Military Modernizers: US Military Aid and the Indonesian Civic Action Program, 1958-1965

On March 12, 1958, an unidentified plane parachuted 20 cases of arms into the middle of a field in Pekanbaru, a city that became a major conflict zone in the Indonesian government’s efforts to stamp down a rebel group of army commanders stationed in Sumatra. As government soldiers took to the field, they opened the cases to discover Browning 50 caliber machine guns, Sten guns, and Bazookas blazoned with the stamp of a manufacturer from Plymouth, Michigan. This mysterious discovery of US arms heightened the Indonesian Army’s suspicions that the US government had been aiding the rebels.[1] These suspicions also enflamed Indonesia’s government. In a cabinet meeting, Labor Minister Anak Marhean Hanafi cornered a pro-American colonel. In the presence of Indonesian President Sukarno, he asked: “What are these good friends of yours, the Americans, in which you have put so much faith, doing to you? Dropping weapons they are helping to kill our brothers. Don’t you think you have trusted them too much?”[2]

As the US National Security Council met to discuss the weakening position of the rebel commanders they were supporting, as well as their pro-American allies in the government, the State Department published an internal report that identified General A.H. Nasution, the Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army, as an alternative anti-Communist power that the United States could support in Indonesia. [3]  Officials in the Eisenhower administration had provided covert funds and weapons to the dissident, anti-communist rebels, as they hoped to reverse what they saw as the leftward drift of the Indonesian government. [4]  Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was convinced that the Indonesian Communist Party, known as the PKI (Parti Komunis Indonesia), was increasingly influential.[5] Washington feared that Southeast Asia’s most populous country could fall into the grasp of Communist handsthe PKI had already become the largest non-ruling communist party globally, boasting over 2 million members.

In the background, the US government started shifting US support from the rebels to the Indonesian Army, which they saw as a possible counterweight to the PKI. At the same time that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff sent an official recommendation to the Secretary of Defense to begin this shift in support,[6] General Nasution reached out to US Chief of Naval Operations, Arleigh Burke, through an American oil corporation in Sumatra, asking for US arms.[7] He dangled a Soviet counter-offer of 16 MiGs and 8 bombers, which he would pursue if he did not receive the aid he requested. With anti-US sentiment growing in Indonesia, the US government decided not to sever its growing relationship. From 1958 to 1965, and even beyond, the US government chose to throw their support behind the Indonesian Army and their expansion of economic power, particularly through civic action: a program where the Indonesian Army demonstrated their modernizing capabilities by engaging in economic development in villages.

It would be mistaken to take this narrative at face value, however, and assume that it was the US government who solely led the Indonesian Army to compete for influence with the PKI through civic action. Rather, a deeper examination of the civic action program reveals that the flow of US aid to Indonesia should be understood as a negotiation between both state parties, each with deep contextual histories. In Indonesia, the Army’s implementation of the civic action program, the Operasi Karya, was part of its broader incursion into the political and economic sphere. The logic of civic action paralleled General Nasution’s own philosophy of guerilla warfare that emphasized promoting socio-economic development at the local level; in fact, the Army developed the Operasi Karya program from a prototype it ran in its fight against Darul Islam insurgents in West Java. In the United States, civic action marked a doctrinal shift in government sanctioned foreign aid. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, the US government supported armed counter-insurgencies in foreign countries to ensure their continued membership in the American sphere of influence. Both administrations provided aid for civic action programs in Indonesia to influence the Army, which they saw not only as the strongest anti-communist force in the nation, but also a guarantor for political stability and economic modernization.

Historical scholarship about this period has often been divided between historians studying US foreign policy with US archival sources and Indonesianists studying the politics of Sukarno’s government. This paper analyzes Indonesian domestic narratives alongside US diplomatic histories of the period—using archival source from both governments—to show that military aid for Indonesia’s civic action programs was not a one-sided phenomenon, but rather, a remarkable exchange of interests, capital, and power. It emphasizes the agentive qualities of the Indonesian Army which sought and repurposed US military aid for their own modernizing goals. The civic action program must be interpreted as a bilateral, covert partnership that made internal security a prerequisite for development. Both the Indonesian and US governments treated civic action as a focal point, pursuing the same unified goal – to establish strong military power – that would bring modernizing development to Indonesia.

The Intellectual and Political Origins of Indonesian Civic Action

The Indonesian Army’s civic action programs cannot be separated from Nasution’s idea of “Total People’s Resistance,” encapsulated in his book, The Fundamentals of Guerilla Warfare. When he was Commander of the KODAM VI/Siliwangi Division in West Java from 1946 to 1948 during the Indonesian National Revolution against the Dutch, Nasution found that partnerships with village-level administrators were key to mobilizing local populations in guerilla warfare against Dutch troops. He established a single joint military-civilian leadership structure in West Java to ensure that the resources and facilities of the civilian government were available for the Army in the military struggle.[8] For example, regional defence councils functioned at the residency level as institutions where military commanders could meet with civilian authorities.[9] Even after Indonesia achieved independence from the Dutch, Nasution continued with his civic action philosophy as he led the Army’s efforts to consolidate state power over rebel groups in Java. He believed that the Army should attempt to sever the relationships between insurgent groups and their village supporters by building relationships with the local populace. By promoting socio-economic development and developing an understanding of local culture, they would “gradually win the people’s hearts.”[10]

For Nasution, guerilla warfare was a form of ideological warfare at the personal level, where civilians develop trust through interactions with the Army and withdraw their support from rebel mass movements that threaten the government. Nasution’s guerilla experience against the Dutch colonial government remained present as he crystallized his philosophy in 1958 by formulating the “Doctrine of Territorial Warfare and Management” at the Army’s command school (SESKOAD). The doctrine, which guided Indonesia military strategy for almost forty years, aimed to mobilize grassroots populations to support the Army’s political objectives. As an extension of “total people’s resistance,” this new doctrine stressed the role of the Army as a manager of the people’s (rakyat) affairs.[11] In this sense, overt military intervention in non-military spheres, including economic development and policy making, was necessary to ensure that local territories were prepared to combat insurgency.

The political context of President Sukarno’s announcement of Guided Democracy and the military backdrop of the 1957 PRRI/Permesta rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi also served to legitimized the Army’s role in economics and politics. In 1957, Sukarno dissolved the existing system of parliamentary democracy. Instead, he proclaimed the new political system of “Guided Democracy” and installed a government composed of the four main political parties, as well as a national council representing “functional groups of society,” such as labor unions, women’s groups, religious organizations, and the Army,[12]  By January 1959, 13.5% of the seats in parliament were reserved for the Army.[13] Of even greater significance was Nasution’s declaration of a State of Emergency on March 14th, 1957 in response to the PRRI/Permesta military rebellions in Sumatra and Sulawesi, which established martial law and provided greater political powers for the Army. Army officers were now authorized to oversee territorial administration even at the village level. Martial law also allowed the Army control over key political issues like the government’s devolution of power.[14]

The inclusion of the Army in the formal governmental structure further validated its integration into the national economy. As Nasution travelled to different provinces as Army Chief of Staff, he established Bureaus for Trade and Exchange as well as import and export bureaus to enforce government barter regulations.[15] The Army now gained control of the issuance of all foreign re-entry permits. They regularly searched foreign banks to ensure compliance with the government’s foreign exchange stipulations.[16] When the Indonesian government nationalized Dutch enterprises in 1957, Nasution oversaw the takeovers, putting them under Army supervision to prevent labor unions from seizing control.[17] In Surakarta, for example, the Army took control of a tobacco factory, a gunny-sack factory, and two sugar mills.[18] Civilian politicians had no choice but to acquiesce to the Army’s involvement in government. In 1957, a Member of Parliament from the Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama noted that “there is sufficient evidence that to leave [the army] outside the fence of government is not possible.”[19] The necessary military-civilian statesmen relationships that underlined the Army’s management of key enterprises not only allowed for the development of patronage networks, but it also gave the Army a stake in the nation’s economic and political status quo.[20]

Contrary to the observations of US diplomats, who positioned Nasution and the Army as competitors of President Sukarno, Sukarno himself shepherded the Army’s consolidation of economic power and their increased administrative portfolios in government. In his 1959 Independence Day speech, Sukarno laid out his vision for a new political manifesto, stating specifically that the “manpower of the Armed Forces are to contribute as much as possible in the fields of production, distribution, development and the people’s wellbeing.”[21] A set of regulations issued by the Temporary People’s Consultative Assembly in 1960, the highest national legislative body at the time,  further entrenched the Army in the economic sphere. Clause 6(3) of the regulation stipulates that “all progressive forces and funds must be involved in the development of the Republic of Indonesia” with Appendix A, No. 51 further detailing that the “Military of the Republic of Indonesia and National Police must be involved in the [nation’s] production process, without reducing their own respective tasks.”[22] The clear legitimization of the Army’s role from Sukarno, whose presidential powers increased greatly with the abolishment of the parliamentary system, allowed Nasution and the upper echelons of the military to increase their political bandwidth by launching expansionary programs.

Operasi Karya: Civic Action from Indonesian Eyes

As the Indonesian Army gained increased control of government, the Operasi Karya civic action program proved to be an essential component in the Army’s civil strategic thinking, especially when covered by Sukarno’s actions. First, Sukarno and military elites saw the Army as a dormant stock of manpower and capital machinery that could be deployed for the revolutionary purpose of achieving economic prosperity. Second, Army leaders thought that constructing infrastructure would build goodwill with the local populations, preventing insurgent groups like the PKI from taking root and interfering with development. Third, civic action allowed for a safe demobilization of troops after a series of military campaigns against rebel groups, allowing soldiers to take on productive roles as economic agents back within civil society.

The Army’s civic action program started long before the United States decided to support anti-communist efforts in Indonesia. In early 1962, General Adjie, who was now in charge of Nasution’s former division, KODAM VI/Siliwangi, launched a pilot project in West Java named the Bhakti Operation. A stronghold of the guerilla group Darul Islam insurgency group which fought to establish an Indonesian Islamic State, West Java had seen the large-scale destruction of its infrastructure from intense fighting between the rebels and the government forces. As the fighting waned, General Adjie hoped that civic action could restore security in West Java by rehabilitating destroyed villages.[23] The operation was meant to “stabilize the regions” so that “trust in its future will return, alongside the village’s return as a producer.”[24] Fundamental to this goal was the belief that the natural state of the village was to be productive. Brigadier General Soeprapto Sokowati noted that the village was “the base-structure of defense.”[25] It was the Army’s role, with its expertise, manpower, and ability to ensure security, to return the damaged villages back to their natural, productive state, which, in turn, entrenched the Army’s defense against potential rebels or insurgent groups. Adjie divided his region of command into three distinct areas, each with a specific focus. The “C” area, located around the regencies of Garut and Tasikmalaya, had endured major damage. The Army focused on this area by tilling rice fields, providing food, and rehabilitating roads. Further linking the idea of village modernization with security, American observers noted that General Adjie started this program “to fill the political vacuum left by the Darul Islam and to prevent the infiltration of the PKI into this area.”[26]. Thus, the village became an object of development—it was to be “rehabilitated, consolidated, and stabilized”—to ensure the return of both security and economic progress in the region.[27]

In this pilot program, General Adjie also sent military experts to guide and persuade villagers to accept what they perceived to be a modern way of life, echoing traces of paternalistic community development programs elsewhere in the Global South. Brigadier General Sokowati imagined the village as an embodiment of eternal values, such as the spirit of communal work, democracy by consensus, village autonomy, and systems of kinship.[28] The Army’s presence was intended to not only remind villagers of these traditions or the need to construct infrastructure, but also to help increase villages’ administrative efficiency by teaching account and book management, facilitating village meetings, and advising village administrators.[29] Ultimately, the role of the military was to engineer “social change” to aid the villagers in returning to their productive lives.[30] Sokowati noted that villagers should be included in the planning process “to prevent the possibility of resistance from the local populace.”  But this inclusive practice was perhaps not wholly in the spirit of democratic participation.  The Army expected that improvements in economic well-being would prevent discontent and support for the PKI grassroots movement.[31]

Besides this focus on administrative guidance and economic reconstruction, waning military involvement during this era also produced new concerns for a large-scale demobilization of the armed forces. Nasution worried that demobilized soldiers would join insurgent armed groups, just like soldiers who became independence fighters after they were demobilized in 1950.[32] He feared that soldiers who returned to a civilian life would “become frustrated and an easy prey to Communist or Muslim demagogues.”[33] In the eyes of the military elites, soldiers were unskilled, malleable figures who needed education in the skills of daily production. Without it, they feared that soldiers would stray away from the concept of the ideal citizen: productive members loyal to the national ideology, not to communism. As soldiers repaired dams, built irrigation canals, and distributed seedlings, army elites expected their footmen to learn how to become ideal citizens.

As resentment grew among common laborers against the army’s public wealth, civic action projects attenuated accusations that the army was inefficient and corrupt. In his address during the National Armed Forces Day in 1962, Nasution claimed that the Armed Forces must not only participate in development projects because of President Sukarno’s orders, but also because “our people … are not satisfied with the present discipline and productivities [of the army].” With some military leaders well-known as “new millionaires, with their luxurious houses and bungalows,” these public displays of wealth lent no reason for the rural cultivator or the urban laborer to support the army.[34] Nasution hoped that villagers and common folk would regard the Army as “the people’s soldiers who defend the people’s ideals,” that they are also productive, not merely consumptive.[35] The Army’s hoarding of rice during this time contributed to inflation, furthering the army’s reputational decline.[36] Accused of sowing corruption within the military, especially in the state-owned enterprises, political and military elites hoped that the visual spectacle of soldiers crushing rocks and tilling rice fields would convince villagers that the army was working for and with the people. Through this, the army would win the respect of the rural populations, work with them to establish stability, and pave the way to future development.[37]

A Partnership from Washington

Having analyzed the interests and policies of General Nasution, Colonel Adjie, and other military leaders in Indonesia, it is clear that the Indonesian Army had crafted a new role for itself in reconstruction and economic development through civic action. These programs were established before the US government had turned its support to the Indonesian Army. Yet, the US government’s decision to funnel military aid illustrates how it had also found these military regimes as useful agents of US-style modernization amid the backdrop of the Cold War.[38] In a 1962 internal journal for the State Department, “Internal Defense and the Foreign Service,” Deputy Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Ural Alexis Johnson, argued that with US support for military programs in developing countries, new nations could achieve internal stability, crucial to long-term modernization.[39] In particular, US officials admired the willingness of armies in the so-called “Third World” to suppress radical movements, while supporting technocratic and modern goals at the same time.[40] Internal US security documents revealed that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ long-term goals to support military-led modernization in Indonesia often superseded short-term interests, as US officers acquiesced to Indonesian requests for limited US involvement.

To track the evolution of American diplomatic support for Indonesian civic action, it is useful to return to 1958 when the Eisenhower administration first decided to support the Indonesian Army as an anti-communist bloc. At this point, the US government’s interests were mainly political: the idea that foreign militaries could be vanguards of modernization lacked prominence in strategic decision making in 1958. Under the Eisenhower administration, the US government provided military aid to Indonesia solely for defense, not development. In 1958, they approved the first token shipment of $7 million in arms, shipping assistance, and civil aviation equipment.[41] Non-combat engineering equipment was only dedicated for the Army’s internal purposes, such as the restoration of internal land communications, not for construction and infrastructure development[42] Unlike later administrations, US military aid negotiations under Eisenhower were mainly conducted with the Indonesian government, not the Army.[43] Hence, although the US government started to provide military aid to Indonesia in 1958, an explicit reconceptualization of the Indonesian Army as economic developers only started with US support for civic action under the Kennedy administration. 

The Kennedy administration steered aid towards a counterinsurgent focus by creating the Special Group, which was the first US body to consider supporting civic action in Indonesia. President Kennedy established this group in April 1961 under the leadership of Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy to plan, review, and develop criteria necessary to approve covert CIA operations.[44] On December 14, 1961, the Special Group agreed to spend funds in the following year to “support civic action and anti-communist activities to be executed through [Indonesian] [classified] instrumentalities.”[45] Interestingly, at the time, the Special Group had no jurisdiction over Indonesia. For Southeast Asia, the group’s policy only encompasses Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. National Security Council senior staff member Robert W. Komer commented that it would “cause a stir” to even suggest that Indonesia should be included under the Group’s list of countries.[46] But, historian Brad Simpson discovered that in the meeting, the Pentagon proposed $4 million in FY 1963-64 funding for a civic action program in Indonesia. Perhaps then the idea of civic action for Indonesia surfaced as the US government was supporting similar programs elsewhere. The placement of the civic action program under the Special Group jurisdiction showed how under the guiding philosophy of military-led modernization, the US government accepted economic development as inextricably linked to national security.

While the US government had considered supporting civic action programs since 1961, it took no significant action until July 1962, after Indonesian officials expanded the pilot program Operasi Bhakti into the nation-wide Operasi Karya. Until June 12 of 1962, President Kennedy did not approve the Military Assistance Program (MAP) funds for Indonesian military aid, because of an ongoing dispute in West New Guinea.[47] Sukarno forcefully believed that the Republic of Indonesia had a claim to the Dutch-controlled half of New Guinea and recently ordered a military invasion of the island after failed diplomatic appeals at the United Nations. These decisions created fault lines in the international community. The Dutch and Australian governments objected to the US provision of military aid to Indonesia, as it might be used in Sukarno’s military campaign.[48] Even when President Kennedy approved the MAP package in July, it mostly consisted of materials from previous years. As a US national security memo notes, “in reality, there was no real FY1962 MAP for Indonesia.”[49] US support for Indonesian civic action programs officially started in in August of 1962 when President Kennedy issued National Security Action Memorandum No. 179, noting that he would like to “capitalize on the US role in promoting [the West New Guinea dispute] settlement,” asking for various departments to prepare details for the expansion of civic action in Indonesia.[50] By the end of August, the US National Security Council outlined a plan for an interdepartmental civic action team to visit Indonesia in October to survey local needs.[51] This started a flurry of proposals and reports from the State Department, Department of Defense, and CIA to expand the US-Indonesia partnership in the following year.

 Even though President Kennedy tasked various civilian departments to lay the groundwork for the partnership, the civic action program was primarily a US Army to Indonesian Army direct effort. As historian Bryan Evans III notes, the selection of US Colonel George Benson as Special Assistant to the Ambassador for Civic Action ensured that this army-to-army relationship would be sustained even as diplomatic relations fluctuated between the US and Indonesian governments.[52] Immediately prior, Colonel Benson worked as the military attaché in the US Embassy in Jakarta. He was also the only US army officer stationed in Indonesia until late 1958, when Eisenhower approved the US-Indonesia MAP program.[53] During this time, Benson developed close ties with the Indonesian military leadership, including Generals Nasution and Ahmad Yani; these ties proved useful as the civic action program was implemented. Besides the inter-departmental survey team, US Army Chief of Staff G.H. Decker also sent a follow-on team composed exclusively of US military representatives who would build relationships with Indonesian counterparts.[54] As the program progressed, General Nasution led personal efforts to communicate with the US government, instead of leaving the task to other Indonesian officials. This role continued as Nasution took on the new role of Minister of Defense. During President Kennedy’s funeral, Nasution also personally met with President Johnson to talk about US aid support for Indonesian civic action.[55] Thus, Nasution’s role as the main point of contact exhibits how the US-Indonesian partnership to launch civic action remained a military one.

The Indonesian army’s central role is not surprising, especially since the army tried to maintain their US partnership in secret. Overt US support for the army made it vulnerable to political criticism from the PKI, or even Sukarno. A US report about the civic action program, for example, noted that the army “asked the US to help, quickly but discreetly.”[56] In a report on the Operasi Karya published in 1964, the Indonesian army disavowed any connection between civic action in Indonesia and elsewhere. With great frankness, the report outlined that the “civic mission according to the Western definition refers to the civil activities of the armed forces in underdeveloped countries, which is used as a political tool to prevent the development of communism.”[57] It acknowledged that because of civic action, “developing countries always receive assistance from Western countries.”[58] The report claimed that the Operasi Karya was completely different. The Operasi Karya was the embodiment of Indonesian values of mutual assistance (gotong royong), which was “born out of national needs, has a national character, and has national goals.”[59] This emphasis on the Indonesian nation detracts from accusations that Operasi Karya is foreign, a dangerous association for the time when anti-Western and anti-imperialist rhetoric were prevalent. Even available public Indonesian documents and speeches failed to mention any US involvement, and distanced the program from it.

The US government also respected the Indonesian Army’s request that US manpower play a limited role in the aid package. During the interdepartmental civic action team’s visit in October 1962, the Indonesian Army explicitly asked for limited US involvement.[60] The team acquiesced, recognizing that their support for rebel dissidents in 1957 had diminished their political capital. In addition, the US budget for $7.6 million in the 1962 Military Assistance Program for Indonesia paled in comparison to Soviet aid, which amounted to $1.3 billion in the form of modern military equipment.[61] The team urged the US government to follow guidelines set by the Indonesian Army’s leadership in determining the level of US involvement. Mobile training teams from the US government were only welcome if “significant amounts of relatively complex engineering equipment” were supplied, while US engineering assistance was only acceptable in the early stages of the army’s major regional or national construction projects.[62] US advisors were expected to leave once constructions project had started. Nonetheless, US officials still found creative ways to tangibly promote US values and power. Having pledged to procure needed amounts of mattock-hoes for paddy cultivation and road-building, US AID marked the hoes’ handles with either the letters “USA” or the Indonesian for “Made in America,” to “clearly identify [them] as American.”[63] Thus, the US government sought to augment Indonesia’s existing civic action projects while supporting the Army’s attempt to play a larger role in society.

The Visual Spectacle of Army-led Economic Development

Inherent in the Army’s involvement in economic development was the remarkable visual publicity of construction projects in the villages of Java which confirmed the institution’s position as an economic modernizer: an image that both the Army and the upper echelons of the US government wanted to cultivate. Nasution believed that the Army was the only institution capable of increasing social welfare in the villages. With the Army’s help, villagers could at last partake in the nationalist dream of economic prosperity, a goal that had been distracted from by destructive insurgencies. This pragmatic belief was met with opposition in Parliament. Political groups protested that the Army had no jurisdiction over projects of public works, health, and agriculture which belonged under the portfolio of other departments.[64] However, Nasution claimed that the department ministers themselves relinquished control over the projects. They recognized that the Army had the best-equipped infrastructure and resources to coordinate such projects. Using this logic, Nasution convinced Sukarno to transfer additional budget from the Indonesian First Minister to the Defense Minister, increasing the Armed Forces’ expenditure to 83% of state revenue.[65]

The Army targeted civic action as an image-building project that was geared towards rural villagers and political elites alike. High-ranking officials visited soldiers working in these villages to survey their work. In May 1965, Hartono SH, vice chairman of President Sukarno’s advisory council (Dewan Pertimbangan Agung) and Bambang Sutiyoso from the peasant organization PTNI (Persatuan Tani Nasional Indonesia) travelled to the southern coast of West Java to witness the “close relationship between the military and the people.”[66] There, they visited a plantation run by veterans and surveyed the construction of a school and a town hall by local soldiers. Hartono claimed that the soldier’s work demonstrated how the “military would forever be with the people in carrying out mission-building,” especially in rehabilitating the region after rebel conflict.[67]

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“Army soldiers swinging their field hoes. On January 14, 1963, the Army’s KODAM VII/Diponegoro Division is building the 30-km long Jeruklegi road in the Banyumas Regency.”

Image 1: Sokowati, S. (The TNI and the Civic Mission) T.N.I. Dan Civic-Mission, Suatu Aspek Pembinaan Wilajah. Penerbitan Khusus,. Djakarta: Departemen Penerangan R.I., 1963. 60.

              The state’s film corporation (Perusahaan Film Negara, PFN) further produced two newsreel programs that highlighted the Army’s role in economic development for public audiences. One program, titled “Civic Mission,” narrated Hartono and Bambang Sutiyoso’s trip to West Java, while another, aptly titled “The Multipurpose Soldier,” showed soldiers carrying out civic action programs in Central Java and West Java. These programs were highly cinematic and they depicted Army soldiers actively involved in construction and farming. “The Multipurpose Soldier” started with a shot of soldiers manufacturing bricks underneath an open tent, pressing shale into a metal hydraulic press.[68] As the camera panned to rows of bricks drying under the sun, the film showed a group of soldiers laying bricks to build the walls of new village housing. Others carried wagons filled with cement. In another scene, a soldier struggled to control a large water buffalo in an attempt to maneuver it to plow the rice field, while his compatriots in the background swung their hoes onto the wet soil. Another soldier pushed an electric tiller along the watery grooves of the land. The newsreel ended with a group of senior officials helping local women farmers to harvest rice, loading bales to a tractor to be sent to the village market.

Each scene in the newsreel conveyed motion, strengthening the perception that the Army was an active contributor to development and a close partner of the everyday peasant, the rakyat. The booming narration in the background affirmed the Army’s role as a “revolutionary apparatus.”[69] As the camera focused on the soldiers, the narrator spoke of them as the “mandated bearer of the people’s suffering” who not only “increased revolutionary resilience and heightened production capabilities, but also integrated themselves with the rakyat to bring prosperity to the region.”[70] The state corporation’s scriptwriters told a story that weaved the Army’s role into Sukarno’s rhetoric of anti-imperialism. The same Army that once fought the colonial power now worked “shoulder and shoulder with peasants.” The narrator claimed that the Army’s goal was to fulfill Sukarno’s three aims of “development, food security, and crushing Malaysia.”[71] Indeed, the state film enmeshed the Army’s role in the political priorities of the time and portrayed them as a crucial supporter of the President, contradicting the popular perception that the Army was a political rival of Sukarno as President Sukarno had increasingly supported the PKI in government.

“The army’s battalion is working to cover part of the Ciliwung River in Jakarta to construct a bridge.”

Image 2: Sokowati, S. (The TNI and the Civic Mission) T.N.I. Dan Civic-Mission, Suatu Aspek

Pembinaan Wilajah. Penerbitan Chusus,.  Djakarta: Departemen Penerangan R.I., 1963. 57.

The visual spectacle of soldiers amongst rice fields further bolstered the Army’s credentials as modernizers and drew attention to their own existing set of experts and resources. These included the Army’s Engineering Corps, cement factories, and telecommunications equipment, and also the Army’s success in building large stadiums for the 1962 Asian Games. Sukarno himself noted, in a 1963 speech to the Armed Forces, that the Army’s work in development “are of no small value,” as soldiers needed to be skilled at handling both the rifle and the hoe “to be an instrument of the revolution.”[72] Successful operations in the villages could hence be a useful justification to keep the Army’s powers even if the State of Emergency established in response to the PRRI/Permesta rebellion was revoked. The US support for the Army as an anti-communist, stabilizing force would bear fruit with the Army’s continuing presence in the political process.

Short-Term Tensions, Long-Term Trajectories

By 1964, domestic opposition had risen against the Indonesian Army’s civic action programs. Critics accused the Army of launching civic action to repress competing political groups. In a report on the Operasi Karya, the Indonesian Army refuted claims that the armed forces were “scheming with US imperialism to destroy certain groups in Indonesia.”[73] In North Sumatra, reports showed that local groups had sabotaged the Army’s road reparation equipment.[74] A member of the legislative council further accused the Army of corruption in a road reparation project in Central Java. Once again, the Indonesian Army rejected this claim, professing that it had investigated the allegations thoroughly.[75]

With these short-term challenges in mind, the Indonesian Army’s formulation of their civic action program shifted towards long-term visions of nation-building. No longer was the Army only an institution of defense, or even economic development, it was also to become an agent for nation-building. In a report circulated in 1964, the Army’s command school (SESKOAD) defined this role to be “generating a new consciousness as a nation with one culture, [which] can be achieved through assimilation.”[76] In this sense, the Army’s civic mission not only encompassed tilling rice-fields or building roads, it was also to “develop the national spirit” by taking over transmigration programs.[77] The Army’s new goal was to incorporate civic action into its permanent role, making it “built-in in[to] [their] doctrine of warfare.”[78] With this long-term vision, the Army hoped to cement its influence in the Indonesian political and economic sphere far after Sukarno’s descent from power.

Even though US-Indonesian diplomatic ties frayed as Sukarno’s started a militarycampaign against Malaysia in 1963, US military leadership still maintained support for civic action as a form of diplomatic influence in Indonesia that contributed to long-term military-led modernization. In a memorandum to President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk recognized that continuing aid to Indonesia would generate opposition from the United Kingdom and Malaysia and weaken the perception of the US stance against Indonesia’s war in Malaysia. Yet, he still recommended the President to approve $12.9 million worth of aid for technical assistance, civic action, and malaria eradication, amongst them to deliver trucks, electronics, and spare parts for a project to build a communications network in Java and Sumatra. Even after Indonesian forces infiltrated the Malaysian Peninsula on 17 August 1964 and US Senator John Tower introduced an amendment to ban aid to Indonesia, the Department of Defense continued to try to arrange a meeting between US Colonels Harvey and Benson with Indonesian Generals Nasution and Yani in Jakarta.[79] The Johnson administration was even willing to continue their assistance for civic action if Nasution and Yani sought US support.

The Johnson administration had hoped that its continued support for the civic-action program would maintain the Indonesian Army’s US-approval in the expected power struggle after Sukarno’s fall.  Secretary of State Dean Rusk believed that it was important “to strengthen anti-Communist elements,” namely the Army, “for the battle that will follow Sukarno’s departure.”[80] Nasution himself arranged a private meeting with Ambassador Jones in March 1964, where he emphasized his desire to preserve a long-range relationship with the US “as investment in the future.”[81]

Persistent US support for the Indonesian Army’s civic action program, with its focused goal on long-term influence, ensured a continuing relationship during and after the coup on September 30, 1965: a moment of rupture in Indonesia’s modern history. Despite rising anti-US sentiment in Indonesia embodied by forced takeovers of US private poverty and the mandated closure of the United States Information Service’s Jakarta office, US support for civic action continued until March 1965 with the Defense Liaison Group remaining in the US embassy in Jakarta.[82] The group’s tasks included continuing residual civic action functions and maintaining communication with the Indonesian military. The strength of this relationship rang true in the aftermath of the September 1965 coup. A group of Indonesian soldiers had killed a number of high-ranking generals, claiming to be part of a group called the “30th September Movement.”[83] One of the highest-ranking surviving generals, Suharto, quickly took control of the military and seized power from Sukarno, starting a campaign that blamed the PKI for the coup and launching mass killings that left an estimated 1.5 million people dead.[84]

On October 5, 1965, as the Armed Forces Day parade in Jakarta turned into a funeral march for the dead generals, Marshall Green, the new US Ambassador to Indonesia, realized the importance of the relationship his predecessor had built. In a cable back to Washington, Green suggested that he would “indicate clearly to key people in the Army such as Nasution and Suharto our desire to be of assistance where we can” and “maintain and if possible extend our contact with military.”[85] In his reply, Secretary of State George Ball recognized that:

Over past years inter-service relationships developed through training program, civic action program and MILTAG, as well as regular assurances to Nasution, should have established clearly in minds [of] Army leaders that U.S. stands behind them if they should need help.[86]

Indeed, the events of the 30th September Movement, which the US government correctly sensed as a harbinger of major political change in Indonesia, seemed to have vindicated US support for long-term military modernization. In August 1966, with General Suharto and the Indonesian Army clearly in power, the Defense and State Departments agreed that there was no longer a military justification for support of civic action.[87] From the US perspective, support for civic action in the Sukarno years all but ensured that the Indonesian Army would continue to seek US assistance and design economic policies in-line with US visions of modernity.[88] Indeed, Suharto ruled Indonesia’s authoritarian government for the next three decades with continued economic and political support from the US government.[89]

Conclusion

For Indonesian military figures like General Nasution, civic action reflected a continued extension of military power over economic development since the State of Emergency in 1957, and through the political turbulences of the West New Guinea dispute, Indonesia’s campaign against Malaysia, and the PKI’s rise. For US actors like Ambassador Jones, Secretary McNamara, or President Johnson, the events of the 30th September Movement justified their wager to invest in long-term visions of military-led modernization in Indonesia. Military aid became the vehicle through which both the Indonesian Army and the US government engaged in an exchange of interests, which coalesced into a pursuit of military-led security as a prerequisite for nation-building and development. Throughout this process, the language of reconstruction, development, and aid became proxies for longer-term political aims, used by the Indonesian Army to consolidate power and by the United States to pursue their visions for military-led modernization in Indonesia.

This episode of global history has forced us to think about the hidden histories of development aid, an outwardly innocuous instrument. US support for Indonesian civic action had illustrated how aid can be political, even tightly linked with notions of national security and stability. It also showed how aid can never be a one-sided means of control. Governments that used aid in the Global South also retooled it for their own purposes. US support for civic action in Indonesia reaffirmed the visuality of soldiers as part of Indonesian peasantry by publicizing army projects, erecting dams and tilling rice fields in villages. Through state newsreels and political visits, these projects framed the Indonesian Army as developers of the village economy, while driving forward narratives of anti-communism and internal security that fulfilled both the interests of the Indonesian Army and the US. Indeed, long after General Nasution first made contact with US Naval Admiral Arleigh Burke in 1958, notions of the Army as the vanguard of political and economic progress continued to linger as an unconscious mantra, especially as General Suharto established the authoritarian New Order and launched his own US-supported program of technocratic development in Indonesia.


Bibliography

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*The Provisional People Consultative Assembly’s Regulation on the Outlines of the First Stage of the National Universal Planned Development, 1961-1969

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Nasution, Abdul Haris. Pelaksanaan Tri-Program Dan Retooling Aparatur Negar (Implementation of the Tri-Program and Retooling of State Apparatus) a.  Djakarta: Departemen Penerangan, 1961.

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References

[1] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XVII, Indonesia, eds. Robert J. McMahon (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1994), Document 40.

[2] Ibid, Document 56.

[3] Ibid, Document 59.

[4] Simpson, Bradley R. Economists with Guns : Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968.  Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. 33.

[5] Simpson, Bradley R. Economists with Guns : Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968.  Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. 33.

[6] Ibid, Document 68.

[7] Ibid, Document 67.

[8] Turner, Barry J. Nasution: Total People’s Resistance and Organicist Thinking in Indonesia.  Swinburne University of Technology, 2005. 156.

[9]  Cribb, Robert. Gangsters and Revolutionaries: The Jakarta People’s Militia and the Indonesian Revolution, 1945-1949. Equinox Publishing, 2008. 163.

[10] Nasution, Abdul Haris, and Walter L. Pforzheimer Intelligence Collection (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library). Fundamentals of Guerilla Warfare and the Indonesian Defence System, Past and Future.  Djakarta: Information Service of the Indonesian Armed Forces, 1953, 58

[11] Pauker, Guy J., The Indonesian Doctrine of Territorial Warfare and Territorial Management.  Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1963. 25.

[12]Soekarno. Indonesia’s Political Manifesto, 1959-1964. Djakarta: Prapantja, 1965 and Cheong, Yong Mun. “The Indonesian Army and Functional Groups, 1957-59.” Journal of  Southeast Asian Studies 7, no. 1 (1976), 92.

[13] Ibid, 96.

[14] Ibid, 95.

[15] Nasution, Abdul Haris. Towards a People’s Army, Djakarta: C.V. Delegasi, 1964, 1.

[16] Van Der Kroef, Justus M. “”Guided Democracy” in Indonesia.” Far Eastern Survey 26, no. 8 (1957): 113-24.

[17] Sudhakar Bhat, The Times of India, News Service. “TRANSFER OF DUTCH BUSINESS TO GOVT. OVER.” The Times of India (1861-Current), Jan 13, 1958.

[18] Lindblad, J. Thomas. 2009. Bridges to new business: the economic decolonization of Indonesia. Singapore: NUS Press, National University of Singapore. 184.

[19] Ikhtisar Parlemen (Parliamentary Debate Summaries), 1957, no. 31, p. 293, Session of May 22, 1957, quoted by Lev, Daniel S., The Political Role of the Army in Indonesia, Pacific Affairs, vol. X, 353.

[20] Lev, Daniel S.. “The Political Role of the Army in Indonesia.” Pacific Affairs 36, no. 4, (1963): 351.

[21] Soekarno. Indonesia’s Political Manifesto, 1959-1964.  Djakarta: Prapantja, 1965.

[22] Indonesia. Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat. Ketetapan Madjelis Permusjawaratan Rakjat Sementara R. I. No Ii/Mprs/1960 Tanggal 3 Desember 1960, Tentang Garis-Garis Besar Pola Pembangunan Nasional Semesta Berentjana Tahapan Pertama 1961-1969 (Lembaran Negara 1960, No. 152). Djakarta, 1961.

[23] Sokowati, S. (The TNI and the Civic Mission, An Aspect of Territorial Management) T.N.I. Dan Civic-Mission, Suatu Aspek Pembinaan Wilajah. Penerbitan Khusus,.  Djakarta: Departemen Penerangan R.I., 1963. 30.

[24] Ibid. 30.

[25] Ibid. 34.

[26] United States National Security Council Special Group: Counterinsurgency, Staff Director. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia, 1962, https://search.proquest.com/docview/2057016216?accountid=15172., 7

[27] Sokowati, T.N.I. Dan Civic-Mission, 36.

[28] Ibid, 35.

[29] Ibid, 33.

[30] Ibid, 49.

[31] Ibid, 37.

[32] Ibid, 75.

[33] Nasution, Abdul Haris. Towards a People’s Army. Djakarta,: c. v. Delegasi, 1964. 71.

[34] Nasution, Abdul Haris. Towards a People’s Army. 74.

[35] Ibid. 91.

[36] US NSC. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia, 1962. 4.

[37] United States National Security Council Special Group: Counterinsurgency, Staff Director. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia Includes Attachment] 1962. 7.

[38] Simpson, Bradley R. Economists with Guns : Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968.  Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008. 62-63.

[39] Ibid. 63.

[40]  Ibid. 70.

[41]Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, 118

[42] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XVII, Document 117.

[43] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XVII, Document 142.

[44] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume E-12, eds. Bradley Lynn Coleman, David Goldman, and David Nickles, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2010) Note on US Covert Action Programs.

[45] CIA Paper for the Special Group, December 11, 1961 and December 14, 1961, cited in FRUS, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI. 26, 234-235

[46] Confidential Note, Page 77, Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. National Security Files. Meetings and Memoranda. Special Group (CI): Subjects: Meetings, 8 June 1961-2 November 1962.

[47] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume XVII, Document 153.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “Background Summary of the Military Assistance Program to Indonesia,” Page 131, Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. National Security Files. Robert W. Komer Files. Indonesia, 1961-1963: “Perspectives and Proposals for U.S. Economic Aid.”

[50] United States Department, of State. Plan of Action for Indonesia: Response to NSAM 179, 1962. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1679087211?accountid=15172..

[51] Page 158, Papers of John F. Kennedy. Presidential Papers. National Security Files. Robert W. Homer Files. Indonesia, 1961-1963: General (2 of 3 folders).

[52] Evans, Bryan. “The Influence of the United States Army on the Development of the Indonesian Army (1954-1964).” Indonesia, no. 47 (1989), 28.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume XXIII, Southeast Asia, eds. Edward C. Keefer (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2010), Document 288.

[55]Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume XXIII, Document 323.

[56] US NSC. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia, 1962. 3.

[57] Operasi Karya ABRI: Suatu kepribadian TNI jang setelah melewati dialektika revolusi meningkat mendjadi alat revolusi Indonesia. Fiche 3782 SE-10, 758 no. 13408-13410, 10. Translated by paper author.

[58] Ibid. 10. Translated by paper author.

[59] Ibid. 9. Translated by paper author.

[60] US NSC. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia, 1962. 18.

[61] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, Volume XXIII, Document 299.

[62] US NSC. Report of Civic Action Team to Indonesia, 1962. 18.

[63] Ibid. 15.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] “Civic Mission” newsreel, May 1963, RK413, Arsip Pusat Produksi Film Negara Seri Siaran Khusus 1959-1978, Indonesian National Archives, Jakarta, Indonesia.

[67] Ibid.

[68] “Prajurit Serba-Guna” [The Multipurpose Soldier] newsreel, June 1964, GI 528, Arsip Pusat Produksi Film Negara Seri Gelora Indonesia 1951-1976, Indonesian National Archives, Jakarta, Indonesia.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ibid.

[71] “Prajurit Serba-Guna” [The Multipurpose Soldier] newsreel, June 1964, GI 528, Arsip Pusat Produksi Film Negara Seri Gelora Indonesia 1951-1976, Indonesian National Archives, Jakarta, Indonesia.

[72] Soekarno. Indonesia’s Political Manifesto, 1959-1964.  Djakarta: Prapantja, 1965. 270.

[73] Operasi Karya ABRI, Fiche 3782 SE-10, 758 no. 13408-13410, 22.  

[74] Ibid, 27.                                                     

[75] Ibid, 27.

[76] SESKOAD. Bantuan Angkatan Perang Dalam Pembangunan (The Army’s Assistance in Development). Telaahan Penelitian Masalah Pertahanan.  Bandung,: Departemen Angkatan Darat, Sekolah Staf dan Komando, 1964. 15.

[77] Ibid. 16.

[78] Ibid. 17.

[79] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Document 64.

[80] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines, eds. Edward C. Keefer (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2010), Document 4.

[81] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Document 40.

[82] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, Volume XXVI, Document 115.

[83] Roosa, John. Pretext for Mass Murder: the September 30th Movement and Suharto’s coup d’état in Indonesia. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid, Document 147.

[86] Ibid, Document 148.

[87] Ibid, Document 216.

[88] Ibid, Document 215.

[89] Simpson, Bradley R. Economists with Guns : Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968.  Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Gregory Jany, Yale '21
Gregory Jany is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Economics. In history, Gregory is particularly interested in the Dutch and British empires in Southeast Asia, as well as the transnational movement of ideas, peoples, and goods across Asia and the larger world.