Review of Vincent Bevins’ The Jakarta Method

I recommend Vincent Bevins’ recently published The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade & the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. It starts with an extended discussion of Indonesia and then looks at how Suharto’s brutality (the word “Jakarta” became a synonym for mass political murder) was copied elsewhere, with the U.S. government deeply involved everywhere. He uses interviews with those who suffered (and often emigrated) to show how people were affected and felt at the time.

From my perspective as a Latin Americanist, the book’s global perspective makes it especially interesting. Events in one part of the world affect others. Revolutionaries and reactionaries alike are reading the news, and trying to glean lessons. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro famously decided from the 1954 Guatemala invasion that the electoral path was suicidal, but Indonesians were learning from Central America too. We know the U.S. government viewed Latin America in global terms, but we talk far less about how places like Indonesia resonated. Because of language barriers, those of us who study Latin America don’t tend to do fieldwork in Asia.

The 1960s-1980s in particular was a time of wanton anti-communist slaughter. It was calculated, strategic, and entirely supported by the U.S. government. As he notes, the living carry psychological scars with them, and in Indonesia people still do not feel comfortable discussing it. Those labeled “communist” are still stigmatized, unlike Latin America where they’re even becoming presidents of countries. Using the stories from this interviews, he traces the shift from hope and pride during the Sukarno government to fear after Suharto took over and killed roughly a million people.
Although it’s not really a theme of the book, his interviews also show the global migratory impact of mass murder. His interviews, which are in different continents, show people fleeing in all directions, not even necessarily settling in the first country that will take them. I always talk about this in the Central American context in my U.S.-Latin American relations class. But I also lived it while being entirely ignorant of the causes at the time–Bevins mentions the so-called “boat people,” some of whom ultimately ended up in the public schools I attended.
If there is an overarching political lesson in the book, sadly it is that mass murder worked amazingly well for U.S. political elites. The Cold War was “won” by preserving global capitalism and asserting U.S. hegemony. The average person in the United States is considerably wealthier than most people on the planet. And they are either unaware or uncaring about the violence that contributed to getting them there.

Source link