mates had killed three million people after 1965. He was one of the few who confirmed three million. In my opinion it was an extremely important event for the West, because Western governments and companies were testing the ground for what could be applied years later in many other parts of the world.

In a way it was not only a coup, but also an economic experiment. It was an opportunity to implement an extreme pro-market economic system force-fed by the University of California at Berkeley through its Indonesian collaborators at the client-institution of the University of Indonesia. Even before the coup, Berkeley had set up an alternative team of Indonesian economists at the University of Indonesia. Sometime later the Chicago School of Economics was trying to forge the same unholy alliance with the University of Chile—but the University of Chile refused and then the Universidad Católica in Santiago was contacted and accepted. So in Chile before the 1973 coup, just as in Indonesia before the 1965 coup, there was already a fundamentalist pro-market alternative economic system in place.

Noam Chomsky

You are right to stress that developments in South America and in Southeast Asia were happening in parallel. That’s usually overlooked. It should be a priority in analysis of policy planning. Uncontroversially, Washington planners have global concerns. These crucial perspectives tend to be ignored, I think, on the useful assumption that the U.S. is not really an actor in world affairs. Washington reacts to others, devoted to “doing good” in its naive and clumsy ways. A year before Suharto’s coup came the Brazilian coup, and Brazil was the most important country in South America. The Brazilian coup was planned by Kennedy’s administration and took place a few months after the assassination. It is an interesting illustration of the decline of U.S. power, I think. The policies of the government that the U.S. helped to overthrow, the João Belchior Marques Goulart government, were not very different from Lula’s policies, but now Lula [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, 2003–11] is the darling of the West. At that time they were so intolerable that the government had to be overthrown and a really vicious military dictatorship established. That was the first one. That did set off a domino effect—Brazil is important—as government after government collapsed. And then Chicago-trained economists came in.

A very notable comment on this, is to see the documentary; in it, the assassins – who are really serial mass-murderers – are both proud, open and government-sanctioned at the same time, almost half a century after the initial slaughters. And they re-enact their crimes for the world, without any worry apart from looking physically bad on film. Where “communist” is a not only an insult, but an accusation that may lead to your death, there are obviously problems; sadly, this is one of the smaller points of worry in the documentary.

And the book is really worth every penny.

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