Indonesia: British propaganda fomented the massacre of the Communists
Documents - recently declassified - show that British spies played a leading role in the mass murder of members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (CPI) in the 1960s, urging locals, including army generals, to "remove the communist cancer". The brutal crackdown by the Indonesian army on the CPI in 1965 and 1966 is considered one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century. Between 500,000 and three million Communist Party supporters were massacred, according to different estimates.
Declassified Foreign Office documents, which were recently published by the British National Archives and consulted by The Guardian newspaper, indicate that the UK is not without fault in those shocking events. The British Foreign Ministry had always denied the country's involvement in the brutal crackdown on those accused of Communist ties to Indonesia. But now it turns out that London has focused its propaganda machine against Indonesian President Sukarno, who opposed the British project of a Federation of Malaysia.
Tensions between the CPI and the Indonesian army had increased since the early 1960s, with the president struggling to balance rival forces. The massacre of the Communists, carried out by the army, began after a failed coup attempt by Sukarno's supporters within the ranks of the army on October 1, 1965.
According to the Guardian, several months earlier a team of specialists from the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) had already been deployed to Singapore to produce propaganda and undermine Sukarno's government. The failed leftist coup has only made it easier for propagandists to influence public opinion, and in particular anti-Communist politicians and Indonesian army generals.
The propaganda was disseminated through an Indonesian-language newsletter - which was said to be the work of Indonesian immigrants - but which was instead published by British experts in Singapore. About 28,000 copies of the bulletin were published in one year. The UK also funded a radio station, which the Malaysians broadcast to Indonesia.
Shortly after the military started the massacre of the Communists, the British newsletter called for "the CPI infrastructure and all Communist organizations to be eliminated", as well as claiming that Indonesia would remain in danger "as long as the leaders communists were at liberty and their supporters unpunished ”. "Procrastination and insufficient measures can only lead ... to our final and complete defeat," the authors of the pamphlet warned their readers.
The killings would have intensified throughout the Indonesian archipelago in the weeks following the publication of the newsletter: the Guardian insists that "there can be no doubt that British diplomats have learned of what was happening". According to the newspaper, British spies in the region had every means to intercept communications from the Indonesian government and monitor the movements of its armed forces.
One of the newsletters, published during the repression of the Communists, praised "the combat services and the police" for "doing an excellent job". In the pamphlet, British propagandists compared the CPI to Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan and insisted that "the work initiated by the army must be continued and intensified".
In addition, a letter from Norman Reddaway, a leading British propagandist working in Singapore, revealed to the British ambassador in Jakarta the UK's strategy "to hide the fact that the massacres had taken place with British encouragement to the work of the generals ". Foreign Office experts and Indonesian generals were "working in harmony," Reddaway insisted in another declassified document. He also celebrated British propaganda for being able to abolish Sukarno's opposition to the Federation of Malaysia project at "minimal cost" and in just six months.
The Communist Party of Indonesia was completely destroyed by the bloody events of the mid-1960s. President Sukarno was arrested in 1967 and died three years later under house arrest. He was overthrown by General Suharto, who had led the Indonesian army. Suharto then ruled Indonesia until 1998, enjoying political and economic support from the West. Transparency International (TI) labeled him the most corrupt politician in modern history in 2004, claiming to have embezzled between $ 15 and $ 35 billion during his tenure.
The documents, which were declassified in the United States in 2017, revealed that Washington not only had "detailed knowledge" of the massacre of Communists in Indonesia, but also provided "active support" for such actions.