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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

Refreshing memory

A conclusion

We have followed and observed one account after another. Some are from those who were witnesses of the 1965 tragedy, and others from those who were victims of the dreadful historical events that happened in Indonesia. We have also observed the research report and explanation of one religious insti­tu­tion’s attitude towards the tragedy. Now we have come to the end of this book.

Still influential

As we saw at the beginning of the book, a historical narrative is not made for its own sake, but for specific purposes. These include social, political and other purposes. It is not surprising that all over in the world, almost every social group feels it must convey its own narrative of history, and tell it from one generation to the next. Some tell it orally, some convey it in writing.

Observing what Paul Thompson said, we saw how history is important because it can become one tool society needs to make sense of what goes on around it, socially, economically and politically.

At the same time, we see that through history, society becomes aware that there is continuity between what happened in the past, what is happening in the present, and what will happen in the future. An event as an event might ‘finish’ in the past, but the effect and its influence will continue into the future. Seen the other way, what is happening now (and in the future) is tightly connected to what happened in the past. In other words, by understanding history, society is assisted to see the reality of life as a continuum, like continuously flowing water.

Much to learn

With regard to the 1965 tragedy in Indonesia, we can see from the accounts of those who were witnesses, that the events can be seen from various perspectives and are rich in life’s dimensions. There is the dimension of conflict at the elite level between the Indonesian military and civilian groups; there is the dimension of the manipulation from above which altered relatively harmonious social relations at the bottom; there is the dimension of spiritual belief; but there is also the dimension of competing political and economic ideologies at the international level. These accounts broaden our outlook, enrich our perspective, and enourage us to be more dilligent in viewing life as multi-dimensional. And then there is the fact that the accounts make us aware that as an event in the past the 1965 tragedy may be considered ‘over’, but its effect and its patterns continue to influence us today, both collectively and individually.

We can observe how the 1965 tragedy was experienced individually and personally from the accounts of those who were victims at the time. There was the victim arrested and accused even though he was only a village youth of 19 at the time; there was the student who was mistakenly arrested, officially released, only to be re-arrested; there is the victim who was only 14 years old but who was arrested and imprisoned for 14 years because her name was the same as someone else’s; there is the person who spent his youth fighting for Indonesia’s independence but was arrested and endlessly tortured before being exiled to Buru island; there is the person who was not imprisoned but suffered throughout her life because her father and husband were both former political prisoners. These victim accounts make us aware that within every grand narrative or official narrative of a historical event, there are many real and personal dimensions that they miss. By studying these real and personal dimensions there is much to learn about history and about human life.

Reviving us

It is hoped that through the accounts shared in this book, together with the reports of the research into the attitude of one religious institution towards the 1965 tragedy, we can be more open and enriched in seeing what Indonesians went through, did and suffered in the mid 1960s and beyond. It is not enough, it seems, to merely try to see all this from the perspective of official narratives of the authorities. We have to see history from as many perspectives as possible, including that of those who have thus far been stifled – or have chosen to remain silent. Ronnie Hatley reminds us in his introduction that ‘history plays a large role in shaping our future’.

We have been following the narratives from ‘other people’, namely our informants. But no less important are the narratives that come from ourselves. If the informants have conveyed their narratives with varied persectives, now the time has come for us to convey our own narratives, according to our own perspectives. If our informants have revealed where they ‘stood’ when the 1965 tragedy was happening, now is the time for us to show ourselves and where we ourselves ‘stand’ when we have to review the humanitarian tragedy that took hundreds of thousands of Indonesian lives.

Whatever the answer, hopefully the voices and accounts of the political and humanitarian catastrophe in 1965 in Indonesia can help us understand what happened at the time and subsequently. And in this way, one hopes that not only can we better understand Indonesian history, but we can be better aware of what happens when political interests and power are made the sole critera in viewing and positioning others.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ