When I was
five or six, the Indonesian dictator Suharto, who died on January
27, 2008, came to Rome for a state visit. My Indonesian mother
and I were summoned to the embassy to pay homage.
it came time for photographs, and Suharto picked me up, I shouted
for him to put me down, and began punching him while he awkwardly
kept smiling. I called out that he was a "uomo cattivo", a bad
man. Millions of Indonesians who thought the same would never
have dared to say so aloud.
Why did Suharto
permit this? Because I am the American grandson of the founder
of modern Indonesia, Sukarno. General Suharto (both men, like
many Indonesians, are known by only one name) overthrew him in
a blood-soaked coup in 1965, covertly aided and enthusiastically
abetted by the US, Britain and Australia.
I was just
two when Suharto unleashed his "New Order," living in Europe with
my American father, Frank Latimore, and my Indonesian mother,
Rukmini Sukarno. He was a Hollywood and Broadway actor, she was
a European opera diva. We were far from Indonesia, home to a fifth
of the world's natural resources, which my grandfather led to
independence after a long liberation struggle against colonial
rule by the Netherlands. But we were not free from Suharto's dictatorship.
military and intelligence attachés in the US and
British embassies were sending helpful death lists to the
Indonesian high command when Suharto struck.
of my family that hadn't been purged after the coup remained in
Indonesia, where Suharto held them hostage. Some in the family
changed sides willingly, but for the sake of "national unity",
and out of fear of retaliation, the rest of us had to play along,
even if we lived in exile. It was particularly loathsome for my
mother, haunted all her life by the fate of her cousin, Brigadier
General Sabur, who was slowly hacked to death in one of Suharto's
So I will
not mourn Suharto. His death is some small measure of justice,
far too late, for all those he killed during nearly 32 years as
the absolute dictator of the world's fourth most populous nation,
and largest Muslim country. And until he fell in 1998, Suharto
enjoyed Western support.
a fiery nationalist, was one of the key architects of the Non-Aligned
Movement. The Cold War was at its height, the US was escalating
its role in Vietnam, and the "domino theory" held sway. Indonesia's
Communist Party, the PKI, then the third largest in the world,
openly declared it would arm itself as a rival force to the Indonesian
military. Sukarno, rightly or wrongly, was regarded as a crypto-Marxist
who would empower the PKI further. He told America
and Britain to "go to hell"; clearly his days were numbered.
military and intelligence attachés in the US and British
embassies were sending helpful death lists to the Indonesian high
command when Suharto struck. In the midst of the mass executions,
the British ambassador, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, sent a chilling
telegram to London, saying: "I have never concealed from you my
belief that a little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential
preliminary to effective change."
magazine described the horrors Gilchrist so calmly endorsed: "The
killings have been on such a scale the disposal of corpses has
created a serious sanitation problem in east Java and northern
Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh.
Travellers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that
have been literally clogged with bodies." At least 500,000 Indonesians
died violently in the months following the takeover, but studies
suggest the figure might have been between a million and two million.
killings have been on such a scale the disposal of corpses
has created a serious sanitation problem in east Java and
northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of
- Time magazine
later, again with a green light from Washington, London and Canberra,
as many as 230,000 more people, or a third of the civilian population
of East Timor, died when Suharto invaded the former Portuguese
colony. Australia monitored busy Indonesian military radio traffic
in the build-up, but said nothing. As Suharto's marines and paratroopers
conquered the territory, a satisfied CIA internal communiqué
stated: "Without continued heavy US logistical, military support
the Indonesians might not have been able to pull it off."
The man who
has just died in Jakarta is one of the greatest mass murderers
of the 20th century, but he was never indicted by the International
War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Throughout, Suharto received
all the weaponry his brutal military wanted. Britain sold him
Scorpion armoured vehicles and Spartan troop carriers after a
"thorough assessment" that they would not be used for "internal
repression", according to the then Defence Secretary, Michael
Heseltine. Curious, then, how they turned up on the streets to
hold back angry crowds demanding change.
advocates claim he modernised Indonesia and returned the country
to the community of nations. Indonesia is now praised as the third-largest
democracy on the planet, which has resisted Islamist radicalisation.
But what of the estimated US$15bn to $30bn Suharto plundered,
while 49 million of his people survive on less than $2 a day,
deprived of primary education and basic medical care? If Indonesia
has moved forward at all, it is despite Suharto, not because of
I have visited
many countries as a foreign correspondent for CNN and Fox, but
all my life I have been excluded from Indonesia, because of Suharto.
Now that he is gone, I will be able to embrace my own heritage
at last. And the man who overthrew my grandfather will take his
place beside Pol Pot, Pinochet, Milosevic, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mao
and all the other great murderers of their own people.
Chris Kline is an international print and broadcast journalist.
The above article appeared in The Independent and circulated by
Information Clearing House.
Suharto, The Model Killer And His Friends
In High Places, by John Pilger
Legacy Of General Suharto, by
One Small Man Leaves A Million Corpses,
by Allan Nairn