"The Genesis of Konfrontasi"

The Genesis of Konfrontasi

Foreword by Pramoedya Ananta Toer*

Welcome to Greg Poulgrain’s landmark book, The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, 1945-1965, which unwaveringly and in extensive detail enters the history of modern Indonesia. This work offers a better understanding of the period of transition from what is now referred to as the Old Order to the so-called New Order, two eras conflicting in principle as well as spirit.
   The first era was one of anti-colonialism-imperialism-capitalism, with its twists and turns and its various players, its supporters as well as those who sought to undermine it. Replacing this era was a new version of the colonial open-door policy, which followed in the wake of the bankruptcy of the system of forced cultivation. Both of these evicted the nameless peoples from their farmland. The earliest entry of private capital during the open-door policy took place primarily in the plantation sector. In West Java, water sources were poisoned, leading to the eradication of the unregistered herds of livestock (‘wild’ herds) drinking from them.1 This information is recorded in neither official nor unofficial notes. But in this way, foreign capital gained control over grazing land. Evictions also took place in Sumatra, at the hands of the land brokers, who, at the time, were referred to as ‘land residents’, alias concession hunters.2 In my own case, the end of Confrontation, and the events following the eruption of what was labelled the G30S3 remains a perplexing puzzle to me within the context of modern Indonesian history. Nowadays, when Confrontation is mentioned at all, its meaning has changed completely, obviously to accord with the version of the New Order: from Confrontation against the British Malaysia project it has changed to Confrontation against members of the same ethnic group. Nehru, the inventor and developer of the name Malaysia, would never have imagined that the name he coined was to become the source of a bloody dispute in South-East Asia. The distortion in the interpretation of Confrontation can be traced in two articles, ‘Nostalgia Dua Serumpun’, Paron, no. 26, 24 August 1966, and ‘30 Tahun Yang Lalu. Konfrontasi Malaysia Bisa Diselesaikan’, Kompas, 10 August 1996. I have to explain that when I use the word ‘confrontation’ I mean ‘furthering the anticolonialist ideal’, although non-Indonesian readers might tend to associate the word ‘confrontation’ solely with Indonesian agitation against Malaysia.
  I have suspected from the beginning that the G30S was a sophisticated outcome of a joint intelligence scheme, both outside and within Indonesia, both by the foreign intelligence agencies and their Indonesian counterparts and operatives. Stories and several analyses around G30S then, as we know become a big myth. It is nothing but a metamorphosis of the British protracted opposition to Sukarno’s confrontation policy. Up to the present, generally the suspicion is rather one-sided towards the Americans, the CIA, while in fact the British intelligence played a substantial role in that G30S conspiracy. And why did Confrontation take place? In this regard, I share the opinion of A.M. Azahari4 that Indonesia -- that is, Sukarno – had been provoked by the English, who used Sukarno’s firm stance of anti-colonialism-imperialism-capitalism against him in an attempt to remove him. And England had had plenty of experience in provoking Indonesia. First of all, of course, was the battle of Surabaya, which gave birth to ‘Heroes’
Day’ (Hari Pahlawan). Second, the British provoked the youth in East Sumatra, who then succeeded in liquidating all nobility in that area. The event, subsequently known as the ‘social revolution’, which listed among its many victims the poet Amir Hamzah, had a clear target: the fate of the East Sumatran nobility eliminated the possibility of Indonesian influence being channelled into the English colonies of Malaya, Singapore and North Kalimantan. This is also indicated by Greg Poulgrain in this work. The third instance is the period discussed in the present volume, the political aftermath of the elimination of the East Sumatran nobility, as part of a British intelligence operation which more or less succeeded. The influence and effects of the Indonesian Revolution, and of Sukarno himself, surged beyond the mansions of the sultans of Malaya and North Kalimantan, while the influence of Tan Malaka was becoming more pronounced among the Overseas Chinese (Hoakiau), particularly in Brunei. The wind of Indonesian national independence, of which the hallmarks were anti-colonialism-imperialism-capitalism, made England nervous as to its South-East Asian dominions. This old colonial country was not prepared to lose its source of dollars in Malaysia, Singapore and North Kalimantan. Malaysia was an important producer of tin, rubber and palm oil. North Kalimantan, in this case Brunei, was a major source of oil, while Singapore, apart from its importance as a transit port for South-East Asian import and export, was also a centre of regional control and power exerted through intelligence operations or by supplying arms and troops, as was the case with British aid for the PRRI-Permesta uprising intended to establish a separate country. Yes, along with its ally, the supposedly anticolonial United States of America.5
   The end of World War II did not mean an end to England’s problems. On the contrary, finances for English naval power, the principle element of ‘Britain rules the waves’ had reached a nadir. Other problems included indebtedness to the USA as a result of the lend-lease agreement, which allowed England to lease American war equipment. After World War II, the USSR refused to settle its debt because it deemed that American war equipment had been used for a common purpose in the defeat of fascism. England, however, was unable to adopt the same stance towards its own ally. It was thus dependent on the dollars it could extract from Malaya, Singapore and North Kalimantan. To ensure that these dollars would continue to flow, Indonesian influence had to be eliminated in the three colonies. To this end, Indonesia was provoked. The list of British provocations by land and air covers the period January 1963 to August 1964 in West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and East Kalimantan (140 times), and between June 1964 and September 1964 in Riau (seventeen times). Furthermore, provocation by air over Sumatra and South Kalimantan occurred fifty-six times in 1964.6
  The British apparently chose their time well. Provocation was deployed at the time that Indonesia had recently emerged from its Trikora operations to free West Irian from the Dutch and clearly needed to recuperate. In addition, were Indonesia to take the bait, England would have reason to accuse Indonesia of territorial ambitions, as had been the case with the struggle for West Irian. Indonesia was incited and retaliated against British armed provocation with its own weapons. A number of coordinating ministers urged Bung Karno to accelerate confrontation by declaring support in the form of arms shipments; it turned out, however, that the arms that were supplied consisted only of scrap metal, while support was limited to a declaration. On the British side, the parties involved in the armed confrontation consisted not only of English soldiers and their ‘Gurkhas’, but also included the Malayan army, and armies from its allies in South-East Asia.
   During the Confrontation and Anti-Confrontation period, there were those who asserted that Indonesia had territorial ambitions. More level-headed people refused to believe this. Sukarno, one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Indonesia was anti-colonialism-imperialism-capitalism from his youth to the day he died and, in the days approaching the Proclamation, had emphasized that Indonesian territory comprised exactly the former Dutch East Indies, no more and no less. It would have been different had Bung Karno been a soldier in the Dutch colonial army (KNIL), the instrument used to conquer and subjugate the Indonesian people. He even refused to cooperate with the colonial side. He was one of the strongest non-cooperators in the history of the movement for independence. Colonial domination over the dollar sources in Malaya, Singapore and North Kalimantan was the heart of the matter. From this heart beat provocation towards Indonesia. And Indonesian confrontation was nothing but a natural reaction to British anti-confrontation, it was neither a policy by design nor a premeditated scheme by Sukarno.
    Then the G30S erupted. It would be overly naive to imagine that this was an isolated event, for in the life of a society nothing stands alone. As soon as the G30S had completed its actions, its lack of planning became apparent. The G30S commander immediately broadcast over the radio the promotion in rank for those who had taken part in the operation, and demotion in rank of all superior officers. The events that followed were not only more convoluted, they were also strange: the establishment of a Revolutionary Council (Dewan Revolusi) which dissolved the Cabinet. No-one knows who announced the establishment of the Revolutionary Council. That remains unclear to this day. That the G30S kidnapped generals were faithful to Sukarno indicates that the wishes of Sir Andrew Gilchrist (British ambassador in Jakarta at that time) were carried out. But Sukarno’s supporters were not limited to the murdered generals. It was not easy to get rid of Sukarno without getting rid of millions of his supporters, all of whom were united in the convergence of revolutionary powers (‘samenbundeling van alle revolutionaire krachten’). These were the people who became the targets of a mass slaughter, who were robbed of their individual freedom and property without judgement from any court of law, and who lived in torture camps all over Indonesia; people who continue to be blamed, who stand accused for as long as the New Order has stood, who have been stigmatized along with their children and their grandchildren. Within a few hours the perpetrators of the G30S had been captured eventually to be sentenced to death. It is clear that they repeated the experience of Kebo Ijo in the 13th century, who was sentenced to death by court judgement while a conspiracy appointed Ken Arok king of Tumapel/Singasari to replace the king he had murdered.7 However, unlike 1965, history does not indicate that Arok ever carried out a mass slaughter. Neither is there any indication of the robbing of personal freedom. This excerpt from the story of Ken Arok and Kebo Ijo in Javanese history may well provide an interesting case for comparison. The heart of the matter, which is the focus of Greg Poulgrain’s study, has been forgotten by the cruelty of those in power on the one hand and the fear among the masses on the other. Those who do not take the side of the murderers must lie low and can do no more than listen and keep their silence. The monopoly over information and the fact that also the intellectuals -- the illuminating conscience of society -- are lying low, have made people afraid to question the G30S affair, and even more afraid to question the heart of the matter. Rumours fly concerning the United States and the CIA as the masterminds behind the entire affair. It is easy to understand that the latter was involved. Has not Noam Chomsky reminded us that since the discovery of America by Columbus, coloured people and their countries have been the fields of exploitation by white-skinned nations. The declassification of US documents concerning the G30S confirmed the intervention of the CIA. Rumour has it that British government archives are declassified after 50 years. So, we still have 15-20 more years to wait.   
    During the Second World War, when the Lend and Lease Act was signed in March 1941, British gold and dollar reserves had been severely depleted. This war thus saw Britain change from being the biggest lender to becoming the biggest borrower. At the end of the war Britain was drawing 42 per cent of her imports from the West while only 14 per cent of her exports were being distributed there. Here was the heart of the matter. This was why Britain’s South-East Asian colonies were so important to it. Greg Poulgrain’s dissertation, completed in 1993, deals with the period from 1945 to Confrontation. In July 1996 the Observer, London, published an article entitled ‘British role in slaughter of 500,000’ which revealed that the British Ambassador to Indonesia had recommended ‘a little shooting’ for Indonesia in 1965. This article described recently declassified confidential files which pointed to Britain…Us role in aiding the slaughter of more than half a million individuals by the Indonesian Army in 1965. The British Ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, wrote to London: ‘I have never concealed from you my belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary to effective change.’ The confidential documents also explain that Britain asked that Indonesian generals take action against the PKI, slander its name by using the example of PKI cruelty and the role of the People’s Republic of China in the shipment of arms. The document also includes cooperation with the USA. America’s role had been revealed in earlier declassified American documents. The cooperation between Britain and the USA -- or, to be more precise, all capital rich Western states -- to open up Indonesia and make it a dollar mine is not something new, as Noam Chomsky has reminded us. It is only that these two countries are the most glaring examples. According to the CIA memorandum dated June 1962, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and the American President John Kennedy, ‘agreed to liquidate President Soekarno, depending on the situation and the available opportunities’.8 Thus, Gilchrist’s actions merely constituted technical implementation. Kennedy himself was never to witness how Soekarno was toppled. He toppled earlier, shot on November 22, 1963, 17 months after the memorandum. There are two versions in two Kennedy museums in Dallas, the city in Texas where he was assassinated. The first museum puts forth a version of Kennedy’s assassination that is considered a government fabrication hiding the truth behind it. The second museum offers a version of the assassination as a conspiracy. A third museum, which is the largest, was built in Boston in 1967; it offers no explanation of the mystery shrouding his death. Decades later, another version appeared, which might well be titled, ‘The Indonesian Connection.’ Greg Poulgrain reveals striking new aspects. Dean Rusk, the former American Secretary of State, relates (in correspondence with Greg Poulgrain) that Kennedy in fact already had plans to help Sukarno end Confrontation with Malaysia. Kennedy, having met Sukarno, planned a return visit to Indonesia for this purpose. It is well known that Kennedy had taken an active role in assisting Indonesia to end Trikora by effecting the return (from Dutch control) of West Irian to Indonesia. However, Kennedy’s plans to meet Sukarno in Indonesia never came to pass: that we all know, for he was murdered in a great conspiracy that remains a mystery. Greg Poulgrain does not say Kennedy was assassinated to prevent the outcome of his planned meeting with Sukarno; the available information precludes this conclusion. Yet now, with greater awareness of the political implications, we can say that as a result of the Kennedy assassination, onfrontation between Indonesia and Malaysia continued. The development of Indonesia after the birth of the ‘New Order’ -- and in particular the phenomenon of Indonesian economic growth after the fall of Sukarno – urges us to trace the network behind the events that took place during the lives of Sukarno and Kennedy.
   After a meeting in the White House, these two charismatic leaders formed a better understanding of and respect for one another. Unlike CIA leadership, Kennedy did not consider Sukarno a communist, nor did he believe that Sukarno aspired to bring Indonesia under communist domination. He interpreted Sukarno’s nationalism as an appropriate stance in the context of the latter’s ideal of establishing unity among the peoples in his country. There were similarities between the two leaders, who both had long-range visions: Kennedy with his idealistic and youthful ‘New Frontier’ and Sukarno with his concept of ‘The New Emerging Forces’.9 But both idealistic leaders met the same fate: they had to disappear from the stage of history. Kennedy’s willingness to support Sukarno did not stem from instant admiration for the latter; rather, it was based on reality and reason. By supporting Sukarno he anticipated preventing Indonesia from turning communist. Opposing Sukarno would have had an adverse effect. At the time that Kennedy met Sukarno, neither was aware, nor had they been informed of the vast oil resources in West Irian. In fact, recently it has been revealed that in addition to silver, the area contains enormous deposits of gold, larger than the gold mines of Witwatersrand in South Africa, long considered the richest goldmines in the world. Kennedy and Sukarno had made plans to continue their dialogue. It appears, however, that another scenario between the oil kings on the one hand and the CIA group on the other, was being plotted. The first party, the big capitalists, were very much interested in West Irian for its rich mineral resources, but they were not at all interested in a West Irian governed by a president like Sukarno, whose populist attitude was absolutely not compatible with their interests. For the purposes of the capitalists, another president was required, one who would be more ready to cooperate or, to be more precise, one who could be invited in as a co-conspirator. In the other party, CIA leadership, it was well-known that during (and after) Allen Dulles’ time as head, he assiduously carried out the directions of his real bosses; tha is, top-level businessmen. Kennedy’s criticism of certain CIA practices was unwelcome, particularly those the new president considered led to a ‘government within a government’. In this scenario of interest and opportunity conflicting and coinciding, appearing on the surface as though there was no connection, Kennedy and Sukarno had to step aside. Most Western researchers are very cynical of talk of the role of the CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies. To them it is but ludicrous fantasy. However, Greg Poulgrain, and other scholars such as George Kahin, Peter Dale Scott and Wertheim, have proven through CIA documents just how intensely focused the CIA role was in developing countries, particularly in Sukarno’s Indonesia. The engineering of that CIA intelligence and the very often forgotten British intelligence network is truly a specific Third World phenomenon. Under Sukarno’s leadership, Indonesia stood at the front line of opposition to the Vietnam War, and attempted to develop the new emerging forces to confront the old established order that, with the power of their capital, required the continuous exploitation of new terrain in developing countries. I, as but one among the more than 1.5 million victims robbed of individual freedom by the New Order, must express my gratitude to Greg Poulgrain for his exhaustive study of the Confrontation. Because of his work, a number of people will feel validated in their belief that the G30S was in truth the metamorphosis of the British stance of anti-confrontation. I thus agree with the personal statement made by a master of ceremony at the launching of the book Gerilya dan Diplomasi on 6 January 1997, that the G30S affair should be resolved to ensure that it does not drag on into infinity, breeding strings of lies, especially from the moment that G30S was reconstructed as G30S/PKI. This will also help to bring to an end a strange psychological symptom: that those who have benefited the most from the G30S are in fact those who have most actively condemned it. It is the 1 million people, by the most conservative estimates, whom they slaughtered that they must have available any time they need a scapegoat. And the slaughter took place without a war, without so much as a rebellion. So many people killed without a war. During this entire New Order era, not one among the mass murderers has been brought to trial. It is logical that when murderers are allowed to establish themselves in power, then deceit, robbery and repression become but minor matters. None of this was necessary.

Jakarta, 7 January 1997

*   The names of Indonesian sources in this foreword have deliberately been omitted. I defer to scholars and in particular to historians to publish these. For that the author apologizes.


1.    This was revealed to the author in an interview with a retired employee of the Tanjungpriok port, 1956.
2.     Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Sang Pemula, Hasta Mitra, 1985, p. 261.
3.    G30S stands for ‘Gerakan 30 September’. The alleged coup in 1965 was by an army unit who called themselves the ‘30 September Movement’.
4.    Interview with the author, Bogor, 1996.
5.    See Audry R. Kahin and George McT. Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, The Secret Eisenhower and Dulles Debacle in Indonesia, The New Press, 1995, New York.
6.   Government of the Rep. of Indonesia, Why Indonesia Opposes British-made Malaysia’o, pp. 76-100.
7.    See Ensiklopedi Nasional Indonesia, 1988, vol. 2, p. 286.
8.    Mark Curtis, ‘Democratic Genocide’. (I wish to thank Liem Soei Liong and M. Cohen for sending these materials).
9.    Greg Poulgrain in a separate essay concerning Sukarno and Kennedy.
Subowo bin Sukaris
HASTA MITRA Updated at: 10:29 PM