Uncovering Indonesia’s Act of Killing


“My grandfather was a professor in Bali in 1965, and he was killed. We don’t even know which mass grave his body was thrown into,” said one of the volunteers, a college student whose father is from Indonesia. In August, she joined a group of scholars and other volunteers at the National Declassification Center outside of Washington for the unprecedented project of examining some thirty thousand pages of newly-declassified documents from the US Embassy in Jakarta. These records add important details to what happened during the 1965-1966 Indonesian massacre, one of the worst, yet least known, mass killings since World War II, in which an estimated half a million Indonesians suspected of being Communists were murdered by soldiers and paramilitary death squads.

The student jumped at the chance to work on this project not just because of her family connection to this history, but also, she told me, because Indonesians need to know what happened and who is responsible—a point echoed by Bradley R. Simpson, the University of Connecticut historian who led the review of the documents.

“Indonesians should be able to tell their own story, and they have a right to see their own government documents,” he said. “Every time more comes out from the US government side, it should make Indonesians demand more.”

Read the full review here.