Ain’t Human the Cruellest Animal

For three decades under Soeharto regime, October 1st was celebrated as ‘Hari Kesaktian Pancasila’. Literally, ‘kesaktian’ is usually translated as ‘sacred’ in English, but I personally think ‘invincible power’ is more accurate. Pancasila is the state ideology, encompassing five fundamental values about religious belief, humanity, unity, representation, and justice. Thus ‘Hari Kesaktian Pancasila’ means Pancasila’s invincible power day. Sort of.

Why Pancasila? Why was it labelled invincible? And why October 1st?

Soeharto’s history book will tell you that on September 30th 1965, the communist party PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia) planned a coup d’etat. The party — of which the members were atheists, you know — used several troops of the armed forces to kill six generals of the army. According to this version, PKI believed the generals to be a part of ‘Council of Generals’ who would overthrow President Soekarno. Long story short, a general named Soeharto saved the nation and cleansed Indonesia from all the communists. Soekarno lost his legitimacy and Soeharto ascended to the throne presidency seat. Pancasila the sacred ideology of the nation proved itself to be invincible, defeating the evil communism, so it made perfect sense for Soeharto to label October 1st as such. Hooray.

And the true story was… well, only Soeharto, who stepped down in 1998, knows the truth, and he’s dead now, but there are several possible explanations.

First of all, it is an established fact that President Soekarno was in favour of PKI, then the third biggest communist party of the world after Soviet Union and China. It was the Cold War and Indonesia was (still is) the largest country in South East Asia. There was a nationwide high tension of the communist, the nationalist, and the religious political power — none of these three powers were saints, they all did their share of nasty stuffs, but the communist suffered the most afterwards.

What happened next is still in dispute. Ben Anderson and Ruth McVey think it was an internal army affair, the dissatisfied juniors against the corrupt generals. John Gittings believes it was engineered by the United States of America and the United Kingdom, as proven by a CIA memorandum which says Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy agreed in April 1962 to ‘liquidate’ Soekarno. Meanwhile, John Roosa concludes that the army was ready to attack PKI and displace Soekarno; they knew a coup was coming and it served as a convenient pretext for an anti-communist purge.

And what a purge it was. The number of casualties varies from one scholar to another, but most will say more than 500,000 people were killed and 1.5 million people were imprisoned for being communist, or, in most cases, for being accused of being communist. Thousands of students abroad, particularly those in communist countries such as Soviet Union and China, became exiles. Uncountable people were displaced from their home.

As far as I remember, history books in Soeharto’s regime mentioned nothing about the purge. It is a deep wound for those who lost their families and those who were stigmatised as communist. But the propaganda of Soeharto was so great that nowadays many still do not know about it.

It is also because of that propaganda, many Indonesians still believe that socialism is communism, while socialists equals communists equals atheists; without actually knowing what they really are. In the early years of Sohearto’s presidency, mass media which were controlled by the military served as the main propaganda tools; later came the history books and a monumental movie in 1984 which was annually broadcasted on September 30th each year by the state-owned national television, TVRI. Every students must see it as it was part of the curriculum. The annual broadcast ceased to exist after 1998, but it had already brainwashed most Indonesians effectively.

(I consider myself somewhat lucky to have parents who are politically conscious. They told me about what they thought had happened, although back then they had been only children — in 1965, Ayah (father) was 10 years old while Ibu (mother) was 8.)

After 1998, when Tempo was revived after four years of government ban, it becomes a habit of the news weekly magazine to publish reports about the tragedy annually, either at the end of September or the beginning of October. This year, the magazine made a special report on the murderers of the purge, triggered by the movie ‘The Act of Killing,’ which was screened in Toronto Film Festival and raised more attention to the happenings four decades ago. Meanwhile, the online news portal tempo.co highlights the 1984 movie.

Because we need to remember, human beings are the cruellest animal on earth, who can kill even when they don’t have to. Because we should not forget nor repeat any crime against humanity.

Both pictures are covers of Tempo magazine — the first one for the English version, and the second is the original Indonesian version, published today.

3 Comments

  1. Kemarin (Senin) cari Tempo di bandara, dan PP katanya belum datang. Pedagangnya juga heran, biasanya datang Senin pagi. Apa sudah diborong oleh ‘invincible power’?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *