Declassified files have revealed new details of US government knowledge of and support for an Indonesian army extermination campaign that killed several hundred thousand civilians during anti-communist hysteria in the mid-1960s.
The thousands of files from the US embassy in Jakarta covering 1963-66 were made public on Tuesday after a declassification review that began under the Obama administration.
The files fill out the picture of a devastating reign of terror by the Indonesian army and Muslim groups that has been sketched by historians and in a US state department volume that was declassified in 2001 despite a last-minute CIA effort to block its distribution.
In 1965, Indonesia had the world’s third-largest communist party after China and the Soviet Union, with several million members, and the country’s president, the charismatic Sukarno, was vociferously socialist and anti-American.
US officials were ecstatic when conservative generals imposed martial law in Jakarta, seized state radio and set out to annihilate the country’s communist party on the pretext that it had tried to overthrow the government. Within months, the army would prevail, shifting Indonesia’s political orientation to the US and opening its huge market to American companies.
The newly released files underline the US embassy’s and state department’s early, detailed and ongoing knowledge of the killings and eagerness to avoid doing anything that would hinder the Indonesian army. Historians had already established that the US provided lists of senior communist party officials, radio equipment and money as part of active support for the army.