On the night of September 30/October 1, 1965, a bungled coup d’état resulted in the deaths of a handful of Indonesian generals and a young girl. Within days the Indonesian army claimed that the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the largest communist party outside of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, was responsible.
This set in motion the confusing, mysterious, and often perplexing events in 1965 that led to the downfall of Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno – an anti-imperialist who sought to combine the forces of nationalism, religion, and communism – and the rise of the authoritarian General Suharto who ruled Indonesia for 32 years – a period of far-right military dictatorship known as the New Order.
As part of Suharto’s overthrow of Sukarno, the circle of officers around him incited regional officers to start a campaign of arrest, detention, torture, and mass murder of millions of Indonesians. We don’t have exact numbers, but somewhere between 500,000 and a million were killed and an equal number sent to brutal prisons throughout the nation’s sprawling archipelago, Buru Island being the most infamous.
Prisoners worked as slave labor for years. After their release, they were subject to official repression and were treated as social pariahs. Even the children of former prisoners faced discrimination. Allegedly this wave of violence was directed at the massive Indonesian Communist Party, the PKI, but in reality, scores of other leftists including feminists, labor organizers, and artists fell victim to the bloody purge.
Because the killers ran the state for decades, a generation of Indonesians were fed a steady stream of lurid propaganda that falsely claimed the PKI was planning its own campaign of mass murder.
John Roosa’s Buried Histories: The Anticommunist Massacres of 1…
, University of Wisconsin Press, 2020 is a carefully crafted study of these events that sheds light on the mechanics of mass murder and dispels a number of myths about this dark moment in Indonesian history.
Based on decades of interviews and archival research the book is a welcome addition to the growing scholarly work on what some have termed a political genocide and what a 1968 CIA report called “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century”.John Roosa
is an Associate Professor of history at the University of British Columbia.
Buried Histories is a sequel to his previous book, Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto's Coup D'État in Indonesia, the definitive political history of the event that set the Indonesian genocide in motion.Michael G. Vann
is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Mo…
(Oxford, 2018). When he’s not quietly reading or happily talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.
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