How can they bring themselves to do it? How can they live with themselves? Are they dead inside? We often ask ourselves that of those who commit atrocities, mass murder of civilians. Whether it be in war or for political ends.
I have just watched The Act of Killing, a film by Joseph Oppenheimer. It is a partial re-enactment of the mass murder of communists, ethnic Chinese and anyone that the new regime of Suharto needed to be rid of after the military coup against Sukarno in 1965/6. At least half a million were murdered. Possibly as many as two million.
This film is like no other I have ever seen.
The ‘stars’ of it are the leaders of the gangs allied with the fascists that committed the mass murderers. They are actively involved in the making of the film, helping in the staging of some of the re-enactments.
In the film the main figure Anwar Congo admits to have personally murdered one thousand people. Not in bombing or the use of weapons of mass killing but in personal and brutal murders of the defenceless. He is still celebrated by the rulers in Indonesia, at least those in power at the release of the film in 2014. He is now a loving grandfather, ‘lovingly’ capable of showing the filmed enactments of his gruesome murders in front of his children.
The re-enactments leave nothing to the imagination. Only once do you see anyone expressing alarm, a government deputy minister supervising a reenactment of the burning of a village in 1965 populated by ethnic Chinese and the raping of children. He express concern that this shouldn’t be shown in the way it is, as it would be bad for their image. The minister is allied to the mass fascist Pancasila militia that is still powerful.
These mass fascist militias have continued to exist for over fifty years! As the director of the film, Oppenheimer says in an interview: it is as the Nazi regime and its SS murderers in the SS had never been defeated. Instead of being brought to justice they have celebrated both by the openly fascist regime of Suharto but also its nominally democratic replacement. Throughout the period they enjoyed the continuing fear of the communities in which they operate and almost a celebrity status.
So the gang mass killers are in the habit of thinking they have genuinely done no wrong although to the end of the film Anwar starts to display awareness of the horrors of what he has been involved in.
Made one year later, the accompanying film, The Look of Killing, includes NBC footage of the time. It reports coldly, almost approvingly, both the massacres and the convenience to companies like Goodyear of the use of the prisoners as slave labour. Part of the NBC clip I attach here is included in the film.
It is said in another approving NBC report shown in the film that the prisoners from the camps are offered the option of release. However release would be to certain death as fascist murdering gangs are outside the camp to dispose of more bodies.
Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world, 261 million people. Similar to Bangladesh, it has become one of the greatest magnets for multinationals looking for cheap labour, ample resources and little or no workers rights.
This is imperialism – very much in its essence. Using compliant fascist forces, openly during Suharto’s rule but more covertly since then, to deny workers democratic rights. Ensuring through military and financial support that such regimes continue. And US companies, UK companies and those of many others reap the profits.
Indonesia workers have fought back and are continuing to fight back. There has been a long running dispute at Freeport for example.
Apparently these films have to some degree opened up critical reflection on the brutalities of the past. Hopefully workers there will feel more confident to confront the regime, the brutally oppressive companies and the fascist gangs that always lurked in the background.
I would recommend everyone watching and learning from these films. As well as watching and being ready to give support to the Indonesian workers whenever inevitably they rise in defiance of their regime.