A brief primer of the Gestapu Affair and Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965 — Part 4 and last

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

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The Communist Party of Indonesia, or the PKI, put considerable effort into the political indoctrination of the armed forces. To this end, the PKI created a secret agency called the Biro Khusus, or the Special Bureau, whose existence wasn’t known until after the events of Gestapu (whether it actually existed in the nefarious shape that the triumphant nationalists unveiled is another one of the bones of contention). But by many accounts, Special Bureau was tasked with infiltration and covert enlistment of military units to the Communist cause. The PKI had success with the navy and air force, but the army generalship was staunchly nationalist. They had the guns, and men with guns aren’t real good with sharing them. With support from Marshal Omar Dhani, commander of the air force, Special Bureau (so one version of the story goes) planned the elimination of the top army generals. Their main target was General Nasution, who in the photo above is the handsome dude on the left. Major-General Suharto, on the right, was chief of Kostrad, the army strategic command. He was mostly unknown outside the army. Even the US embassy political officers and military attaches whose job was to keep track of who-was-who had little clue who he was. The PKI, as it turned out, overlooked Suharto in their planning. Whether they did so deliberately (thinking he was on their side) or as a critical oversight is another point of much debate.

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Merdeka Square in the heart of Jakarta was one of the main settings for the Gestapu Affair. Many of the principal players — Soeharto at Kostrad, Sukarno at the Presidential Palace, the Americans at their embassy, the radio and telecommunications buildings which are almost always the first take-over target of any coup attempt — are all clustered together around Merdeka Square. In the center of the square is the National Monument celebrating Independence, one of Sukarno’s projects. Sukarno sure loved the women, so wags called the National Monument “Sukarno’s public erection.”

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The other main setting is Halim Air Force Base (arrow), about 15 kilometers from Merdeka Square. In 1965, Halim was out in the country. The red x marks a small farming hamlet called Lubang Buaya at the outskirts of the base.

On the evening of September 30th in 1965, Lt.-Col. Untung, head of the Presidential Guards and other rogue leftist army soldiers and PKI supporters, along with the head of the Air Force Marshal Omar Dhani and the PKI Chairman Aidit gather at Halim Air Base.

Using jeeps and trucks the soldiers fan throughout the city to the homes of seven top army generals and burst through the front doors. Their main target General Nasution escapes by leaping over the back wall of his house into the Iraqi Ambassador’s garden, breaking his foot, but his young daughter is shot and his aide is taken away. Three generals are shot dead at their homes. Their bodies, and the generals who are kidnapped alive as well as Nastion’s aide, are taken to Halim, where the kidnapped men are killed at Lubang Buaya and all bodies thrown into a disused well.

Rebel soldiers take control of Merdeka Square and seize the radio and telecommunications buildings. At 7 AM, the national radio announces to the nation that the country is under the control of the 30th September Movement, or the Gerakan 30 S – G30S (Gerakan September Tigah Puluh = Gestapu) in order to save the country and President Sukarno from a CIA plot involving subversive army generals, the so-called General’s Council.

The G30S soldiers however did not take KOSTRAD, the army strategic reserves, headed by Gen Suharto. During the course of the day, Suharto talked the rogue soldiers on Merdeka Square into peacefully surrendering and returning to barracks. They had no idea they were involved in a coup – they thought they were protecting the palace — and the G30S planners had forgotten to provide food and water, so Suharto had pretty easy time convincing the hungry and thirsty soldiers this was a waste of time.

Suharto also re-secured the Telkom and radio buildings and went on air later that night to announce that he was in charge of the Army and it was his duty to save President Sukarno from the bad guys, who now are the G30s rouge elements.

Subsequently Suharto and his soldiers attacked Halim Air Force base but without meeting much resistance. The only reported casualty is a water-buffalo shot dead.

Chairman Aidit fled on a plane to Joyga and went into hiding.

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The bodies of the murdered generals were recovered from the disused well. It so happened that on 30th September there was being held at Halim Air Force base a youth training camp, with young Gerwani girls taking part. Rumors began to spread that the Gerwani women had viciously tortured the three living generals and Nasution’s aide before they were killed.

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TVRI, the one and only television station, broadcast the generals’ funerals. Suharto attended in battle dress fatigues. President Sukarno did not attend the funeral but sent his foreign minister, which shocked the country. All the diplomatic corps attended, except for the Chinese delegation. This too was noted. Adding to the country’s growing sense of outrage was the death of Nasution’s young daughter who did not survive her wounds.

Anti-communist Nationalist and Muslim youth organizations were heavily present at the funeral. There is an anecdote that one of the army leaders stepped over to one of the youth leaders and spoke to him one word: sikat. This Indonesian word means “to scrub clean” but in the context has the added connotation of “wipe them out.”

With the support of the Army, fueled by horrific tales of the alleged torture and mutilation of the generals at Lubang Buaya, anti-PKI demonstrations and then violence soon broke out, starting in Aceh and moving east to Central and East Java. Aidit was captured and executed and tossed in an unmarked grave. It is famously said that when this was reported to General Suharto, the reporting officer asked, “this was what you wanted, right?” and Suharto only gave that enigmatic smile of his.

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On the same streets where PKI had recently demonstrated against the colonial-imperalists, now nationalists demonstrated against the PKI

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A mob burnt PKI headquarters. Other PKI and leftist buildings and institutions were ransacked and torched as well.

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The army rounded up PKI cadres and members of leftist organization (in this photo, members of the People’s Youth).

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They rousted villagers in the middle of the night…

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…to interrogate…

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and then to kill.

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Teams fanned out…

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…and killed.

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Lynch mobs formed…

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In Bali the killings didn’t start until December. Bali was on lock-down. Everybody on the island pretty much knew what was going on in Java. Each day, the local paper published dozens of confessions, PKI members recanting their PKI membership and declaring loyalty to the national cause. I don’t think that helped them much.

The Balinese death squads were calling the tameng, men dressed in black. One squad marched in front of our house in Klungkung while one of the men they hunted was in our living room with the curtains closed. I still remember his stink of primal fear. He sneaked out of the house — probably to check on family — and was killed.

In the years that followed, anyone driving through Bali would see seeing burned-out hulks of houses and razed villages, silent witness to the horrors of 1965.

How many were killed? Estimates vary from tens of thousands up to a million. I’ve traveled throughout Indonesia from Aceh to Timor and Rote, and everywhere I’ve been, I’ve talked to the older folks in private, who told me that in their area dozens and hundreds and thousands of people were taken out and killed. I believe a reasonable figure is a half-million victims.

This doesn’t included the those thrown in prison and detention camps, the tahanan politik, or TAPOL. These included many Gerwani women, who were demonized as wicked and evil.

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This photo is of Gerwani detainees taken as late as 1972, when things started easing up in the camps.

So why are these events that happened 50 years ago relevant today? Because it could happen again, just like that. No one expected it to happen in 1965. Nobody expects it to happen today. But it could. Easily.

Well-known poet and writer Laksmi Pamunjtak puts it like this: “Indonesia needs to be reminded of 1965-6 precisely because it is still struggling to come to terms with legacies of violence/authoritarianism in order to shape new futures. Especially because the military is not strictly under civilian control and the government, and for the most part, still serves the interests of the same elite that prospered under the New Order. What happened in 1965-6 in Indonesia is one of the 20th century’s bloodiest state-sponsored massacres. As long as the state continues not to address this fact – in the face of so much incriminating evidence of the Indonesian military’s active involvement in the killings – there is a danger that future generations will become increasingly distanced from it. These generations will assume that it is okay for state-sponsored human rights violations of such scale and magnitude to go unchecked, with the impunity it continues to enjoy.”

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A brief primer of the Gestapu Affair and Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965 — Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

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(Sanur beach in front of the Bali Beach Hotel, early days)

The towering Bali Beach Hotel, casting a shadow over one of Sanur’s sacred temples, was another of Sukarno’s pet projects. Construction started in the early 1960s with Japanese war reparation funds. The contracts were awarded to PKI-supporting contractors, which meant the workers on the scaffolding were automatically PKI unionists, although they had little idea, as they were working not for the revolution but to keep their families fed. But by doing so, they had inadvertently sealed their fate.

The PKI leadership, though, down through the local area secretariats, were dedicated Marxist-Leninists intent on gaining leadership of the country. It seemed likely that with Sukarno’s blessings they would do so via at legitimate political process. The US State Department, the British and Australians, all were pretty gloomy at the likely prospect of Indonesia going Red. To what extent the Americans (the CIA in particular) schemed to stop this from happening is one of the controversies of the Gestapu affair.

In Bones of the Dark Moon, one of the Balinese characters says, “You have to understand something. It is easy to have sympathy for losers. But the Communists were not going to show any mercy. Cadres marched with banners saying Death to Capitalist Dogs. Effigies were hung and burned. This wasn’t just propaganda. They meant it. They made up death lists and plans to cleanse the country. Graves were prepared.”

I’m drawing on personal experience here, because in Klungkung where we lived, a man my folks knew insisted on volunteering to be our gardener. He dug a very large hole out back of our house. For garbage, he said. We would later learn (from captured documents that my father was given) that the local PKI secretariat had planned for that hole to be our graves. Other large holes were also dug around the island. (And lest I be thought to have fascist tendencies, in counter balance to this, another character says, “We can’t judge what could have happened, we can only judge what did happen—and surely what happened was wrong.”)

The mass organization principle applied to other leftist organizations, such as the Gerwani, the Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, or the Indonesian Women’s Movement. Gerwani was founded in 1950 and by 1965 reportedly had over a million members. A feminist organization years before Western women started burning their bras, Gerwani was active in various areas, including politics:

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In this photo, taken in Denpasar, Bali, Gerwani women demonstrate their support for the inclusion of Papua as part of the Republic of Indonesia.

They were also actively involved in social work, such as community health:

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Here a Gerwani activist teaches a health class. Written on the blackboard is “Kebersihan pangkal kesehatan.” Cleanliness is the foundation for healthiness. That’s what we all keep telling our children today.

I’m emphasizing Gerwani because the organization plays a central role, not so much in the events of Gestapu but in the subsequent Suharto regime state mythology. Gerwani also provides one of the narrative threads of Bones of the Dark Moon.

By the end of September, 1965, Indonesia was a country on the edge, economically and politically and socially, with threats and counter-threats and machinations to match Game of Thrones. The events of Gestapu, the mass killings that followed, didn’t blossom out of vacuum. Indonesia was a time bomb on top of a tinder box within a pressure cooker…and on September 30, 1965, the country exploded.

The final installment next week….

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A brief primer of the Gestapu Affair and Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965 — Part 2

Part 1.

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One day last year my 14-year-old son wandered into my curtain-closed den in Sanur, Bali, where I was scribbling, scribbling, scribbling (which is antique-speak for clicking clicking clicking on the keyboard). I told him I was writing a novel about the terrible events of 1965.

Why, what happened in 1965? he asked.

In a 2009 survey of Jakarta university students, half of those interviewed didn’t know either. After all, the Gestapu Affair (as it is commonly called), and the subsequent mass killings, happened nearly half a century ago. What relevance is it today?

There are a number of most excellent reasons why it is relevant, not the least of which is the true cliche that those who don’t remember their history are bound to repeat it (and such is human nature that those who do remember repeat it anyway). But here’s another reason closer to home. Almost every Indonesian and Balinese you meet of a certain age, who lived through the events of 1965 or the years that followed, have vivid memories of that horrible time. They don’t talk about it much, they don’t like talking about it, but it is there. It is the unhealed trauma under the surface of this paradise island.

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It fact, it sometimes comes to the surface. In mid-January of 2013, on this beach in Gianyar, high waves eroded three mass and unmarked graves. In 1965, rice fields and coconut groves and river estuaries graced this coastlne, empty at noon (for noon is an angker time when the veil between the worlds thins dangerously) and abandoned at night, a good place to dump bodies by the thousands.

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The discovery of these bones made the local papers. The fact that the Gestapu Affair remains a sensitive topic is illustrated by the quoted comments made by the village head, who displayed a finely calibrated sense of waffle: “Maybe these bones are those of 1965 victims, but maybe not, because many unidentified corpses were also buried here until 1997.”

The village head stated that the bones would have a cremation ceremony “agar nanti tidak terjadi masalah” — “so later there won’t be problems” — which is a wonderful line to practice the art of reading between them.

On Bali, such a gruesome discovery of forgotten bones is nothing new. Many of these graves have been periodically uncovered over the decades, often by seaside villa and hotel construction.

What happened in 1965, and why? Books, tomes, and PhD dissertations have been written about this subject, but for those who know little but are interested, here’s a brief (some will some woefully inadequate) overview, glossing over the details that academics and historians and conspiracy buffs discuss and dispute to this day. To Indonesians and Balinese who are reading this, I’d also like to mohon maaf. As interesting as this short pictorial essay might be for those who would like to know more, for those who lived through it, or had family who lived through it, it is personal. It’s more than facts. It’s flesh and it’s blood, the killers and those killed.

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Here is one main actor. On 17th August 1945 in Djakarta, as it was then spelled, Sukarno declared to a crowd of about 500 people the country’s independence from the Dutch, who’d long been the archipelago’s colonial master. The fiery, charismatic leader of the struggle for Independence was also declared president of the Republic of Indonesia, though the Dutch would not recognize independence until 1949, after battles and bloodshed. The man on the right in the photo is somebody we’ve all heard of every time we fly into Soekarno-Hatta aiport. Mohammad Hatta was the other signer of the declaration of Independence, and Indonesia’s first vice president.

President Sukarno, the Great Leader of the Revolution, led the country in what he called Guided Democracy. He was a much beloved figure but by most standards of statecraft his governance left a lot to be desired. You could say inept. But he had a firebrand’s charisma. One of the leaders of the global non-aligned movement, he famously declared to the United States, to hell with your aid. (And at a public ceremony he pranked the American ambassador by offering him durian to eat, knowing full well that the Ambassador could not stomach the stinky fruit, but such is diplomatic protocol that the Big Bule had to take a bite).

I remember as a boy how Indonesia seemed to kept together by tin and baling wire. Spare parts for anything were almost impossible to find, so you jury-rigged what you could. The bus’s fuel pump broken? No problem, just put a boy on top of the cab with a jerrycan of fuel feeding a tube to the carburetor.

Sukarno was a genius at balancing the main political forces. During the decades building up to 1965, there were three main political/social forces. One was the military, in particular the army, the other were the Muslim organizations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama as well as other nationalists, and the third was the Partai Komunis Indonesia, founded in 1920

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Here’s another player in the Gestapu drama. Chairman Aidit of the PKI was the man who would be president after Sukarno.

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By 1965, approximately when this photo of PKI Jakarta headquarters was taken, the PKI had 3 million members, the world’s third largest Communist party. Note the becak, Djakarta’s mass rapid transport system of the time. Note too the empty roads, empty not just because this was 50 years ago and people lived poorer and slower and more contentedly with less but also because half the city’s vehicles were broken down at any given time. We kids off to boarding school overnighted in Jakarta, sometimes several nights, and we’d ride in becaks to Sarinah Department Store, the swankiest shopping center in town and which had the country’s first escalator. The Hotel Indonesia and Hotel Bali Beach had the first elevators, but boxes that went up and down were boring. But moving stairs with a view? We’d go up to the top, come back down, and do it all over again. Like a carnival ride.

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Sukarno wasn’t a card-carrying member of the PKI, but he was a patron. In the photo above he’s addressing a PKI rallies at Senayan Stadium in Jakarta, a stadium that Sukarno built with Russian money to host the 4th Asian Games. The PKI had rallies everywhere. They denounced the Seven Village Devils (landlords and their cronies) and the Three City Devils (the capitalists and their ilk). As a boy, I remember constant rallies on town squares (wide and open and weedy — my dad taught his kids how to drive on the Denpasar Puputan square — dodging cows and their cow pies).

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Another common sight: PKI-organized marches and demonstrations against America and its allies and anti-revolutionary bourgeoisie capitalists. These evil elements were the NEKOLIM, the neo-colonialists and imperialists. The good guys were the NASAKOM, an acronym made up of nasionalis, agama, Komunist. A strange combination putting together religion (agama) with an officially atheist political party but this was how Sukarno strategically balanced power.

The PKI was a mass organization, meaning anyone could join. If your boss was a Communist party member, you probably joined too, not because you believed in Communism but you wanted to keep your boss happy and your family fed. I’d say that many PKI members weren’t dedicated Marxists. They just signed on the dotted line for various reasons.

(Okay, this blog post has reached 1113 words, wait that’s 1116, no 1117…oh never mind…it’s long enough. Blog posts should be short, so I will continue next week…)

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A brief primer of the Gestapu Affair and Indonesia’s mass killings of 1965 — Part I

A hot day in December, 1965. I was nine years old, a blond, sun-crisped Bali bulé boy, and a Balinese man I’d never seen before hunched on the parlor sofa of my parent’s house in Klungkung, east Bali. He reeked of fright: acrid, bitter, biting. He was silent, hands clasped between his knees. A former member of a Communist party’s community organization, he was helpless, hopeless, marked for death, a marking that painted not by gray-skinned pallor but by stink. I’ll never forget that smell.

Outside on the street in front of our house marched squads of Balinese men in black with machetes and spears, some with guns. The taming–the killing teams. Efficient. Deadly.

They were the victorious nationalists, rampant and on the hunt for Communists, who only a year previously were poised for political power and the control of the country’s future. In those black, brutal months, with a madness sweeping over the island, an estimated 50000 Balinese were slaughtered by other Balinese, killed for being Communists and for being leftist and for having said the wrong thing, even (in one recorded case) for having provided a pressure lantern for a Communist mass rally.

Klungkung had a large PKI presence, with many of the high caste Brahman families being party members. Kids I’d played with on the streets and fields and banyan trees simply disappeared. Thousands of corpses were tossed into estuary ravines by the seashore, and into the ocean itself. A journalist staying with us told of seeing a raft of bodies floating in the surf, sharks leisurely feeding.

This is why I don’t like surfing the eastern black sand beaches and sandstone ledges. There’s something spooky to that water, the roaring surf, the deep offshore trenches. There’s one particular place near Klungkung, now on the surf guide radar, that I’ve flatly refused to surf — I get goosebumps just standing on the beach.

When we moved to Gianyar when I was a teen, I had to will myself to paddle out at Lebih beach and the breaks around there, but I never lasted long. It wasn’t sharks, or being out alone—the other world, the what the Balinese call the unseen realm, shimmered very close all around me. The Balinese have a word for places like this–angker–and they would know exactly what I’m talking about, which is not really “spooky” but mystical, spiritually charged, dangerous.

I don’t know how many visiting surfers, or even resident expat surfers, know of this dark and terrible chapter of modern Balinese history, but I can tell you that every Balinese of a certain age has memories of that violent time, memories they are reluctant to talk about. Every coastal village and town in Bali that has turned into a surfing destination hides its own secret killing fields, its forgotten burial grounds.

I always knew that one day I’d write a story about those times, and I have. 1965 was nearly 50 years ago, time enough to turn those events into “historical fiction” but it’s not really history yet. It is important to know, because it could happen again. No joke. Not the same precise players, but the animosities, the jostling for power, and the heart of mankind remain the same. I find it awkward to plug my own work, but it is a great story that is getting terrific reviews. Many thanks to those who have already bought the book. It stands alone, separate from its author, but on the other hand, the author also needs to buy nasi bungkus for his belly and wax for his surfboard (although my back is presently giving me fits). Your support would be greatly appreciated.

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The CIA and the Indonesian mass killings of 1965

How involved was the CIA in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965?

This is one of those things that you dip a finger into to try to explain, and end up getting more and more sucked in — finger to elbow to arm to your whole darn body — as you try to explain what you just explained and counter-explain other explanations, until you’re all tangled up in sticky goop.

It is a topic of contention for historians, academics, conspiracy theorists and ordinary folk interested in what happened in Indonesia in 1965.

The movie, “The Act Of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer, which explores the events of 1965 in the form of a filmed, oral history and re-enactments by some of the nationalist killers, is getting plenty of underground attention here in Indonesia and above ground attention around the world.

In a Yahoo article, the director says the documentary gave him nightmares.

Here’s a snippet about the CIA from the article/interview:

I don’t think the killings are particularly well-known in the United States, but the film suggests that the U.S., which was desperate to halt the spread of communism in Asia at the time, was complicit in what happened.

The U.S. was absolutely complicit. The U.S. provided money, provided weapons, provided lists of people they wanted dead. They encouraged the army to kill everybody on the left, or put everybody on the left in political prisons as a way of making sure that the whole left was annihilated.

This is fairly typical understanding of the CIA involvement, and is one view I present in my novel “Bones of the New Moon: A contemporary novel exploring Bali’s 1965 massacres.”

As a counter-point to that –and I personally am being neutral here, just conveying a point of view that is often overlooked when Westerners debate the CIA involvement issue — I have talked to a number of Indonesians over the years about this, and they scoff and basically say it’s a colonialist-attitude insult to suggest they needed the white man’s CIA coaching and how-to to tackle “the Communist problem.” We Indonesians, they say, have had a thousands of years of sophisticated political intrigues and spy-craft and wars. We Indonesians, they say, know who are our enemies are and are perfectly capable of making our own lists. We Indonesians, they say, were quite happy to take American money and support, but we were the puppet masters who pulled their strings, not the other way around.

Just sayin’, folks.

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NEWS: “Bones of the Dark Moon: A Contemporary Novel Exploring Bali’s 1965 Massacres” now available on Kindle. Print edition available early September.

Also available for Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, from here at Smashwords

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Now available on Kindle: “Bones of the Dark Moon: A contemporary novel exploring Bali’s 1965 massacres”

NEWS

“Bones of the Dark Moon: A Contemporary Novel Exploring Bali’s 1965 Massacres” now available on Kindle. Print edition available early September.

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During construction of a villa on an idyllic Bali seashore, workers uncover long-buried skeletons, their shattered skulls evidence of brutal mass murder. The discovery sets the village of Batu Gede astir. The life of Made “Nol” Ziro, a stalwart member of the community with a little gambling problem, is turned upside down. Could one of those skeletons be that of his schoolteacher father, who disappeared during the political upheaval and massacres of 1965?

As Nol sets out to find the truth of what happened, his path crosses that of American anthropologist Tina Briddle, who has secrets of her own, and who is determined to give a voice to the unknown bones. She suspects that the key to their mystery lies with Reed Davis, an enigmatic retiree dwelling among the Ubud expat community and rumored to have been a CIA spy.

Drawing them together is the mysterious Luhde Srikandi, who fifty years ago whispered her enchantments from deep in the shadows of conspiracy, and who begins to whisper again. Who is she? For what happened on that sleepy beach all those decades ago isn’t dusty memory. Secrets are revealed, vengeance is unleashed, and a forbidden love flares to life.

Arguably the most traumatic cataclysm of Bali’s rich and fascinating history, the massacres of 1965 remain mostly unknown to the island’s visitors. Interweaving historical drama with contemporary Bali life, Bones of the New Moon is compulsively readable, a page-turner with unexpected twists leavened with dashes of humor, laying bare the love and hatred, the tragedy and irony, and the joy and despair of our common human predicament.

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What others are saying about “Bones of the Dark Moon”

“Deftly weaving the memories and legacies of this grim past into the tensions of modern-day life in Bali, Richard Lewis plots a tangled web of circumstance, shadow and human tragedy. This is a powerful novel about Balinese memories of a terrible time.”
— Robert Cribb, Professor of Asian Politics and History, School of Culture, History and Language, Research School of Asia and the Pacific, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. Author of “Indonesian Killings 1965″

“Composed in a flowing and plain prose, Lewis’s novel navigates between the familiar and the unfamiliar. His portrayal of Nol, one of the leading characters—of Nol’s traumatic history and marginal geography—exhibits his intimacy with the daily life of an ordinary Balinese. The novel moves effortlessly from the outside to the inside, and vice versa—which is to me very appealing. Bones of the Dark Moon … is rich with close-ups of regrets, fear, sadness, and moments of happiness. It allows the quiet force of ambiguity to play. At the end, the human survives the crushing strides of political history.”
— Goenawan Mohamad, founder and editor of Indonesia’s Tempo Magazine, International Editor of the Year 1999, recipient of the Dan David Prize award, 2006.

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Indonesia’s 1965 massacres, again resurfacing in the news…

The other day, the Jakarta Post published an article, Haunted by History, about a short documentary on the 1965 killings in Java. Jembatan Bacem, directed by Yayan Wiludiharto and produced by the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (along with a community of 1965 survivors in Solo, Central Java), “depicts a dark period in the history of Indonesia.” The bridge of the title was were many suspected PKI cadres and sympathizers were summarily executed and dumped into the river below.

As the article states, “survivors and the families of those slain have kept silent out of fear,” but with this film some of those voices are now being heard, speaking out with courage, because 1965 still remains a sensitive topic.

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Blurbs for THE BONES OF THE DARK MOON

Bones of The Dark Moon Cover full

Forthcoming from SARITAKSU, Smashwords and Kindle editions very soon…

The accidental excavation of bones from a massacre half a century ago stirs up memories of a dark past that continues to haunt contemporary Bali. Bones of the Dark Moon recreates the tense Bali of the 1960s, conjuring up the promise and the fear that the Indonesian Communist Party aroused as it began to win followers in the island. Betrayal piles upon deception as the island descends into a time of slaughter. Deftly weaving the memories and legacies of this grim past into the tensions of modern-day life in Bali, Richard Lewis weaves a tangled plot web of circumstance, shadow and human tragedy. This is a powerful novel about Balinese memories of a terrible time.
Robert Cribb, Professor of Asian Politics and History, School of Culture, History and Language, Research School of Asia and the Pacific, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. Author of “Indonesian Killings 1965.

“Indonesia needs to be reminded of 1965-6 precisely because it is still struggling to come to terms with legacies of violence/authoritarianism in order to shape new futures. Especially because the military is not strictly under civilian control and the government, and for the most part, still serves the interests of the same elite that prospered under the New Order. What happened in 1965-6 in Indonesia is one of the 20th century’s bloodiest state-sponsored massacres. As long as the state continues not to address this fact – in the face of so much incriminating evidence of the Indonesian military’s active involvement in the killings – there is a danger that future generations will become increasingly distanced from it. These generations will assume that it is okay for state-sponsored human rights violations of such scale and magnitude to go unchecked, with the impunity it continues to enjoy.”
Laksmi Pamuntjak, author of AMBA

Composed in a flowing and plain prose, Lewis’s novel navigates between the familiar and the unfamiliar—a series of nimble sketches of things, people, and events of the post-1965 (and the post-2002) Bali. His portrayal of Nol, one of the leading characters—of Nol’s traumatic history and marginal geography—exhibits his intimacy with the daily life of an ordinary Balinese. The novel moves effortlessly from the outside to the inside, and vice versa—which is to me very appealing. Bones of the Dark Moon is a novel that manages to free itself from its own version of Indonesia’s frightful past. It is rich with close-ups of regrets, fear, sadness, and moments of happiness. It allows the quiet force of ambiguity to play. At the end, the human survives the crushing strides of political history.
Goenawan Mohamad, founder and editor of Indonesia’s Tempo Magazine, International Editor of the Year 1999, recipient of the Dan David Prize award, 2006.

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The Bali massacres of 1965 happened nearly fifty years ago — so why the big deal now?

On June 28th, I will be presenting a reading at Bar Luna, Ubud from my new novel, BONES OF THE DARK MOON: A Contemporary Novel Exploring Bali’s 1965 Massacres. (Read an excerpt)

When I told my family, my fifteen-year-old son said, “Why, what happened in 1965?”

He isn’t the only one who doesn’t know. According to a 2009 survey, more than half of the Jakarta university students interviewed hadn’t even heard of the mass killings of 1965, in which tens of thousands (some historians say a million) people were killed throughout the country, fifty thousand in Bali alone.

And they are Indonesia citizens, who are taught their country’s history. How much more so foreign visitors to this Island of Paradise who remain unaware of this dark trauma lingering beneath the surface? (And sometimes coming to surface as bones long buried in unmarked graves)

Briefly, then. In 1965, President Sukarno, founding father of the Republic of Indonesia, maintained a balancing act between two antagonistic forces seeking political power: the Partai Komunis Indonesia, the world’s third-largest communist party, and a grouping of nationalists, foremost among which were the army’s generals.

1965 5
(Photo: Portrait of Sukarno adorning a PKI rally that he addressed; a charismatic speaker, he could mesmerize the masses)

On the evening of 30 September 1965, rogue pro-communist army units kidnapped and killed six of these generals, claiming them to be in subversive league with the American CIA and throwing their corpses down an unused well in the village of Lubang Buaya, near Halim Air Force base in Jakarta, staging quarters for the coup.

1965 7
(Photo: recovering the corpses from the well)

The kidnappers, however, made no attempt to kidnap Major-General Soeharto, head of the army’s strategic reserve command and at the time a political unknown, who led a successful counter-raid against Halim. What subsequently followed was one of history’s bloodiest and least known massacres. Tens of thousands of of Communists and leftists were summarily executed throughout the archipelago, and others thrown into detention camps and held for years without trial, their families ostracized. There are various interpretations of why this happened: the PKI were back-stabbing traitors and Soeharto saved the country; Soeharto deviously took advantage of the murders to seize political control; the CIA masterminded the whole thing to get rid of the PKI. All these various viewpoints are presented in the novel. And there’s a love story, too.

1965 4
(soldier bayoneting a Communist while other await their deaths)

1965 3
(a nationalist lynch mob in action)

All this happened nearly fifty years ago. Why is it important now? According to Laksmi Pamuntjak, acclaimed writer and critic, in a recent interview, “Indonesia needs to be reminded of 1965-6 precisely because it is still struggling to come to terms with legacies of violence/authoritarianism in order to shape new futures. Especially because the military is not strictly under civilian control and the government, and for the most part, still serves the interests of the same elite that prospered under [Soeharto's] New Order. What happened in 1965-6 in Indonesia is one of the 20th century’s bloodiest state-sponsored massacres. As long as the state continues not to address this fact – in the face of so much incriminating evidence of the Indonesian military’s active involvement in the killings – there is a danger that future generations will become increasingly distanced from it. These generations will assume that it is okay for state-sponsored human rights violations of such scale and magnitude to go unchecked, with the impunity it continues to enjoy.”

When the second of Bali’s terrorist bombs went off in 2002, I heard numerous expatriates marvel at how the Balinese maintained their composure and did not retaliate against their Muslim brothers. This is true (but not as true as many Bali-philes would like it to be*) – and I think one reason cool heads prevailed was that these cool heads, the elders and community leaders in Bali, privately recalled the terror and tragedy of 1965 and did not want to see it happen again.

*(The day after the 2005 bombing, a Balinese mob outside the Kerobokan prison had managed to rip off the front steel door to lynch Amrozi, one of the first Bali bombers, who was incarcerated in that jail, before they were stopped by a heavy police presence. Amrozi was transferred to a prison in Java and executed some years later)

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It’s called “satire”

I emailed this letter to The Jakarta Post, not sure if they would publish it. They did. I’ve already gotten a couple reactions from readers that utterly surprised me: they thought I was being serious! Such is the danger of satire.

jkt post co2 letter

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