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Review Essay

Indonesia’s Forgotten Bloodbath

Cold War Crime and Cover-Up

In This Review

The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66
The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66
By Geoffrey B. Robinson
Princeton University Press, 2018, 456 pp. Purchase

"Forgetting the past was easy to do in Indonesia,” wrote Barack Obama in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope. When the future U.S. president was six years old, he moved to Jakarta with his mother, who had married an Indonesian man. They arrived in 1967, shortly after what the adult Obama would describe as “a massive purge of communists and their sympathizers,” when “between 500,000 and one million people were slaughtered.” Obama’s mother later insisted that they never would have gone to Indonesia if she had known about the massacres. His stepfather, who had been drafted into the Indonesian army, said that “some things were best forgotten.”

Few Americans have any awareness of what happened in Indonesia. Standard histories of the Cold War pay the country only cursory attention. (The historian Odd Arne Westad’s recent book, The Cold War: A World History, is a distinguished exception to that rule.)

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