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THE ACT OF KILLING

APRIL 19, 2014

Ron Robinson Theater
1 Count Pulaski Way
Little Rock, AR

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THE ACT OF KILLING

April 21, 2014 – 11:00am
April 22, 2014 – 12:00pm
April 23, 2014 – 1:00pm
April 24, 2014 – 3:00pm
April 25, 2014 – 5:00pm
April 26, 2014 – 7:00pm

Nashville Film Institute
500 Lafayette Street
Building A
Nashville TN

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FILM SYNOPSIS:  When  the  government  of  Indonesia  was  overthrown  by  the  military  in  1965,  Anwar  Congo  and  his  friends  were  promoted  from small-­‐time  gangsters  who  sold  movie  theatre  tickets  on  the  black market  to  death  squad  leaders.  They  helped  the  army kill  more  than  one  million  alleged  communists,   ethnic  Chinese,  and  intellectuals  in  less  than  a  year.  In this chilling and inventive  documentary,  executive  produced  by  Errol  Morris (The  Fog  Of  War)  and   Werner  Herzog  (Grizzly  Man),  the  filmmakers  examine  a  country  where these Indonesian death  squad  leaders   are  celebrated  as  heroes. The filmmakers challenge unrepentant  death  squad   leaders  to  dramatize  their  role  in  the genocide by  reenacting  their  real-­‐life  mass-­‐killings  in  the  style  of  the   American  movies  they  love.  The  hallucinatory  result  is  a cinematic  fever  dream,  an   unsettling  journey  deep  into  the  imaginations  of  mass-­‐murderers  and  the shockingly  banal  regime  of   corruption  and  impunity  they  inhabit.

Shaking audiences around the world, THE ACT OF KILLING  is  an  unprecedented  film  and,  according  to The  Los Angeles  Times,  ”could  well  change  how  you   view  the  documentary  form.”

Rich with contemporary issues on history, politics, international relations, and war, THE ACT OF KILLING, offers the perfect backdrop for a Seriously Entertaining discussion on Indonesia now, US foreign policies, our human propensity for violence and evil and our humane need for peace and reconciliation.

JOIN US.

WATCH THE FILM AND ENGAGE IN THE CONVERSATION!

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“I have not seen a film as powerful, surreal, and frightening in at least a decade…
unprecedented in the history of cinema.”

– Werner Herzog

“Like all great documentaries, The Act of Killing demands another way of looking at reality. It starts as a dreamscape, an attempt to allow the perpetrators to reenact what they did, and then something truly amazing happens. The dream dissolves into nightmare and then into bitter reality. An amazing and impressive film.”
– Errol Morris

“If we are to transform Indonesia into the democracy it claims to be, citizens must recognize the terror and repression on which our contemporary history has been built. No film, or any other work of art for that matter, has done this more effectively than The Act of Killing. [It] is essential viewing for us all.”
‐ National Human Rights Commission of Indonesia

“An absolute and unique masterpiece.”
‐ Dusan Makavejev

“The Act of Killing is the most powerful, politically important film about Indonesia that I have ever seen. The arrival of this film is itself a historical event almost without parallel. [It] witnesses the bloody destruction of a foundation of this nation at the hands of Indonesians themselves. On top of a mountain of corpses, our fellow countrymen rolled out a red carpet for the growth of gangster capitalism and political Islam. In documenting this, The Act of Killing exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of this country’s notions of ‘patriotism’ and ‘justice.’ The film achieves all this thanks to the director’s genius and audacious choice of filmmaking method.”
‐ Ariel Heryanto, Historian and Cultural Critic, Tempo Magazine (Indonesia’s premier newsmagazine)

“Every now and then a non-­‐fiction film comes along that is unlike anything else I have seen: Buñuel’s LAND WITHOUT BREAD, Werner Herzog’s FATA MORGANA, Hara’s THE EMPEROR’S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON. Well, it’s happened again. Here, Joshua Oppenheimer invites unrepentant Indonesian death-­‐squad leaders to make fiction films reenacting their violent histories. Their cinematic dreams dissolve into nightmares and then into bitter reality. Like all great documentary, THE ACT OF KILLING demands another way of looking at reality. It is like a hall of mirrors––the so-­‐called mise-­‐en-­‐abyme––where real people become characters in a movie and then jump back into reality again. And it asks the central question: what is real? Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in a Paris Review interview, wrote about reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” for he first time, “I didn’t know you were allowed to do that.” I have the same feeling with this extraordinary film.”
‐ Errol Morris

“THE ACT OF KILLING invents a new form of cinematic surrealism.”
‐ Werner Herzog

SYNOPSIS:  Anwar  Congo  and  his  friends  have  been  dancing  their  way  through  musical  numbers,  twisting  arms  in   film  noir  gangster  scenes,  and  galloping  across  prairies  as  yodeling  cowboys.  Their foray into filmmaking is  being celebrated  in  the  media  and  debated  on  television,  even  though  Anwar Congo and his  friends are mass murderers.

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Medan,  Indonesia.  When  the  government  of  Indonesia  was  overthrown  by  the  military  in  1965, Anwar and his  friends  were  promoted  from  small-­‐time  gangsters  who  sold  movie  theatre  tickets  on  the  black market  to  death  squad  leaders.  They  helped  the  army  kill  more  than  one  million  alleged  communists,   ethnic  Chinese,  and  intellectuals  in  less  than  a  year.  As  the  executioner  for  the  most  notorious death   squad  in  his  city,  Anwar  himself  killed  hundreds  of  people  with  his  own  hands.

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Today,  Anwar  is  revered  as  a  founding  father  of  a  right-­‐wing  paramilitary  organization  that  grew  out of   the  death  squads.  The  organization  is  so  powerful  that  its  leaders  include  government  ministers, happy   to  boast  about  everything  from  corruption  and  election  rigging  to  acts  of  genocide.

The  Act  of  Killing  is  about  killers  who  have  won,  and  the  sort  of  society  they  have  built.  Unlike ageing   Nazis  or  Rwandan  génocidaires,  Anwar  and  his  friends  have  not  been  forced  by  history  to admit they   participated  in  crimes  against  humanity.  Instead,  they  have  written  their  own  triumphant  history, becoming  role  models  for  millions  of  young  paramilitaries.  The  Act  of  Killing  is  a  journey  into  the memories  and  imaginations  of  the  perpetrators,  offering  insight  into  the  minds  of  mass  killers.  The Act   of  Killing  is  a  nightmarish  vision  of  a  frighteningly  banal  culture  of  impunity  in  which killers can  joke   about  crimes  against  humanity  on  television  chat  shows,  and  celebrate  moral  disaster  with the  ease  and   grace  of  a  soft  shoe  dance  number.

In  their  youth,  Anwar  and  his  friends  spent  their  lives  at  the  movies,  for  they  were  “movie  theatre gangsters”:  they  controlled  a  black  market  in  tickets,  while  using  the  cinema  as  a  base  of operations for   more  serious  crimes.  In  1965,  the  army  recruited  them  to  form  death  squads  because  they  had  a proven   capacity  for  violence  and  they  hated  the  communists  for  boycotting  American  films  –  the  most popular   (and  profitable)  in  the  cinemas.

Anwar  and  his  friends  were  devoted  fans  of  James  Dean,  John  Wayne,  and  Victor  Mature.  They explicitly fashioned  themselves  and  their  methods  of  murder  after  their  Hollywood  idols.  Coming  out  of the midnight  show,  they  felt  “just  like  gangsters  who  stepped  off  the  screen”.  In  this  heady  mood,  they strolled  across  the  boulevard  to  their  office  and  killed  their  nightly  quota  of  prisoners.  Borrowing his   technique  from  a  mafia  movie,  Anwar  preferred  to  strangle  his  victims  with  wire.

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In  The  Act  of  Killing,  Anwar  and  his  friends  agree  to  tell  us  the  story  of  the  killings.  But their idea  of  being   in  a  movie  is  not  to  provide  testimony  for  a  documentary:  they  want  to  star in the  kind  of  films  they   most  love  from  their  days  scalping  tickets  at  the  cinemas.  We  seize  this opportunity  to  expose  how  a   regime  that  was  founded  on  crimes  against  humanity,  yet  has  never  been held  accountable,  would   project  itself  into  history.

So  we  challenge  Anwar  and  his  friends  to  develop  fiction  scenes  about  their  experience  of  the killings,   adapted  to  their  favorite  film  genres  –  gangster,  western,  musical.  They  write  the  scripts. They  play   themselves.  And  they  play  their  victims.

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Their  fiction  filmmaking  process  provides  the  film’s  dramatic  arc,  and  their  film  sets  become  safe spaces   to  challenge  them  about  what  they  did.  Some  of  Anwar’s  friends  realize  that  the  killings were wrong.   Others  worry  about  the  consequence  of  the  story  on  their  public  image.  Younger  members of the paramilitary  movement  argue  that  they  should  boast  about  the  horror  of  the  massacres  because  their terrifying  and  threatening  force  is  the  basis  of  their  power  today.  As  opinions  diverge, the atmosphere on  set  grows  tense.  The  edifice  of  genocide  as  a  “patriotic  struggle,”  with  Anwar  and  his  friends as its   heroes,  begins  to  sway  and  crack.

Most  dramatically,  the  filmmaking  process  catalyzes  an  unexpected  emotional  journey  for  Anwar,  from   arrogance  to  regret,  as  he  confronts,  for  the  first  time  in  his  life,  the  full  implications  of  what he’s  done.   As  Anwar’s  fragile  conscience  is  threatened  by  the  pressure  to  remain  a  hero,  The  Act of Killing  presents   a  gripping  conflict  between  moral  imagination  and  moral  catastrophe.

INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE ACT OF KILLING AND INDONESIA’S 1965-66 GENOCIDE

 

DIRECTOR’S  STATEMENT  –  JOSHUA  OPPENHEIMER

BEGINNINGS

In  February  2004,  I  filmed  a  former  death  squad  leader  demonstrate  how,  in  less  than  three  months,  he   and  his  fellow  killers  slaughtered  10,500  alleged  ‘communists’  in  a  single  clearing  by  a  river  in  North   Sumatra.  When  he  was  finished  with  his  explanation,  he  asked  my  sound  recordist  to  take  some   snapshots  of  us  together  by  the  riverbank.  He  smiled  broadly,  gave  a  thumbs  up  in  one  photo,  a  victory   sign  in  the  next.

Two  months  later,  other  photos,  this  time  of  American  soldiers  smiling  and  giving  the  thumbs  up  while   torturing  and  humiliating  Iraqi  prisoners,  appeared  in  the  news  (Errol  Morris  later  revealed  these   photographs  to  be  more  complex  than  they  at  first  appear).  The  most  unsettling  thing  about  these   images  is  not  the  violence  they  document,  but  rather  what  they  suggest  to  us  about  how  their   participants  wanted,  in  that  moment,  to  be  seen.  And  how  they  thought,  in  that  moment,  they  would   want  to  remember  themselves.  Moreover,  performing,  acting,  and  posing  appear  to  be  part  of  the   procedures  of  humiliation.

These  photographs  betray  not  so  much  the  physical  situation  of  abuse,  but  rather  forensic  evidence  of   the  imagination  involved  in  persecution.  And  they  were  very  much  in  my  mind  when,  one  year  later,  I   met  Anwar  Congo  and  the  other  leaders  of  Indonesia’s  Pancasila  Youth  paramilitary  movement.

FAR AWAY OR CLOSE TO HOME?

The  differences  between  the  situations  I  was  filming  in  Indonesia  and  other  situations  of  mass   persecution  may  at  first  seem  obvious.  Unlike  in  Rwanda,  South  Africa  or  Germany,  in  Indonesia  there   have  been  no  truth  and  reconciliation  commissions,  no  trials,  no  memorials  for  victims.  Instead,  ever   since  committing  their  atrocities,  the  perpetrators  and  their  protégés  have  run  the  country,  insisting   they  be  honored  as  national  heroes  by  a  docile  (and  often  terrified)  public.  But  is  this  situation  really  so   exceptional?  At  home  (in  the  USA),  the  champions  of  torture,  disappearance,  and  indefinite  detention   were  in  the  highest  positions  of  political  power  and,  at  the  same  time,  busily  tending  to  their  legacy  as   the  heroic  saviors  of  western  civilization.  That  such  narratives  would  be  believed  (despite  all  evidence  to   the  contrary)  suggests  a  failure  of  our  collective  imagination,  while  simultaneously  revealing  the  power   of  storytelling  in  shaping  how  we  see.

And  that  Anwar  and  his  friends  so  admired  American  movies,  American  music,  American  clothing  –  all  of   this  made  the  echoes  more  difficult  to  ignore,  transforming  what  I  was  filming  into  a  nightmarish   allegory.

FILMING WITH SURVIVORS

When  I  began  developing  The  Act  of  Killing  in  2005,  I  had  already  been  filming  for  three  years  with   survivors  of  the  1965-­‐66  massacres.  I  had  lived  for  a  year  in  a  village  of  survivors  in  the  plantation  belt   outside  Medan.  I  had  become  very  close  to  several  of  the  families  there.  During  that  time,  Christine   Cynn  and  I  collaborated  with  a  fledgling  plantation  workers’  union  to  make  The  Globalization  Tapes,  and   began  production  on  a  forthcoming  film  about  a  family  of  survivors  that  begins  to  confront  (with   tremendous  dignity  and  patience)  the  killers  who  murdered  their  son.  Our  efforts  to  record  the   survivors’  experiences  –  never  before  expressed  publicly  –  took  place  in  the  shadow  of  their  torturers,   as  well  as  the  executioners  who  murdered  their  relatives  –  men  who,  like  Anwar  Congo,  would  boast   about  what  they  did.

Ironically,  we  faced  the  greatest  danger  when  filming  survivors.  We’d  encounter  obstacle  after  obstacle.   For  instance,  when  we  tried  to  film  a  scene  in  which  former  political  prisoners  rehearsed  a  Javanese   ballad  about  their  time  in  the  concentration  camps  (describing  how  they  provided  forced  labor  for  a   British-­‐owned  plantation,  and  how  every  night  some  of  their  friends  would  be  handed  over  to  the  death   squads  to  be  killed),  we  were  interrupted  by  police  seeking  to  arrest  us.  At  other  times,  the   management  of  London-­‐Sumatra  plantations  interrupted  the  film’s  shooting,  “honoring”  us  by  “inviting”   us  to  a  meeting  at  plantation  headquarters.  Or  the  village  mayor  would  arrive  with  a  military  escort  to   tell  us  we  didn’t  have  permission  to  film.  Or  an  “NGO”  focused  on  “rehabilitation  for  the  victims  of  the   1965-­‐66  killings”  would  turn  up  and  declare  that  “this  is  our  turf  -­‐  the  villagers  here  have  paid  us  to   protect  them.”  (When  we  later  visited  the  NGO’s  office,  we  discovered  that  the  head  of  the  NGO  was   none  other  than  the  area’s  leading  killer  –  and  a  friend  of  Anwar  Congo’s  –  and  the  NGO’s  staff  seemed   to  be  military  intelligence  officers.)   Not  only  did  we  feel  unsafe  filming  the  survivors,  we  worried  for  their  safety.  And  the  survivors  couldn’t   answer  the  question  of  how  the  killings  were  perpetrated.   Boastful  killers     But  the  killers  were  more  than  willing  to  help  and,  when  we  filmed  them  boastfully  describing  their   crimes  against  humanity,  we  met  no  resistance  whatsoever.  All  doors  were  open.  Local  police  would   offer  to  escort  us  to  sites  of  mass  killing,  saluting  or  engaging  the  killers  in  jocular  banter,  depending  on   their  relationship  and  the  killer’s  rank.  Military  officers  would  even  task  soldiers  with  keeping  curious   onlookers  at  a  distance,  so  that  our  sound  recording  wouldn’t  be  disturbed.   This  bizarre  situation  was  my  second  starting  point  for  making  The  Act  of  Killing.  And  the  question  in   mind  was  this:  what  does  it  mean  to  live  in,  and  be  governed  by,  a  regime  whose  power  rests  on  the   performance  of  mass  murder  and  its  boastful  public  recounting,  even  as  it  intimidates  survivors  into   silence.  Again,  there  seemed  to  be  a  profound  failure  of  the  imagination.

Seizing  the  moment   In  this,  I  saw  an  opportunity:  if  the  perpetrators  in  North  Sumatra  were  given  the  means  to  dramatize   their  memories  of  genocide  in  whatever  ways  they  wished,  they  would  probably  seek  to  glorify  it  further,   to  transform  it  into  a  “beautiful  family  movie”  (as  Anwar  puts  it)  whose  kaleidoscopic  use  of  genres   would  reflect  their  multiple,  conflicting  emotions  about  their  “glorious  past.”  I  anticipated  that  the   outcomes  from  this  process  would  serve  as  an  exposé,  even  to  Indonesians  themselves,  of  just  how   deep  the  impunity  and  lack  of  resolution  in  their  country  remains.

Moreover,  Anwar  and  his  friends  had  helped  to  build  a  regime  that  terrorized  their  victims  into  treating   them  as  heroes,  and  I  realized  that  the  filmmaking  process  would  answer  many  questions  about  the   nature  of  such  a  regime  –  questions  that  may  seem  secondary  to  what  they  did,  but  in  fact  are   inseparable  from  it.  For  instance,  how  do  Anwar  and  his  friends  really  think  people  see  them?  How  do   they  want  to  be  seen?  How  do  they  see  themselves?  How  do  they  see  their  victims?  How  does  the  way   they  think  they  will  be  seen  by  others  reveal  what  they  imagine  about  the  world  they  live  in,  the  culture   they  have  built?

The  filmmaking  method  we  used  in  The  Act  of  Killing  was  developed  to  answer  these  questions.  It  is  best   seen  as  an  investigative  technique,  refined  to  help  us  understand  not  only  what  we  see,  but  also  how   we  see,  and  how  we  imagine.  (The  resulting  film  may  best  be  described  as  a  documentary  of  the   imagination.)  These  are  questions  of  critical  importance  to  understanding  the  imaginative  procedures   by  which  human  beings  persecute  each  other,  and  how  we  then  go  on  to  build  (and  live  in)  societies   founded  on  systemic  and  enduring  violence.

ANWAR’S REACTIONS   

If  my  goal  in  initiating  the  project  was  to  find  answers  to  these  questions,  and  if  Anwar’s  conscious   intent  was  to  glorify  his  past  actions,  there  is  no  way  that  he  could  not,  in  part,  be  disappointed  by  the   final  film.  And  yet,  a  crucial  component  of  the  filmmaking  process  involved  screening  the  footage  back   to  Anwar  and  his  friends  along  the  way.  Inevitably,  we  screened  the  most  painful  scenes.  They  know   what  is  in  the  film;  indeed,  they  have  profound  debates  about  filmmaking  inside  the  film,  openly   discussing  the  film’s  consequences.  And  seeing  these  scenes  only  made  Anwar  more  interested  in  the   work,  which  is  how  I  gradually  realized  that  he  was  on  a  parallel,  more  personal  journey  through  the   filmmaking  process,  one  in  which  he  sought  to  come  to  terms  with  the  meaning  of  what  he  had  done.     In  that  sense,  too,  Anwar  is  the  bravest  and  most  honest  character  in  The  Act  of  Killing.  He  may  or  may   not  ‘like’  the  result,  but  I  have  tried  to  honor  his  courage  and  his  openness  by  presenting  him  as   honestly,  and  with  as  much  compassion,  as  I  could,  while  still  deferring  to  the  unspeakable  acts  that  he   committed.

There  is  no  easy  resolution  to  The  Act  of  Killing.  The  murder  of  one  million  people  is  inevitably  fraught   with  complexity  and  contradiction.  In  short,  it  leaves  behind  a  terrible  mess.  All  the  more  so  when  the  killers  have  remained  in  power,  when  there  has  been  no  attempt  at  justice,  and  when  the  story  has   hitherto  only  been  used  to  intimidate  the  survivors.  Seeking  to  understand  such  a  situation,  intervening   in  it,  documenting  it  –  this,  too,  can  only  be  equally  tangled,  unkempt.

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

I  have  developed  a  filmmaking  method  with  which  I  have  tried  to  understand  why  extreme  violence,   that  we  hope  would  be  unimaginable,  is  not  only  the  exact  opposite,  but  also  routinely  performed.  I   have  tried  to  understand  the  moral  vacuum  that  makes  it  possible  for  perpetrators  of  genocide  to  be   celebrated  on  public  television  with  cheers  and  smiles.  Some  viewers  may  desire  a  formal  closure  by  the   end  of  the  film,  a  successful  struggle  for  justice  that  results  in  changes  in  the  balance  of  power,  human   rights  tribunals,  reparations  and  official  apologies.  One  film  alone  cannot  create  these  changes,  but  this   desire  has  of  course  been  our  inspiration  as  well,  as  we  attempt  to  shed  light  on  one  of  the  darkest   chapters  in  both  the  local  and  global  human  story,  and  to  express  the  real  costs  of  blindness,   expedience  and  an  inability  to  control  greed  and  the  hunger  for  power  in  an  increasingly  unified  world   society.  This  is  not,  finally,  a  story  only  about  Indonesia.  It  is  a  story  about  us  all.


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Film & Discussion

April 19, 2014 – 11:30am
Ron Robinson Theater
1 Count Pulaski Way
Downtown Little Rock

2for1tickets

Putting THE ACT OF KILLING in Historical Context

The Indonesian killings of 1965–1966 were an anti-communist purge following a failed coup of the 30 September Movement in Indonesia. The most widely accepted estimates are that more than 500,000 people were killed. The purge was a pivotal event in the transition to the “New Order”; the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was eliminated as a political force, and the upheavals led to the downfall of president Sukarno and the commencement of Suharto’s thirty-year presidency.

The failed coup released pent-up communal hatreds which were fanned by the Indonesian Army, which quickly blamed the PKI. Communists were purged from political, social, and military life, and the PKI itself was banned. The massacres began in October 1965, in the weeks following the coup attempt, and reached their peak over the remainder of the year before subsiding in the early months of 1966. They started in the capital, Jakarta, and spread to Central and East Java and, later, Bali. Thousands of local vigilantes and army units killed actual and alleged PKI members. Although killings occurred across Indonesia, the worst were in the PKI strongholds of Central Java, East Java, Bali, and northern Sumatra. It is possible that over one million people were imprisoned at one time or another.

Sukarno’s balancing act of “Nasakom” (nationalism, religion & communism) had been unraveled. His most significant pillar of support, the PKI, had been effectively eliminated by the other two pillars—the army and political Islam; and the army was on the way to unchallenged power. In March 1967, Sukarno was stripped of his remaining power by Indonesia’s provisional Parliament, and Suharto was named Acting President. In March 1968, Suharto was formally elected president.

The killings are skipped over in most Indonesian history books and have received little introspection by Indonesians and comparatively little international attention. Satisfactory explanations for the scale and frenzy of the violence have challenged scholars from all ideological perspectives. The possibility of a return to similar upheavals is cited as a factor in the “New Order” administration’s political conservatism and tight control of the political system. Vigilance against a perceived communist threat remained a hallmark of Suharto’s thirty-year presidency.

A top secret CIA report described the massacre as “one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s.”

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THE  1965  –  1966  MASSACRES  IN  INDONESIA  

Edited  from  observations  on  the  massacres,  their  aftermath  and  implications,  by  Historian  John  Roosa.   Additional  opening  and  closing  notes  by  Joshua  Oppenheimer.

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

On  the  eve  of  the  coup,  the  PKI  was  the  largest  communist  party  in  the  world,  outside  of  a  communist   country.  It  was  officially  committed  to  winning  power  through  elections,  and  its  affiliates  included  all  of   Indonesia’s  trade  unions  and  cooperatives  for  landless  farmers.  Its  major  campaign  issues  included  land   reform,  as  well  as  nationalizing  foreign-­‐owned  mining,  oil,  and  plantation  companies.  In  this,  they   sought  to  mobilize  Indonesia’s  vast  natural  resources  for  the  benefit  of  the  Indonesian  people,  who,  in   the  aftermath  of  three  hundred  years  of  colonial  exploitation,  were,  on  the  whole,  extremely  poor.

After  the  1965  military  coup,  anybody  opposed  to  the  new  military  dictatorship  could  be  accused  of   being  a  communist.  This  included  union  members,  landless  farmers,  intellectuals,  and  the  ethnic   Chinese,  as  well  as  anybody  who  struggled  for  a  redistribution  of  wealth  in  the  aftermath  of  colonialism.   In  less  than  a  year,  and  with  the  direct  aid  of  western  governments,  over  one  million  of  these   “communists”  were  murdered.  In  America,  the  massacre  was  regarded  as  a  major  “victory  over   communism,”  and  generally  celebrated  as  good  news.  Time  Magazine  reported  “the  West’s  best  news   for  years  in  Asia,”  while  The  New  York  Times  ran  the  headline,  “A  Gleam  of  Light  in  Asia,”  and  praised   Washington  for  keeping  its  hand  in  the  killings  well  hidden.

(The  scapegoating  of  the  ethnic  Chinese,  who  had  come  to  Indonesia  in  the  18th  and  19th  centuries,   was  done  at  the  incitement  of  the  US  intelligence  services,  which  sought  to  drive  a  wedge  between  the   new  Indonesian  regime  and  the  People’s  Republic  of  China.  The  slaughter  of  village-­‐level  members  of   the  PKI  and  its  affiliate  unions  and  cooperatives  was  also  encouraged  by  the  US,  who  was  worried  that  without  a  “scorched  earth”  approach,  the  new  Indonesian  regime  might  eventually  accommodate  the   PKI  base.)

In  many  regions  of  Indonesia,  the  army  recruited  civilians  to  carry  out  the  killings.  They  were  organized   into  paramilitary  groups,  given  basic  training  (and  significant  military  back  up).  In  the  province  of  North   Sumatra  and  elsewhere,  the  paramilitaries  were  recruited  largely  from  the  ranks  of  gangsters,  or   “preman.”  Ever  since  the  massacres,  the  Indonesian  government  has  celebrated  the  “extermination  of   the  communists”  as  a  patriotic  struggle,  and  celebrated  the  paramilitaries  and  gangsters  as  its  heroes,   rewarding  them  with  power  and  privilege.  These  men  and  their  protégés  have  occupied  key  positions  of   power  –  and  persecuted  their  opponents  –  ever  since.    The  pretext  for  the  1965-­‐66  genocide  was  the   assassination  of  six  army  generals  on  the  night  of  1  October,  1965.

1.10.1965:  The  Thirtieth  of  September  Movement  (Gerakan  30  September,  or  G30S),  made  up  of   disaffected  junior  Indonesian  Armed  Forces  Officers,  assassinated  six  Indonesian  Army  Generals  in  an   abortive  coup  and  dumped  their  bodies  down  a  well  south  of  the  city.  At  the  same  time,  the   Movement’s  troops  took  over  the  national  radio  station  and  announced  that  they  intended  to  protect   President  Sukarno  from  a  cabal  of  right-­‐wing  army  generals  plotting  a  seizure  of  power.  The  Movement   was  defeated  before  most  Indonesians  knew  it  existed.  The  senior  surviving  army  commander,  Major   General  Suharto,  launched  a  quick  counter-­‐attack  and  drove  the  Movement’s  troops  from  Jakarta  within   one  day.

Suharto  accused  the  Communist  Party  of  Indonesia  (PKI)  of  masterminding  the  Movement  and  then   orchestrated  an  extermination  of  persons  affiliated  with  the  party.  Suharto’s  military  rounded  up  over  a   million  and  a  half  people,  accusing  all  of  them  of  being  involved  in  the  Movement.  In  one  of  the  worst   bloodbaths  of  the  20th  century,  hundreds  of  thousands  of  individuals  were  massacred  by  the  army  and   its  affiliated  militias,  largely  in  Central  Java,  East  Java,  Bali,  and  North  Sumatra  from  late  1965  to  mid-­‐ 1966.  In  a  climate  of  national  emergency,  Suharto  gradually  usurped  President  Sukarno’s  authority  and   established  himself  as  the  de  facto  president  (with  the  power  to  dismiss  and  appoint  ministers)  by   March  1966.

The  massacres  were  out  of  all  proportion  to  their  ostensible  cause.  The  Movement  was  a  small-­‐scale   conspiratorial  action  organized  by  a  handful  of  people.  In  total,  it  killed  twelve  people.  Suharto   exaggerated  its  magnitude  until  it  assumed  the  shape  of  an  ongoing,  nationwide  conspiracy  to  commit   mass  murder.  All  the  millions  of  people  associated  with  the  PKI,  even  illiterate  peasants  in  remote   villages,  were  presented  as  murderers  collectively  responsible  for  the  Movement.

Indonesian  government  and  military  officials,  to  the  very  end  of  the  Suharto  regime  in  1998,  invoked  the   specter  of  the  PKI  in  response  to  any  disturbance  or  sign  of  dissent.  The  key  phrase  in  the  regime’s   argument  was  “the  latent  danger  of  communism.”  The  unfinished  eradication  of  the  PKI  was,  in  a  very   real  sense,  the  raison  d’être  of  the  Suharto  regime.  The  original  legal  act  under  which  the  regime  ruled   Indonesia  for  over  thirty  years  was  Sukarno’s  presidential  order  of  3rd  October  1965,  authorizing   Suharto  to  “restore  order.”  That  was  an  emergency  order.  But  for  Suharto,  the  emergency  never  ended.

In  constructing  a  legitimating  ideology  for  his  dictatorship,  Suharto  presented  himself  as  the  savior  of   the  nation  for  having  defeated  the  Movement.  His  regime  incessantly  drilled  the  event  into  the  minds  of   the  populace  by  every  method  of  state  propaganda:  textbooks,  monuments,  street  names,  films,   museums,  commemorative  rituals  and  national  holidays.  The  Suharto  regime  justified  its  existence  by   placing  the  Movement  at  the  centre  of  its  historical  narrative  and  depicting  the  PKI  as  ineffably  evil.   Under  Suharto,  anti-­‐communism  became  the  state  religion,  complete  with  sacred  sites,  rituals,  and   dates.

It  is  remarkable  that  the  anti-­‐PKI  violence,  as  such  a  large-­‐scale  event,  has  been  so  badly  misunderstood.   No  doubt,  the  fact  that  both  military  personnel  and  civilians  committed  the  killings  has  blurred  the  issue   of  responsibility.  Nonetheless,  from  what  little  is  already  known,  it  is  clear  that  the  military  bears  the   largest  share  of  responsibility  and  that  the  killings  represented  bureaucratic,  planned  violence  more   than  popular,  spontaneous  violence.  The  Suharto  clique  of  officers,  by  inventing  false  stories  about  the   Movement  and  strictly  controlling  the  media,  created  a  sense  among  civilians  that  the  PKI  was  on  the   warpath.  If  there  had  not  been  this  deliberate  provocation  from  the  military,  the  populace  would  not   have  believed  the  PKI  was  a  mortal  threat,  since  the  party  was  passive  in  the  aftermath  of  the   Movement.  (The  military  worked  hard  to  whip  up  popular  anger  against  the  PKI  from  early  October   1965  onwards;  and  the  US  Government  actively  encouraged  the  Indonesian  military  to  pursue  rank  and   file  communists).  It  prodded  civilian  militias  into  acting,  gave  them  assurances  of  impunity,  and  arranged   logistical  support.

Contrary  to  common  belief,  frenzied  violence  by  villagers  was  virtually  unheard  of.  Suharto’s  army   usually  opted  for  mysterious  disappearances  rather  than  exemplary  public  executions.  The  army  and  its   militias  tended  to  commit  its  large-­‐scale  massacres  in  secret:  they  took  captives  out  of  prison  at  night,   trucked  them  to  remote  locations,  executed  them,  and  then  buried  the  corpses  in  unmarked  mass   graves  or  threw  them  into  rivers.

The  tragedy  of  modern  Indonesian  history  lies  not  just  in  the  army-­‐organized  mass  killings  of  1965-­‐66,   but  also  in  the  rise  to  power  of  the  killers,  of  persons  who  viewed  massacres  and  psychological  warfare   operations  as  legitimate  and  normal  modes  of  governance.  A  regime  that  legitimated  itself  by  pointing   to  a  mass  grave  at  the  site  of  the  well,  vowing  “never  again,”  left  countless  mass  graves  from  one  end  of   the  country  to  the  other,  from  Aceh  on  the  western  edge  to  Papua  on  the  eastern  edge.  The  occupation   of  East  Timor  from  1975  to  1999  similarly  left  tens,  if  not  hundreds,  of  thousands  dead,  many   anonymously  buried.  Each  mass  grave  in  the  archipelago  marks  an  arbitrary,  unavowed,  secretive   exercise  of  state  power.

The  obsession  with  a  relatively  minor  event  (the  Movement)  and  the  erasure  of  a  world-­‐historical  event   (the  mass  killings  of  1965-­‐66)  has  blocked  empathy  for  the  victims,  such  as  the  relatives  of  those  men   and  women  who  disappeared.  While  a  monument  stands  next  to  the  well  in  which  the  Movement’s   troops  dumped  the  bodies  of  the  six  army  generals  on  October  1,  1965,  there  is  no  monument  to  be  found  at  the  mass  graves  that  hold  the  hundreds  of  thousands  of  persons  killed  in  the  name  of   suppressing  the  Movement.

Focus  on  who  killed  the  army  generals  on  30th  September,  1965  has  functioned  as  a  fetish,  displacing  all   attention  from  the  murder  of  over  one  million  alleged  communists  in  the  months  that  followed.   Suharto’s  regime  produced  endless  propaganda  about  the  brutal  communists  behind  the  killing  of  the   generals,  and  still  today  most  discussion  of  the  genocide  has  been  displaced  by  this  focus.  And  this  is   true  even  in  most  English-­‐language  sources.  To  me,  participating  in  the  debate  around  “who  killed  the   generals”  feels  grotesque,  which  is  why  it  does  not  feature  in  The  Act  of  Killing.    The  Rwandan  genocide   was  triggered  when  Rwandan  president  Juvénal  Habyarimana  (a  Hutu)  died  after  his  airplane  was  shot   down  on  its  approach  to  Kigali.  To  focus  on  who  shot  down  the  plane  (was  it  Tutsi  extremists?  was  it   Hutu  extremists  acting  as  provocateurs?)  rather  than  the  murder  of  800,000  Tutsis  and  Hutu  moderates   over  the  next  100  days  would  be  unconscionable.  Similarly,  who  started  the  Reichstag  fire  is  irrelevant   to  an  understanding  of  the  Holocaust.  Whether  or  not  the  disgruntled  army  officers  behind  the  killing  of   the  six  generals  had  the  support  of  the  head  of  the  PKI  is  much  more  than  beside  the  point:  it  plays  the   pernicious  role  of  deflecting  attention  from  a  mass  murder  of  world-­‐historical  importance.  Imagine  if,  in   Rwanda,  the  fundamental  question  about  what  happened  in  1994  was  “who  shot  down  the  president’s   plane?”  This  would  only  be  thinkable  if  the  killers  remained  in  power.

INTERVIEWS ABOUT THE ACT OF KILLING AND INDONESIA’S 1965-66 GENOCIDE

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