Violence and the State in Suharto's Indonesia

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SEAP Publications, 2001 - History - 247 pages

These essays investigate institutionalized violence in New Order Indonesia and the ongoing legacy Suharto's dictatorship has conferred on the nation. The collection includes papers on East Timor, Aceh, Biak, the police, and the Indonesian military, among other topics.


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Book Review (Part I)
Benedict Anderson has compiled several articles written by other scholars to emphasize violence during Suharto’s reign in Indonesia. This book is written or it would be more
appropriate to say ‘gathered’ in 2001. It seems that this book is mostly direct writings from the seven other authors which in turn backup his idea. This book does not theorize that violence did not exist outside of Suharto’s influence; however, I believe that Anderson edited this book because he wants to bring to light violence specifically under Suharto. He wants the readers to know that an unnecessary amount of violence occurred during these years because of Suharto. This book may go as far to say that if it weren’t for Suharto and his policies, these violent events wouldn’t have taken place or at least not to the same extent.
Suharto was the Indonesia’s second president from 1967 until 1998; he gained his power from Sukarno. Suharto received extensive experience in the military even prior to Indonesia’s Independence. This book consists of many foreign policies in which involved the usage of military and security forces. During these times Suharto was benefiting from billions of dollars of the nations wealth through personal means. After his resignation Suharto suffered from health problems which implicated his prosecution. He was never tried due to his health problems and later died in 2008. These are important facts to consider while reading this book and trying to understand why some of the events occurred in the first place.
The seven authors Anderson uses to support this book focus on specific topics which have influenced modern Indonesian history. The book is arranged in thematic order: state of fear under Suharto’s new order, military ideology, violence in Jakarta during May 1998, Pemuda Pancasila, East Timor, Biak, and Aceh. These varying themes must be approached individually as many are separated by decades and thousands of kilometers. What is important is how Benedict Anderson uses these to back up his argument that Suharto helped create one of the most violent series of decades. One of the most profound arguments that Benedict makes is that a 70 year old Indonesian during the time of this books publication would have been directly affected by the previous accounts. The same 70 year old Indonesian will die before any such attempts would be made to improve these consequences.

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Book Review (Part II)
Certain events separate from the given articles have had a much more lastly affect on Indonesia as described in the introduction. One of these events was the end of World War
II, after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This created an absence of power in the region which was even more influential than the fall of the Dutch three years earlier. The frequent mention of security and the evolving culture of the Indonesian police housed an environment capable for state power and authority as stated in the first chapter. The next two chapters focus on the violence centered toward Indonesians of Chinese decent. The theory is that many of these groups were young adults who were performing the dirty work for Suharto. Emphasis on the military removing itself from major political activities is still a concern today. The book mentions that there has been a ongoing connection with the military and political activities since Suharto came into power.
Benedict Anderson is very knowledgeable about the country of Indonesia and other surrounding areas of Southeast Asia. Some of his more famous books such as Imagined Communities have been discussed in academia for years. He also co-authored the Cornell Paper in the 1966 where he argues that Sukarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia were wrongfully blamed for the September 30th movement. He instead theorizes that Suharto used the event to strategically blame Sukarno and the PKI. After the paper was published in 1971 Anderson was banned from entering Indonesia from 1976 until 1999, after Suharto resigned. The mention of the Cornell Paper is important when discussing this book because it has greatly influenced his writing style and motives. The articles that Anderson chose are very selective in nature just as anyone would do to backup their argument. I think that it would be interesting to have half of the book cover articles in defense of Suharto and his affiliates. Readers would appreciate the counter argument, and I think it would have been wise for him to argue and summarize his thoughts after the counter arguments explaining why he believes the given statements are invalid.
This book is influential because we are able to have direct access to important scholarly ideas written by many individuals who have devoted their lives to this topic. Despite the lack of Anderson’s summaries and thoughts, I think that this book would be beneficial for those wanting to learn more about Indonesia’s evolution over the past eighty years. This book is good in the way you can get a summary of main events without having to read several hundred pages on one given topic. Anderson mentions that one essential chapter is missing within the book. He acknowledges the absence of the great massacres in 1965 and 1966 of which he says more information is being discovered since Suharto’s resignation. The absence of law has developed thought provoking discussions. Even though current day Indonesia is quite different from the time Suharto ruled, we can see how the middle classes functioned and their constant desire for the state to step up security. Suharto’s rule in Indonesia was very unique to the area and through these readings we can see that no one would wish for a similar occurrence.


Thoughts on the Violence of May 13 and 14 1998 in Jakarta
The Last Loyalist Free Men of Suhartos Order?
The Indonesian Military Paramilitaries and the
Waiting for the End in Biak Violence Order and a Flag Raising
The Origins of Disorder in New Order Aceh

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