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Photo of Sukarno

Sukarno, displaying his tremendous charisma, speaks to the people of Indonesia.

Recently declassified documents show U.S. support for Suharto.
Photo of a secret document
Don North Video Clip

Don North comments on the height of the Cold War.

Photo of document storage

For now, many classified documents remain in sealed archives.
Living Dangerously

The Cold War was at its height in 1965. Lyndon B. Johnson, the President of the United States, was escalating the war in Vietnam, and the countries of South Asia were seen by the administration as a series of dominoes, each standing precariously next to the other. If one country fell under communist control, they believed, the rest would tumble after it.

"There was nobody in Asia who had the slightest doubt about the Domino Theory," recalls Dr. Walt Rostow, who served as chairman of the Policy Planning Council for the U.S. State Department from 1961 to 1966. "People in Asia knew that the war in Vietnam was a war for the future of Southeast Asia."

At this time, American policy makers were growing increasingly worried that Indonesia, with the third largest Communist Party in the world after China and the Soviet Union, was slipping away from the West. "This became much more concrete with [President] Sukarno leaving the UN early in 1965," says Rostow. "He took up with Aidit [the chairman of the Indonesian Communist Party], and he cut his ties with the UN and the U.S. ... That was the occasion that Lyndon B. Johnson had to make up his mind -- was he going to fight for Southeast Asia or was he not? He knew that the whole future of democracy in Southeast Asia and the orientation of Southeast Asia was at stake."
Video Clip

Sukarno protects the PKI.

"Go to hell with your aid," Sukarno told the U.S. Ambassador, who was attending a public rally on March 25, 1964. One year later, on August 17, 1965, Sukarno gave another speech suggesting that Indonesia should join an anti-imperialist alliance with Beijing and other Asian communist regimes. America's worst fears, it seemed, were being realized. The Indonesian domino was teetering.

Six weeks later, a coup against President Sukarno's government began with the killing of six senior generals by a group of army officers on September 30, 1965. The country was in turmoil. General Suharto, quickly taking control of the army, captured the plotters and accused the Communist Party of attempting to overthrow the government.

These events were closely followed by Marshall Green, the American Ambassador in Jakarta. His reports back to Washington, recently released as part of a State Department history (FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI), show the role the United States played in events as Suharto moved to destroy the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI).

October 5, 1965
Fm: Marshall Green, U.S. Ambassador, Jakarta
To: State Department, Washington
"What actually happened is still obscure. We can help shape developments to our advantage ... spread the story of the Communist guilt ... treachery and brutality."

October 29, 1965
Fm: Marshall Green, U.S. Ambassador, Jakarta
To: State Department, Washington
"Moslem fervor in Atjeh apparently put all but few PKI out of action. Atjehnese have decapitated PKI and placed their heads on stakes along the road. Bodies of PKI victims reportedly thrown into rivers or sea as Atjehnese refuse to 'contaminate Atjeh soil.'"

November 4, 1965
Fm: Marshall Green, U.S. Ambassador, Jakarta
Fm: State Department, Washington
"The Army is doing a first class job here of moving against the Communists, and by all current indications is the emerging authority in Indonesia."

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