The 1965 US-backed genocide in Indonesia

US conspiracy and complicity in mass murder

February 13, 2023
During the Cold War, some proxy wars engaged by the US, against the spread of communism, were highly discussed or contested. Other ‘wars’ against communism and its adherents were being played in the shadows and dealt with discretion. In 1965, the US successfully conspired with the government of Suharto to eradicate the communists in Indonesia, and was fully complicit in the mass murders of more than hundreds thousands of human beings.


After the Second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union came to an ideological head between two opposite ideologies: Communism and Capitalism. Thus came the Cold War, driven by these same ideological beliefs which resulted in proxy wars between the US and the URSS around the world. The East and Southeast Asian regions were not spared from the growing politico-ideological turmoil of the time due to their proximity to a newly communist China, and the US’s fear of a domino effect of communism on the region. 
Therefore, the US played a role in spreading fear of ‘the spectre of communism’ on Asian leaders and was complicit in its attempted eradication in the region. But the eradication of an ideology comes at the cost of its followers, the ones spreading it. The US was thus complicit and responsible for the genocide of millions of human beings using their political belief as an excuse. In today’s article, we will focus on the case of the 1965 Indonesian genocide and learn about the US complicity in it.
Suharto at the funeral of the 5 generals who died following the attempted coup of September the 30th.
Photo's copyright information attributes to Department of Information of the Republic of Indonesia, dated October 2, 1965.Maksim, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Politicide or Genocide?

Before engaging in the focus of the article, it is good to remind our readers of what constitutes genocide and foremost, explain this article’s choice of describing the mass killing of communists as genocide and not politicide.

Over the last decades, the most well-known cases of genocide refer to the systematic eradication of a group due to their race or religion. The most widespread example of these instances includes the genocide of the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda, or the Armenians in the Ottoman empire. These examples are widely acknowledged and recognised by the international community as ‘Genocide’. However, the description of the systematic elimination of communists as being genocide is contested because mass killings due to political conviction do not fall upon the United Nations’ definition of genocide. Nowadays, this breach in the definition of genocide is commonly referred to as ‘Politicide’. In the United Nation’s definition, ethnic and religious groups must be targeted for a systematic eradication of human beings to be referred to as genocide. Many argued this distinction between ethnicity/religion and political ideology was embedded in a need for “differentiated explanations for each category of events”. But why should politically driven genocides be the only distinction? We could argue that political ideologies and religions are as similar as ethnicity and religion, since both concern a commitment to a set of beliefs the individual follows.

Therefore, in this article, we won’t use the term Politicide, as we believe it reduces the gravity of the act. Language is a strong tool that we must use with caution and, as writers, know the power it holds. Creating a specific word for politically driven genocide, and hiding the word ‘genocide’ inside, overshadows the atrocities of the actions perpetrated against the said group as well as the gravity that the name ‘genocide’ alone holds. Politically driven genocides (‘politicides’) are genocides, so we will call them as such.
President Ronald W. Reagan stands with Indonesian President Suharto during an armed force full honor arrival ceremony (1982). The U.S National Archives - Released to the public - Use: Unrestricted

1965-1966 Indonesian Genocide and the extent of US complicity

The 1965-1966 mass killings of communists in Indonesia were triggered by the alleged attempt at coup d’état on the 30th of September by the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI). After the failed attempt, the military repression of the PKI, its followers, or anyone deemed in relation or affiliated with communism started. In the middle of an ideological cold war with Soviet Russia (Capitalism vs Communism), the US saw this coup as a justification for eradicating communism in Indonesia: a will for so-called regional stability through the genocide of hundred-thousands of individuals.

The US’s complicity in the genocide lies within the provision of material aid such as arms and communication equipment to support the Suharto regime in their ‘struggle’ against communism. Additionally, CIA declassified documents also revealed that the US systematically compiled and shared with Indonesia’s officials, a list of known communists. As many as 5 000 names are said to have been sent to the Suharto government, which helped them localise communists more efficiently thus facilitating their eradication.

The US was perfectly aware of the atrocities happening in Indonesia, as denoted declassified documents from the CIA, the Political Affairs Counselor at the US Embassy in Jakarta to Washington DC wrote on the 30th of November 1965:

“Meanwhile, both in the provinces and Djakarta, repression of the PKI continued, with the main problem that of what to feed and where to house the prisoners. Many provinces appear to be successfully meeting this problem by executing their PKI prisoners, or by killing them before they are captured”

The choice of words used here is quite troubling and denotes satisfaction with the resolution of the problem in such a manner by the US official. It is good to remember that communism is an ideology, therefore you cannot destroy the belief system without eliminating its followers. The US did not help in the elimination of ‘communists’ but in the mass killing of human beings who were unlucky enough to have a political viewpoint contested by them.

But the implication of the US does not stop there. As quickly mentioned in the introduction of this paper. The US feared the domino effect of China over the region. As such, it was proven that they tried to pin the ‘failed coup’ of the 30th of November on both Indonesian communists but also the Chinese communist party. The US incited the Indonesian government to consider the involvement of China through baseless and vague accusations. For instance, the US pointed out, as proof, that the Chinese embassy’s flag was the only one not raised after the event on the 30th of September or that the day of the alleged coup conveniently coincided with China’s National Day. Marshall Green, ambassador of the United States to Indonesia, commented about the opportunities to nail the “Chicoms[1]” as the cause of the “disastrous” events in Indonesia, he further enquired about the need for propaganda directed at the governmental and military institutions of the country as it would be the “best means of spreading the idea of Chicom complicity”. This observation from Green, a high official of the US government in Indonesia, reveals the explicit anti-communist intentions of the US in the region, by pinning unrelated attacks on a foreign power, to exacerbate the fear of communist governments.


In conclusion, the US was complicit in the 1965-1966 genocide in Indonesia. While they were not executioners, they encouraged and facilitated the elimination of thousands of lives by giving equipment and names to the Indonesian army. It is clear through declassified documents, that the US knew of the Indonesian army’s intent of mass killings. 
To this day, the US remains legally unpunished for the countless human rights it violated and for the death of a minimum of 600 thousand to 2 million human beings.

It is good to remind that communism is an ideology, therefore you cannot destroy the belief system without eliminating its followers. The US did not help in the elimination of ‘communists’ but in the mass killing of human beings who were unlucky enough to have a political viewpoint contested by a Tyrant

Nolwenn Gueguen

Nolwenn is the current head of Society of the Lunar Times. She decided to join the Asian Studies Master program at Lund University in 2021 to learn more about the multifaceted realities of East and Southeast Asia. She took an interest in Southeast Asia in particular and strives to learn more about the diverse ethnicities of the area and the security dilemmas it is currently facing.
Privacy Policy