Volume 21, Number 10
Italy Base Demos
Gift Subscription Offer
Russia & U.S.
Harold & Kumar
Economists w/ Guns
Bruce E. Levine
Stuffed & Starved
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Economists with Guns
Authoritarian Development and U.S. Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968
By Bradley R. Simpson; Stanford University Press, 2008, 376 pp.
In 1965, following a coup by General Suharto, the Indonesian military massacred upwards of 800,000 people and imprisoned an estimated million more in an attempt to liquidate the Communist Party (PKI). The United States government gave both moral encouragement and logistical support to the mass killings, including weaponry and lists of suspected PKI members to be targeted for assassination. Mainstream newspapers like the New York Times wrote laudatory pieces in praise of the genocidal Suharto government, referring to it as a "gleaming light in Asia" because of its fervent anticommunism and openness towards foreign investment and free trade. C.L Sulzberger added, in the crude racism of the day, that "the killing had attained a volume impressive even in violent Asia, where life is cheap."
Bradley R. Simpson's outstanding new book Economists with Guns provides chilling new evidence of U.S. complicity with what the CIA referred to as "the worst mass killings" since Hitler and Stalin. He comments that the United States "viewed the wholesale annihilation of the PKI and its civilian backers as an indispensable prerequisite to Indonesia's reintegration into the global political economy and the ascendance of a military modernizing regime." Building off of George and Audrey Kahin's invaluable study, "Subversion as Foreign Policy: The Secret Eisenhower-Dulles Debacle in Indonesia," Simpson details how the U.S. support for the 1965 coup and genocide was part of a much longer destabilization campaign directed against Achmed Sukarno—Indonesia's first post-independence president whom Washington opposed because of his socialist leanings and leadership of the non-aligned movement of Third World states. Simpson explores in considerable depth, furthermore, the ideology of U.S. policy elites and the symbiotic relationship that they developed with U.S.-trained Indonesian economists who served as key advisers to the Suharto government. They promoted a mix of privatization, authoritarian development, and "free market" capitalism. These policies served as a precursor to the structural adjustment paradigm promoted by the World Bank during the 1980s and 1990s and yielded similarly deleterious effects for the working-class and poor. They could only be imposed, accordingly, by fiat rather than popular consent.
Challenging the romanticized views of the Kennedy administration pervading popular culture and in the Obama campaign, one of Simpson's major contributions is to show its continuity from Eisenhower in seeking to illegally subvert Indonesian politics and undermine Sukarno. Through the CIA, the Eisenhower administration had funneled arms to dissident generals mounting a series of regional rebellions. Its cover was blown when an Air America pilot, Allen Pope, was captured after shelling an Indonesian village. During the Kennedy era, the special group on counter-insurgency, headed by Robert Kennedy, was influential in trying to build up the paramilitary capabilities of the Indonesian police, who were seen as pro-western.
The counter-insurgency lay the groundwork for the 1965 military coup, which the Johnson administration supported. These policies were developed by prominent intellectuals of the period and RAND Corporation analysts, such as Guy Pauker, an expert on Indonesia. They believed that through the imposition of order and stability, the military could be the most effective instrument in serving U.S. Cold War interests and promoting economic development and growth. This idea lay behind the United States alliance with Suharto and also shaped its involvement in an assortment of right-wing coups in Latin America and elsewhere during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Going beyond previous scholarship on modernization and the Kennedy administration, which often focuses solely on ideology, Simpson advances a political economy analysis, showing how intellectual ideas of modernization were consistent with the promotion of Western economic interests. Indonesia was particularly valued by policy elites. As a result of its mineral and oil wealth, it provided a bonanza to oil corporations like Caltex following the 1965 coup. This was true of many other firms, including General Motors and Morris and Knudsen (precursor to Halliburton) who had been threatened by Sukarno's movement towards nationalization and feared the strength of the PKI.
General Suharto was ultimately far more amenable to U.S. interests, resulting in his being embraced in spite of his atrocious human rights record. The long shadow of McCarthyism, furthermore, made his anti-communist pogroms highly appealing to many in the State and Defense Departments who expressed no outspoken criticism of the rising toll of bloodshed. As Howard Federspiel, a State Department staffer, commented, "No one cared as long as they were communists that were being butchered."
Simpson's last chapter focuses on the title of his book—the economists who worked as a technocratic elite under Suharto in ushering in the new order. He traces how they were influenced by their training at Berkeley and other Ivy League institutions in opening the country to foreign investors. As Simpson makes clear, their policy influence stemmed not from any popular consent, but rather the violence and repression of dissent on which Suharto's power was based. In an arrogant manner, furthermore, they believed that their specialized technical knowledge of economic theory made them supremely qualified to dictate public policy. Ultimately, while Indonesia did experience striking growth levels in its GDP under Suharto, a large majority of the population remained mired in poverty and destitution, lacking in basic social services. Their political freedoms, meanwhile, had since been eroded.
Simpson's book provides an important case study for U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War. It demonstrates how Washington was able to use foreign aid and training programs to effectively promote its interests through native clients who were swayed by Western ideals and their own power interests. It shows the cold-hearted calculations of U.S. policy-makers who were willing to support murderous violence and genocide in order to advance their objectives.
Simpson's book is significant in one other respect: it shows the perils of authoritarian models of economic development and the fallaciousness of the military modernization theories promoted by Kennedy-era intellectuals, which continue to hold credence among policy elites today. The catastrophes that befell Indonesia in the late 20th century should serve as a forewarning as to what can happen again if people continue to think that the end justifies the means.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.