Limits of Intervention

U.S. Involvement in Indonesia during the Regional Rebellion (1957-1958) and the Overthrow of Sukarno (1965-1966)


I. Introduction 3

II. The Regional Rebellion in Sumatra and Sulawesi,

1957-1958 6

1. The Genesis of the Rebellion 6

2. The United States Intervenes 10

3. Civil War 12

4. Rapprochement 18

III. The Overthrow of Sukarno,

1965-1966 19

1. Radicalization in the early 1960s 19

2. The U.S. and the Events Leading up to the 1965 'Coup' 21

3. U.S. Compliance with the Indonesian Army after the 'Coup' 24

IV. Conclusion 26

V. Bibliography 28


Permesta's Air War, April-May 1958 16

I. Introduction

After World War II, the United States became a major power in Southeast Asia. The Americans, who had driven the Japanese occupation forces out of this resource-rich region, assumed what they took to be their historic responsibility: building a more stable, more peaceful and more prosperous world order under their leadership. While at first unwilling to alienate their European allies concerning the colonial question, U.S. leaders remained, albeit somewhat ambiguously, committed to the principle of self-determination and indicated by the late 1940s that they would favor the emancipation of the fledgling, increasingly self-assertive Southeast Asian nations from their European colonial masters. As the Cold War ensued, however, not colonial self-determination, but strategic fear of the potential spread of communism quickly became the overriding concern. Perceiving the region as vital to the global balance of power, U.S. policymakers were eager to keep it within the boundaries of the so-called Free World. From the early 1950s onwards till the Americans retreated from Vietnam in the mid-1970s, successive U.S. governments were heavily enmeshed in Southeast Asian affairs and applied various measures aimed to stabilize the region, contain Communist advances and preserve Western strategic and economic interests. While some of these measures, to be sure, took the form of political support, economic aid, or even accommodation, another "measure" was crude, and sometimes clandestine, intervention.[1]

While the far-reaching consequences of U.S. intervention in the Cold War-battlegrounds of Laos, Cambodia and particularly Vietnam are now, in retrospect, well known, U.S. interventions in the affairs of Indonesia during the 1950s and 1960s have been less widely publicized. Only recently have scholars -equipped with the Freedom of Information Act and inquisitive minds- managed to fully reconstruct the American dimension of the rebellion of regional military commanders in 1957-1958, when Indonesia was pushed into civil war. At that time, the Eisenhower administration clandestinely but actively encouraged dissident colonels in Sumatra and Sulawesi and their civilian counterparts to challenge the central government under President Sukarno and the armed forces stationed on Java, both of which it believed to be under increasing Communist influence. Weapons were dropped to arm the rebels, agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were dispatched to train them and even a camouflaged air force was deployed to further their cause. This enormous covert operation, triggered by poor intelligence and an alarmist assessment of the political situation in Indonesia at that time, was calculated on an eventual breakup of that far-flung archipelagic nation. In the event, however, the operation not only dismally failed, but also proved counterproductive to U.S. interests. Among its unintended results were the increased stature, power and influence of each Sukarno, the Indonesian army (which had crushed the rebellion) and, ironically, the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia, or PKI).[2]

In the wake of the abortive rebellion, Indonesia drifted increasingly into instability and radicalism. The political system that emerged, "Guided Democracy", became a competitive arrangement between president Sukarno, the army and the PKI, in which Sukarno relied on the PKI as his primary ally to counterbalance the increasing power of the army.[3] Sukarno took the nation on an apparently leftward, anti-Western course, whereas the PKI built up considerable strength.[4] By mid-1965, U.S. policymakers were once again convinced that a Communist takeover in Indonesia was imminent and that, at the same time, Americans could not do much to prevent it.[5] Preoccupied with the escalating war in Vietnam, they seemed genuinely surprised when in the fall of 1965 events in Indonesia suddenly took a dramatic turn creating a situation favorable to U.S. interests: Following a coup on September 30 by army officers allegedly acting at the behest of PKI elements, army units under the leadership of the conservative, pro-Western Suharto stepped in, mounted a counterattack, orchestrated a brutal purge of the PKI leadership and suspected Communists that may have claimed a death toll "anywhere between 250,000 and perhaps 800,000"[6], and ultimately took power from Sukarno. Instead of falling to the Communists, Indonesia became a right-wing military regime.

Whereas it is reasonably clear what manoeuvres lay behind the regional rebellion of 1957-1958, the events of late 1965 are shrouded in mystery to this day and considerable controversy remains as to who masterminded them.[7] Given the inherent complexities of this far-flung nation and the tense social and political environment of the late Guided Democracy period, it seems improbable that a single mastermind controlled all the events.[8] Not surprisingly, the CIA has been among the suspects[9], but it has been credibly argued that Sukarno's overthrow "had little to do with American machinations" and instead "resulted from developments of essentially Indonesian origin."[10] This being said, there remains some uncertainty about the CIA's role or other clandestine activities -whatever limited in scale- both before and after the coup, including the agency's assistance to the massacre of presumed Communists. Another scholar rejects "premature absolution of the CIA" and concludes: "Though not a prime instigator of those tragic events, the United States was, however, surely an important and witting accomplice."[11] As will be shown later, this view is supported by written sources recently published in the Foreign Relations of the United States series[12], even though the overall picture still remains unclear.

In offering a brief sketch of both of these two contrasting episodes of U.S. involvement in Indonesian affairs during the Cold War -the CIA-backed regional rebellion of 1957-1958 and the apparently domestically triggered, but American-assisted overthrow of Sukarno in 1965-, this commentary seeks to illuminate how limited U.S. ability to control events in Indonesia was at that time. The first task of this paper is to outline the genesis of the regional rebellion and the objectives of American intervention, and to describe its major events and turning points, before analyzing its outcome and aftermath. Then this commentary turns directly to the events leading up to the 1965 'coup' and its aftermath, discussing the existing evidence of U.S. involvement. A brief conclusion addresses the lasting implications of U.S. manipulation in Indonesia.

II. The Regional Rebellion in Sumatra and Sulawesi, 1957-1958

1. The Genesis of the Rebellion

Indonesia's regional crisis in the late 1950s had little to do with Communism - initially, at least. In fact, it arose out of widespread disillusionment with the non-achievements of the post-revolutionary period of parliamentary democracy between 1950 and 1957. Successive Indonesian leadership groups had failed to settle divisive issues of state philosophy and structure or to implement problem-solving policy effectively. Disappointment was exacerbated when the national elections in 1955 did not produce the desired improvement in effective governance.[13] Party conflict prevailed along regional, ethnic, religious and ideological lines, corruption was rampant and the economy remained weak.[14] As the only major party not represented in the cabinet, the PKI understandably benefited from this situation as a symbol of protest.[15] But in the context of regional rebellion, two rather different issues stand out: the structural imbalance between Java and the Outer Islands, and the military dimension.

The Java-Outer Islands problem has been described as a "complicated combination of social and cultural, as well as political and economic, hostilities."[16] Javanese dominated everything: the population figures and thus the electorate, the national leadership elite, national culture - but not the economy. The producers of Indonesia's major revenue earners -such as oil, tin, rubber and copra- were located in the under-populated Outer Islands, whereas most of the consumers of imports were located in over-populated Java. Various foreign exchange allocation systems in force during the 1950's favored consumers over producers by maintaining an overvalued Rupiah exchange rate, thus triggering barter trade and smuggling in the export areas of the Outer Islands as a way of keeping profits at home in defiance of the central government.[17]

Taking the lead in organizing the smuggling operations in Sumatra and Sulawesi were the territorial commanders of the army, whose powerful standing stemmed from their leading role during the independence struggle in their respective regions. They resisted the imposition of civilian control over themselves, had a hand in commercial ventures and thus were firmly entrenched in their positions as virtual warlords in autonomous "fiefs". Trying to contain such an erosion of central control in army affairs and to consolidate his own position among his most senior rivals, Army Chief of Staff Abdul Haris Nasution in early 1956 announced plans to rotate key territorial commanders as part of a broader move to rationalize, streamline and reorganize the Indonesian army. While Col. Alex E. Kawilarang, commander of West Java's Siliwangi division, and Col. J.F. Warouw, commander of East Indonesia, in August 1956 accepted their transfer to positions as military attachés to Beijing and Washington, respectively, the move met the fierce opposition of Col. Maludin Simbolon, commander of North Sumatra, and Lt. Col. Zulfiki Lubis, deputy chief of staff, both former contenders for Nasution's post. In November 1956, Lubis staged a coup against Nasution, but failed and went into hiding, only to reappear later in the rebellion. Simbolon and Lubis had led the opposition to Nasution's centralizing policies since 1955 and were largely supported by non-Javanese, anti-Jakarta officers and politicians from Masyumi, the Muslim party with the greatest strength in the Outer Islands. By now army affairs were closely linked to regional interests.[18]

Exacerbating dissent in the regions, Vice President Hatta, an admired native Sumatran and able administrator, declared his resignation from office on December 1, 1956. This removed the major representative of Outer Islands interests from the central government. Following these developments, army commanders in Sumatra and Sulawesi between December 1956 and March 1957 formed regional "councils" and formulated "charters" to voice their grievances, but stopped short of a full break with Jakarta. They managed to rally substantial portions of the civilian populace behind them to demand greater local control of government and finances. On December 20, 1956, the regimental commander from Padang, Lt. Col. Ahmad Husein took over government in West Sumatra. Two days later, Col. Simbolon announced that North Sumatra was no longer taking orders from Jakarta. He was ousted from Medan the day after by his chief of staff, Lt. Col. Gintings, who was loyal to Jakarta, but Simbolon fled the city in time to join Husein in Padang. In South Sumatra, its commander Lt. Col. Barlian moved more cautiously since his region was geographically close to Java and he was personally close to Nasution, but he finally also jumped on the bandwagon of regional protest in March 1957 when it was clear that his colleagues in Sulawesi were doing the same.[19]

In Sulawesi, a shared sentiment against the Javanese troops operating in the South to quell a rural insurgency brought together the previously rivaling Buginese/ Makassarese officers from South- and the Minahasans from North Sulawesi to cooperate against the central government. Warouw's successor as army commander of Sulawesi and the rest of East Indonesia, Lt. Col. H. N. Ventje Sumual, a fellow Minahasa Christian, was eager to promote Minahasa's economic independence and joined the Southerners in their demand for greater military, political, and economic autonomy. When an ultimatum that was given to Jakarta to comply had passed unheeded, military and civilian leaders gathered in Makassar in the early morning of March 2, 1957, to declare martial law within the region and sign the Charter of Inclusive Struggle (Piagam Perjuangan Semesta Alam, or Permesta). By now the island of Sulawesi and whole of Sumatra except the city of Medan were in open defiance of the central government.[20]

In Indonesia's political center, where parliamentary democracy was paralyzed by internecine party struggle, the regional challenge plunged the existing system into an even deeper crisis. Already in fall 1956 Sukarno had seized the initiative and proposed ideas (konsepsi) for a new system of "Guided Democracy", a conception he formalized on February 21, 1957, arguing for an inclusion of PKI in a cabinet of national unity, advised by a National Council (Dewan Nasional) made up of functional groups from all segments of Indonesian society.[21] In his assault on the party system, Sukarno increasingly relied on Java-based radicals, protected the PKI to organize mass support, and alienated Masyumi, the latter being the party most sympathetic to regionalist demands. Calls for a renewed Hatta cabinet to resolve the regional challenge were left unheeded. With the nation literally falling apart, Nasution finally pressed Sukarno and the outgoing Ali Sastroamidjojo cabinet to declare martial law on March 14, 1957, a move that catapulted the military to a position of formidable authority throughout the country, gave Nasution the means to deal with its internal divisions, and put an end to parliamentary democracy in Indonesia.[22]

After a month of infighting in Jakarta, PKI inclusion in government was rejected by the other parties and a new working cabinet (Kabinet Karya) emerged without the PKI in April 1957, headed by Djuanda Kartawidjaja, a respected nonparty independent. The National Council was established in July. Both set about trying to achieve conciliation with the regions and limited attempts were made to meet their economic demands.[23] Nasution also attempted to heal the breach within the army, reorganizing the East Indonesia military command and winning over the leading Permesta figures of South Sulawesi, a move that forced Sumual to retreat to his Minahasa homeland in North Sulawesi.[24]

In September, a great National Conference (Musjawarah Nasional, or Munas) was convened in Jakarta on Djuanda's and Hatta's initiative, aimed to settle the regional crisis in an atmosphere of compromise and optimism. All the dissident colonels were invited, including Simbolon and Lubis, who had already been discharged from active duty. But very little was actually achieved.[25] A few days before the conference opened, Simbolon, Lubis, Husein, Barlian, Sumual and Dr. Sumitro Djojohadikusumo[26], a leading economist who had fled Jakarta to make common cause with the dissidents, met in Palembang and issued a bold, uncompromising declaration, the "Palembang Charter", demanding: (1) restoration of the Sukarno-Hatta duumvirate, (2) Nasution's dismissal, (3) decentralization and autonomy, (4) formation of a federal senate, (5) rejuvenation of the government, and (6) the banning of "internationally oriented communism."[27]

As has been noted by Harvey, this was the first time that the rebels explicitly played on the issue of communism.[28] There were probably two reasons for this. First, the PKI had scored high in regional elections in Java between June and August of 1957, pressing harder than ever for participation in government[29] and deepening regionalist objections to Communism as it became synonymous with its Java stronghold.[30] Second, the rebels' resolve was stiffened by CIA agents who had clandestinely assured them of American financial support.[31] Thus the stage was set for polarization.

2. The United States Intervenes

Since the early 1950s, U.S. leaders had watched developments in Indonesia with concern. Being the largest country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia was of considerable strategic, economic and political importance to them. But ever since its independence, Indonesia had refused to align itself with the West and instead pursued an intensely nationalistic, neutralist course. With the gathering of nonaligned nations in Bandung in April 1955, Sukarno emerged as a leader of the neutralist bloc. Furthermore, he caused headaches in Washington by his populist oratory at home, to which he often added a socialist tinge, and his willingness to cooperate with the PKI, the Communist party which continually grew. Sukarno himself, however, perceived the PKI as an essentially nationalist Communist party that he was confident he could "domesticate."[32] Soviet aid to Indonesia and the army's arms procurements in the Soviet Union were an added rub.[33]

By March 1957, the Eisenhower administration started its attempt to capitalize on the dissent in the Indonesian regions in order to reverse Indonesia's perceived leftward drift and to dampen Sukarno's grip at the top. Two internal factors in the United States were conducive to an interventionist policy in this case. First, the "loss-of-China" issue -a politically potent charge advocated by McCarthyists which claimed that China was "lost" to Communism in 1949 because the Truman administration had been preoccupied with China's territorial integrity, instead of helping Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang to keep smaller parts of that country- had led Eisenhower to draw an analogy. As early as 1953 he had told his new ambassador departing for Indonesia, Hugh Cumming that " against a unified Indonesia, which would fall to the Communists, and a break up of that country into smaller segments, he [Eisenhower] would prefer the latter."[34] Second, Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, relied heavily on the CIA as "one of America's chief weapons in the Cold War,"[35] a fact partly due to the circumstance that J.F. Dulles' brother Allen happened to be the agency's director. Under Allen Dulles' direction, the CIA took a proactive approach in the fight against communism and successfully engineered, for example, the overthrow of allegedly leftist governments in Iran and Guatemala in the early 1950s. Now it was to be Indonesia's turn. Said Frank Wisner, the CIA's chief of clandestine operations, to Alfred Ulmer, the head of the CIA's Far East Division, in the fall of 1956: "I think it's time we held Sukarno's feet to the fire."[36]

To justify a tough stance, a case against Jakarta had to be built. Allen Dulles asked his staff to produce credible evidence "to strengthen the case" for a "more vigorous policy" against Sukarno.[37] This task was fulfilled by badly flawed CIA reporting, which was given more credence in Washington than the more balanced reporting of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta. It depicted the prospect of a Communist takeover in Java in alarmist terms and exaggerated the prowess of the dissidents. But it was this reporting on which Dulles based his assessment in a meeting of the National Security Council, or NSC, on March 14, 1957, when he envisaged the potential breakup of Indonesia.[38] In a follow-up NSC meeting on August 1, Eisenhower declared: "The best course would be to hold all Indonesia in the Free World. The next best course would be to hold Sumatra if Java goes Communist."[39]

An Ad Hoc Interdepartmental Committee on Indonesia was set up, a secret taskforce chaired by Hugh Cumming, the former ambassador who was now the State Department's intelligence director. Cumming had become a sharp critic of Sukarno during his later years as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, annoyed by Sukarno's friendly ouvertures to the Communist camp, particularly China.[40] His Committee finally submitted a policy blueprint to the NSC in September, suggesting a two-track policy: one overt, maintaining diplomatic relations with Jakarta, and one covert, employing "all feasible covert means" to strengthen anticommunist forces outside Java. Its recommendations were endorsed on September, 23. As Conboy and Morrison aptly observed, "it was now presidential policy to hold Sukarno's 'feet to the fire.'"[41] The Kahins commented on the objectives of this covert policy: "Senior administration officials concluded that discontent in some of the islands outside Java provided an opening they could exploit to [...] change the character of the Indonesian government, and move the country into an anti-Communist alignment with the United States. To accomplish this task they sought to shape this disaffection -especially in Sumatra and Sulawesi- into a fulcrum on which American power could be applied to effect these changes. The immediate objective was to eliminate the Communist party, weaken the army's strength on Java, and drastically clip the wings of, if not fully remove, President Sukarno."[42] Thus by late 1957, not only was the domestic scene in Indonesia set for polarization. The U.S. had identified and secretly encouraged its "assets" in Indonesia, awaiting an opportunity for full-scale intervention.

3. Civil War

It was not for long that this opportunity materialized. During the closing months of 1957, two events heightened political tension in Indonesia. On November 29, the United Nations refused to discuss Indonesia's claim on West Irian, the still Dutch-held western part of the island of New Guinea. Throughout the 1950s, Sukarno had used the West Irian issue as a nationalist rallying cry. After this rebuff, Sukarno was incensed and ordered the take-over of Dutch enterprises and the ejection of about 46.000 Netherlanders from Indonesia, causing economic dislocation and further alienation from the West, not excluding the U.S., whose interests in Sumatra's oil deposits and rubber plantations were threatened.[43] One day later, Sukarno survived an abortive assassination attempt in the Cikini area of Jakarta. He blamed this so-called Cikini-affair on Colonel Lubis and, by extension, the dissident colonels, and later also became to suspect that the CIA had a hand in it.[44]

As tension mounted, the possibility of a negotiated settlement receded. Joined by the prominent Masyumi figures Mohammad Natsir, Burhanuddin Harahap and Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, who had criticized the ill-prepared takeovers of Dutch property, the dissident colonels met in Sungai Dareh, West Sumatra, on January 9, 1958. While South Sumatra's Barlian and the Masyumi politicians were at first hesitant to announce an open break with Jakarta, the dissidents finally agreed to serve an ultimatum on the central government (which appeared to be in a weak position after Sukarno went abroad a few days before), calling for a new central government in which Hatta would be given a prominent position, and, if their demands were not met, to proclaim full independence.[45]

The Sungai Dareh conference thus made clear that the dissidents would pursue confrontation instead of compromise. Simbolon and Lubis had already passed the point of no return and stood to gain nothing if a compromise were reached.[46] More important, the colonels exchanged information on substantial American backing that might ensure their success. Concurrent to their meeting, the first secret shipment of small arms and equipment for eight thousand troops was on its way from Subic Bay, a U.S. base in the Philippines, to Padang.[47] Already in early December 1957, J.F. Dulles "had expressed his desire to 'see things to a point where we could plausibly withdraw our recognition of the Sukarno government and give it to the dissident elements on Sumatra.'"[48] This message, conveyed to the colonels by American agents, suggested that they could count on U.S. recognition as soon as they broke with Jakarta. Thus on February 15, 1958, after the expiration of the five day-ultimatum crafted in Sungai Dareh, Col. Husein declared the Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (Pemerintah Revolusioner Republik Indonesia, or PRRI). Without prior consultation, Permesta figures were enlisted in PRRI's cabinet and were to become the eastern wing of the rebellion. Sumual was in Manila at that time, but soon returned to Manado with a token delivery of American weapons aboard his plane.[49]

Civil war ensued. Sukarno returned to Indonesia on February 16, one day after the formation of the PRRI countergovernment. But it was Nasution, with the support of Prime Minister Djuanda, who pushed for a show of force. He outlawed the regional councils and mobilized his troops. On February 21 and 22, 1958, the Indonesian air force bombed PRRI/Permesta's radio stations in Padang, Bukittinggi and Manado.[50] It became clear that Nasution was prepared to crush the regional rebellion with military means.

Realizing this, Col. Warouw and Col. Kawilarang returned from abroad to their Minahasa homeland, showing their solidarity for the rebels' cause.[51] In Sumatra, the rebels arrested several hundred local Communists and continued to "win American support by emphasizing the communist danger,"[52] thus receiving a substantial airdrop of American weapons at Padang's airfield on February 24.[53] But repeated weapons deliveries did not spark any ground movement on the rebels' side. Simbolon requested even more weapons, this time to be dropped nearby the American-run Caltex oil fields at Pekanbaru, Central Sumatra, and got them in the early morning of March 6.[54] The Americans even sent the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet to Singapore -a formidable armada-, seeking an excuse to use it on behalf of the Sumatran rebels. Since there were indications that Nasution planned to wrest the oil fields back from PRRI, Allen Dulles hoped that if in fact Nasution's forces bombed the Caltex installations, the U.S. could give them "a bloody nose" in a swift military intervention justified on the grounds of protection of U.S. citizens and property.[55]

Before the Americans could give them "a bloody nose", though, Nasution's forces occupied Pekanbaru and the oil fields in a preemptive strike three days ahead of schedule on March 12, 1958, "with a speed and decisiveness that surprised and bewildered both the PRRI military commanders and the United States."[56] The few rebel troops present in Pekanbaru fled without a fight and left the Caltex installations intact, thus failing to provide the U.S. with a pretext to intervene. Worse still, they left behind boxes filled with U.S. weapons which had been dropped by another CIA mission a few hours earlier, only to be captured by the Indonesian troops and presented to the Indonesian public as incontrovertible evidence of U.S. involvement in support for the rebels.[57]

A brief, poorly coordinated upsurge by the rebels in Medan on March 16, crushed decisively by Nasution's forces a day later, did nothing to improve the situation of the Sumatran rebels, a situation described by Allen Dulles by late March as "not very happy."[58] To improve the martial prowess of the PRRI, a five-man CIA team was secretly flown into West Sumatra. The paramilitary advisors were supposed to teach the rebel troops some tactics and how to use the arms already delivered. In the event, however, the agents found almost no combatants who were eager to be trained, even less to fight.[59]

The military weakness of the Sumatran rebels was ultimately evident when an improvised Indonesian invasion fleet commanded by General Ahmad Yani easily recaptured Padang, the center of PRRI strength in West Sumatra, on April 17, 1958. Without a fight, Husein and his PRRI troops retreated to the hills. On May 4, Bukittinggi fell into central government hands and the PRRI capital was subsequently moved to the Permesta stronghold in Manado.[60] The South Sumatran part of the PRRI, indecisive from the beginning, defected. Thus the Sumatran rebellion was reduced to guerilla proportions. It was to continue sporadic counterattacks for three years, but with diminishing success.[61] After the fall of Padang, the CIA team got stuck behind Indonesian lines, hid in the jungle for two weeks and finally managed to arrange for a rescue mission - they took a fishing boat out to the sea and were secretly picked up there by a U.S. submarine.[62]

Allen Dulles realized that as far as the rebel forces in Sumatra were concerned "there's no fight in them,"[63] a fact which apparently induced U.S. policymakers to deny them crucial air cover.[64] The Sulawesi-based Permesta rebels, however, seemed to deserve such an assistance. A revolutionary air force (Angkatan Udara Revolusioner, or AUREV) was established in April 1958, piloted by Poles, Filipinos and Americans who had been recruited by the CIA, operating from the Mapanget airfield in Manado, as well as Taiwanese, who operated somewhat independently from another airbase south of Manado. With AUREV's air cover, Sumual planned to expand Permesta power throughout the island of Sulawesi, East Indonesia and East Kalimantan and finally launch an attack on Jakarta. Permesta's bombing campaign was at its height between April-May of 1958, until the U.S. suddenly withdrew its covert supply of planes and pilots at the end of May.[65]

Permesta's Air War: April-May, 1958

Adapted from a map appearing in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 171.

The Air War began with reconnaissance missions. To identify possible targets, such as airfields and harbors, two U.S. reconnaissance planes (with their national markings erased) flew over Kalimantan and Sulawesi on March 27. Ironically, one of them came under friendly Permesta antiaircraft fire over Manado. It probably had been mistaken for an Indonesian Air Force plane and had to undertake an emergency landing in the southern Philippines with a damaged wing. The mysterious incident was reported in the local Filipino press,[66] but was not publicized widely enough as to embarrass the U.S. to a significant degree. Thus AUREV forcefully started its campaign by mid-April, bombing the Makassar and Balikpapan airfields, then Ternate, Jailolo and Morotai (in Maluku) and Central Sulawesi. Permesta forces occupied Morotai, securing an airstrip from WW II that was long enough to accommodate B-29 long-range bombers. Ambon harbor, commercial shipping and central government installations and warships were repeatedly attacked.[67]

It seemed that as long as AUREV controlled the skies over East Indonesia, central government attempts to move strongly against Permesta could be mitigated, even though its buildup of forces made considerable headway. On May 15, Indonesian bombers destroyed an AUREV plane on the ground, exactly the plane that had been delivered by the CIA to bomb Jakarta.[68] But it was another incident three days later that not only turned out to be a major setback for Permesta, but unravelled the whole U.S. covert operation in support of it. While carrying out a bombing raid against Ambon and two Indonesian naval vessels, a rebel aircraft was shot down. Its American pilot, Allen Pope, and his Minahasan radio operator were captured alive.[69]

When Pope's capture was made public in Jakarta a few days later, it became evident that he had carried U.S. military identification papers and a detailed account of previous bombing missions on his person, leaving no doubt that the AUREV airstrikes were orchestrated by the U.S. Washington could not credibly contend that Pope was simply a "soldier of fortune" and realized that in Indonesia, the rebellion was increasingly perceived as a case of foreigners versus Indonesians. The PKI was particularly quick to capitalize on anti-American feelings. Thus it is understandable that Allen Dulles, as soon as he got news of Pope's capture, decided that the CIA was "pulling the plug", suspended its assistance for the rebels and ordered the immediate withdrawal of its personnel from Minahasa.[70]

Since April some U.S. officials -disconcerted by PRRI's weak showing in Sumatra- had been arguing for a policy-change towards Indonesia, identifying the army under Nasution as a more powerful anti-Communist element within Indonesia than the rebels were. This view was advanced particularly by the new U.S. Ambassador, Howard P. Jones, who was later to recall: "...While Washington was acting upon information to the effect that a pro-Communist Djakarta government with a heavily Communist infiltrated army was fighting the anti-Communist forces of Indonesia in Sumatra and Celebes [Sulawesi] - it was clear that an anti-Communist Indonesian army led by one of the country's top anti-Communists was locked in combat with the other principal anti-Communist force of the nation."[71] After the embarrassing capture of Pope, the Dulles brothers, who in April had still been confident in Permesta as a useful force providing leverage on Jakarta, finally switched sides.[72] A U.S. official, summing up the policy reversal, confided to an Australian diplomat on May 20 that "in view of the collapse of the Sumatra dissidents due to their unwillingness to fight and of the small leverage provided by the Celebes [Sulawesi] group, we had to come to the conclusion that a solution would have to be found through development of assets on Java."[73]

4. Rapprochement

The "assets" on Java to which the U.S. now turned to were the army leadership, Prime Minister Djuanda and other moderate elements in the central government. During the second half of 1958, the U.S. began to provide Jakarta with the badly needed economic and military support it had denied Indonesia in the years before on grounds of the country's perceived leftward drift. This more cautious approach, aiming at reconciliation, emerged as the Dulles brothers, having failed in their dogmatic intervention policy, gradually retreated from active decision-making on Indonesia.[74]

But the damage had been done. With the CIA's "messy fingerprints"[75] everywhere, PKI leaders were the first and the most active domestic politicians having correctly charged the U.S. with physical support of the rebels. In the Kahins' words, the PKI thus had become "the principal beneficiary of the explosion of widespread patriotic outrage against the destructive intrusion of the United States and its Asian client states into Indonesia's domestic affairs."[76] Public outrage was exacerbated as rebel air attacks continued well into July of 1958, with Taiwan and the Philippines running the show. The U.S. apparently did nothing to prevent them from doing so.[77] In the meantime, the Indonesian military moved successfully to defeat Permesta, taking Manado after a fierce fight on June 24, 1958. Thus Permesta was reduced to guerilla proportions, as the rebels in Sumatra had been before. The movement was to dissolve into mutually hostile factions, with Warouw being killed in internecine fighting and Sumual finally rallying to the central government in October 1961.[78]

The impact of the abortive rebellion on Indonesia was considerable. First, President Sukarno, who was credited with being a major actor in crushing it and enjoyed increased prestige, was even more steadfast than before in avoiding alignment with either the Soviet Union or the United States. Second, the army's power and unity were significantly strengthened, transforming it into a major contender for power. With its heavy-handed rule under martial law it consolidated its grip on economic and administrative matters previously in civilian hands, whereas civilian moderates such as politicians from Masyumi or the PSI, tainted by their sympathy for the regionalists' cause, were weakened - as was the whole parliamentary system. Third, the Communist party PKI gained popular support as it capitalized on the widespread outrage against the U.S. intrusion into Indonesia's affairs.[79] Thus, if we recall the objectives of the Eisenhower administration's attempt to manipulate the politics of Indonesia as formulated by the Kahins (see page 10), none of them had been achieved, but exactly the opposite.

III. The Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1966

1. Radicalization in the early 1960s

In the wake of the abortive rebellion, the political scene in Indonesia was polarized. Throughout the first half of the 1960s, Indonesia drifted further into radicalism, a trend manifested by the growing assertiveness of the PKI and Sukarno's anti-Western foreign policy stances. Indonesia pursued an aggressive foreign policy agenda at first by trying to win control over West Irian by small-scale military infiltration and PKI mass agitation, later by campaigning militarily against the creation of the Federation of Malaysia.

Aware that the PKI gained popular favor through the West Irian campaign and that the Indonesian armed forces were supplied with Soviet arms to build up strength, the new U.S. President Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to pressure the Netherlands to negotiate a peaceful settlement. In a general atmosphere of warmer ties with the Third World's leading neutralists, whom the Kennedy administration sought to "compete for", rather than to "threaten them into Soviet hands,"[80] Sukarno visited Washington in April 1961. Kennedy's initiative led to a resolution of the West Irian issue through the United Nations in 1962 and provisional control of the region was passed over to Indonesia in May 1963.[81] With assistance of the International Monetary Fund, reforms to stabilize the Indonesian economy were also agreed upon. U.S.-Indonesian relations improved somewhat, but deteriorated again in late 1963 when Sukarno, the PKI and the Indonesian army were united in opposition against the British-sponsored creation of the Federation of Malaysia, which consisted of Malaya, Singapore, and the British colonies of North Borneo. Viewing the creation of Malaysia as a neocolonialist scheme, Indonesia launched its "crush Malaysia" campaign, a sable-rattling that also served the internal political needs of Sukarno, the PKI and the army. Sukarno and the PKI once again enhanced their stature as champions of a patriotic cause, whereas the military hoped to defer cuts in the military budget that had been proposed as part of the economic reforms. In the event, however, the army was unwilling to escalate the confrontation to an all-out war it could not possibly win.[82] Thus, General Suharto, who was deputy commander of the Malaysia campaign as well as commander of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) at that time, secretly established contacts with British, Malaysian, and possibly American intelligence to explore possibilities to end the campaign as the army wanted its best troops on Java and Sumatra in order to keep the PKI in check. Before that, in January 1964, Robert F. Kennedy had arranged a Malaysia-Indonesia ceasefire, but Sukarno, who remained steadfastly opposed to Malaysia, reacted to U.S. support for the new federation by announcing that the U.S. could "go to hell" with its economic aid to Indonesia.[83]

Not only had the "crush Malaysia" campaign driven a wedge between Jakarta and the West, but tensions within Indonesia were also rising. According to the Kahins, "as Sukarno grew increasingly reliant on the PKI to offset army power, the Communists became more assured of his protection against the army, and consequently politically more assertive."[84] In an attempt to break the deadlock of national consensus politics that had so far kept the PKI out of the civilian power structure, the PKI under the leadership of Aidit began to mount a radical offensive in late 1963, launching a 'unilateral action' campaign in the rural areas of Java, Bali and North Sumatra to carry out land reform, campaigning against 'bureaucratic capitalists' in the civil service and the army, and pressing Sukarno to endow the PKI with a military capacity by forming a 'fifth force' beyond the four existing armed forces in Indonesia.[85] Viewing these developments with concern, the CIA noted in an intelligence memorandum that the relationship between the Communists and Sukarno was one of "mutual exploitation" and that Sukarno was "well on his way to becoming a captive of the Communists."[86]

The PKI appealed to the Indonesian masses with its efforts to improve their lot. It has been justly described as "the most modern of Indonesian organizations"[87], morally disciplined, dedicated and well-organized, with a vision shaped by a social revolutionary and egalitarian ethic that appealed to peasants, workers, petty traders, teachers and many intellectuals alike, many of whom knew little of communist ideology but were simply disillusioned with the fruits of independence. Still, many authors have argued that the PKI's power was more apparent than real, since the Communists were regarded as outsiders by almost all members of the political elite and would have under no circumstance been allowed to make a bid for power.[88]

2. The U.S. and the Events Leading up to the 1965 'Coup'

Whatever the case, during 1964 and 1965 "a domestic explosion was building up."[89] With the PKI's apparent surge toward dominance, Sukarno's shifts to the left and anti-Western provocations, a collapsing economy, manifold intrigues of both the PKI and the army, each with its schemes to infiltrate each other, and the conspiratorial atmosphere heightened in mid-1965 by reports about Sukarno's imminent fall or death, Jakarta bubbled with rumors in a feverish period aptly described by Sukarno as the "Year of Living Dangerously." As has been shown by Bunnell, the U.S. responded to this situation with "largely consistent restraint [...] in contrast to the concurrent escalation of the American war in Vietnam."[90] Regarding Sukarno, there were two schools of thought among U.S. policymakers, one of accommodation, shaped by Ambassador Jones, hoping that actively influencing Sukarno and showing a friendly attitude towards him would moderate his anti-Western behavior, and one of "low posture", shaped by U.S. officials in Washington who gained predominance after Jones departed from Indonesia in May 1965, viewing any initiative to influence Sukarno as futile. On balance, both approaches were consistent in believing that channels of communication with the Indonesian army should be kept open to fortify it for a showdown with the PKI, but also that essentially Indonesia would have "to save itself."[91]

As early as 1964 Jones had approached Nasution to explore possibilities of action by the army against the PKI. He asked Nasution "whether the army would take action against PKI if the party attempted exploit current economic difficulties through strikes, riots, etc. He [Nasution] said that PKI was still supporting Sukarno and would not go so far as to adopt tactics directed at Sukarno. If PKI did, however, Madiun [a 1948 purge of the Communists] would be mild compared with an army crackdown today."[92] To help the army prepare for such a counterinsurgency, the U.S. since 1962 provided military training at the Indonesian Army Staff and Command School in Bandung (SESKOAD) and aided the army to develop its "civic-action" programs, which brought the organization of the army's political infrastructure down to the village level. As Scott has pointed out, SESKOAD also trained the army officers in economics and administration, "and thus to operate virtually as a para-state."[93] Ransom has suggested that the U.S. viewed education as an "arm of statecraft" and created a "modernizing elite" in Indonesia through the Ford Foundation, teaching the generals in counterinsurgency and how to run military-private enterprises, and educating economists and administrators at American top universities as part of a broader strategy which envisaged that key U.S.-trained Indonesians would eventually seize power "and put their pro-American lessons into practice."[94]

This does not of course suffice as evidence to support Wertheim's suggestion that the U.S. may have aided General Suharto in engineering the October 1 coup,[95] even though it is clear that the NSC approved a covert action program in March 1965 with its main thrust being designed "to exploit factionalism within the PKI itself, to emphasize traditional Indonesian distrust of Mainland China and to portray the PKI as an instrument of Red Chinese imperialism. Specific types of activity envisaged include covert liaison with and support to existing anti-Communist groups, particularly among the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified], black letter operations, media operations, including possibly black radio, and political action within existing Indonesian organizations and institutions." One of the operational objectives of this covert action program was also to "identify and cultivate potential leaders within Indonesia for the purpose of ensuring an orderly non-Communist succession upon Sukarno's death or removal from office."[96] The body of CIA documents released to date does not, however, shed any light on the question how this program was implemented.

Several coup options were certainly discussed by U.S. policymakers in Washington and Jakarta by the beginning of 1965, when Indonesia's military elite formed a "Council of Generals" to develop contingency plans for dealing with the mounting PKI threat. Ambassador Jones repeatedly claimed to have information from the inner circles of the army that it had "specific plans for a takeover of the government"[97], but in Washington skepticism prevailed as to how promising the prospects of an army takeover really were.[98] In any case, the U.S. was apparently not prepared to intervene directly. Anti-American sentiments in Indonesia were on the rise since Sukarno had encouraged a campaign by PKI unions to harass U.S. installations and enterprises in February, a crisis which led to the dispatch of presidential envoy Ellsworth Bunker to Indonesia in March to assess the situation. His report became a policy blueprint recommending that "a reduced, non-provocative presence was the best means available to the U.S."[99] When the PKI called on Sukarno to break relations with the U.S. in a campaign accompanied by attacks on American diplomatic installations in August, the U.S. community in Jakarta was reduced from over 400 to only 35 officials. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, since July headed by the new Ambassador Marshall Green, was unable "to identify any feasible means -covert or overt- by which the United States could check the leftward drift of events."[100]

3. U.S. Compliance with the Indonesian army after the 'Coup'

However limited American power to influence, let alone manipulate, the events leading up to the "domestic explosion" of late 1965 seems to have been, the Americans were happy to assist the Suharto faction as soon as they realized that it was gaining the upper hand against Sukarno and the PKI. While acknowledging that events would "largely follow their own course" since they were "determined by basic forces far beyond our ability to control", Ambassador Green recommended as soon as October 5, when it became apparent that the allegedly pro-Communist coup of September 30 had failed and a purge of the PKI in the countryside was beginning, to "spread the story of PKI's guilt, treachery and brutality" and to assist the army "if we can find a way to do it without identifying it as solely or largely a U.S. effort."[101]

Both the Johnson administration and the Indonesian army were cautious at first regarding American aid, fearing that if it were discovered or credibly charged by Sukarno or PKI at this critical stage, as it had been during the regional rebellion, its effects could be counterproductive.[102] As Suharto's countercoup took shape, however, General Sukendro, a close aide to Suharto and Nasution, in November secretly procured communications equipment and small arms through the U.S. embassy in Thailand. The weapons were "to arm Moslem and nationalist youths in Central Java for use against the PKI,"[103] whereas the communications equipment was destined for the army leadership itself and the "tactical unit level in the Central Java area."[104] "Special covert training at a safe site in use of the equipment" was also agreed upon.[105]

In mid-December Under-Secretary of State George Ball exclaimed that the "Indonesian military leaders' campaign to destroy the PKI is moving fairly swiftly and smoothly," and expressed his confidence that "these developments will move so rapidly that we may be confronted within weeks with a situation we have hoped for, i.e. a new government, emerging or in being, that we can begin to talk to and deal with."[106] Thus the long-anticipated showdown between the army and PKI was finally taking place and the United States, preoccupied with the escalating war in Vietnam, clearly welcomed the emergence of the rightist military regime under General Suharto who was to court Western support as soon as he effectively eased Sukarno out of power in March 1966.

It should be noted that the U.S. policymakers were completely aware of the tragic social breakdown that was taking place in Indonesia and what the American supplies of arms and communications equipment, whatever modest these may have been, were being used for. In mid-November the U.S. consul in Medan described in a cable to the Department of State the "bloodthirsty" attitude of youth groups who were "cornering and beating to death" PKI members in North Sumatra, further stating that "something like a real reign of terror against PKI is taking place. This terror is not discriminating very carefully between PKI leaders and ordinary PKI members with no ideological bond to the party."[107] Washington remained acquiescent.

Another issue that has been brought up recently is that U.S. officials systematically compiled lists of PKI cadres and passed them to the perpetrators. In the investigative reporting of Kathy Kadane, Robert J. Martens, a former member of the U.S. Jakarta Embassy's political section who reportedly had compiled these lists, is quoted as saying somewhat boastfully: "It really was a big help to the army. 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."[108] Martens later stressed that "the names I gave were based entirely -I repeat entirely- on the Indonesia Communist press and were available to everyone."[109] In any case it is inappropriate to suggest that U.S. assistance to the Indonesian army was pivotal during the purge of PKI, since, as has been noted by Bunnell, "it is clear that indigenous Indonesian political and social forces, together with accidental factors, were the prime determinants of the watershed events of Indonesian politics in 1965."[110] The provocative actions of the PKI, and of Sukarno himself, both of which have not been discussed thoroughly in this commentary, certainly contributed significantly to the tragedy. And yet, as noted in Bunnell's words in the introductory remarks, the U.S. was "surely an important and witting accomplice."

IV. Conclusion

The misguided, ill-conceived and ultimately counterproductive U.S. covert operation during the regional rebellion in 1957-58 and the acquiescent, even supportive U.S. policy stance towards the brutal military takeover in 1965-66 remain a cause for Indonesian mistrust of outside powers, particularly the United States, to this day. During both these episodes the United States was guided by alarmist assessments of the Indonesian situation as well as a "just war" mentality, sacrificing professed American moral standards for the sake of "saving" Indonesia from falling to the Communist bloc, and failing to acknowledge the human destruction which was inflicted on Indonesia by the ideological polarization of the Cold War era. U.S. decision makers also ignored the powerful nationalist current that ultimately kept the regional rebels from fighting ferociously against Jakarta and may also have kept the PKI from dragging Indonesia into the Communist bloc in case it had been given a chance to share power in the Indonesian government. In both these episodes, the irresistible appeal of nationalist, anticolonial, and anti-Western currents to Indonesians was very much evident.

The unintended effects of U.S. actions have proven most consequential to developments in Indonesia. In the case of the abortive regional rebellion, a polarization of the formerly pluralistic political scene ensued, concentrating power in the hands of Sukarno, the army and the PKI. Thus the stage was set for the radicalization of the 1960s that eventually led to the tragedy of 1965-66. The military regime that was initially welcomed and subsequently nurtured by the U.S. seemed to serve Western interests well during the Cold War era, but its legacy of corruption, mismanagement and human rights abuses has left Indonesia traumatized again and is causing renewed headaches for U.S. policy makers concerned with a prosperous and stable Indonesia in the current age.

There is, to be sure, an important difference between the two episodes of U.S. involvement in Indonesian affairs described above. Whereas the U.S. backing of the regional rebellion was based on the assumption that the U.S. could effectively manipulate events in this far-flung archipelagic nation to serve its interests, the U.S. policy stance leading up to the tragic events of 1965 was apparently somewhat more astute in acknowledging that American power was too limited to make much of a difference. In any case, it should be stressed that this commentary does not seek to claim American responsibility for all developments in Indonesia since its independence, be they good or bad, for the story of Indonesia has been mainly the story of Indonesians, after all.

And yet, even as the events described in this commentary may seem to be distant episodes of the Cold War, episodes that are all over and done with, lessons can still be drawn from it. The recent outbreaks of anti-American sentiments in Indonesia triggered by U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in its so-called "War against Terror" are potentially disruptive for the domestic political setting and may serve as only the latest proof of persistent Indonesian perceptions of the United States as an imperial power.

V. Bibliography

Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. and Ruth T. McVey (1971), A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965, Coup in Indonesia, Ithaca: Cornell University Modern Indonesia Project, Interim Reports Series (with the assistance of Frederick P. Bunnell).

Anderson, Benedict R. O'G (2000), "Petrus Dadi Ratu", in Indonesia 70, 1-7.

Brands, H.W. (1989), "The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn't Topple Sukarno", in Journal of American History 76, 785-808.

Bunnell, Frederick P. (1976), "The Central Intelligence Agency-Deputy Directorate for Plans 1961 Secret Memorandum on Indonesia: A Study in the Politics of Policy Formulation in the Kennedy Administration", in Indonesia 22, 131-169.

Bunnell, Frederick P. (1990), "American 'Low Posture' Policy toward Indonesia in the Months Leading up to the 1965 'Coup'", in Indonesia 50, 29-60.

Challis, Roland (2001), Shadow of A Revolution: Indonesia and the Generals, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.

Cribb, Robert (1990) (ed.), The Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966. Studies from Java and Bali, Clayton, Victoria: Monash University, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies.

Cribb, Robert (2001), "How Many Deaths? Problems in the statistics of massacre in Indonesia (1965-1966) and East Timor (1975-1980)", in Ingrid Wessel and Georgia Wimhöfer (eds.) Violence in Indonesia, Hamburg: Abera, 82-98.

Conboy, Kenneth and James Morrison (1999), Feet to the Fire. CIA Covert Operations in Indonesia, 1957-1958, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

Crouch, Harold (1978), The Army and Politics in Indonesia, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Deshpande, Jayashri (1981), Indonesia, The Impossible Dream. United States and 1958 Rebellion, New Delhi: Prachi Prakashan.

Doeppers, Daniel F. (1972), "An Incident in the PRRI/Permesta Rebellion of 1958", in Indonesia 14, 183-195.

Feith, Herbert (1957), The Indonesian Elections of 1955, Ithaca: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project Interim Report.

Feith, Herbert (1962), The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Feith, Herbert (1963), "Dynamics of Guided Democracy", in Ruth T. McVey (ed.), Indonesia, New Haven: HRAF Press, 309-409.

Gardner, Paul F. (1997), Shared Hopes, Separate Fears. Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations, Boulder: Westview Press.

Harvey, Barbara S. (1977), Permesta: Half a Rebellion, Ithaca: Cornell University Modern Indonesia Project.

Jones, Howard P. (1971), Indonesia: The Possible Dream, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Kadane, Kathy (1990), "After 25 years, Americans speak of their role in exterminating Communist Party", San Francisco Examiner, May 20, 1990 (also posted at

Kadane, Kathy (1997), "A Letter to the Editor", New York Review of Books, April 10, 1997 (also posted at

Kahin, George McT. and Audrey R. Kahin (1995), Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia, New York: New Press.

Leirissa, R.Z. (1991), PRRI/Permesta, Strategi Membangun Indonesia Tanpa Komunis, Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti.

Lev, Daniel S. (1966), The Transition to Guided Democracy: Indonesia Politics, 1957-1959, Ithaca: Cornell University Modern Indonesia Project.

Mackie, Jamie A.C. (1974), Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia dispute, 1963-1966, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

McMahon, Robert (1999), The Limits of Empire. The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II, New York: Columbia University Press.

Mortimer, Rex (1974), Indonesian Communism Under Sukarno. Ideology and Politics, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mossman, James (1961), Rebels in Paradise: Indonesia's Civil War, London: Cape.

Prados, John (1987), Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II, New York: Morrow, 128-148.

Ransom, David (1975), "Ford Country: Building an Elite for Indonesia", in Weissman, Steve, (ed.), The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid, Palo Alto: Ramparts Press, 93-116; (also posted at

Ricklefs, Merle C. (1993), A History of Modern Indonesia since c. 1300, second edition, London: Macmillan.

Rochiat, Pipit (1985), "Am I PKI or non-PKI?", in Indonesia 40, 37-52.

Scott, Peter Dale (1985), "The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967", in Pacific Affairs 58, 239-264; (also posted at

Sulu, Phill M. (1997), Permesta: Jejak-Jejak Pemgembaraan, Jakarta: Pustaka Sinar Harapan.

Stevenson, William (1963), Birds' Nests in Their Beards, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

U.S. Dept. of State (2001), Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, vol. 27 of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office; (posted at:;

Van Klinken, Gerry (2001), "The Battle for History After Suharto. Beyond Sacred Dates, Great Men, and Legal Milestones", in Critical Asian Studies 33:3, 323-350.

Wertheim, W.F. (1970), "Suharto and the Untung Coup - The Missing Link", in Journal of Contemporary Asia 1, 52-57.

[1] The story of U.S.-Southeast Asian relations since World War II has been admirably described by Robert McMahon (1999), The Limits of Empire.

[2] The PRRI/Permesta rebellion of 1957-1958 and its American dimension have received considerable scholarly attention, especially in recent years. The revealing study of Audrey R. and George McT. Kahin (1995), Subversion as Foreign Policy, is the most comprehensive account of what was then the largest U.S. covert operation since WW II and its impact on Indonesia, based on an investigation that took the Kahins three and a half decades to compensate for the reluctance of U.S. authorities to declassify relevant documents. While conducting their more recent study Feet to the Fire, Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison (1999) were advantaged by having access to the written sources of the just published Indonesia, vol. 17 in the Foreign Relations of the United States series for 1958-1960. The more instructive feature of their book, however, is their vivid reconstruction of the story as it evolved at that time, based on extensive oral interviews with several key participants, particularly the CIA-agents on the ground. Also valuable are John Prados (1987), Presidents' Secret Wars, 128-148; and Paul F. Gardner (1997), Shared Hopes, Separate Fears, 133-162. An earlier attempt to unveil American involvement in the regional rebellion was made by Jayashri Deshpande (1981), Indonesia, The Impossible Dream, alluding to the title given to his memoirs by the U.S. Ambassador stationed in Indonesia during that period, Howard P. Jones (1971), Indonesia: The Possible Dream. Concurrent journalistic accounts of that period include James Mossman (1961), Rebels in Paradise; and William Stevenson (1963), Birds' Nests in Their Beards. Focussing less on American involvement than on the Indonesian political scene itself, the classic study of the rebellion in Sulawesi is Barbara S. Harvey (1977), Permesta: Half a Rebellion. For the Indonesian national context in which the regional rebellion occurred see: Herbert Feith (1962), The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia; and Daniel S. Lev (1963), The Transition to Guided Democracy. The major Indonesian account of the rebellion published during the later years of the staunchly anticommunist New Order-regime is R.Z. Leirissa (1991), PRRI/Permesta, Strategi Membangun Indonesia Tanpa Komunis, using much oral evidence of the former rebels and arguing for them as having acted in defense of the nation against the threat of communism. A recent book by Phill M. Sulu (1997), Permesta: Jejak-Jejak Pemgembaraan, provides interesting, albeit unscholarly reading about the atmosphere in North Sulawesi and the experiences of common Minhahasans during the years of rebellion.

[3] The most authoritative study on this period is Herbert Feith (1963), "Dynamics of Guided Democracy".

[4] The expansion of PKI has been analyzed by Rex Mortimer (1974), Indonesian Communism under Sukarno.

[5] On the restraint that shaped U.S. overt policy during that period, see Frederick P. Bunnell (1990), "American 'Low Posture' Policy toward Indonesia in the Months Leading up to the 1965 'Coup'".

[6] Robert Cribb (2001), "How Many Deaths?", 92.

[7] For a careful discussion of various theories about the coup, see Harold Crouch (1978), The Army and Politics in Indonesia, 97-134. One of these theories, the earliest account that ran counter to the official version of the Suharto government, acquired some notoriety as the so-called "Cornell Paper" until finally published by Benedict Anderson and Ruth McVey (1971), A Preliminary Analysis of the October 1, 1965, Coup in Indonesia. After the downfall of the Suharto regime, new sources have surfaced and new visions of history have arisen in Indonesia itself. For a discussion of recent Indonesian publications on the events of 1965, see Gerry van Klinken (2001), "The Battle for History After Suharto". See also Benedict R.O'G. Anderson (2000), "Petrus Dadi Ratu".

[8] Merle Ricklefs (1993), A History of Modern Indonesia, 280.

[9] Among others, the Dutch scholar W.F. Wertheim has argued that General Suharto may have engineered the October 1 coup, possibly in league with the CIA. See Wertheim (1970), "Suharto and the Untung Coup - The Missing Link". This theory is discussed in Crouch (1978), 123-125. See also Peter D. Scott (1985), "The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno". Scott claims there had been U.S. support for the Suharto faction before the coup. The British journalist Roland Challis (2001) suggests there was also a British plot.

[10] H.W. Brands (1989), "The Limits of Manipulation: How the U.S. Didn't Topple Sukarno", 787. McMahon bases his conclusions on Brands' arguments, see McMahon (1999), The Limits of Empire, 119-124.

[11] Bunnell (1990), 60.

[12] U.S. Dept. of State (2001), Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, vol. 27 of Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968; hereafter cited as FRUS (2001). The CIA prevented the official release of this volume of State Department histories in July 2001, even though the documents included were officially declassified in 1998 and 1999. George Washington University's National Security Archive, however, has obtained a copy of the Indonesia volume and has posted it on the Web.

[13] For an analysis of the elections, see Herbert Feith (1957), The Indonesian Elections of 1955. Four major parties emerged, but none won a majority: the Indonesian Nationalist Party (Partai Nasional Indonesia, or PNI) won 22.3 percent, the Islamic Masyumi party 20.9 percent, the conservative, mainly Java-based Islamic scholar's association (Nahdlatul Ulama, NU), 18.4 percent and PKI, with its stronghold in Java, 16.4 percent. It is interesting to note that the CIA discreetly supported the election campaign of the Islamic, anticommunist Masyumi party with one million dollars in an effort to contain leftist forces, Conboy and Morrison (1999),13.

[14] An exhaustive study of this period is Feith (1962); see also Kahin and Kahin (1995), 36-53; Harvey (1977), 1-15 and Ricklefs (1993), 237-256.

[15] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 50.

[16] Lev (1966), 3.

[17] Feith (1962), 487-500; Harvey (1977), 6-7, 34-38. Producers of export crops were paid at the official exchange rate and, at times, got only one-third as much as they would have from direct barter trade.

[18] This account is based on Harvey (1977), 8-13; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 51-57; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 3-6; Ricklefs (1993), 252-253.

[19] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 57-66, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 7-12.

[20] Harvey (1977), 28-34, 39-41; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 63-65; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 7-10.

[21] Lev (1966), 17.

[22] Lev (1966), 15-16, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 66-67, Harvey (1977), 13-15; Ricklefs (1993), 254-256.

[23] Lev (1966), 20-30, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 67-68.

[24] Harvey (1977), 67; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 19.

[25] On Munas, see Lev (1966), 31-33, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 71-74; Harvey (1977), 77-78.

[26] Dr. Sumitro was a noted intellectual and a key figure of the Socialist Party (Partai Sosialis Indonesia, or PSI), a party sidelined during the emergence of Guided Democracy. He added legitimacy to the dissident's cause since he was a native Javanese. Furthermore he had useful connections abroad and "he saw the value of playing the anticommunist card to draw U.S. support", Conboy and Morrison (1999), 22. On Sumitro's role as representative of the rebels abroad, see Kahin and Kahin (1995), 101-107, 136-137, 147.

[27] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 76, see also Harvey (1977), 77.

[28] Harvey (1977), 90.

[29] Lev (1966), 84-101.

[30] Lev (1966), 29; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 22.

[31] Harvey (1977), 91; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 72-73.

[32] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 40; see also: McMahon (1999), 84; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 12-13.

[33] As repeated Indonesian government's requests during 1956-57 to purchase U.S. military equipment were turned down by the U.S., Indonesia finally accepted Soviet offers, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 82.

[34] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 75; see also Conboy and Morrison (1999), 12.

[35] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 6.

[36] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 15; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 85.

[37] Joseph Burkholder Smith as quoted in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 85. As part of its effort to "strengthen the case" for a "more vigorous policy" against Sukarno, the CIA even produced a bogus porno movie starring an actor who slightly resembled Sukarno as having an affair with a blond woman purported to be a Soviet agent. The movie may have been intended "to capitalize on Secretary Dulles's known disapproval of Sukarno's womanizing", as suggested by Kahin and Kahin (1995), 85, or to be used for clips, which CIA stations could then plant in Asian media, as noted by Conboy and Morrison (1999), 15, footnote 29. Here, Conboy and Morrison also quote Samuel Halpern, a senior officer in the agency's Far East Division at that time, as commenting on the movie: "It backfired, because in some of the Third World places where it was released, they liked the idea of a man of color having sex with a white woman."

[38] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 86, 91-93.

[39] Eisenhower as quoted in Mc Mahon (1999), 73.

[40] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 81-82; Conboy (1999), 16.

[41] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 17.

[42] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 17.

[43] On the takeovers of Dutch property, see Feith (1962), 320-321; Lev (1966), 33-34; Harvey (1977), 81-82; Ricklefs (1993), 261; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 111-112; and Conboy and Morrison (1999), 27.

[44] A U.S. Senate committee investigating "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders" found out in 1975 that the CIA had "contemplated" the assassination of Sukarno, but "the project got no further than the identification of an 'asset' that might be recruited for it", Brands (1989), 790, footnote 8. See also Kahin and Kahin (1995), 114; and Scott (1985), 3 (Web version). It is now believed that the perpetrators were army officers from West Java not connected to the colonels, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 27, footnote 30.

[45] On the Sungai Dareh Conference, see Kahin and Kahin (1995), 127-130; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 33.

[46] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 135.

[47] It is assumed that this was the first secret shipment of U.S. weapons to the rebels, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 32-34, esp. footnote 12; whereas Kahin and Kahin charge that such supplies were delivered as early as November 1957, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 121. The rebels, particularly those in Minahasa, also purchased substantial amounts of weapons by themselves, mainly in the Philippines and Taiwan, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 41-45. After all, the CIA "was confident that the military capacity of the rebels would prevail against the center's military power, at least outside Java", Kahin and Kahin (1995), 134.

[48] Secretary of State John Foster Dulles as quoted in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 132.

[49] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 38-41.

[50] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 146; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 52; Harvey (1977), 99.

[51] Harvey (1977), 102; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 46-49. Kawilarang, though, avoided getting actively involved in the rebellion and was one of the few senior officers to be left unscathed after its collapse.

[52] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 146-147; Stevenson (1963), 144.

[53] For a detailed account of the airdrop, which was routed via Thailand without Thai approval, see Conboy and Morrison (1999), 57-59.

[54] During this airdrop, one CIA agent almost fell out of the plane, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 63-66.

[55] Allen Dulles as quoted in Conboy and Morrison (1999), 67. See also Jones (1971), 69-70.

[56] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 151.

[57] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 73-75.

[58] Allen Dulles as cited in Conboy and Morrison (1999), 82.

[59] The paramilitary advisors were infiltrated by an amphibian which landed at Lake Singkarak, a scenic lake east of Padang. As cover for their assignment, "they were to be a team of entomologists seeking rare Sumatran butterflies." Disillusioned by the low level of tenacity shown by the PRRI troops, one of them later poignantly commented: "Why the fuck did we come?", Conboy and Morrison (1999), 80-81.

[60] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 166; Harvey (1977), 108.

[61] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 163-166. On the Padang invasion, Mossman (1961), 149-153. PRRI's protracted guerilla war is discussed in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 197-199; and Conboy and Morrison (1999), 156-157.

[62] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 108-111.

[63] Allen Dulles as quoted in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 175.

[64] This is suggested by Kahin and Kahin (1995), 166. They quote Allen Dulles as stating in a message to his agents in Sumatra that "if fighting resulted in the boys moving to the mountains don't deliver [possibly an airplane?]." A plan to use planes in Sumatra is also mentioned by Conboy and Morrison (1999), 100.

[65] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 169-174; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 82-91, 106.

[66] See Doeppers (1972); Kahin and Kahin (1995), 169-170; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 82-84.

[67] Harvey (1977), 108; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 172-173; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 115-119. Conboy and Morrison provide particularly well informed accounts on each of these bombing raids and the (American) individuals who carried them out.

[68] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 126-127.

[69] The number of civilians killed during an earlier strike on Ambon conducted by Pope has been an issue of controversy, with casualty figures between six and "several hundred". For a discussion, see Conboy and Morrison (1999), 129, esp. footnote 4, and Kahin and Kahin (1995), 180. Pope reportedly was treated well during his imprisonment, but eventually sentenced to death in 1960, only to be released after a visit of U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to Jakarta in 1962. The Kahins add that " is not entirely clear whether it was Robert Kennedy or Pope's wife, mother and sister who exerted the most influence in getting Sukarno to grant Pope a pardon. Women's tears were known to make Sukarno extremely uncomfortable, and all three women cried profusely when being received by him." They also quote Sukarno as telling Pope before his departure: "Just go home, hide yourself, get lost, and we'll forget the whole thing,'" Kahin and Kahin (1995), 182. Conboy and Morrison relate a fanciful story about a CIA plot to have Pope "whisked straight out" of his Jakarta prison with an aerial retrieval system called Skyhook, a device which, in the event, did not need to be put to the test, Conboy and Morrison (1999), 162-165.

[70] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 143.

[71] Howard P. Jones as quoted by Kahin and Kahin (1995), 160. Jones also bluntly dismissed any hopes of a rebel military success.


[72] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 98; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 175.

[73] Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs Walter Robertson as quoted in Kahin and Kahin (1995), 183.

[74] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 190-193.

[75] Conboy and Morrison (1999), 155.

[76] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 194.

[77] After the U.S. withdrew its support for Permesta in late May, it still kept open the option of renewed rebel air attacks for some time, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 191. Nationalist China's President Chiang Kai-shek, afraid of being "exposed to Communism from the south", contemplated dispatching Taiwanese marines to support Permesta and asked U.S. officials "not to interfere with his plan", In the event, Taiwan supported the rebels until August 1958, albeit on a smaller scale. Conboy and Morrison (1999), 148.

[78] On the final stages and the defeat of the Permesta rebellion, see Harvey (1977), 113-149; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 184, 197-205, 213-216; Conboy and Morrison (1999), 159-160.

[79] This account is based on the Kahins' conclusion, Kahin and Kahin (1995), 217-220.

[80] Robert Komer, member of the National Security Council (NSC) staff, as quoted by McMahon (1999), 122. Some aspects of the Kennedy administration's policy on Indonesia are discussed in Bunnell (1976).

[81] For a more extensive discussion of the settlement of the West Irian dispute, see Jones (1971), 202-214; Kahin and Kahin (1995), 221; McMahon (1999), 121-122; Ricklefs (1993), 269; Feith (1963), 351-354.

[82] See "Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Dept. of State: Djakarta, March 12, 1964", in FRUS (2001), 37 (the numbers given in citations of FRUS hereafter refer to document numbers, not pages.)

[83] On the "crush Malaysia" campaign, see Mackie (1974), Kahin and Kahin (1995), 221-223; Ricklefs (1993), 272-276.

[84] Kahin and Kahin (1995), 223.

[85] In the event, Sukarno never allowed a 'fifth force' to be formed and turned down Chinese offers to arm this 'people's militia', which has been seen as evidence that Sukarno had no genuine intention of helping the PKI to power "but sought only to pressure the army leadership", Ricklefs (1993), 278-279.

[86] "Current Intelligence Memorandum: Washington, August 20, 1964", in FRUS (2001), 62.

[87] Mortimer (1974), 407.

[88] It is beyond the scope of this commentary to provide an in-depth analysis of the PKI's strengths and weaknesses, its particular Indonesian characteristics and its apparent or real prospects to take over power in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. See Mortimer (1974), Feith (1963), esp. 339-342, Ricklefs (1993), 274-278.

[89] Ricklefs (1993), 276. This commentary does not seek to explore the origins of this "domestic explosion", but only American involvement in it. See the introductory remarks above, esp. footnote 7.

[90] Bunnell (1999), 30.

[91] Brands (1989), 793; Bunnell (1990), 45. The statement that "Indonesia will essentially have to save itself" is quoted from a report by U.S. special envoy Ellsworth Bunker who visited Indonesia in March 1965 to assess the prospects for future U.S.-Indonesian relations. For his report, see FRUS (2001), 121.

[92] "Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Dept. of State: Djakarta, March 19, 1964, in FRUS (2001), 40. Here and below, understood but omitted words in telegraphic communications have been inserted as to render them more readable. See also Brands (1989), 794.

[93] Scott (1985), 4 (Internet version).

[94] Ransom (1975), 3 (Internet version).

[95] See footnote 9.

[96] "Memorandum Prepared for the 303 Committee: Washington, February 23, 1965" in FRUS (2001), 110. The covert action program was approved by the 303 Committee of the NSC on March 4.

[97] Jones as quoted in Brands (1989), 798; see also "Editorial Note", FRUS (2001), 120.

[98] Bunnell (1990), 36-37.

[99] Bunnell (1990), 45. See also footnote 91.

[100] Bunnell (1990), 52.

[101] "Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Dept. of State: Djakarta, October 5, 1965," in FRUS (2001), 147. See also Brands (1989), 802. It seems likely that the CIA's worldwide media assets helped "to spread the story of PKI's guilt, treachery and brutality." Groundless media fabrications of Communist women having castrated and tortured the generals killed in the abortive coup of September 30 helped to stir up resentment against PKI in Indonesia and abroad, see Scott (1985), 9 (Internet version).

[102] Brands (1989), 802-803.

[103] "Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Dept. of State: Bangkok, November 5, 1965," in FRUS (2001), 171. See also Bunnell (1990), 60. A detailed, shocking account of the bloodletting that "Moslem and nationalist youths" were concurrently carrying out on Java has been written by Rochiat (1985). For the most comprehensive collection of writings on the killings of presumed Communists see Cribb (1990).

[104] Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Dept. of State: Bangkok, November 11, 1965," in FRUS (2001), 173. Kathy Kadane has established in her investigative reporting that the communications equipment was secretly flown by the U.S. Air Force into Indonesia from Clark Field in the Philippines, Kadane (1997).

[105] "Memorandum Prepared for the 303 Committee: Washington, November 17, 1965," in FRUS (2001), 175.

[106] "Telegram From the Dept. of State to the Embassy in Indonesia: Washington, December 16, 1965," in FRUS (2001), 184.

[107] "Telegram From the Consulate in Medan to the Dept. of State: Medan, November 16, 1965", in FRUS (2001), 174.

[108] Kadane (1990), 1 (Internet version).

[109] Martens as quoted in "Editorial Note," in FRUS (2001), 185.

[110] Bunnell (1990), 60.

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