Coverup continues of U.S. role in Indonesian massacres

Recently declassified documents from the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia show, according to such newspapers as the New York Times and The Guardian, that Washington was well informed about the horrible massacres carried out by the Indonesian military in 1965-66 that killed up to a million people and destroyed the large left movement in that country.

But, in fact, this is no great revelation. It really is a continuation of the coverup of the U.S. role in the massacres. What the capitalist media are not saying now, and only hinted at then, is that the U.S. government was not just a spectator, but egged on and facilitated the military coup and the slaughter that followed. [A book on this subject, “Indonesia 1965: The Second Greatest Crime of the Century,” can be read online at]

On June 2, 1966, a Public Inquest into the Indonesian Massacres was held at Columbia University in New York. The meeting was organized by Youth Against War & Fascism, the youth arm of Workers World Party, and was attended by a thousand people.

The speeches were later published in a pamphlet entitled “The Silent Slaughter — the role of the United States in the Indonesian massacre.” It included the remarks of Deirdre Griswold of YAWF, who chaired the Inquest; journalist Eric Norden; William Worthy, a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American who had visited Indonesia three times; Professor Andrew March of the East Asian Institute of Columbia University; and attorney Mark Lane, a former New York State Assemblyman.

The renowned British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote an introduction to the pamphlet entitled “American Murder Uber Alles.” We reprint it in its entirety below.

Bertrand Russell on the Indonesian massacres

When the events of October 1, 1965, were first reported in the Western press, events which suggested a momentous change in Indonesia, the accounts were uniform from Washington to Bonn. Hundreds of newspaper columns poured forth the story of an abortive “communist” coup which had been overcome by loyal army officers.

Indonesia had the largest Communist Party outside of the communist countries. The membership was over 3 million. Active supporters were estimated to number between 15 and 20 million people. The Western press would have had us believe that a disciplined party of such dimensions, with vast popular support, made a reckless bid for overt power without a street demonstration, a strike or a call to struggle by the leadership.

The left in Indonesia controlled important trade unions, including transport and communications. It enjoyed a powerful place in the administrative affairs of the nation. How then was it to be explained that a mass party resorted to a”putsch” using methods which would have the least effect and exposing itself to terrible reprisals without any attempt at resistance worthy of mention? How, moreover, could the lack of readiness be understood and the absence of a call from the leadership be made explicable as the terrible massacres of communists, trotskyists, socialists and people sympathetic to social advance rose to a cataclysmic slaughter?

During October 1965 two representatives of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, close associates of mine, were in Jakarta on my behalf attending a conference. In Jakarta few had any doubt about what was taking place around them. The United States Seventh Fleet was in Javanese waters. The largest base in the area, feverishly constructed by the United States but a few months earlier on the southernmost point of the southernmost island of the Philippines, was ordered “on alert.” General Nasution had a mission in Washington. The United States was directly involved in the day to day events. What then was the role of the U.S. government in their preparation?

James Rustin wrote in the New York Times on 19 June 1966:

“One of the most persistent complaints among officials in Washington is that our political troubles are not balanced adequately by reports in the press of the more hopeful political developments elsewhere in Asia.

“The savage transformation of Indonesia from a pro-Chinese policy under Sukarno to a defiantly anti-Communist policy under General Suharto is, of course, the most important of these developments. Washington is careful not to claim any credit for this change in the sixth most populous and one of the richest nations in the world, but this does not mean that Washington had nothing to do with it.

“There was a great deal more contact between the anti-Communist forces in that country and at least one very high official in Washington before and during the Indonesian massacre than is generally realized. General Suharto’s forces, at times severely short of food and munitions, have been getting aid from here through various third countries, and it is doubtful if the coup would ever have been attempted without the American show of strength in Vietnam or been sustained without the clandestine aid it has received indirectly from here.”

Through Reston, the New York Times tells us blandly six months after the event that the United States had direct responsibility for mass murder. He does this not merely with self-congratulatory words but with what he automatically assumes. It is worth returning to his words. Rustin writes: “It is doubtful if the coup would ever have been attempted … or [have] been sustained without the clandestine aid…”.

In short, the Indonesian generals made the coup, the right-wing initiated the bloody series of events and they did so because of U.S. strength. More than this, they succeeded in sustaining their counter-revolution and massacre because of American aid.

Here is the bald confession of what we who know the vicious role of the United States government in world affairs have sought, in vain, to expose in the mass media. How cavalier are the words Reston uses to describe events which comprise the greatest act of mass murder since the gas chambers of Hitler. The Times in London estimated the dead at nearly one million in a period of four months. Thus, in four months, five times as many people died in Indonesia as in Vietnam in twelve years.

The Reston story is headed “A Gleam of Light in Asia.” He describes these events as “another indication that there may be some hope in Asia.”

Before setting out the actual sequence of events and the unfolding of this terrifying glut of mutilation and death, it is instructive to quote Time magazine:

“Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote rural jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives …  bands crept at night into the homes of communists killing entire families and burying the bodies in shallow graves. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem … the humid air reeks of decaying flesh … small rivers and streams … have literally been clogged with bodies.” (Time, 17 December 1965)

Max Frankel describes the Johnson administration’s “delight with the news from Indonesia” and the private responses of “officials … elated to find their expectations being realized.” (New York Times, 12 March 1966)

The great industrial corporations and the Pentagon to which they are allied have brought the world to a point not previously reached since Hitler’s advent. From Vietnam to the Dominican Republic — to Indonesia — the source of murder and misery stems from Washington. Only now is the truth coming to light despite the efforts of many, especially those whose contributions to this important volume are so clear, forceful and unanswerable.

In Indonesia the army with American backing planned through its generals to take power on Army Day, October 5. Anticipating this planned coup, palace guards loyal to Sukarno, sought to head off the plot which had been advanced to October 1. They failed. The left, so far from attempting power watched pathetically as its supporters fell to massacre. There is a terrible lesson in this, one which is not restricted to Indonesia nor to the countries exploited by American capital.

No small part of the essential task before us in exposing the full dimension of the evil represented by the Johnson administration and those it serves, is the obligation to alert the left in America to its full responsibility. With the exception of the initiative taken by Youth Against War & Fascism in the United States, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in Britain and solitary individuals in other countries, the peace movement and the socialist movement have failed to stand out against the unimaginable slaughter which has swept a country of one hundred million people.

I am utterly convinced that the world empire which resorts to mass murder in those countries subject to its control will turn that same violence on the American people themselves as the universal revolt against American domination spreads. Fascism is coming to America because America has brought fascism to the world. Vietnam and Indonesia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Congo and Angola — are the harbinger — that terrible shadow discerned by Malcolm X when he expressed the only lesson worth teaching the American people upon the death of President Kennedy: “The chickens are coming home to roost.” That same fascism which murdered Malcolm X himself confronts the American people with a challenge to save themselves and mankind from their own rulers.

I am fearful that the horror of the Indonesian massacres was only possible because we in the West are so imbued with racism that the death of Asians, even in hundreds of thousands, makes little impact on us. American Negroes know this well. Knowing it they struggle in city after city across America; knowing it so must all the people of the world engage in overt struggle and I cannot sufficiently praise the initiative which has brought forth the cri de coeur contained in this essential pamphlet.

A worker or peasant in Indonesia today earns approximately seventy-five cents a month in one of the most richly endowed countries in the world. That wealth is siphoned out by quislings serving the interests of foreign capital. The centre of that capital, the heartland of this system and the source of the military buttress of exploitation is Washington. The murder in Indonesia is a direct expression of the viciousness of a system responsible for suffering, hated by the vast majority of men, driven to desperate slaughter to subdue them and rending the planet itself in vain, barbarous effort.

When increasing numbers of Americans see this and organise themselves politically to stop it — not treat with it — we shall have begun a course of action capable after great struggle of winning power for decency and a final end to the mass murder which at once epitomises and defiles our era.

Bertrand Russell
28 July 1966

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