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Year 501

The Conquest Continues

By Noam Chomsky

Chapter Five

Human Rights: The Pragmatic Criterion

1. Reality and its Abuse

2. Securing the Anchor

3. Celebration

4. Closing the Books


1. Reality and its Abuse

Prominent among the high principles to which we are dedicated, alongside of Democracy and the Market, stands Human Rights, which became "the Soul of our foreign policy," fortuitously, just at the moment when popular revulsion over monstrous crimes had become difficult to contain.

It is recognized, to be sure, that our service to the cause of humanity is not entirely without flaw. By "granting idealism a near exclusive hold on our foreign policy," we go too far, press thinkers warn, quoting high-ranking officials. This nobility puts us at a disadvantage in dealing with the "fierce savages" of whom Justice Marshall warned, a problem that has bedeviled Europe throughout its history of "encounters." The Korean war raised "serious questions as to how the soft, humanitarian West could compete with such people" as the "ruthless" Asian leaders, top Kennedy adviser Maxwell Taylor wrote. Taylor's "uncomfortable thoughts about the future of the West in Asia" were echoed by leading liberal critics of the Vietnam war as it spiralled out of control. The "Asian poor" used "the strategy of the weak," inviting us to carry our "strategic logic to its conclusion, which is genocide," but we are unwilling to "destroy contradicting our own value system." Soft humanitarians, we feel that "genocide is a terrible burden to bear" (William Pfaff, Townsend Hoopes). Strategic analyst Albert Wohlstetter explains that "the Vietnamese were able to bear the costs imposed on their subjects more easily than we could impose them." We are simply too noble for this cruel world.

The dilemma we face has engaged the deepest thinkers. Hegel pondered "the contempt of humanity displayed by the Negroes" of Africa, "who allow themselves to be shot down by thousands in war with Europeans. Life has a value only when it has something valuable as its object," a thought beyond the grasp of these "mere things." Unable to comprehend our lofty values, the savages confound us in our quest for justice and virtue.1

The burdens of the righteous are not easy to bear.

There are ways to test the theses that are confidently proclaimed. Thus one might look into the correlation between US aid and the human rights climate. That was done by the leading academic scholar on human rights in Latin America, Lars Schoultz, who found that US aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens, the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights." The flow of aid includes military aid, is not correlated with need, and runs through the Carter period, when at least some attention was given to human rights concerns. A broader study by Edward Herman found the same correlation worldwide. Herman carried out another study that directs us to the reasons. Aid is closely correlated with improvement in the investment climate, a result commonly achieved by murdering priests and union leaders, massacring peasants trying to organize, blowing up the independent press, and so on. We therefore find the secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights. These studies precede the Reagan years, when the questions are not even worth posing.

Another approach is to investigate the relation between the source of atrocities and the reaction to them. There is extensive work on that topic, again with sharp and consistent results: the atrocities of official enemies arouse great anguish and indignation, vast coverage, and often shameless lying to portray them as even worse than they are; the treatment is the opposite in all respects when responsibility lies closer to home. (Atrocities that do not bear on domestic power interests are generally ignored.) Without comparable inquiry, we know that exactly the same was true of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. The importance of the finding is greatly heightened by the fact, which commissars on all sides labor to obscure, that on elementary moral grounds, abuses cry out for attention insofar as we can do something about them; primarily our own, and those of our clients.

There have also been numerous case studies of the close match between policy and Kennan's advice on "unreal objectives such as human rights" when wealth and power are at stake.2

None of the facts have the slightest impact on the Higher Truths. But that makes sense too. As in the case of Democracy and the Market, the factual record merely deals with Hegel's "negative, worthless existence," not "God's plan" and "the pure light of this divine Idea." The point has sometimes been made explicit by contemporary scholars, notably Hans Morgenthau, a founder of the realist school, who urged that to adduce the factual record is "to confound the abuse of reality with reality itself." Reality itself is the "transcendent purpose" of the nation, which is indeed noble; the abuse of reality is the irrelevant factual record.3

The record is misleading if it keeps to the support for horrendous atrocities and fails to reveal the welcome accorded them when they are seen to be in a good cause, a leading feature of the 500-year conquest. The reaction to the US-directed atrocities in Central America in the past decade is one well-studied example. To illustrate how firmly this pillar of the traditional culture is in place, it would only be fitting to consider the earliest Asian outpost of European colonialism, the Dutch East Indies, during the era of US global management.

2. Securing the Anchor

"The problem of Indonesia" is "the most crucial issue of the moment in our struggle with the Kremlin," Kennan wrote in 1948. "Indonesia is the anchor in that chain of islands stretching from Hokkaido to Sumatra which we should develop as a politico-economic counter-force to communism" and a "base area" for possible military action beyond. A Communist Indonesia, he warned, would be an "infection" that "would sweep westward" through all of South Asia. Resource-rich Indonesia was also designated to be a critical part of the "Empire toward the South" that the US intended to recreate for Japan, now within the US-dominated system.

In accord with standard reasoning, "ultra-nationalism" in Indonesia would prevent Southeast Asia from "fulfilling its main function" as a service area for the core industrial powers. Accordingly, the US urged the former Dutch rulers to grant independence, but under Dutch tutelage, an outcome critical to "Western Europe's economic rehabilitation, and to America's strategic well-being," Leffler observes, and to Japan's reconstruction as well. The principled antagonism to independent nationalism that animates US foreign policy took on particular significance in this case.4

After its liberation from the Dutch, Indonesia was ruled by the nationalist leader Sukarno. At first, the United States was willing to tolerate this arrangement, particularly after Sukarno and the army suppressed a land reform movement supported by the Indonesian Communist Party [PKI] in the Madiun region in 1948, virtually destroying the party's leadership and jailing 36,000 people. But Sukarno's nationalist and neutralist commitments soon proved entirely unacceptable.

The two major power centers in Indonesia were the army and the PKI, the only mass-based political force. Internal politics were dominated by Sukarno's balancing of these two forces. Western aims were largely shared by the army, who therefore qualified as moderates. To achieve these aims, it was necessary somehow to overcome the anti-American extremists. Other methods having failed, mass extermination remained as a last resort.

In the early 1950s, the CIA tried covert support of right-wing parties, and in 1957-1958 the US backed and participated in armed insurrection against Sukarno, possibly including assassination attempts. After the rebellions were put down, the US turned to a program of military aid and training coupled with a cutback of economic aid, a classic mode of pre-coup planning, followed in Chile a few years later, and attempted in Iran with the dispatch of arms via Israel from shortly after the Khomeini takeover -- one of the many crucial elements of the Iran-contra affair suppressed in the subsequent cover-up.5 Universities and corporations also lent their willing hands.

In a RAND study published by Princeton University in 1962, Guy Pauker, closely involved with US policy-making through RAND and the CIA, urged his contacts in the Indonesian military to take "full responsibility" for their country, "fulfill a mission," and "strike, sweep their house clean." In 1963, former CIA staff officer William Kintner, then at a CIA-subsidized research institute at the University of Pennsylvania, warned that "If the PKI is able to maintain its legal existence and Soviet influence continues to grow, it is possible that Indonesia may be the first Southeast Asia country to be taken over by a popularly based, legally elected communist government... In the meantime, with Western help, free Asian political leaders -- together with the military -- must not only hold on and manage, but reform and advance while liquidating the enemy's political and guerrilla armies." The prospects for liquidation of the popularly based political forces were regarded as uncertain, however. In a 1964 RAND memorandum, Pauker expressed his concern that the groups backed by the US "would probably lack the ruthlessness that made it possible for the Nazis to suppress the Communist Party of Germany... [These right-wing and military elements] are weaker than the Nazis, not only in numbers and in mass support, but also in unity, discipline, and leadership."

Pauker's pessimism proved unfounded. After an alleged Communist coup attempt on September 30, 1965, and the murder of six Indonesian generals, pro-American General Suharto took charge and launched a bloodbath in which hundreds of thousands of people, mostly landless peasants, were slaughtered. Reflecting on the matter in 1969, Pauker noted that the assassination of the generals "elicited the ruthlessness that I had not anticipated a year earlier and resulted in the death of large numbers of Communist cadres."

The scale of the massacre is unknown. The CIA estimates 250,000 killed. The head of the Indonesia state security system later estimated the toll at over half a million; Amnesty International gave the figure of "many more than one million." Whatever the numbers, no one doubts that there was incredible butchery. Seven-hundred-fifty-thousand more were arrested, according to official figures, many of them kept for years under miserable conditions without trial. President Sukarno was overthrown and the military ruled unchallenged. Meanwhile the country was opened to Western exploitation, hindered only by the rapacity of the rulers.

The US role in these events is uncertain, one reason being the gaps in the documentary record. Gabriel Kolko observes that "U.S. documents for the three months preceding September 30, 1965, and dealing with the convoluted background and intrigues, much less the embassy's and the CIA's roles, have been withheld from public scrutiny. Given the detailed materials available before and after July-September 1965, one can only assume that the release of these papers would embarrass the U.S. government." Ex-CIA officer Ralph McGehee reports that he is familiar with a highly classified CIA report on the agency's role in provoking the destruction of the PKI, and attributes the slaughter to the "C.I.A. [one word deleted] operation." The deletion was imposed by CIA censorship. Peter Dale Scott, who has carried out the most careful attempt to reconstruct the events, suggests that the deleted word is "deception," referring to CIA propaganda that "creates the appropriate situations," in McGehee's uncensored words, for this and other mass murder operations (citing also Chile). McGehee referred specifically to atrocity fabrication by the CIA to lay the basis for violence against the PKI.6

There is no doubt that Washington was aware of the slaughter, and approved. Secretary of State Dean Rusk cabled to Ambassador Marshall Green on October 29 that the "campaign against PKI" must continue and that the military, who were orchestrating it, "are [the] only force capable of creating order in Indonesia" and must continue to do so with US help for a "major military campaign against PKI." The US moved quickly to provide aid to the army, but details have not been made public. Cables from the Jakarta Embassy on October 30 and November 4 indicate that deliveries of communications equipment to the Indonesian army were accelerated and the sale of US aircraft approved, while the Deputy Chief of Mission noted that "The embassy and the USG were generally sympathetic with and admiring of what the army was doing."7

For clarity, we must distinguish several issues. On the one hand, there are questions of historical fact: What took place in Indonesia and Washington in 1965-1966? There are also questions of cultural history: How did the US government, and articulate sectors at home, react to what they took to be the facts? The political history is murky. On the matter of cultural history, however, the public record provides ample evidence. The cultural history is by far the more informative with regard to the implications for the longer term. It is from the reactions that we draw lessons for the future.

There is no serious controversy about Washington's sympathy for "what the army was doing." An analysis by H.W. Brands is of particular interest in this connection.8 Of the more careful studies of the events themselves, his is the most skeptical concerning the US role, which he regards as basically that of a confused observer, with "only a marginal ability to change a very dangerous situation for the better." But he leaves no doubt about Washington's enthusiasm about the turn "for the better" as the slaughter proceeded.

According to Brands's reconstruction of events, by early 1964 the US was engaged in "quiet efforts to encourage action by the army against the PKI," ensuring that when the expected conflict broke out, "the army [would know] it had friends in Washington." The goal of the continuing civic action and military training programs, Secretary of State Dean Rusk commented, was "strengthening anti-Communist elements in Indonesia in the continuing and coming struggle with the PKI." Chief of Staff Nasution, regarded by US Ambassador Howard Jones as "the strongest man in the country," informed Jones in March 1964 that "Madiun would be mild compared with an army crackdown today," referring to the bloody repression of 1948.

Through 1965, the main question in Washington was how to encourage army action against the PKI. US emissary Ellsworth Bunker felt that Washington should keep a low profile so that the generals could proceed "without the incubus of being attacked as defenders of the neo-colonialists and imperialists." The State Department agreed. Prospects, however, remained uncertain, and September 1965 ended, Brands continues, "with American officials anticipating little good news soon."

The September 30 strike against the army leadership came as a surprise to Washington, Brands concludes, and the CIA knew little about it. Ambassador Green, who had replaced Jones, told Washington he could not establish any PKI role, though the official story then and since is that it was a "Communist coup attempt."

The "good news" was not long in coming. "American officials soon recognized that the situation in Indonesia was changing drastically and, from their perspective, for the better," Brands continues. "As information arrived from the countryside indicating that a purge of the PKI was beginning, the principal worry of American officials in Jakarta and in Washington was that the army would fail to take advantage of its opportunity," and when the army seemed to hesitate, Washington sought ways "to encourage the officers" to proceed. Green recommended covert efforts to "spread the story of the PKI's guilt, treachery, and brutality," though he knew of no PKI role. Such efforts were undertaken to good effect, according to McGehee's account of the internal CIA record. George Ball, the leading Administration dove, recommended that the US stay in the background because "the generals were doing quite well on their own" (Brands's paraphrase), and the military aid and training programs "should have established clearly in the minds of the army leaders that the US stands behind them if they should need help" (Ball). Ball instructed the Jakarta embassy to exercise "extreme caution lest our well-meaning efforts to offer assistance or steel their resolve may in fact play into the hands of Sukarno and [his political associate] Subandrio." Dean Rusk added that "If the army's willingness to follow through against the PKI is in anyway contingent on or subject to influence by the United States, we do not want to miss the opportunity to consider U.S. action."

Brands concludes that US covert aid "may have facilitated the liquidation of the PKI," but "at most it speeded what probably would have happened more slowly." "Whatever the American role in these developments," he continues, "the administration found the overall trend encouraging. In mid-December Ball reported with satisfaction that the army's campaign to destroy the PKI was `moving fairly swiftly and smoothly.' At about the same time Green cabled from Jakarta: `The elimination of the communists continues apace'." By early February 1966, President Johnson was informed that about 100,000 had been massacred. Shortly before, the CIA reported that Sukarno was finished, and "The army has virtually destroyed the PKI."

Nevertheless, Brands continues, "Despite that good news the administration remained reluctant to commit itself publicly to Suharto," fearing that the outcome was still uncertain. But doubts soon faded. Johnson's new National Security Adviser Walt Rostow "found Suharto's `New Order' encouraging," US aid began to flow openly, and Washington officials began to take credit for the great success.

According to this skeptical view, then, "The United States did not overthrow Sukarno, and it was not responsible for the hundreds of thousands of deaths involved in the liquidation of the PKI," though it did what it could to encourage the army to liquidate the only mass popular organization in Indonesia, hesitated to become more directly involved only because it feared that these efforts would be counterproductive, greeted the "good news" with enthusiasm as the slaughter mounted, and turned enthusiastically to assisting the "New Order" that arose from the bloodshed as the moderates triumphed.


3. Celebration

The public Western reaction was one of relief and pride. Deputy Undersecretary of State Alexis Johnson celebrated "The reversal of the Communist tide in the great country of Indonesia" as "an event that will probably rank along with the Vietnamese war as perhaps the most historic turning point of Asia in this decade" (October 1966). Appearing before a Senate Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was asked whether US military aid during the pre-coup period had "paid dividends." He agreed that it had, and was therefore justified -- the major dividend being a huge pile of corpses. In a private communication to President Johnson in March 1967, McNamara went further, saying that US military assistance to the Indonesian army had "encouraged it to move against the PKI when the opportunity was presented." Particularly valuable, he said, was the program bringing Indonesian military personnel to the United States for training at universities, where they learned the lessons they put to use so well. These were "very significant factors in determining the favorable orientation of the new Indonesian political elite" (the army), McNamara argued. A congressional report also held that training and continued communication with military officers paid "enormous dividends." The same reasoning has long been standard with regard to Latin America, with similar results.9

Across a broad spectrum, commentators credited the US intervention in Vietnam with having encouraged these welcome developments, providing a sign of American commitment to the anti-Communist cause and a "shield" behind which the generals could act without undue concern about Sukarno's Chinese ally. A Freedom House statement in November 1966 signed by "145 distinguished Americans" justified the US war in Vietnam for having "provided a shield for the sharp reversal of Indonesia's shift toward Communism," with no reservations concerning the means employed. Speaking to US troops in November 1966, President Johnson told them that their exploits in Indochina were the reason why "In Indonesia there are 100 million people that enjoy a measure of freedom today that they didn't enjoy yesterday." These reactions reflect the logic of the US war in Indochina.10

In line with his general skepticism, Brands believes these claims to be exaggerated. McNamara's "attempts to appropriate responsibility for the general's rise to power," he thinks, were a reaction to President Johnson's "enthusiasm for the Suharto regime." US assurances to the Indonesian military "certainly had some effect on Suharto's assessment of his prospects," but not much, because they "merely reiterated the obvious fact that the United States prefers rightists to leftists" -- including rightists who conduct a huge slaughter and install a terrorist "New Order." As for the war in Vietnam, the CIA doubted that "the US display of determination in Vietnam directly influenced the outcome of the Indonesian crisis in any significant way," CIA director Helms wrote to Walt Rostow in 1966. As Brands himself puts it, the Johnson administration had been concerned that Indonesia might suffer "the fate from which the United States was then attempting to rescue South Vietnam." Fortunately, Indonesia rescued itself.

There was no condemnation of the slaughter on the floor of Congress, and no major US relief agency offered aid. The World Bank restored Indonesia to favor, soon making it the third largest borrower. Western governments and corporations followed along.

Those close at hand may have drawn further lessons about peasant massacre. Ambassador Green went on to the State Department, where he presided over the bombing of rural Cambodia, among other achievements. As the bombing was stepped up to historically unprecedented levels in 1973, slaughtering tens of thousands of peasants, Green testified before Congress that the massacre should continue because of our desire for peace: our experience with "these characters in Hanoi" teaches that only the rivers of blood of Cambodian peasants might bring them to the negotiating table. The "experience" to which he referred was the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi, undertaken to force those characters in Hanoi to modify the agreements reached with the Nixon Administration in October but rejected by Washington, then restored without change after the US stopped the bombing because it proved too costly. The events and their remarkable aftermath having been concealed by the Free Press, Green could be confident that there would be no exposure of his colossal fabrications in the interest of continued mass murder.11

Returning to Indonesia, the media were pleased, even euphoric. As the army moved to take control, Times correspondent Max Frankel described the delight of Johnson Administration officials over the "dramatic new opportunity" in Indonesia. The "military showed power," so that "Indonesia can now be saved from what had appeared to be an inevitable drift towards a peaceful takeover from within" -- an unthinkable disaster, since internal politics was not under US control. US officials "believe the army will cripple and perhaps destroy the Communists as a significant political force," leading to "the elimination of Communist influences at all levels of Indonesian society." Consequently, there is now "hope where only two weeks ago there was despair."12

Not everyone was so enthusiastic about the opportunity to destroy the one popular political force in the country. Japan's leading newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, urged caution: "In view of the fact that the Communist influence is deeply entrenched among the Indonesian grassroots, it would cause further deterioration in the confused national state of affairs if a firm crackdown were carried out against them."13 But such more somber reflections were rare.

In mid-1966, well after the results were known, U.S. News & World Report headlined a long and enthusiastic story "Indonesia: `HOPE...WHERE ONCE THERE WAS NONE.'" "Indonesians these days can talk and argue freely, no longer fearful of being denounced and imprisoned," the journal reported, describing an emerging totalitarian terror state with hundreds of thousands in prison and the blood still flowing. In a cover story, Time magazine celebrated "The West's best news for years in Asia" under the heading "Vengeance with a Smile," devoting 5 pages of text and 6 more of pictures to the "boiling bloodbath that almost unnoticed took 400,000 lives." The new army regime is "scrupulously constitutional," Time happily announced, "based on law not on mere power," in the words of its "quietly determined" leader Suharto with his "almost innocent face." The elimination of the 3 million-member PKI by its "only possible rival," the army, and the removal from power of the "genuine folk hero" Sukarno, may virtually be considered a triumph of democracy.14 

The leading political thinker of the New York Times, James Reston, chimed in under the heading "A Gleam of Light in Asia." The regular channel for the State Department, Reston admonished Americans not to let the bad news in Vietnam displace "the more hopeful developments in Asia," primary among them being "the savage transformation of Indonesia from a pro-Chinese policy under Sukarno to a defiantly anti-Communist policy under General Suharto":

Washington is being 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.

The news story on Indonesia the same day carried more glad tidings. Headlined "Indonesians View U.S. Films Again," it described "the biggest public social event in the Indonesian capital these days," the showing of American films to "smartly dressed Indonesians" who "alight from expensive limousines," "one sign of the country's rejection of the anti-American pro-Communist policy of the Indonesian Government" before the gleam of light broke through the clouds.15

Recall that according to the skeptical view of Brands and others, Reston's proud claim that the US government could fairly claim credit for the massacre and the establishment of the "New Order" was exaggerated, though understandable.

Editorial reaction to the bloodbath was judicious. The Times was pleased that the Indonesian army had "de-fused the country's political time-bomb, the powerful Indonesian Communist party," and praised Washington for having "wisely stayed in the background during the recent upheavals" instead of assisting openly and trumpeting its glee; the idea that Washington, or anyone, should have protested and sought to abort the useful slaughter was beyond the pale. Washington should continue this wise course, the editors urged, supporting international aid to the "Indonesian moderates" who had conducted the massacre. A February 1966 editorial outlined the likely advantages for the United States now that the Indonesian military had taken power and "proceeded to dismantle the entire P.K.I. apparatus." A follow-up in August recognized that there had been a "staggering mass slaughter of Communists and pro-Communists," with hundreds of thousands killed. This "situation...raises critical questions for the United States," which, fortunately, have been correctly answered: Washington "wisely has not intruded into the Indonesian turmoil" by "embrac[ing] the country's new rulers publicly," which "could well hurt them" -- the only "critical question" that comes to mind. A month later the editors described the relief in Washington over the fact that "Indonesia was lost and has been found again." The successes of the "moderates" had been rewarded "with generous pledges of rice, cotton and machinery" and preparations to resume the economic aid that was held back before the "staggering mass slaughter" set matters right. The US "has adequate reasons of state to come to terms with the new regime," not to speak of more than adequate reasons of profit.16

Within a few years, a complete role reversal had been achieved. George McArthur of the Los Angeles Times, a respected Asia hand, wrote in 1977 that the PKI had "attempted to seize power and subjected the country to a bloodbath," placing their necks under the knife in a major Communist atrocity.17

By then, the Indonesian generals, in addition to compiling one of the worst human rights records in the world at home, had escalated their 1975 attack on the former Portuguese colony of East Timor to near-genocidal levels, with another "staggering mass slaughter," which bears comparison to the atrocities of Pol Pot in the same years. In this case, the deed was done with the crucial support of the Human Rights Administration and its allies. They understand "reasons of state" as well as the Times editors, who, with their North American and European colleagues, did what they could to facilitate the slaughter by suppressing the readily available facts in favor of (occasional) fairy tales told by Indonesian generals and the State Department. US-Canadian reporting on Timor, which had been substantial before the invasion in the context of Western concerns over the collapse of the Portuguese empire, reduced to zero in 1978 as atrocities peaked along with the flow of US arms.18

Times editors were not alone in extolling the moderates who had stirred up the "boiling bloodbath." "Many in the West were keen to cultivate Jakarta's new moderate leader, Suharto," the Christian Science Monitor later reported. Times Southeast Asia correspondent Philip Shenon adds, more cautiously, that Suharto's human rights record is "checkered." The London Economist described this great mass murderer and torturer as "at heart benign," doubtless thinking of his compassion for TNCs. Unfortunately, there are those who try to impugn his benign nature: "propagandists for the guerrillas" in East Timor and West Papua (Irian Jaya) "talk of the army's savagery and use of torture" -- including the Bishop and other church sources, thousands of refugees in Australia and Portugal, Western diplomats and journalists who have chosen to see, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. They are all "propagandists," rather than intrepid champions of human rights, because they have quite the wrong story to tell.19

In the Wall Street Journal, Barry Wain, editor of its Asia affiliate, described how General Suharto "moved boldly in defeating the coup makers and consolidating his power," using "strength and finesse" to take total control. "By most standards, he has done well," though there have been a few problems, specifically, government involvement in the killing of several thousand alleged criminals from 1982 to 1985. Some lingering questions about earlier years aside, a few weeks before Wain's laudatory column, Asiaweek reported another massacre in Sumatra, where armed troops burnt a village of 300 people to the ground, killing dozens of civilians, part of an operation to quell unrest in the province. Suharto is "a Figure of Stability," a Wall Street Journal headline reads, using the term in the PC sense already discussed. The upbeat story does not overlook the events of 1965. One sentence reads: Suharto "took command of the effort to crush the coup attempt, and succeeded."20

When the victims are classified as less than human -- wild beasts in the shape of men, Communists, terrorists, or whatever may be the contemporary term of art -- their extermination raises no moral qualms. And the agents of extermination are praiseworthy moderates -- our Nazis, to translate from Newspeak. The practice is standard. Recall the "moderate" General Gramajo, to mention someone who might aspire to Suharto's league.


4. Closing the Books

In 1990-1991, several events elicited some uncharacteristic concern over US-backed Indonesian atrocities. In May 1990, States News Service released a study in Washington by Kathy Kadane, which found that

The U.S. government played a significant role by supplying the names of thousands of Communist Party leaders to the Indonesian army, which hunted down the leftists and killed them, former U.S. diplomats say... As many as 5000 names were furnished to the Indonesian army, and the Americans later checked off the names of those who had been killed or captured, according to U.S. officials... The lists were a detailed who's-who of the leadership of the party of 3 million members, [foreign service officer Robert] Martens said. They included names of provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders of the "mass organizations," such as the PKI national labor federation, women's and youth groups.

The names were passed on to the military, which used them as a "shooting list," according to Joseph Lazarsky, deputy CIA station chief in Jakarta at the time, who adds that some were kept for interrogation or "kangaroo courts" because the Indonesians "didn't have enough goon squads to zap them all." Kadane reports that top US Embassy officials acknowledged in interviews that they had approved of the release of the names. William Colby compared the operation to his Phoenix program in Vietnam, in exculpation of his own campaign of political assassination (which Phoenix clearly was, though he denies it).

"No one cared as long as they were Communists, that they were being butchered," said Howard Federspiel, then Indonesia expert for State Department intelligence; "No one was getting very worked up about it." "It really was a big help to the army," Martens said. "They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that's not all bad." "There's a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment."

The story was picked up by a few newspapers, though no one got worked up about it. Just more business as usual; after all, the US Embassy had done much the same in Guatemala a decade earlier, as another useful slaughter was getting underway.21

While ruffling some feathers briefly, the report was soon consigned to oblivion. The Newspaper of Record (the New York Times) waited almost two months to take notice, long enough to marshal the required denials. Reporter Michael Wines repeats every government propaganda cliché about the events themselves, however tenuous, as unquestioned fact. Ambassador Green dismisses the Kadane report as "garbage." He and others claim that the US had nothing to do with the list of names, which were of no significance anyway. Wines cites a Martens letter to the Washington Post saying that the names were publicly available in the Indonesian press, but not his amplification of this remark, in which he stressed the importance of handing over the list of names; Martens wrote that he "saw nothing wrong with helping out," and still doesn't, because "the pro-Communist terror leading to the final coup...against the non-Communist army leaders...had prevented systematic collection of data on the Communists" (a fanciful tale, but no matter). Wines says nothing about the Times celebration of the slaughter, or the pride of their leading political commentator on the US role in expediting it.22

Stephen Rosenfeld of the Washington Post was one of the few in the national press to be troubled by the Kadane revelations. His reaction too is instructive.

After the Kadane story appeared, the Post carried a letter by Indonesian human rights activist Carmel Budiardjo, who pointed out that direct US complicity in the massacre was already known from the cable traffic between the US Embassy in Jakarta and the State Department published by Gabriel Kolko, specifically, the Green-Rusk interchange cited earlier. A month later, Rosenfeld expressed some concern, adding that "in the one account I read" -- namely, Kolko's book -- some doubts are raised about Communist complicity in the alleged coup attempt that served as the pretext for the massacres (note the evasion of the crucial issues, a deft stroke). But, Rosenfeld continued, Kolko's "typical revisionist blame-America-first point of view makes me distrust his conclusions." He expressed the hope that "someone whose politics are more mainstream would sift through the material and provide an independent account." His plea for rescue appears under the heading, "Indonesia 1965: Year of Living Cynically?" 

Fortunately, relief was soon on its way. A week later, under the heading "Indonesia 1965: Year of U.S. Irrelevance," Rosenfeld wrote that he had received in the mail an "independent account" by a historian "without political bias" -- that is, one who could assure him that the state he loves had done no wrong. This antidote was "full of delights and surprises," concluding that the US had no responsibility for the deaths or the overthrow of Sukarno. It "clears Americans of the damaging lingering suspicion of responsibility for the Indonesian coup and massacre," Rosenfeld concludes happily: "For me, the question of the American role in Indonesia is closed."23

How easy is the life of the true believer.

The article that closed the books, to Rosenfeld's immense relief, was the Brands study reviewed earlier. That Brands is an "independent" commentator "without political bias" is demonstrated throughout: The US war in Vietnam was an attempt "to rescue South Vietnam"; the information reaching Washington that "The army has virtually destroyed the PKI" in a huge massacre was "good news"; "the most serious deficiency of covert warfare" is "its inevitable tendency to poison the well of public opinion," that is, to tar the US with "bum raps" elsewhere; etc. Much more significant are the "delights and surprises" that put any lingering doubts to rest. Since the study closes all questions for good, we may now rest easy in the knowledge that Washington did all it could to encourage the greatest massacre since the days of Hitler and Stalin, welcomed the outcome with enthusiasm, and immediately turned to the task of supporting Suharto's aptly named "New Order." Thankfully, there is nothing to trouble the liberal conscience.

One interesting non-reaction to the Kadane report appeared in the lead article in the New York Review of Books by Senator Daniel Moynihan. He fears that "we are poisoning the wells of our historical memory," suppressing unpleasant features of our past. He contrasts these failures with the "extraordinary period of exhuming the worst crimes of its hideous history" now underway in the Soviet Union. Of course, "the United States has no such history. To the contrary." Our history is quite pure. There are no crimes to "exhume" against the indigenous population or Africans in the 70 years following our revolution, or against Filipinos, Central Americans, Indochinese, and others later on. Still, even we are not perfect: "not everything we have done in this country has been done in the open," Moynihan observes, though "not everything could be. Or should have been." But we conceal too much, the gravest crime of our history.24

It is hard to believe that as he was writing these words, the Senator did not have the recent revelations about Indonesia in mind. He, after all, has a special personal relation to Indonesian atrocities. He was UN Ambassador at the time of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and takes pride, in his memoirs, in having forestalled any international reaction to the aggression and massacre. "The United States wished things to turn out as they did," he writes, "and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." Moynihan was well aware of how things turned out, noting that within a few weeks some 60,000 people had been killed, "10 percent of the population, almost the proportion of casualties experienced by the Soviet Union during the Second World War." Thus he took credit for achievements that he compares to those of the Nazis. And he is surely familiar with the subsequent US government role in escalating the slaughter, and the contribution of the media and political class in concealing it. But the newly released information about the US role in mass slaughter did not stir his historical memory, or suggest some reflections on our practices, apart from our single blemish: insufficient candor.

Moynihan's successes at the UN have entered history in the conventional manner. Measures taken against Iraq and Libya "show again how the collapse of Communism has given the Security Council the cohesion needed to enforce its orders," Times UN correspondent Paul Lewis explains in a front-page story: "That was impossible in earlier cases like...Indonesia's annexation of East Timor."25

There was also a flicker of concern about Indonesia after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. It was hard not to notice the similarity to Indonesia's (vastly more murderous) aggression and annexation. A decade earlier, when glimmerings of what had happened finally began to break through, there had been occasional notice of the comparison between Suharto's exploits in Timor and the simultaneous Pol Pot slaughters. As in 1990, the US and its allies were charged at most with "ignoring" Indonesian atrocities. The truth was well concealed throughout: Indonesia was given critical military and diplomatic support for its monstrous war crimes; and crucially, unlike the case of Pol Pot and Saddam, these could readily have been halted, simply by withdrawal of Western aid and breaking the silence.

Ingenious efforts have been made to explain away the radically different response to Suharto, on the one hand, and Pol Pot and Saddam, on the other, and to avoid the obvious explanation in terms of interest, which of course covers a vastly wider range. William Shawcross offered a "more structurally serious explanation" for the Timor-Cambodia case: "a comparative lack of sources" and lack of access to refugees, Lisbon and Australia being so inaccessible in comparison with the Thai-Cambodian border. Gérard Chaliand dismissed France's active support for the Indonesian slaughter in the midst of a great show of anguish about Pol Pot on grounds that the Timorese are "geographically and historically marginal." The difference between Kuwait and Timor, according to Fred Halliday, is that Kuwait "has been up and running as an independent state since 1961"; to evaluate the proposal, recall that the US prevented the UN from interfering with Israel's invasion of Lebanon or following through on its condemnation of Israel's (virtual) annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and that, unlike Suharto in Timor, Saddam had offered to withdraw from Kuwait, how seriously we do not know, since the US rejected the offers instantly out of fear that they might "defuse the crisis." A common stance is that "American influence on [Indonesia's decision to invade] may easily be exaggerated," though the US "averted its eyes from East Timor" and "could have done far more than it did to distance itself from the carnage" (James Fallows). The fault, then, is failure to act, not the decisive contribution to the ongoing carnage by increasing the flow of arms as atrocities mounted and by rendering the UN "utterly ineffective" because "The United States wished things to turn out as they did" (Ambassador Moynihan), while the intellectual community preferred to denounce the crimes of official enemies. Others tried different techniques to evade the obvious, adding further footnotes to the inglorious story.26 

The Australian government was more forthright. "There is no binding legal obligation not to recognize the acquisition of territory that was acquired by force," Foreign Minister Gareth Evans explained, adding that "The world is a pretty unfair place, littered with examples of acquisition by force..." (in the same breath, following the US-UK lead, he banned all official contacts with the PLO with proper indignation because of its "consistently defending and associating itself with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait"). Prime Minister Hawke declared that "big countries cannot invade small neighbors and get away with it" (referring to Iraq and Kuwait), proclaiming that in the "new order" established by the virtuous Anglo-Americans, "would-be aggressors will think twice before invading smaller neighbours." The weak will "feel more secure because they know that they will not stand alone if they are threatened," now that, at last, "all nations should know that the rule of law must prevail over the rule of force in international relations."

Australia has a special relation to Timor; tens of thousands of Timorese were killed during World War II protecting a few Australian guerrillas fighting in Timor to deter an impending Japanese invasion of Australia. Australia has been the most outspoken defender of the Indonesian invasion. One reason, known early on, is the rich natural gas and oil reserves in the Timor Gap, "a cold, hard, sobering reality that must be addressed," Foreign Minister Bill Hayden explained frankly in April 1984. In December 1989, Evans signed a treaty with the Indonesian conquerors dividing up Timor's wealth; through 1990, Australia received $Aus. 31 million from sales of permits to oil companies for exploration. Evans's remarks, quoted above, were made in explanation of Australia's rejection of a protest against the treaty brought to the World Court by Portugal, generally regarded as the responsible authority.27

While British political figures and intellectuals lectured with due gravity on the values of their traditional culture, now at last to be imposed by the righteous in the "new world order" (referring to Iraq-Kuwait), British Aerospace entered into new arrangements to sell Indonesia jet fighters and enter into co-production arrangements, "what could turn out to be one of the largest arms packages any company has sold to an Asian country," the Far Eastern Economic Review reported. Britain had become "one of Indonesia's major arms suppliers, selling ?90 million worth of equipment in the 1986-1990 period alone," Oxford historian Peter Carey writes.28

The public has been protected from such undesirable facts, kept in the shadows along with a Fall 1990 Indonesian military offensive in Timor under the cover of the Gulf crisis, and the Western-backed Indonesian operations that may wipe out a million tribal people in West Papua, with thousands of victims of chemical weapons among the dead according to human rights activists and the few observers. Solemn discourse on international law, the crime of aggression, and our perhaps too-fervent idealism can therefore proceed, untroubled. The attention of the civilized West is to be focused, laser-like, on the crimes of official enemies, not on those it could readily mitigate or bring to an end.29

The Timor-Kuwait embarrassment, such as it was, quickly subsided; reasonably, since it is only one of a host of similar examples that demonstrate the utter cynicism of the posturing during the Gulf War. But problems arose again in November 1991, when Indonesia made a foolish error, carrying out a massacre in the capital city of Dili in front of TV cameras and severely beating two US reporters, Alan Nairn and Amy Goodman. That is bad form, and requires the conventional remedy: an inquiry to whitewash the atrocity, a tap on the wrist for the authorities, mild punishment of subordinates, and applause from the rich men's club over this impressive proof that our moderate client is making still further progress. The script, familiar to the point of boredom, was followed routinely. Meanwhile Timorese were harshly punished and the atmosphere of terror deepened.

Business proceeded as usual. A few weeks after the Dili massacre, the Indonesia-Australia joint authority signed six contracts for oil exploration in the Timor Gap, with four more in January. Eleven contracts with 55 companies were reported by mid-1992, including Australian, British, Japanese, Dutch, and US. The naive might ask what the reaction would have been had 55 western companies joined with Iraq in exploiting Kuwaiti oil, though the analogy is imprecise, since Suharto's atrocities in Timor were a hundred times as great. Britain stepped up its arms sales, announcing plans in January to sell Indonesia a naval vessel. As Indonesian courts sentenced Timorese "subversives" to 15-year terms for having allegedly instigated the Dili massacre, British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce negotiated a multi-million pound deal for 40 Hawk fighter-trainers, adding to the 15 already in service, some used in crushing the Timorese. Meanwhile Indonesia was targeted for a new sales campaign by British firms because of its prospects for aerospace industries. As the slight tremor subsided, others followed suit.30

The "Gleam of Light in Asia" in 1965-1966 and the glow it has left until today illuminate the traditional attitudes towards human rights and democracy, the reasons for them, and the critical role of the educated classes. They reveal with equal brilliance the reach of the pragmatic criterion that effectively dismisses any human values in the culture of respectability.


1 Thomas Friedman, NYT, Jan. 12, 1992; see p. 183. Taylor, Swords, 159. Pfaff and Hoopes, virtually identical commentary with no cross-reference, so it is unclear who should receive the credit; see AWWA, 297-300, FRS, 94-5. Wohlstetter, WSJ, Aug. 25, 1992. Hegel, Philosophy, 96.

2 Schoultz, Comparative Politics, Jan. 1981. Herman, in PEHR, I, ch. 2.1.1; Real Terror Network, 126ff. PEHR, MC, for comparative analysis. And a huge literature on case studies.

3 See TNCW, 73f., for further discussion. Also NI, DD, among others. 

4 Leffler, Preponderance, 260, 165. See ch. 10.4, and for the background, ch. 2.1-2. On Japan-SEA, see RC, ch. 2.1. Below, unless otherwise indicated, see Peter Dale Scott, "Exporting Military-Economic Development," in Caldwell, Ten Years, and "The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno," Pacific Affairs, Summer 1985; PEHR, vol. I, ch. 4.1; Kolko, Confronting.

5 FTR, 457ff.; COT, ch. 8. Marshall, et al., Iran-Contra, chs. 7, 8.

6 McGehee, Nation, April 11, 1981. Also News from Asia Watch, June 21, 1990.

7 Ibid. Rusk cited by Kolko.

8 Brands, "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn't Topple Sukarno," J. of American History, Dec. 1989.

9Johnson cited by Kolko, Confronting. McNamara and congressional report cited in Wolpin, Military Aid, 8, 128. McNamara to Johnson, Brands, op. cit. Ch. 7.3.

10 Public Papers of the Presidents, 1966 (Washington, 1987), Book II, 563.

11 NYT, March 29, 1973. See ch. 10, n. 64.

12 Frankel, NYT, Oct. 11, 1965.

13Quoted in NYT, Oct. 17, 1965.

14Robert Martin, U.S. News, June 6, 1966. Time, July 15, 1966.

15 NYT, June 19, 1966.

16 Editorials, NYT, Dec. 22, 1965; Feb. 17, Aug. 25, Sept. 29, 1966.

17 IHT, Dec. 5, 1977, from LAT.

18 PEHR, I, ch. 3.4.4; TNCW, ch. 13; Peck, Chomsky Reader, 303-13. For an overview, Taylor, Indonesia's Forgotten War.

19 John Murray Brown, CSM, Feb. 6, 1987; Shenon, NYT, Sept. 3, 1992; Economist, Aug. 15, 1987.

20 Wain, WSJ, April 25, 1989; Asia Week, Feb. 24, 1989, cited in TAPOL Bulletin, April 1989. Richard Borsuk, WSJ, June 8, 1992.

21 Kadane, SFE, May 20, 1990. WP, May 21; AP, May 21; Guardian (London), May 22; BG, May 23, 1990. One exception to the general dismissal was the New Yorker, "Talk of the Town," July 2, 1990. Guatemala, ch. 7.7.

22 Wines, NYT, July 12; Martens, letter, WP, June 2, 1990.

23 Budiarjo, letters, WP, June 13; Rosenfeld, WP, July 13, July 20, 1990.

24 Moynihan, NYRB, June 28, 1990.

25 See TNCW, ch. 13. Lewis, NYT, April 16, 1992.

26Shawcross, see MC, 284f.; for more detail, Peck, op. cit. Chaliand, Nouvelles littéraires, Nov. 10, 1981; Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, Feb., June 1982. Halliday, Guardian Weekly, Aug. 16, 1992.

27 Daily Hansard SENATE (Australia), 1 November, 1989, 2707. Indonesia News Service, Nov. 1, 1990. Green left mideast.gulf.346, electronic communication, Feb. 18, 1991. Monthly Record, Parliament (Australia), March 1991. Reuters, Canberra, Feb. 24; Communiqué, International Court of Justice, Feb. 22, 1991. PEHR, I, 163-6. Taylor, Indonesia's Forgotten War, 171.

28 FEER, 25 July, 1991. Carey, letter, Guardian Weekly, July 12, 1992.

29 ABC (Australia) radio, "Background briefing; East Timor," Feb. 17, 1991; Osborne, Indonesia's Secret Wars; Monbiot, Poisoned Arrows; Anti-Slavery Society, West Papua.

30 Age (Australia), Jan. 11, Feb. 18; IPS, Kupang, Jan. 20; Australian, July 6; Carey, op. cit.; The Engineer, March 26, 1992. See also TAPOL Bulletin, Aug. 1992.

1. The Great Work of Subjugation and Conquest ] 2. The Contours of World Order ] 3. North-South/East-West ] 4. Democracy and the Market ] [ 5. Human Rights: The Pragmatic Criterion ] 6. A "Ripe Fruit" ] 7. World Orders Old and New: Latin America ] 8. The Tragedy of Haiti ] 9. The Burden of Responsibility ] 10. Murdering History ] 11. The Third World at Home ]

 ] Table of Contents ] PART I : Old Wine, New Bottles ] PART II : High Principles ] PART III : Persistent Themes ] Part IV : Memories ] Bibliography ] Glossary ]


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