Posts made in October, 2015

The American Role in the October 1, 1965 Putsch

Posted by on Oct 23, 2015 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

The American Role in the October 1, 1965 Putsch

Despite increasingly strained diplomatic relations between Washington and Jakarta, American ties to the Indonesian Army had continued on a low key, but friendly and constructive basis in 1965. Sukarno’s order for over a billion dollars worth of Soviet and Communist Bloc armaments in 1961 attracted efforts at competitive engagement. The United States provided $64 million in grant military aid to Indonesia between 1959 and 1965, in addition to generous contributions from excess defense equipment and supplies. During the same period, thousands of Indonesian officers attended military courses in the United States, along with at least an equivalent number of police officers. American support for the Indonesian Army Civic Action Program continued even during Guided Democracy’s darkest days. Focused on “hearts and minds” projects at village level, the Civic Action Program was totally compatible and consistent with the Indonesian Army territorial mission. Most important from both the American and Indonesian Army perspective, it helped deter Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) mobilization in the countryside. The assassination of army leaders and the subsequent massacre took place against the backdrop of the Cold War. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara claimed credit for influencing the army-led anti-communist victory in Indonesia. In a February 1971 unclassified report for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he stated, “At the time of the attempted Communist coup and military counter-coup of October 1965, more than 1,200 Indonesian officers, including senior military figures, had been trained in the United States.” The memo noted, “In the post-coup period, when the political situation was still unsettled, the United States, using these existing channels of communication, was able to provide the anti-Communist forces with moral and token military support.” Moreover, “All the generals killed in the coup attempt, called G30S by the Indonesians, had been trained in the United States or had friendly relations with westerners in Jakarta.” And a final smug reflection: “This success may be compared to the debacle which faced the Soviet Union. With its East European satellites, it had provided Indonesia with more than one billion dollars in military equipment between 1960 and 1965. Subsequently, Moscow was forced to look on helplessly as its equipment was used to suppress the Communist Party of Indonesia.” (Quotes from Brian May, The Indonesian Tragedy (Singapore: Graham Brash Ltd, 1978), p. 126.) In contrast to McNamara’s ebullience, CIA Director Richard Helms denied his agency played any significant role in the Indonesian turnabout. (H.W. Brands, “The Limits of Manipulation: How the United States Didn’t Topple Sukarno,” The Journal of American History (Volume 76, Number 73, December 1989), pp. 804-805.) The cited memo illustrates American officials’ prevalent mindset – conveying the importance of unofficial relationships with Indonesian Army leaders, the zero sum nature of American-Soviet competition, and scarcely concealed delight at the PKI’s destruction. The bonds established during military assistance missions and training programs for Indonesian officers during the 1950s and 1960s were critical to the bilateral relationship – even after the debacle of covert American assistance during the PRRI and Permesta regional rebellions in the late-1950s. According to a 1989 study by Bryan Evans, between 1953 and 1965, an estimated 2,800 Indonesian military...

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