The 1965 CIA
massacre in Indonesia
By Mario E. Santos
The following are excerpts from a speech delivered on Dec. 6, 2005, at a
forum hosted by the ANSWER Coalition—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism—in San
Francisco. Santos is a spokesperson for the Alliance for a Just and Lasting
Peace in the Philippines and a member of the Northern California Steering
Committee of International ANSWER.
I would like to thank our esteemed colleagues in the ANSWER Coalition for giving
me this opportunity to speak to you tonight about the 1965 CIA massacre in
Indonesia and its continuing impact on the world today. The horrendous tragedy
of the massacre of millions of Indonesians 40 years ago is an occasion for us to
reaffirm our commitment to fight to bring an end to this monster—U.S.
imperialism—the world’s number one terrorist and violator of human rights.
Former Indonesian president Sukarno led the country on an
anti-imperialist path until he was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup
Photo: Archive Photos
The 20th century was a century with an unbroken record of U.S. wars of
aggression and bloody conquest against smaller and weaker countries throughout
the world. They were wars to give U.S. imperialism the exclusive freedom to move
its monopoly capital around the world and the freedom to have colonies from
which to extract cheap raw materials and markets to dump its expensive finished
goods. That’s why the U.S. government and every U.S. president—especially since
William McKinley—always talk about “freedom” and its style of democracy.
U.S. crimes in Asia
What transpired 40 years ago was chronologically the fourth heinous crime of the
20th century perpetrated by U.S. imperialism in Asia.
The first was the brutal re-colonization and occupation of my country, the
Philippines, more than a century ago—from 1898 to 1916. That occupation led to
the deaths of about 1.4 million people, or about one-fifth of the country’s
population at the time. This war to “civilize and Christianize” Filipinos was a
war of conquest to establish the Pacific as an American lake—the opening salvo
for U.S. imperialism to seize colonies and become a full-fledged imperial power
outside of the mainland United States.
The second crime was the atomic bombing of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
60 years ago, instantly killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians. It
was the first time any country used nuclear weapons in a war.
The third U.S. crime in Asia was the war against the Korean people—a war that in
three years led to the deaths of about 3 million Koreans and left the country
divided along the 38th parallel until this day.
Then there was Indonesia. Before Vietnam, there was Indonesia. Before the U.S.
military moved in to occupy the southern part of Vietnam with about 1 million
troops to try and crush the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese people, the CIA
orchestrated a bloody massacre in Indonesia.
An era of national liberation
Anti-imperialist billboard in Indonesia, July
To understand the tragedy of Indonesia, let us briefly review the world
situation that led up to it: The period after World War II ushered in a feverish
era of countries striving for independence, nations wanting liberation and
people waging revolutionary struggles to free themselves from the clutches of
their colonial oppressors, particularly in Asia and Africa.
Under the wise and able leadership of Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist
Party, hundreds of millions of people in China stood up and cast away colonial
and feudal bondage and the corrupt government of the Nationalist Party, the
Guomindang. On October 1, 1949, the Chinese people declared their national
freedom from foreign imperialist and puppet control and embarked on the path to
The subsequent war in Korea from 1950 to 1953 was an attempt by the imperialists
led by the U.S. military to stem this rising tide of national liberation that
was sweeping the East. The imperialists failed to defeat the heroic Korean
people supported by the Chinese and Soviet peoples despite the great cost that
the Koreans had to bear in defense of their fatherland. Out of the ruins of this
U.S. war of aggression and occupation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
survived in the liberated north.
At about the same time, the Vietnamese people humiliated their French colonial
oppressors and defeated them decisively in the valley of Dien Bien Phu and the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam secured control in the northern half of their
country in 1954. U.S. arms and advisers to the French did not stave off their
In country after country, the peoples of Asia and Africa were winning their
national freedom. The colonial powers were scrambling to retain control as their
colonies and semi-colonies struggled to break loose from their stranglehold and
achieve national independence.
Indonesia’s national liberation
Indonesians won their independence from their Dutch colonial overlords in 1949.
When the Republic of Indonesia came into being, a popular, ardent nationalist by
the name of Achmed Sukarno became its president with the help of communists,
socialists and other nationalists. Indonesia became politically independent of
its colonial masters, even as economically and militarily the latter still had
Indonesia under Sukarno began to take bold steps to overcome all vestiges of
colonial control in the economy as well as in other facets of cultural life. In
December 1957, Sukarno took steps to nationalize the Dutch-owned businesses like
the oil industry.
During this period, his allies in the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), led by
Dipa Nusantara Aidit, grew to become the largest communist party outside of the
Soviet Union and China, with a membership of 3 million. The mass organizations
under its influence easily reached close to 10 million.
The headquarters of the Communist Party of
Indonesia was destroyed in the 1965 counterrevolutionary terror.
Sukarno, or Bung Karno, as his people fondly called him, began to play a
prominent role in the developing movement worldwide against imperialism and
colonialism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In 1955, Sukarno hosted the
Afro-Asian Summit held in Bandung.
Subsequently, Sukarno teamed up with other statesmen like Zhou Enlai of People’s
China; Jawaharlal Nehru of India; Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt; and Josip Broz,
better known as Marshal Tito, of Yugoslavia to forge the Non-Aligned Movement.
This was a grouping of countries newly independent from colonial rule that chose
not to align itself with imperialism in the international setting and chart a
course free from neo-colonial and imperialist domination.
All of Indonesia’s moves to create a broad international united front with
socialist as well as other Third World countries striving for greater
independence from imperialist domination and control infuriated U.S.
imperialism. This fury was compounded by the following facts.
First, under Sukarno, Indonesia was already the largest Muslim nation on earth.
Second, Indonesia possessed vast oil resources. Having a nationalized oil
industry enabled Sukarno to offer cheaper oil to China, India, North Korea,
North Vietnam and other non-aligned countries.
Third, much of the world’s trade already flowed through the Malacca Straits
between the Malayan Peninsula and Indonesia.
From the start, the business of breaking free or de-linking from the domination
of monopoly capital had already prompted the United States and other capitalist
powers to demonize People’s China, North Vietnam and North Korea as all part of
a “Bamboo Curtain” closing in and descending on the rest of “free” Asia.
Indonesia’s association with these people’s democratic states further meant, in
the crude imperialist propaganda of the time, that it was another “domino” about
to fall into the hands of the communists that were supposedly threatening the
rest of the “free” capitalist world.
Sukarno established a “guided democracy”—decision-making in government based on
consensus and the best traditions of the Indonesian people. He worked with a
broad united front called NASAKOM that included nationalists, religious
believers, socialists and communists to make Indonesia more independent from the
stranglehold of imperialism.
The Indonesian people’s movement, with the PKI playing a prominent role, made
great strides to advance in Indonesian society, but the Indonesian state still
remained a bourgeois state that was not yet firmly in the hands of the toiling
masses. As patriotic as he was, Sukarno was still, after all, a representative
of the national bourgeoisie.
Despite the immense size and influence of the PKI, however, it remained an open
democratic, albeit unarmed, force which was exclusively committed to pursuing
socialism through the peaceful, parliamentary road. Essentially, it was a
sitting duck for its mortal enemies, who were eager to unleash untold violence
The U.S. government, therefore, made it a point to train the Indonesian military
and to provide it with increasing military weaponry, “assistance,” and
“advisers.” The U.S. government embarked first on external subversion to topple
the Sukarno government. U.S. imperialism through its dirty tricks department,
the Central Intelligence Agency, made several failed coup attempts against
Sukarno’s government with the help of its allies in the Philippine military. In
1958, the CIA fomented an uprising by right-wing anti-communist rebels in
Sumatra and Java. That uprising eventually failed due to the lack of popular
Then, the United States and Britain provocatively concocted the so-called
“Federation of Malaysia” by joining the British satraps of Sarawak and Sabah in
the northern half of the island of Borneo with its colonial possessions in the
Malayan Peninsula and Singapore in 1963. They staged rebellions with their
stooges in Indonesian North Borneo. But Sukarno and his loyalist forces were
able to put them down.
Indonesia started an armed and diplomatic confrontation called the Konfrontasi
with its pro-British neighbor Malaysia in the island of Borneo. As usual, the
United States and Britain used these confrontations to foment anti-Sukarno armed
actions as well as organize anti-Sukarno opposition inside Indonesia. The
problem was eventually settled diplomatically.
But as Indonesia moved more to the left, the U.S. government stepped up its
campaign of intrigues, subversion and economic sabotage against Indonesia. The
Pentagon also increased its aid, and its influence within the Indonesian
military grew ominously. CIA operatives began to organize within civil society
for the purpose of promoting subversion.
As a prelude to the bloody coup, Father Jose Blanco, a Filipino Jesuit priest
who was also a CIA operative, formed the KAMI, an Indonesian student
organization that started anti-communist demonstrations in Jakarta and all over
Nationalist elements within the Indonesian military, especially in the
Indonesian air force, became increasingly alarmed at the treacherous
machinations of pro-U.S. and anti-communist elements in the armed forces. One of
them, Colonel Untung, the head of Sukarno’s palace guard and a member of the PKI,
acted out of patriotism and launched a coup against the rightist elements on
Sept. 16, 1965. Seven of these pro-U.S. generals and a few others were killed,
but the coup failed to stop them altogether. Moreover, Untung did not have the
people’s movement to back him up, and the PKI leadership chose to ignore the
warning signs and did not arm the people accordingly.
The coup against Sukarno
This provided U.S.-trained rightists led by Generals Abdul Harris Nasution and
Mohamed Suharto the pretext to stage a counter-coup to topple the government of
Sukarno. What happened next is now tragic history.
“To save Indonesia, therefore, it had to be destroyed.” This was the logic that
the U.S. government repeatedly employed during World War II when it conducted
indiscriminate bombing against the Nazis and the Japanese. This was the logic
that the Pentagon used to justify bombing Manila into the second most devastated
city during the Second World War after Warsaw, resulting in over 100,000 deaths.
U.S. imperialism, working through its puppets Nasution and Suharto and other
instrumentalities of the CIA, instigated a terrible bloodbath in Indonesia that
ultimately claimed from 1.5 million to as many as 3 million lives.
The KAMI group figured prominently in the anti-communist massacres and pogroms
in 1965. In a bid to demolish the equal rights accorded to Indonesians of
Chinese ancestry under Sukarno, anti-communist military thugs whipped up an
anti-Chinese hysteria and racist frenzy that swept through village after village
and island after island in the Indonesian archipelago. Nothing, and no one, was
spared in these pogroms.
With CIA-compiled death lists in hand, the anti-communist butchers rounded up
everyone suspected of being members or sympathizers of the PKI and summarily put
them to death. The rivers literally ran red with the blood of hundreds of
thousands of defenseless people—workers, peasants, as well as members of the
intelligentsia, men, women and children alike were slaughtered senselessly. The
annihilation of the PKI from the face of the earth was nearly complete.
The tens of thousands more that the military did not kill were hauled to prisons
to languish, rot in silence and be forgotten. Many were later to die there, and
those who survived would remain incarcerated for as long as 35 years. The
annihilation of every vestige of the Indonesian people’s movement and the
intelligentsia was so thorough that for many years afterwards the Suharto
government would have a difficult time running the government for lack of civil
servants that they would import teachers and civil servants from the
Imperialism’s ultimate insult to injury was denial. Except for the outcry and
outrage that resonated from the Soviet Union, China, the socialist countries and
the non-aligned bloc of newly independent countries, there were hardly any major
protests in the United States and Europe over the genocidal tragedy that
unfolded in Indonesia in 1965. The U.S. government was massively involved, but
Britain and West Germany to lesser degrees were also funneling arms to the
Indonesian military. The mass media paid hardly any attention to this. The U.S.
government consistently feigned non-involvement and invoked secrecy for reasons
of “national security.”
Why should the U.S. public pry into these matters? Fear and ignorance of
communism and the just cause of the oppressed nations fighting for their right
to self-determination was what gripped the minds of people in the West.
Strangely enough, this senseless callousness and shameless hypocrisy is what
carried the day.
The “communist bogey” was then what the “terrorist bogey” is today. Let us
remind our pacifist friends in the anti-war movement about this fact. Anyone who
harbors the illusion that the path of social change can be achieved without
encountering armed, organized resistance of the old ruling classes should take a
good look at what transpired in Indonesia. The slaughter of the Indonesian
people’s movement is a chilling reminder of the extent to which U.S. imperialism
will act to prevent an oppressed people from breaking free from its
When you think about the hundreds of thousands dying in Iraq at the hands of the
U.S. occupation forces, when you think about the slaughter of thousands of
Haitian people by the hands of U.S. surrogate thugs, or the people of Palestine
at the hands of U.S.-financed Zionists, or the rising number of Filipino
activists and leaders being murdered at the hands of U.S.-trained, U.S.-armed,
and U.S.-financed Philippine soldiers and paramilitary death squads, remember
Indonesia. No act of violence or genocide is too heinous for U.S. imperialism to
We must courageously uphold and defend the legitimate right of nations and
peoples under imperialist terror to defend themselves resolutely to win their