Indonesia is a country of thousands of islands with the fourth largest population in the world.
It also has the largest Muslim population.
The islands that make up Indonesia were loosely controlled by the Dutch during the era of colonialism.
The islands were an administrative unit called the Dutch East Indies and contributed greatly to the global stature of the Netherlands in the 1800s. Dutch day-to-day influence did not extend too much past the coasts and ports that they constructed.
The Japanese occupied the islands during World War. A UN report estimated that four million people died from famine and forced labor there under the Japanese.
Independence came in 1945. The Javanese, the largest ethnic group, took over and extended what can only be called an empire throughout the archipelago. George Orwell would have called them the pigs. The first president was a creature named Sukarno (1901-1970).
Sukarno was an incompetent and vainglorious administrator. He was primarily a phrase-maker. To quote historian Paul Johnson:
“(Sukarno) spoke of ‘Free and active neutralism’; then of the dichotomy of ‘old established’ and ‘new emerging forces’; then of the ‘Djakarta-Phnom-Penh-Peking-
Sukarno presided over the creation of conferences in the 1950s that began to signal what became called – first by sympathetic western intellectuals – as the “Third World” in opposition to the free-market West and the state socialism of the Soviet Union. Luminaries of that group included such forgettable and, we hope, historical transitional figures as Sukarno, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, and plenty of others, including somewhat later Idi Amin, the Ugandan cannibal.
However, it was always a myth that these third-world nations were unaligned with the USSR. Most of these countries raised no objections to the Soviets’ brutal suppression of Hungary in 1956 or for that matter Chinese aggression in Tibet.
In 1965 the Indonesian economy was in a deep slide. Anticipating the Chinese cultural revolution Sukarno appears to have engineered a coup against his own government trying to use the Indonesian communist party for his own ends, chiefly to destroy the leadership of the armed forces.
“Those who think that this part of the world has much to teach the West should read that sentence again and recall that this occurred in our era”
In the first few days, the communists captured and tortured to death a few generals and some of Sukarno’s political opponents. But the army regrouped and engaged in fearful retributions wiping out the communists, family members and friends and supposed leftists.
The most reliable estimates are that between half a million and a million people died in this put-down although some estimates get much higher.
Those who think that this part of the world has much to teach the West should read that sentence again and recall that this occurred in our era.
When the dust settled, General Muhammad Suharto (1921-2008) was in charge and remained president for thirty-one years. In the 1970s he ordered the occupation of East Timor resulting in the deaths of about 150,000 of its civilians. Suharto stepped up the occupation of West Papua leading to the deaths of between 100,000 and 500,000 rebels and civilians.
Western experts have called both occupations genocides.
Indonesia has become more Islamic in the ensuing decades. Last month authorities meted out the punishment of caning – getting beaten by a stick – to two gay men. (See photo.)
Poor Indonesia. Our founders included Franklin, Adams, Washington, Madison and later – quoting historian Joseph Ellis – Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. We had time to develop as a country and eventually had leaders like Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower
They got Sukarno and Suharto.