Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History


The personal trauma associated with the intense violence that engulfed Indonesia between October and December 1965 is not enough to explain how an open and documented history of the killings was silenced for over 33 years. Likewise, the New Order government's political and military power to suppress competing historical accounts cannot fully elucidate this enduring silence. History is a story about who controls the means of historical consciousness as well as the production of narratives. Therefore, part of the answer of what enabled the forgetting of the Indonesian killings can be found in an examination of the Suharto regime's propaganda project. This established communism as a social evil and New Order military authoritarianism as the antidote. An assessment of this narrative demonstrates how officially generated anti-communist ideology created silences in the process of historical production, and how forgetting the violence became a powerful determinant of local historical consciousness. Anti-communist ideology emerged very early in the New Order story - in the days following the attempted coup of 30 September 1965 and was characterised by three stages. First, the swift destruction of the senior organisational and cadre structure of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (Indonesian Communist Party or PKI), and the mass killings of Leftists by the Indonesian military in collaboration with a broad coalition of anti-communist forces. Second, by the use of anti-communism as a point of ideological linkage between anti-Sukamoist allies; and third, when the New Order no longer required the support of this coalition, the promulgation of anti-communism as a weapon of intimidation. This ideological weapon was then directed against most forms of dissent, especially any suggestion of an alternative to the official history of 1965. This pre-occupation with 'historical correctness' was in fact to characterise New Order rule right up until the resignation of President Suharto in May 1998 (and continues to the present day). However, the explanation for why the killings of 1965 were silenced and forgotten extends beyond social trauma, propaganda, official ideology, and state power. In addition to all of these factors, a type of state-sponsored memorymanipulation facilitated the careful commemoration of the 30 September Coup and the military response that began on 1 October 1965, while silencing most memory of the killings that occurred across Indonesian between mid-October and late December 1965. This was partly achieved through the medium of 'memory templates'. These guides to acceptable remembering filled the historiographical vacuum left by the almost unthinkable pace of social and political transformation - from Sukamoist populism to Suharto's military authoritarianism. This occurred over a period of weeks and months and was associated with a deluge of official information about the military response to the 30 September Coup, and an almost complete silence regarding the nature and extent of the killings. The Suharto regime was able to use this to change the way 1965 could be conceived as 'history' with the official version of the coup dominating the history of the period. In 1997 this determined that at a local level particular 'facts' about 30 September could only be negotiated through, inter alia, the prism of a pro-military historiography. The success of this project was contingent on the key co-ordinates of New Order legitimacy, namely that the Indonesian National Army, Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) had rescued the people from the 'menace' of communism, that Marxism was an ever-present threat to the stability of the nation and that individual communists, sympathisers, or in fact anyone who was 'like a communist', were beyond political, social, moral and especially historical, redemption. This was synonymous with a historiography that invented new chronologies of the coup and then sought to impose and celebrate them, while almost all unmediated, or durational remembering associated with the killings remained suppressed and silenced. Suharto's role in managing the danger of resurgent communism was a critical factor in this process. Official historiography continued to develop with the generation of new myths that reinforced the official version of what happened in 1965 and why. Historical templates, which were primarily concerned with the role of Suharto in the story of the Indonesian Revolution, the 30 September Coup and the restructure of both the Indonesian economy and political culture, while never systematic or convincing at an elite level, nevertheless had a profound affect on village communities, where they created a momentum that lasted beyond the formal end of New Order rule. The wellestablished silence also meant that in 1997 at a local level, the violence of 1965 was only re-called in elusive terms, as vague and very non-specific. This situation continued even after Suharto's resignation in May 1998. The memory of the killings in the immediate post-Suharto period was therefore less influenced by raw military repression than by the far-reaching and still lasting indoctrination associated with New Order anti-communist ideology and the conceptual terms of reference dictated by the New Order's creation of guides to official memory. The examination of naiTatives from 1997 reveals two conflicting stories. A story of the coup and a silencing of the killings. Oral history research into the brutality begins the process of compiling new evidence about the nature of the violence from the perspective of eyewitnesses located in a particular place - the kampung or 'urban village' community of 'Kidul', and at a particular time - the final year of New Order rule. However, just as importantly, an examination of the contrast between different historiographies reveals disparate modes of memory and remembering. This contrast explains the social mechanisms of forgetting and the process of power within history writing itself.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.