Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965–66/the Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965–66/the Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder

Article excerpt

The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66 Geoffrey B. Robinson Oxford and Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder Jess Melvin Rethinking Southeast Asia. Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2018.

Much like most controversial events in Indonesian history involving the military and the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI hereafter), the question regarding the extent of the Indonesian military's involvement in the systematic detention and massacre of alleged PKI leaders, members, and sympathizers during the aftermath of the September 30, 1965 coup is an issue that has left the public and scholars cold for many years. Evidence of this confusion is manifest, for example, in the enduring narrative (even among scholars and pundits) that the killings in 1965-66 were a result of spontaneous civilian violence aimed at communists, who were portrayed as the atheist and godless (tidak beragama, tidak bertuhan) "puppet masters" (dalang) of the abortive coup. Even the most critical of scholars (see, for example, Anderson and Mcvey 1971; Crouch 1978; Cribb 1990; Sundhausen 1982) have shown an uncharacteristic reluctance to describe the killings as a result of a nationally coordinated military campaign. The elusiveness of any semblance of resolution to the issue has resulted to the continued impunity enjoyed by the main architects and perpetrators of the genocide.

While a host of scholars have tackled the history of Indonesian genocide from various disciplines and methodological approaches (see, for example, Kurniawan et al. 2015; Kolimon etal. 2015; Sukanta 2014), with some even making transparent their sympathies for the victims and antipathy toward the perpetrators (see, for example, Mortimer 1969), none have really given conclusive answers in relation to the killings. Relatedly, there is an influx of autobiographical accounts from ekstapols (ex-political prisoners), with the rise of a youth generation curious about their nation's troubled history (sejarah kelam) and the emergence of "indie" presses in Bandung (Ultimus), Jakarta (Komunitas Bambu), and Yogyakarta (Antariksa, Insist, Kendi, Merakesumba). Hersri Setiawan's (former PKI member and chairman of LEKRA, or Institute of People's Culture, in Central Java) Memoar Pulau Buru (2004), Djoko Sri Moeljono's Pembuangan Pulau Buru (2017), and Martin Aleida's Tanah Air YangHilang (2017) come to mind when discussing works that have tangentially tackled the issue of mass detentions and killings during the aftermath of the 1965 coup. While past and recent scholarship tried to examine the socio-cultural, religious, and area-specific aspects of the killings, autobiographies of former political detainees, and collected accounts of ekstapols and survivors focus more on the legacies of impunity and injustice left by the 1965-66 genocide.

In The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder, Jess Melvin sheds light on the actual participation of the Indonesian military in the 1965-66 killings, pogroms, and civilian government purges inflicted against alleged members of the PKI and its affiliate mass organizations. Focusing on the province of Aceh as one of the primary and earliest evidence of killings having a "centralised and coordinated nature" (Melvin, p. 293), the book presents compelling evidence- through official military documents, telegram communications from various embassies, and personal accounts from perpetrators, survivors, and eyewitnesses-of the involvement of the Indonesian military in all the phases of the PKI annihilation campaign: the portrayal of the September 30 coup as a PKI plot; the encouragement of civilian participation in the physical annihilation of the PKI and its affiliate organizations; the consolidation and streamlining of the "official version of events"; and the subsequent rise of Suharto to power and the militarization of Indonesian bureaucracy. …

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