Remembering Australia's Leaders' Attitude To Suharto

In Praise of a Dictator - The Melbourne Age, Opinion, Jan 20 2008.

IN late 1965 and early 1966, the rivers in Java and Bali ran red. Indonesian farmers and fishermen complained canals were clogged with corpses that had been shot, hacked by farm hoes, mutilated with machetes.
Since the victims were assumed to be communists, the killings were greeted as good news in Western capitals, Canberra in particular. The Cold War was at its height, and Australians feared a red tide of communism would topple the dominoes of South-East Asia, seeping relentlessly to our northern shores.
Estimates of the toll in what the CIA described as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century range from 500,000 to 1 million. But the horror of what was happening was softened with language emasculated by euphemism.

One of the many things that have embarassed and angered me over the years has been my home country's sycophancy to the blood-stained leadership of Indonesia. Both Liberal and Labor Governments have fawned praise on Suharto for "the stability" [sic!] he brought to the country.

Stable like a good solid autopsy bench.

Suharto was directly responsible for the ordering the deaths of probably 1 million people: hacked, slaughtered, burnt, exploded, shot...

Was this a bad thing? Not according to Australia's Prime Minister at the time, Harold Holt...

"With 500,000 to 1 million communist sympathisers knocked off … I think it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place."

In those days, fear of the Yellow Peril (Chinese communism) falling with the inexorable inevitability of gravity through South East Asia towards Australia permeated our political thinking. I hope Holt's use of the word "reorientation" was innocent, and not some dreadfully racist pun, but I doubt it. And the incredibly light euphimism "knocked off" - OMG!

But even an otherwise astute Australian leader (certainly my favorite since Whitlam) like Paul Keating, who delighted us all by chiding Malaysia's then PM Mohatir as a "recalcitrant", toed the pro-Suharto line...

Visiting Jakarta in 1992, he [Keating] lauded Soeharto's[sic] success in maintaining the unity and stability of Indonesia as "one of the most significant and beneficial events" in Australia's strategic history.

Most of us of a cynical bent in Australia assumed the reason for ignoring the genocide in East Timor (now Timor Leste) and the execution of five Australian journalists there who were reporting on a planned invasion of the town of Balibo, and the playing down all the suppressive policies of the Suharto regime and the Marcos-like theft graft of his family, most us knew it was all about oil.

Oil. In a disputed area in the Timor sea.

We wanted it.

Like the Iraq war. It is all about oil. Profit from oil.

This disgraceful episode (and it is continuing) is one of the reasons I am not a flag-waving Aussie. We sat back and let a Javanese Hilter annexe the Timorese Sudatenland... OK we helped East Timor get its independance back, but only because we thought we had a better chance of negotiating a good deal for the Timor Gap oilfields. I kid you not.

Nationalism. Not.

To quote Patrick White, Australia's first Nobel Prize Winner, on being asked about a resurgent Australian nationalism in 1973 -

"I think it's rather appalling. I'm not for Nationalism at all. It leads to all sorts of - [pause] - dreadful things."

Of course nationalism is all the rage now everywhere - it's a systemic aniphylactoid reaction to the economic and cultural infection that is globalisation.

And that's a large part of the reason there are so many "dreadful things" happening in the world.

And it's oil that drives the wheels and lubricates the cogs of globalisation.


Hey, and you thought Bobby Fisher had paranoid consipiracy obsessions - what about...



Posted by: expat@large on Jan 20, 08 | 10:48 am | Profile


You're not paranoid E@L, just honest. Those oilfields were a big factor in the liberation of East Timor.

It occurs to me that Asian capitalists must be a bigger threat to Australia than Asian communists these days. Discuss.

Posted by: Dick on Jan 21, 08 | 12:43 am

Dick: yep, for sure now that the Singapore Govt owns more of Australia than the Australian Govt does...

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 21, 08 | 9:34 am

Back in 2002, I helped set up airlifts into East Timor. Everyone who went told me it was not worth going.

Posted by: Skippy-san on Jan 21, 08 | 10:37 am

The daughter of a friend was with an aid agency in East Timor during those days of pre-independance riot/genocide.

She told her father than the Indonesian army was filling Fire Engines with gasoline and driving down streets spraying the houses in Dili, then torching them. She claims she saw Indonesian Army personal change into Rebel Militia uniforms, go out and murder people, come back and change, then go out to "investigate" the murders - OMG it was the Militias! There were stories of boats full of Timorese being scuttled out at sea and drowning men, woman and children machine-gunned.

If even 25% of the stories were true... I don't have much respect for the Indonesian Army.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 21, 08 | 11:52 am


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