Learn more about the 1965-66 Indonesian Massacres through first person testimonials, videos, articles and collected documents.


What is genocide?

It is estimated that more than 100 million people have lost their lives as a result of genocide in the last 100 years. Worldwide dictators and their willing helpers have persecuted and killed people because of religion, nationality and ethnic or racial affiliation, and they have thus made this century one of the bloodiest in human history.

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Perpetrators of Genocide

United Nations defines genocide as the extermination of people on a large scale because of ethnic, religious or racial reasons. The extermination of entire political groups is also considered as genocide.

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Indonesia up to 1957

Guided Democracy was the political system in place in Indonesia from 1957 until the New Order began in 1966. It was the brainchild of President Sukarno, and was an attempt to bring about political stability. Sukarno believed that Western-style democracy was inappropriate for Indonesia's situation.

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The 1965 - 1966 Massacres in Indonesia

Edited from observations on the massacres, their aftermath and implications, by Historian John Roosa (Professor of History, University of British Columbia; Author of “Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto’s Coup D’Etat in Indonesia”). Additional opening and closing notes by Joshua Oppenheimer.

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The Political Situation Today

In July 2014, Indonesia elected its first president who doesn’t come from an elite background, is not an oligarch who enriched himself through corruption or the plunder of the nation’s resources, and isn’t a military general who rose to power through the military dictatorship.

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Reading Materials

Suharto: A Declassified Documentary Obit

National Security Archive of declassified U.S. documents detailing ex-dictator Suharto's record of repression and corruption, and the long-standing U.S. support for his regime.

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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

Online version of a compilation of essays surveying a variety of views about the 1965 mass violence in Indonesia and the current efforts to understand this event.

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Am I PKI or Not PKI?

Originally written as a response to a provocative open letter, Rochijat's article discusses how "political color" based thinking has affected Indonesian history and the importance of emphasizing individual thoughts and opinions.

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Case Study: The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966

From the archives of the Online Encylopedia of Mass Violence.

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The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia: 1965-1968

Chapter 6 excerpt from the book The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia

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National Commission for Human Rights Investigation

The results of the Commission's investigations into grave violation of human rights during the events of 1965 - 1966

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Special Report: Requiem for a Massacre

In this special report, Tempo, looks back at the dark period--Indonesia's own killing fields, the former concentration camps, and the girsly accounts of those who did the unthinkable.

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The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967

This article is from Pacific Affairs, 58, Summer 1985, pages 239-264.

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Petrus Dadi Ratu

What lay behind the greatest counter-revolutionary massacre of the 20th century, the extermination of the Indonesian Left in 1965? How did the Suharto dictatorship come to power? The extraordinary testimony of a survivor on the bloody mystery at the source of its tyranny.

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Out of the Black Hole

After the New Order, the lid on Indonesia's past is beginning to lift.

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Why Not Genocide? Anti-Chinese Violence in Aceh, 1965 – 1966

Drawing upon original oral history evidence and previously unknown documentary sources, this article provides an account of anti-Chinese violence in Aceh between 1 October 1965 and 17 August 1966.

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Remembering Indonesia's bloody October

The Indonesian government should apologise and acknowledge the military's mass killings during the New Order era.

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What is genocide?

It is estimated that more than 100 million people have lost their lives as a result of genocide in the last 100 years. Worldwide dictators and their willing helpers have persecuted and killed people because of religion, nationality and ethnic or racial affiliation, and they have thus made this century one of the bloodiest in human history.

Genocide Century

The 20th century has been rightly called “genocide century,” although the deliberate destruction of groups is far from a phenomenon known only in the 20th century. There are several examples of genocide throughout history, but never have so many people lost their lives as a result of genocide as in the 20th century. It’s hard to say why exactly the 20th was the “genocide century, “ but possible explanations could be technological advances, flourishing nationalism, and the emergence of mass media.

Although the deliberate destruction of groups is an old familiar phenomenon, it was only with the Nazi crimes against the Jews during World War II that the outrageous practice was named. The originator of the concept of genocide was the Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who fled Poland in 1938 to avoid becoming a victim of Nazi atrocities against Jews. Lemkin combined in his 1944 book the Greek word for tribe or race “genos” with the Latin word for killing or kill “cide”, and thus arose the concept of “genocide”, which the Danish translated into genocide.

Genocide Convention Defining the Genocide

In the aftermath of the Nazi crimes, the UN adopted in 1948 the Genocide Convention, which legally defined the concept of genocide. The convention defines genocide as acts committed with the intention of totally or partially destroying a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. The purpose of the convention was to prevent future genocide, but history has unfortunately since shown that the Holocaust would not be the last genocide of the 20th century.

According to the UN Convention, Article II defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the intention of totally or partially destroying a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; doing members of the group serious bodily or mental harm; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s total or partial physical destruction, to implement measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Although the concept of genocide is defined in the UN Genocide Convention, it is not always easy to determine when the case is genocide. It will indeed always be a matter of how the Convention definition is interpreted. The number of genocides is very controversial, and there are many examples of controversial disputes and crimes that not all scientists are willing to describe as genocide.

In the example of the events of 1965-66 in Indonesia occurs the same problem of definition, and there are differing opinions about whether the killings can be defined as genocide or mass murder. The problem is that the groups – “communists” or simply “opponents” – that were the primary goal of the destruction do not fall under the UN Convention categories of “national,” “ethnic,” “racial” or “religious” group. However, looking at the thousands of victims who were ethnic Chinese, it is the definition of genocide under the UN Convention – even though there were many more victims who were not ethnic Chinese.

Source: Danish Institute for International Studies – Holocaust and Genocide: What is genocide?

Perpetrators of Genocide

United Nations defines genocide as the extermination of people on a large scale because of ethnic, religious or racial reasons. The extermination of entire political groups is also considered as genocide. Someone must take the lead and take the initiative to commit genocide. In authoritarian systems, such as military dictatorships, it is often the army. In Indonesia, the army started a massive anti-communist campaign, and it was the ideological background and catalyst for the genocide of 1965-66.

People are genetically encoded for both altruism (kindness to others) and aggression. It is both our socialization and personal experiences which determine which of these tendencies are most expressed. Most people feel an instinctive revulsion for hurting other people, and it is a basic condition for normal human behavior. On the other hand, it seems psychopaths lack this “moral” brake. For most it is taboo to kill others. To kill another human is to exceed a psychological limit, and there is no turning back.

Social psychology speaks of “deed men” (those who carry out evil deeds), “crowd” (those who are witnessing the attacks but not interfere), “victims” (the target of the evil acts) and finally “heroic helpers” who try to help victims – often putting their own lives at risk, as we saw during the genocide of Jews during World War II. Social psychologists are also interested in the social and psychological processes that lead up to genocide.

Social Factors in the People’s Murder

People do not exist in a social vacuum. They are affected by the economic and social conditions in the community. Cultural values ​​and religious norms affect the individual and society. What is right and wrong is taught in principle through socialization – as, for example, by seeing which actions are rewarded and which are punished. People usually act within the framework of their social and cultural context.

In the period around 1965-66, there was a military dictatorship in Indonesia. The army claimed that the communists were a threat to national security and independence. The party’s struggle for land reforms and better working conditions for the working class was seen as a threat to the stability and order, as the army and the ruling class saw it. Therefore, the communists eradicated. It was possible to carry out in a systematic way since the army was apparently behind the organization of the killings, although they left part of the dirty work for paramilitaries and gangsters like Anwar and his group.

In individual villages, people could feel pressured to kill neighbors or family, because they were afraid of even being seen as communists. In this chaos of terror and fear family and friends were taken, and the fear of being called a communist still exists in Indonesia. The killing of municipality Ministers, and all those who were killed along with them, is apparently still perceived by many as a heroic act and necessary struggle against evil and the nation. On an official level there is silence about the murders and the victims, although there are small indicators that the silence is no longer total. While the fight against communists and “enemies of the state” and the murderers are still celebrated – both on TV and in large meetings of organizations such as Pancasila Youth.

Ministry Men

An offender is defined as a person who performs a vicious, criminal or illegal act. In certain contexts, these deed men are called “executioners” in connection with the genocide. Who are these deed men? Are they ordinary people – or evil people? Are they forced by circumstances – or chance?

In social psychology, since World War II there has been a debate about whether the deed men are bad people or if the situation caused their evil actions. The philosopher Hannah Arendt attended the 1960 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. He had overall responsibility for the practical aspects of the transportation of Jews to extermination camps. Arendt concluded that Eichmann was an ordinary man. He was not evil – just a bureaucrat who tried to do his job as well as possible. Her thesis “banality of evil” envisages that anybody can perform evil acts. This is very controversial and the debate rages on between historians, psychologists and philosophers.

When the deed men attack and kill members of marginalized groups, the victims have usually already been marginalized and “devalued” by hateful propaganda whipping up a mood against the victims. It was seen for example in Nazi Germany, as well Bosnia and Rwanda, where about a million people were brutally murdered in the space of 100 days.

The repetition of atrocities and killings changes deed men – both individually and as a group, says Erwin Staub., Perpetrators gradually become better at doing the dirty work, and they will typically justify their actions partly by saying that it is necessary to do so, and partly through disparaging the victims. This psychological rationalization gets the perpetrators to believe that it is in order to eradicate the victims. It happens too often the victims are dehumanized, i.e. referred to as “vermin” and therefore the general moral rules do not apply. On the contrary, morality is turned on its head, so that the killing of the victims is morally correct.

Psychology speaks of two kinds of aggression. The first is instrumental aggression, defined as aggression which has a purpose, for example in the form of social reward or access to resources. Second, is reactive aggression, i.e. an aggression which is to defend one’s self. In the case of instrumental aggression with a clear purpose, one can imagine, according to psychologists, that some deed men may focus on the goal and the reward of their evil actions and therefore are better able to disarm the emotional responses, so they avoid the psychological after-effects such as PTSD. The psychologist Weierstall, together with colleagues, formed a theory based on surveys of 269 deed men in Rwanda. Almost half of them said that they felt that they were carried away by the violence, and that they experienced a certain satisfaction in seeing the victim bleed. The researchers suggest that, for some, participation in the murders apparently caused a kind of exhilaration, and that victims’ struggle may intensify aggression. According to this explanation, it is possible for some individuals to enjoy cruelty when moral restrictions do not prevent it or if the situation even provides the opportunity for organized violence.

Perpetrators believe that their role is to kill – and preferably as many as possible. In an atmosphere of lawlessness it does not so much matter whether the victims actually are what you accuse them of being. It is enough that the perpetrators believe that they are guilty. If at the same time organizations are created that promote violence and discrimination, such as Pancasila Youth or other paramilitary groups, the perpetrators eventually consider that their “work” serves a just cause, and that it is the victims’ own fault that they are being persecuted and eradicated. Through a mix of self-delusion, vanity and falsehood, the murderers are able to construct a story about the situation and themselves – assisted by the official position – that causes them to perceive their role in the genocide as an act of heroism, which exempts most of them from remorse.

Indonesia up to 1957

Pancasila Principles

In 1945, Sukarno led a revolution to form a new independent nation. The five moral principles, Pancasila (Panca = five, Sila = principles) would form the basis for this nation. The five principles were: the belief in one god, consensus democracy, humanity, social justice and national unity. The paramilitary organization Pancasila Youth, which is part of the act of killing, is named after these principles.

The new republic’s first year was marked by the desire – and the struggle – for unification. Not all provinces were subject to the nationalist regime and there were still smaller states with Dutch support and efforts to create Islamic states.

  1. Belief in one god: This principle was formulated as an alternative to creating a state with the majority religion, Islam, as the foundation. Here they wanted to avoid exclusion of members of other religions from getting citizenship. However, nature religions still struggled to win acceptance, and especially Buddhists and Hindus had to fight for it.
  1. Consensus Democracy: During the revolution the nationalists agreed that they were fighting for freedom, and some also felt that it meant democracy. Sukarno first’s act, however, was to establish a one-party system or a “democracy with leadership,” as he called it. He wanted to create an alternative to Western democracy. But during the 1950s there was popular movement for democracy following a Western model with a multi-party system. However, this was not implemented in Indonesia before 1955. Here were now the main parties: the Nationalist Party, PNI; the two Muslim parties, Masyumi and NOW; as well as the Communist Party, PKI; with respectively 22, 20, 18 and 16 percent of votes in that order. All parties incorporated socialism in one way or another, but disagreed on the design. In addition to the parties, there were many other political groupings that competed to get members. Often the motivation to choose one or the other grouping was not due to one’s political beliefs. Instead, people got jobs, rice, coffee, cigarettes or other “thank you” gifts, and thus aid in many cases was bought and paid for.

During this period, there was also massive employment in the bureaucracy. Various offices were often used as a thank you to participants in the revolution, which meant some rather disorganized authorities.

Sukarno was president from 1945-1967, but lost direct power in the period 1950-57 due to democratic initiatives. However, he remains crucial as an inspiration and as the charismatic symbol of the revolution.

  1. Humanity: It was also called internationalism or humanitarianism. The international aspect was closely connected with the Cold War, when much of the world was divided into American or Soviet sphere of interest. Sukarno was active over what came to be called the Third World, which in this period meant the non-aligned states, that supported neither the United States nor the Soviet Union. In 1950, Sukarno spoke, among other things, about the fear of ideologies with thinly veiled allusions to liberal democracy with market economy and communism, respectively. Apparently, both stood to oppose to independence.

International relations brought everything from new clothes and different furniture, to one of today’s most important symbols of the modern: radio. At the same time, the contact with Western culture was also challenging traditional ways of life, and it was a recurring theme to find an alternative to what was seen as decadent “Western life” which could, for example, lead to having children outside of marriage. At the same time, some were skeptical about the Hollywood films that showed the West’s moral decay.

  1. Social Justice: Under this item, the aim was to increase the prosperity of the people. With Sukarno’s slogans Indonesia should no longer be a nation of “coolies” and no “coolie” among nations. Indonesians should therefore be richer, while enjoying greater respect from other countries. However, there were major problems with corruption and violence – especially in connection with the previously mentioned clashes between the various factions in the country. Several political groups were also criminal gangs. The widespread unrest and random violence created a special bond between the people and the army, which thus gained the crucial role as protector and won the people’s trust.
  1. National unity: For any group it often applies that if the group can agree on who the enemy is, you have a good chance to stand together. The same applies to an entire nation, and this was the situation with Sukarno’s Indonesia in the 1950s and New Guinea (now Papua), which the Dutch had retained. Here you could use the battle to gain control of the area as a testament to the continued battle against Dutch imperialism as a unifying factor. National unity was still a great challenge, as with the Christian and pro-Dutch Ambon Island. Here there was resistance that did not want to become part of the new Indonesian republic. But that resistance was quickly quelled.

The purpose of the principles was to legitimize the new government and give it a foundation. At the same time these ideas were used to rally support for a regime that became more and more oppressive.

Guided Democracy

In 1957, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Sukarno. His survival was taken as a sign of the magical protection that many thought he possessed. After the attack came a large scattered rebellion from Sumatra, and it was later confirmed that it was supported by the US intelligence agency CIA. The Americans were concerned about Indonesia as a non-aligned state, and so prefered a US-backed military dictatorship, which was the model for other countries in the Third World. The Cabinet in Jakarta was under threat, and the response from Sukarno was a close alliance with sections of the army. He did away with democracy of the Western model, and introduced now the concept of guided democracy. Two years after he had effectively usurped all power. The guided democracy was certainly less democratic! The army was now the main institution for national unity, and this position has continued today.

It must have been hard to predict, but when Sukarno announced guided democracy as the new form of government it was an avalanche that triggered the largest disaster in Indonesian history. It ended not only with the fall of the government and up to one million dead, but also a centralized military dictatorship that lasted until the late 1990s.

Ethnic Chinese Indonesian

Many ethnic Chinese had come to the current Indonesia during colonial times as unskilled laborers in coffee and sugar production, but also as merchants and tax collectors for the Dutch. Other immigrants later came to dominate the money lending. They profited from heavily from Dutch taxation, as they’d created an acute need for cash due to poor earnings in agriculture. This kind of business was unpopular, which is clearly reflected in the fact that lenders were called earth leeches! In addition – and perhaps why – this caused troubles in the early 1900s and anti-Chinese riots in Java, which is seen again later on other occasions in Indonesia.

The 1965 - 1966 Massacres in Indonesia

The section is written by historian John Roosa and director Joshua Oppenheimer. The heading of the introductory part and conclusion written by Joshua Oppenheimer, while the main body of the text consists of John Roosa’s observations of genocide in 1965-66, repercussions and consequences. Student Tasks of Mikkel Randløv, history teacher at North High School.

Military Coup in 1965
By Joshua Oppenheimer

In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military. Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, who was the founder of the non-aligned movement and head of the national revolution against Dutch colonization, was deposed and replaced by the right-wing General Suharto. The Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), which had supported the struggle against the Dutch colonization and President Sukarno (who was not a communist), was immediately banned.

Immediately before the coup, the PKI was the largest communist party in the world in a non-communist country. The party was officially required to win power through elections, and their subsidiaries included all Indonesian trade unions and cooperative movements of peasants without land. Their primary campaign included land reform and nationalization of foreign-owned mining use, oil and plantation industry. In this way, they tried to mobilize Indonesia’s vast natural resources. It should be for the benefit of the Indonesian people, in their view, who were poor in all ways after three hundred years of colonial exploitation.

After the military coup in 1965, all could be accused of being communists and opponents of the new military dictatorship. This applied to union members, landless peasants, intellectuals, ethnic Chinese and all others who fought for a redistribution of wealth in the aftermath of colonization.

In less than a year, and directly aided by Western governments, over a million of these so-called “communists” were murdered. In America, the genocide was known as a great “victory over communism” and was largely celebrated as good news. TIME Magazine reported “The best news for the West in Asia for many years,” while The New York Times gave the headline “A glimmer of light in Asia” and praised Washington to hide its involvement in the killings.

The ethnic Chinese who had come to Indonesia in the 18th and 19th centuries were made scapegoats, spurred by US intelligence that attempted to create a rift between the new Indonesian regime and the People’s Republic of China. The slaughter of PKIs members at village level and people affiliated with unions and cooperatives was also encouraged by the United States.

In many of Indonesia’s regions, the military recruited civilians to carry out the killings. The civilians were organized in paramilitary groups, were given basic training and considerable military support. In North Sumatra and elsewhere, recruits came mostly from groups of gangsters. Ever since the genocide, the Indonesian government celebrated “the extermination of the communists” as a patriotic struggle. They hailed the gangsters and the paramilitaries as heroes and rewarded them with power and privilege. These men and their protégées have gained powerful positions – and persecuted their opponents ever since.

The Genocide of 1965-66 began with the killing of six generals at night on the first of October 1965.

30th September Movement
By John Roosa

October 1, 1965: The Thirtieth September Movement (Gerakan 30 September, or G30S), an association of young, rebellious Indonesian officers from the armed forces, slaughtered six generals from the Indonesian army in a misguided coup and dumped their bodies in a well south of Jakarta. At the same time, they took over the movement’s troops on national radio and declared their protection by President Sukarno to the cabal of right-wing generals who were in the process of planning a takeover. The movement was overpowered before the Indonesians knew that it existed. The highest-ranking military commander, Major-General Suharto, launched a quick counterattack, driving the movement’s troops from Jakarta in a single day.

Suharto accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of being behind the movement, and he took the initiative to eradicate people linked to the party. Suharto’s army captured more than half a million people and accused them of having been involved in the movement. In one of the worst bloodbaths of the twentieth century, the military and local militias slaughtered several hundred thousand people in central and eastern Java, Bali and North Sumatra from late 1965 to mid 1966. In a state of national crisis Suharto gradually usurped Sukarno’s authority and established himself as the de facto president in March 1966 – now with the power to dismiss and appoint ministers.

The genocide was disproportionate in relation to its alleged purpose. The movement was a small, conspiratorial action organized by a handful of people. Overall it struck and killed twelve people. Suharto exaggerated its scale, so it looked more like a nationwide conspiracy. All the millions of people who were associated with PKI – even the illiterate peasants in remote villages – were exhibited as murderers with a single charge of the movement’s actions.

Until the end of the Suharto regime in 1998, the Indonesian government and the official military personnel responded at any sign of disagreement or violence by pointing to the PKI ghost. The central reference in the regime’s argument was “the latent threat of communism.” The unfinished eradication of PKI amounted to, in a very real way, the Suharto regime’s existence. The original statute, with which the regime led Indonesia for over 30 years, was Sukarno’s “presidential order of 3rd October 1965″ that gave Suharto the authority to “restore order.”

After defeating the motion, Suharto appointed himself as the nation’s savior in an attempt to construct a legitimating ideology for his dictatorship. His regime used all the propaganda methods to maintain the event in the public consciousness: books, monuments, street names, movies, museums, memorial statues and national holidays. The Suharto regime justified its existence by placing the movement in the middle of its historical narrative and by depicting PKI as unspeakably evil. Under Suharto, anti-communism became the state religion – complete with holy places, rituals and dates.

It is noteworthy that the comprehensive anti-PKI violence has become so badly misunderstood. The fact that both the military and civilians carried out the killings have undoubtedly helped to blur the issue of liability. The limited information available clearly demonstrates that the military bears the greatest share of responsibility. The killings were the result of organized, planned brutality more than spontaneous violence. Suharto’s clique of officers concocted false stories and controlled press in great enough degree to delude civilians into believing PKI was on the rampage. Had the military not deliberately provoked this way, people would never have seen PKI as a threat, since the party had been passive in the aftermath of the movement. From October 1965 onwards the military worked hard to whip up a hostile atmosphere around PKI. The US government incited the Indonesian military to pursue rank and file Communists. The military encouraged the militias to take action, guaranteed them impunity, and arranged logistical assistance.

In contrast to the story that has most often been told in Indonesia, there was virtually no spontaneous acts of violence carried out by villagers. Suharto’s army arranged rather mysterious disappearances rather than public executions. The army and its militias carried out any of their comprehensive genocide in secret. They rounded up prisoners at night, transported them to remote areas, executed them and buried the bodies in unmarked mass graves or tossed them into rivers.

The tragedy of the modern Indonesian history lies not only in the military-organized mass executions in 1965-66, but also the power that the killers were given – people who considered murder and psychological warfare as legitimate and normal ways to govern. A regime that legitimized itself by pointing to the mass grave at the well where the six generals were killed and swearing “never again,” while it left countless other mass graves from one end of the country to another, from Aceh on the west coast to Papua on the east coast. The occupation of East Timor from 1975 to 1999 was similarly guilt for tens – if not hundreds – of thousands killed. Many of them were anonymously buried. Every mass grave in the archipelago marks an arbitrarily ongoing and secretive abuse of state power.

The occupation of a relatively small event (movement) and the blurring of a piece of world history (mass executions in 1965-1966) have removed any empathy for the victims and the bereaved. There was erected a monument beside the well where the movement’s forces dumped the bodies of the six generals of October 1, 1965. However, there is no monument at the mass grave that marks the bodies of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives by genocide.

History. Storytelling. Power.
By Joshua Oppenheimer


It has focused on who killed the generals September 30, 1965 without worrying about the killing of over one million alleged communists in the months that followed. Suharto’s regime made endless amounts of propaganda, and even today much of the discussion about the genocide has been displaced. And this applies even in English-language sources. For me it is grotesque to participate in the debate on “who killed the generals” – and therefore the debate is not in THE ACT OF KILLING.

The genocide in Rwanda was triggered when Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down on approach to Kigali. To discuss who shot down the plane is unreasonable in light of the killing of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Similarly, it is irrelevant to know who started the Reichstag Fire in order to understand the Holocaust. As John Roosa described in the above, it diverts attention from the genocide of world historical importance. Imagine if one in Rwanda only focused on the question of “who shot the presidential plane down” when you talk about what happened in 1994. It would only be possible if the killers were still in power.

The Political Situation Today

In July 2014, Indonesia elected its first president who doesn’t come from an elite background, is not an oligarch who enriched himself through corruption or the plunder of the nation’s resources, and isn’t a military general who rose to power through the military dictatorship.

President-elect Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as “Jokowi,” has shown a real concern for the plight of ordinary Indonesians and has been outspoken on the need to acknowledge the human rights violations committed by the military. Nevertheless, his supporters include army generals  surrounded by killers and their cronies, including retired army generals Hendropriyono and Wiranto, both of whom are responsible for some of the worst massacres in the history of the New Order military dictatorship. Moreover, Jokowi selected for his running mate Jusuf Kalla, the vice president who, in The Act of Killing, gives a speech at a paramilitary rally in which he says, essentially, we need our gangsters to beat people up and get things done.

We can say, however, that Jokowi’s opponent, oligarch and former commander of Indonesia’s notorious special forces, Prabowo Subianto, embodied the darkest side of Indonesian politics. Prabowo is infamous for masterminding the disappearance, torture and execution of student activists in 1998, pogroms against the ethnic Chinese in 1998, and massacres in East Timor. During the election campaign, his campaign team threatened critical journalists with arrest, he fanned the flames of religious extremism, and he said Indonesia is not ready for electoral democracy. His defeat, however narrow, is an enormous relief for survivors of human rights abuse, religious and ethnic minorities, and everybody struggling for genuine democracy in Indonesia.

Joko Widodo’s strong track record as Governor of Jakarta, as well as the electorate’s rejection of the old regime, is, finally, cause for hope.