May 23, 2024 Last Updated 6:09 AM, May 21, 2024

Finger in the pie

Published: Sep 30, 2007

Audrey R. & George McT. Kahin, Subversion as foreign policy: The secret Eisenhower and Dulles debacle in Indonesia, New York: The New Press/ Petaling Jaya: Forum, 1995.


The revelations described in the authors' study of American covert action comes at a time when nations around the globe continue to operate their clandestine arms almost without fear of discovery due to governments' ability to suppress information.

The Kahins have presented us with the results of what is obviously an exhaustive study relating to the United States Government's use of their intelligence service which, even at this time, continues to operate on foreign soil, subverting elected representatives and influencing outcomes within sovereign states almost without reproach, or accountability.

The content of the book is most alarming. As the authors take us through the political quagmire created primarily by successive American Administrations, we come to understand how the United States, virtually at the whim of a select, albeit powerful few, orchestrated the demise of millions in Southeast Asia. Detailed research provides startling information and an informed perspective of the Eisenhower years and how policy was formulated under the Dulles brothers. John Foster Dulles was secretary of state under President Eisenhower between 1953 and 1959. His younger brother Allen Dulles was director of the CIA.

We are given an in-depth view of how Indonesia was influenced by the United States' inability to understand Sukarno's philosophy of non-alignment, and how historically the Americans applied one basic foreign policy to all Asian nations regardless of their socio-political differences. The Kahins clearly identify the origins of this syndrome, establishing how the Americans never quite recovered from what they considered to be their loss of China to Mao Tse Tung.

Most intensively between April 1957 and March 1958, the US supplied military rebels in Sumatra and Sulawesi with arms and political support. Eisenhower and his colleagues thought Sukarno leaned dangerously toward communism, and they believed the rebels would be able to move in on Jakarta and take over the government. Alternatively, they did not flinch from the idea of Indonesia's breakup. They drew down their support when Jakarta's army commander Gen Nasution called their bluff and put down the PRRI rebellion with little military effort, but not till after US planes had bombed many hundreds to death on Indonesian navy ships and in a crowded market and churches in Ambon.

Subversion as foreign policy cleverly draws comparisons between the Indonesian debacle and other flawed attempts by the United States to control the destiny of other nations. The Bay of Pigs disaster has some chilling similarities.

Unfortunately, as the writers point out, insufficient detail has been released by the US Government with relation to what role their Administration played in bringing about the change of government in Indonesia during 1965-66. We can only hope that, in the event of this detail being forthcoming, then it will be passed to the capable hands of the Kahins.

Kerry B. Collison is the author of the novel 'The Tim-Tim Man'. His new book, 'Merdeka Square', is to be released in May 1997. It is another political thriller, covering the period when Sukarno was ousted by Suharto.

Inside Indonesia 49: Jan-Mar 1997

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