Mekong Review: The Killings by Margaret Scott

Indonesian soldiers arresting villagers in 1965-66. Photo: Vannessa Hearman from a Museum Brawijaya display

Indonesian soldiers arresting villagers in 1965-66. Photo: Vannessa Hearman from a Museum Brawijaya display

Many years ago during Suharto’s dictatorship, when the mass killings of 1965-66 were a taboo subject, I interviewed Pramoedya Ananta Toer, one of Indonesia’s greatest writers, who was living under house arrest in Jakarta after his release from a decade of brutal existence as a political prisoner on Buru island. Those interviews with Pak Pram, as he was known, were revelatory to me, a young US journalist who knew next to nothing about the botched coup of 1 October 1965, which the army blamed on the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), and then used as a pretext to massacre up to a million suspected communists and imprison another million Indonesians, including Pak Pram. I took a deep dive into this little-known chapter of the Cold War in my attempt to understand Pram’s role as a fellow traveller and leading leftist intellectual before 1 October, and then a locked up, banned and silenced writer after Suharto and the army seized power.

NYSEAN co-founder Margaret Scott writes for the Mekong Review.

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