Indonesia: The Troubled Victory (transcript), from the series The Battle for Asia

Produced and directed by Ted Yates. Narration, on location reporting and interviews by Ted Yates. Written by Ted Yates and Judith Bird Williams. National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC News). Broadcast February 1967

Transcript produced for non-commercial historical research (fair use)

(See also: the commentary on this documentary.)



YATES: As our war in Asia gets bigger, a largely unnoticed victory over the communists has been decisively won in Southeast Asia. In fact, it is the single biggest defeat ever handed to communists anywhere in the world. And it was won without a single American soldier, American dollar, or bomb. It happened here, on the map that resembles an abstract painting. It is, in fact, a chain of three thousand exotic and bountiful islands. Together they form Indonesia, the world’s sixth most populous country. Geographically it dominates Southeast Asia and politically, as the former ally of Peking, threatened to become the communist southern front in the malignant battle for Asia, a massive end run around Vietnam.


Sixteen months ago, these beautiful and tranquil-looking islands exploded with stunning violence. Indonesia is still in a state of shock. Without warning, Indonesia’s three million communists tried to seize total control of the government by killing their opposition in a single night of assassination. This act in turn was avenged by the slaughter and arrest of half a million suspected communists. The terror and the trouble is by no means over. Indonesia’s present turmoil, conflict, and power struggle is not all together new.

Kecak Dance

YATES: The Balinese Kecak, a kind of Hindu passion play, illustrates vividly the complex and alien struggle going on today. Here the priest blesses the participants, one hundred men representing rival armies of monkeys, one good, the other evil, each convinced they are in the right.

Today’s real battle between the forces of good and evil rages in the streets. They demand social reform and political freedom.

YATES: Their cry is not “down with America” or “Yankee go home.” What they are demanding in effect is “Down with the communists. Yankee come back.”

A garish leader of the forces of evil is a monster king called Ravana.

President Sukarno with flamboyance and arrogance led Indonesia to liberation in 1945 after 350 years of Dutch rule.

He also let his nation fall under communist influence, into bankruptcy, and chaos.

The good king, portrayed by a girl, is named Rama. Rama, with the help of his army tries to save the country and destroy the evil forces of Ravana. Today it is General Suharto and his army that crushed the communist coup. It is Suharto that leads the effort to remove President Sukarno.

The struggle between these forces is violent. It is unpredictable. It is emotional.

In Hindu mythology, we are told the battle can never be won because all good has some evil in it and all evil has some good.

The philosophy of the Kecak dance is that the struggle will continue endlessly with numerous sub plots, intrigues, arguments, shifting loyalties, murders, and battles. This is precisely what’s happening in Indonesia today.

With unprecedented violence, Indonesia on her own has handed the world its single biggest victory over the communists. But it is a complex and uncertain victory in the battle for Asia, and it is a troubled victory. Ted Yates, NBC News, reporting.

Bureau of Statistics

YATES: In theory at least, all factual information about Indonesia is contained here, the Bureau of Statistics. Before the United Nations was expelled two years ago, it spent about a million dollars on such things as helping conduct a national census. But the census, like construction on the Statistic Bureau itself, was never finished. When the Indonesian minister in-charge of the census read the first depressing statistics, he denounced the U.N. survey as an imperialist plot and the project collapsed. So virtually nothing is known about the world’s sixth largest nation.

They think their population is 109 million. They think they have something over 300 ethnic groups, 250 distinct languages, and a booming birth rate. They are trying to learn the size of their army and bureaucracy as well as the condition of trade, industry, and manufacturing, the level of education, transportation, communication, and housing. It’s slow work. They run out of data cards for their two computers, so what statistics they do have are compiled by hand, computed on the abacus, a tabulating device invented in the sixth century.

Vital as this job is, Indonesia’s plight today is so far-reaching that the people hired to untangle the mess rarely come to work and when they do, stay only half the day. Sanusi here is preparing to leave. After thirty-three years, he’s now head of government agricultural statistics. His salary is five dollars a month. With the galloping inflation, that supports his family of eight for only four days. So to stay alive, he holds two other jobs. The statistics just have to wait. The main reason he comes to work is to collect his dole of rice, the standard supplement to salary in Indonesia’s socialism. But these days rice is scarce, so the United States is helping to supply some in the hope that people like Sanusi will not starve and will continue to work at critical jobs, even part-time.

Before President Sukarno cut us off three years ago saying, “To hell with your aid,” America had given Indonesia 870 million dollars. Now that Sukarno is losing power, we’re back with aid. This is part of a new program: fifty thousand tons of rice worth nine million dollars. It’s being given on an emergency basis and Indonesia is supposed to pay us for it in the next six years. The rice is not for the common people but for the bureaucrats like Sanusi and for the army.

About three percent of the rice never reaches its destination.

Sukarno, Suharto and the Coup of 1965

YATES: Behind it all, radiating his famous charisma is Bung Karno, or Brother Karno, named president for life of Indonesia, though never elected by the people. Sukarno likes to be called the playboy of the eastern world. He has four palaces. The freedom palace is where he works. The others are strictly for pleasure.

Besides having the largest collection of nude art in Asia, he’s a devout Muslim with pilgrimage to Mecca, but now he is at odds with his church. They claim he has two too many wives, six instead of four. But this is the least of his problems these days. The supreme farmer, the supreme boy scout, the supreme philanthropist, the supreme guardian of the justice, the supreme guardian of the Muslim faith, to mention a few of the titles he’s conferred on himself, is being stripped of his power and implicated not only in the unsuccessful communist plot to seize Indonesia, but also for the economic ruin that strikes his country.

Meeting with the great leader of the revolution is General Suharto. He is at his side not to help him lead the country, but to methodically lead him out of power. Suharto heads what is called the New Order. Relentlessly, they are opening to public scrutiny the corruption and conspiracies of his regime.

The dramatic climax of a year in which Indonesia repudiated the communists and the one-man rule of Sukarno: The night of October 1, 1966, a year to the day that communists tried to seize the country. Assembled was a special military tribunal. On trial was Dr. Subandrio, next to Sukarno the most powerful man in Indonesia. He was deputy prime minister, foreign minister, head of the state secret police, boss of the anti-Americans state news agency. He was also President Sukarno’s closest friend and confidant. His trial was particularly significant because it helped established that Sukarno himself clearly had a role in the communist coup. It was Sukarno who protected Subandrio in the palace after the coup attempt.

When students ransacked Subandrio’s foreign office and discovered correspondence between him and Red China’s foreign minister Chen Yi planning the coup, they stormed the palace threatening to behead Subandrio. Only then was he imprisoned. The charges against him include treason and conspiracy. The evidence showed Subandrio helped the three-million-strong communist party, its initials PKI, to plot and carry out the coup, including the mass murder of Indonesia’s military high command. It was charged that he welded the Indonesia-Peking access, stole government funds, invented stories to discredit the United States, and conspired with Red China to smuggle guns to Indonesia’s communists.

YATES: Haji Dr. Subandrio pleaded innocent to all the charges. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Hundreds more involved in the PKI coup are in prisons. Painstaking interrogations have pieced together the incredible plot. Being questioned is the commander of one of the three divisions that spearheaded the coup, Captain Suradi. Supported by the PKI, their mission was to disable the army by murdering its top commanders, seize all communications and immobilize the government long enough for the PKI politicians to take over. The cells on death row are filled with the plotters. Only because General Suharto and Nasution escaped their murderers and rallied loyal army units was the coup crushed. Colonel Latief here tried to kill General Nasution, was wounded in the process, and now awaits trial. During the coup, Latief directed tactical operations.

General Parman, chief of the army intelligence, was killed by this man. He shot General Yani, chief of the army. Here the murderer of the deputy chief of staff. Lance Corporal Hardiono missed General Nasution, but shot his sister and infant daughter five times.

Terror and bestiality was a calculated part of the PKI plan. They even had special mutilation squads made up of girls. The night of the coup, Enda here tortured Nasution’s aid to death with a razor. They call it death of a thousand cuts. Sex orgies went on before the torture ceremonies got underway. The girls claim they were promised ten dollars for the evening’s work, but were never paid.


The girls were instructed by a communist woman’s organization called Gerwani. For six months before the coup, they were meticulously trained in the fine art of torture. They were even given four innocent human victims to practice on. The way it was planned, according to their confessions, was the night of the coup, the captured army generals would be brought to a farm near Jakarta called Lubang Buaya or the alligator hole. Here they were to be ritualistically tortured to death. As it worked out, three of the generals were dead on arrival. The remaining victims, to the delight of the huge communist throng, were slowly killed. Eventually the mutilated bodies were dumped down a well. The spectacular atrocities were calculated to so terrorize Indonesia so that there would be no resistance to the coup.

The Purge and the Slaughter

YATES: It worked just the other way. When the hideousness of their crimes were made public, it triggered a national revulsion. This set off the equally brutal slaughter and arrest of half a million suspected communists from one end of Indonesia to the other, and the purge continues to this day.

What you see here is typical. Supported by the army, high school and college student organizations seal off and search a Jakarta suburb for communists. Homes are entered and searched, men, women, and children are interrogated. Identification papers are examined. If the students or the soldiers don’t like what they find or meet any resistance, summarily and without warrant or formal charge, they take the suspect into custody.

On this day more than a hundred suspects like this man were hustled in. A kind of kangaroo court supervised by military officers was held in a nearby building. Here they somehow determined which suspects would be arrested. Sixty were taken off to jail this day and very uncertain fates. The bitterest current purge is against the Chinese. Between fifteen and forty thousand have been killed. The slogans say “Sukarno is a dog of Peking,” “Sukarno whore of Peking,” “the communist are the Chinese,” “kill the Chinese.”

In some places, Chinese stores must be labeled with the sign RRT meaning People’s Republic of China. USIR means “kick out,” kick out the Chinese. The hatred for the Chinese, even the loyal Chinese, is due in a large part to the fact they dominate eighty percent of the economy and many refused to integrate or assimilate with the Indonesians. About six hundred thousand remained citizens of Red China and they did support the PKI. The worst of the Chinese pogroms are here in Sumatra. Last August, a Muslim group gave the seven thousand Chinese in their district five days to get out. To prevent their slaughter, the army packed them into makeshift camps. They reacted strongly when we tried to film their plight.

For two months, sixteen hundred men and women children have crowed in here waiting to return to Red China. As you can hear, they are not very friendly and they are very short of food. They are crying, as you can hear, “ganyang America,” “ganyang neo-colon” which means crush America, crush the neo-colonialist.



Watch out, Julie, here come the stones.

They’re throwing stones at us here. There are five other camps like this, a total of about five thousand Chinese. They’re waiting to be deported. Watch out. What was that now? The sentries are firing their rifles over their heads of these people to keep them suppressed. These people are beginning to get out of hand. Here, they’re firing submachine guns now into the air. Uh, oh, one soldier was just hit on the chin by a rock. Okay, Julie.

Interview with a genocide perpetrator


The three hundred thousand people killed in Indonesia during the last sixteen months are about a hundred thousand more that the total military casualties of all sides in Vietnam since 1960. In many cases, entire families were liquidated but still there are thousands of widows like this young mother. Without trial, her husband and three hundred other alleged communists were shot by the army and dumped into this mass grave. Fifty thousand in all were killed just on the romantic island of Bali. A young college professor named Rata, who helped remove the communist, explained how they went about it.

YATES: Bali is such a beautiful island. The people are so attractive. The climate is so lovely. It’s hard to believe that so many unpleasant things went on here in the last year.

Dr. RATA (Prof. Archeology): Yeah. But now, Bali has become more beautiful without communist, and this is the duty of the Balinese people—to clean their own island from the communist influence. This is the holy duty and we did it. In Bali, really, we did it.

YATES: What actually happened here in this village?

RATA: Well, the story here is because some of the communist leaders from this village realized they did wrong already, they came to the village council and asked the village council when they would clean their village of the communist people.

YATES: You mean the communist themselves asked to be killed?

RATA: Some of them. And then the village council made a list of who must be killed from their village. And some of them wanted to be killed, but they asked for time. For example, “If you want to kill me, you can kill me the next day and now give me a chance to pray to the temple, to the village temple, to say goodbye to all of my relatives and the next morning I’m ready to be killed.” So the next morning or next evening, the villagers brought him here and then killed him by sword.

YATES: They killed him with a sword?

RATA: Yes, with a sword.

YATES: Stabbed?

RATA: Stabbed them one time and killed. Buried them and put them there, with a stone like this one so the family can recognize the next morning where their family member is buried.

YATES: What did you do to erase or cleanse the communists or the communist sympathizers in your village of their ideas?

RATA: Yeah. Later, all the communists, for example, came to the village council and then they said that they would swear an earth they would not become a member or sympathizer of the communist party anymore.

YATES: Well, how did you hold them to their promise?

RATA: We cannot hold them to that. That is why we left it to the God and we decided to hold the purification ceremony for them in the village temple so that the God will see them. They promise and swear on earth, and that is the best way because, for example, if they come back again to the communist party, we won’t know, but the God will know it.

Religious Purification and Re-education and Prison Camps

YATES: He is notifying God that a dozen communist sympathizers are to be purified. Girls from the village enter the temple with religious offerings. The entire village attends the ceremony. The Mangku Dalem or temple priest prays to the particular Hindu God in charge of political purification to forgive the surviving communists in the village and to accept their vow never to be one again. It’s a bit more involved than putting your hand on the Bible and swearing to tell the truth, but the principle is the same. It’s a kind of religious loyalty oath.

Events in Indonesia might be a little easier to understand if the communists were killed just for their political beliefs and unscrupulous practices. However, their slaughter was largely a religious issue, a power struggle between communist atheism and fanatical Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

The different islands deal with the communist survivors in various ways, mostly by keeping them in prison. It’s estimated that today a hundred and fifty thousand like these are locked away without formal charges. In some camps, they are starved to death or released periodically to be killed by the local citizens.

(Man speaking foreign language)

YATES: In this Sumatran camp, the policy is to re-indoctrinate the inmates, which include women and children, in the concepts of god and state ideology.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (through translator): Friends, today we are back here to continue our lessons. Friends, recently all of you have been taken along, persuaded, ordered and propagandized to make you disbelieve in God. Those atheists did it. Those people who do not recognize God’s existence, those PKI, those communists. They tricked all of you so that you would not believe in God. Are you willing to repent? Now let’s everybody chant the prayer in order to beseech God’s forgiveness.

(Crowd praying)

YATES: That’s the Muslim way. Here’s how the Christians do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (through translator): Although God did not create us with sins, we are all full of sins. Our behavior has been sinful ever since our great-grandparents in paradise, Adam and Eve. The foundation of our light is our relationship with God. If we are at peace with God in our hearts, then there will be peace on earth.

(Crowd praying)


YATES: If turnabout is fair play, this concert is the example of all times. Until six months ago most of the audience was in communist prisons or hiding from PKI goon squads. Not only was religion a point of contention, but so was intellectualism, culture, and free expression. It was banned by the PKI. Books were burnt, newspapers closed, painting, music, and films not pro-communist were destroyed. Now the communists are in prison. The intellectuals are out, and they are the vanguard of the new order. One of the ex-cons is a Dutchman, turned Indonesian, who helped fight for their independence, was elected to their parliament and jailed in 1962 by Sukarno for his critical views. Next to him is Mochtar Lubis, an Indonesian hero during the fight for independence from Dutch colonial rule. He’s a novelist, a newspaper man who published searing exposes of corruption in the Sukarno government.

(Woman singing)

YATES: His anti-PKI writings sent him away for nine years.

MOCHTAR LUBIS: Nine years of imprisonment without trial have only strengthened my determination to fight even harder for our cultural and intellectual freedom.

Former Dissidents

YATES: He’s fighting with his newspaper. In his first editorial, he describes the challenges and dangers already menacing the new order.

LUBIS: There are still many challenges which we have to face to build this new order, challenges from the communists who, though officially banned, are still working underground by exploiting the continuing deterioration of our economy. There are challenges from the corrupt, old politicians, ill-vested interest groups which have enriched themselves so much during the past years. But the greatest danger of all is a possible split within the forces of the new order, within the students and some elements of our armed forces.

Power of the Army

YATES: The outcome of Indonesia’s involved power struggle rests here with the army. They dominate or run every government office and enterprise in the country. The biggest army in Southeast Asia, their major accomplishment has been to help bankrupt Indonesia. Most of the equipment is Russian, about a billion dollars’ worth, which hasn’t been paid for. Sukarno tried to find them an enemy and declared war in Malaysia. This feudal confrontation consumed seventy percent of the national income. But now the army, under the guidance of General Suharto, is finding an enemy worth destroying, the commander-in-chief Sukarno.

Many of the officers have wanted to eliminate Sukarno for months. General Nasution here has been among the most determined. Destruction of Sukarno has been restrained by General Suharto. A premature move might divide the army and trigger a civil war. For all his faults, Bung Karno is still supported by millions of Indonesians. So amidst all this plotting, Sukarno viewed his bankrupt army and addressed his dissident officers.

SUKARNO (through translator): On the 5th of October, I, as president, decreed that we must build an armed forces because especially in a nation full of conflicts right now, in a world full of imperialists and anti-imperialists, straining at each other, not one nation alone can stand erect without an armed forces. We must maintain a united power so that it will not split apart.


Suharto and The New Order

YATES: Stripping his boss of absolute power was Suharto’s first step toward preserving unity. Five months after the coup, Sukarno was frightened into bestowing on General Suharto the authority to take any steps necessary to ensure the stability of the government. Suharto is the son of a Javanese farmer. He’s a devout Muslim and mystical. He has a personal soothsayer or dukun who he consults on all matters.

An authentic hero in Indonesia’s war of independence, he considers himself a soldier, not a politician. Unlike Sukarno, his most lurid art object is this patio fountain statue, and he has only one wife. He likes to work at home, a suburban split level. And for relaxation, he shoots golf or Sumatran tigers. In less than a year, Suharto and his new order have returned Indonesia to the United Nations, outlawed the Communist Party, ended the pointless war with Malaysia, negotiated credit extension on the billion she owes the world, attracted some foreign aid and balanced the budget, at least on paper.

Suharto’s accomplishments have been made while assassinations, conspiracies, plots, and full-scale riots daily threaten not only General Suharto personally, but Indonesia as a whole. With a minimum of fanfare, almost stolidly, Suharto patiently, step by step, pursues his mission of bringing stabilization and order to Indonesia.

The most unruly and impatient force Suharto has to contend with are the students. Under pressure of their rioting, two cabinets have fallen. They forced congress to reinstate constitutional rule abolished by Sukarno. This morning it’s Sukarno himself they want to abolish. They plan to storm his palace. Warned by the army this would not be tolerated, they went ahead anyway. Before it was over, sixty were in the hospital.

Street riots notwithstanding, General Suharto’s most dangerous problem is to reorganize Indonesia without starting a new revolution. In the interest of the economy, he should cut government bureaucracy by a third and fire half the army. He should also remove his soldiers from control of the government and let civilians take over. He has to reduce subsidies on food and transportation but then prices will shoot up. It’s all political suicide, and in Indonesia political suicide is not a figure of speech.

Street Protests

YATES: Here is how it went in October when the people expressed their opposition toward the Sukarno government.

This is a classic situation again, a war among friends. The army and the students are both united in their effort to get rid of Sukarno. But in this case the army has to take a position, and a bloody one, against the students in order not to protect Sukarno, but to try to keep anarchy off the streets of Indonesia, which has had so much of this bloodshed in the last year. You can hear the thumps of these rocks as they come winging in. So far no soldiers have been hit. This is really an angry mob now and students have suffered, I would say, about eight or nine injured. They’ve again regrouped and are now moving back down towards the college, banging on the telephone poles with rocks as they go. They’ve mixed violence with music all morning, screaming, rock-throwing and the scuffling. They keep singing their revolutionary anthem. You can hear it now. Okay, here they go again.

There must be about a thousand students here now, maybe two thousand. They’re being repulsed going up the street. Stones are popping all over. The safeties are off all the machine guns and rifles have been loaded.

Encounter with an injured reporter from the “Commie Press”


YATES: This man was just hit over the back of the head by a rifle butt. I think his neck is broken. I’m afraid he’s…

MAN: I am press. My name is (unintelligible).

YATES: Is there a doctor here?

MAN: I am press.

YATES: Get a doctor!

MAN: I am press.

YATES: You are a press, I understand that. This man… he’s a member of the student press, the Commie Press. He was injured with a bayonet.

Failed Development, Failed Economy

YATES: It’s hard sometimes to understand why Indonesia has put up with Sukarno as long as they have. The occasion is a palace garden party two days after the students were bayoneted away. The cynicism of the whole affair is illustrated here. Mrs. Adam Malik is the wife of the new foreign minister and he is Sukarno’s foremost opponent. At one time or another, he’s wooed, won, and rejected Russia, England, Yugoslavia, Holland, Japan and America. The latest victim of his charm is Red China. Here he greets them. They are as uncertain about what’s happened in Indonesia as they are about what’s going on back home in China. Sukarno’s great talent has been his ability to make friends into enemies and fools out of everyone.

They call this Blueprint Hall and in it are a hundreds of models of unfinished show-off projects. “We don’t want a country where people think of nothing but their stomachs,” proclaimed Sukarno. So he spent their money on mandatory projects like the Bung Karno Tower. The plan includes a one-hundred-foot column of the revolving restaurant at its top. And it’s typical of Sukarno’s national policy of putting second things first. This is as far as the monument got before the money ran out. It’s reported the Viennese architect who designed the tower got seven hundred thousand dollars for his plan and was decorated with a hero’s medal by the president. All in all, this cost about a million dollars.

Another expensive fantasy was CONEFO, Conference of New Emerging Forces, a sort of United Nations of the anti-imperialist world with Sukarno as its leader. Here it stands. Red China backed the project expecting to dominate it. She also used packing cases for construction materials to smuggle guns to Indonesia’s communist party. It was to cost sixteen million dollars. Since the coup, work has stopped. The Chinese are out, and ten million dollars have gone down this drain.

There are hundreds of such projects littered all over Indonesia, millions squandered on them. The National Monument still has a little work going on. No one knows how much it has cost. It’s a presidential secret. However, at the top of the three-hundred-foot obelisk is a symbolic flame, coated with three hundred thousand dollars of pure gold. Heavy machinery in critically short supply rots in the sun waiting for full-scale work to resume on the monument. At least some of the ruined machinery is put to good use. It’s serves as shelter for a few of Jakarta’s three hundred thousand homeless.

One gaudy Sukarno project actually finished is the Bali Beach Hotel. The three hundred air-conditioned rooms are mostly empty. The Indonesians can’t afford them and the tourists can’t get to them. There are no jets to Bali and the planes that do get there fly a haphazard schedule. Sukarno’s million-dollar jet runway was built in the wrong place and sank into the ocean.

The word TAVIP on the bus is a Sukarno slogan meaning live dangerously. And getting off this morning is Sanusi, head of Indonesia’s Bureau of Government Agricultural Statistics. It’s not every day he can get a bus ride home. Jakarta, a city of four million has only sixty city buses that still work. Sanusi is going home as usual with his dole of U.S. aid rice after a couple of hours in the office. He has two other jobs to attend to. Without his cookie business and dry goods hustling, his family would starve. His life, like the city around him, is desperate. Jakarta’s canals are open sewers. Small pox has been epidemic. More than half the city has no electricity and the cost of living has risen two thousand percent in the last year. To live at all is to live dangerously. With him away and most of his colleagues also off moonlighting, the statistics dawdle along, but some clear facts have been established, most of them gloomy.

Capitalist Salvation


YATES: But bad as things are, one positive fact is known. Indonesia has a fabulous potential wealth in natural resources. And the new order wants it exploited, so they’re returning the private properties expropriated by Sukarno’s regime.

Goodyear’s Sumatran rubber empire is an example. It was seized in 1965. The rubber workers union was communist-run, so after the coup many of them were killed or imprisoned. Some of the survivors—you see them here—still work the rubber, but this time as prisoners and at gunpoint.

When the government ran things, they enlarged the staff, built houses and schools, and raised wages. Although production remained about the same, operating costs quadrupled, profits went out the window and with them a vital source of export revenue vanished. The New Order wants Goodyear back. And they, like dozens of other foreign capitalists, are anxious to return because the wealth is there, not just rubber but oil, tin, lumber, spice—almost everything.


Not all their findings are as happy. Twenty separate nations invested millions to push forward Indonesia’s development of heavy industry. Most projects met fates like this. This is what’s left of a Russian-sponsored steel mill. Sukarno charmed the Russians into building it in a remote corner of Java with no decent roads, no available labor, no water for the boilers, and, more important, no iron ore for the blast furnaces. It’s abandoned now, the expensive machinery rusting away. What it amounts to is a thirty-six million-dollar misunderstanding.

The Challenge: Infrastructure Failure and Economic Stagnation

YATES: They have found that two thousand miles of main road haven’t been repaired since the Dutch left twenty-two years ago and that at least seventy-eight thousand trucks, buses and cars don’t run simply for lack of spare parts. This keeps foods from the cities, produce from the ports. The country is bankrupt. They now know how badly. Indonesia owes the outside world exactly three times as much money as she can earn. This is one of the causes. To earn foreign exchange, Indonesia must trade, and assuming her factories were working at more than twenty percent, which is doubtful, and that she had the roads and the trucks to move her products to the ports, which she doesn’t, the ports are falling apart. Sumatra is the richest island in Indonesia and this is Sumatra’s biggest port. Not only is the harbor silting with mud, but eighty percent of the machines that move cargo are broken. In many cases, they need only a simple spare part. The mechanical wreckage is further compounded by what amounts to chronic corruptness, red tape, stealing, smuggling and inefficient management.

Based on all this, the World Bank says Indonesia needs three hundred million dollars in emergency aid now just to hold its own. Holding its own means that people including lucky high officials with jobs, like Sanusi, don’t actually starve. Holding its own means that the twenty-one people that live in Sanusi’s four-room house aren’t evicted because he can’t meet the two-dollar monthly rent. It means that his oldest son can still get enough rice to pound into flour for their cookie business. Holding its own has many small meanings. To Sanusi, it also means that the soaring inflation won’t get any worse and he won’t lose the few customers he can find for his dry good sales. As it is, he negotiates for hours with the wholesaler over a vital half a cent on the price of his merchandise. The half cent is as important to the wholesaler as it is to retailer, Sanusi. Holding its own means Mrs. Sanusi’s cookies will also find cash customers in the morning market.

SANUSI: (Speaking Foreign Language)

YATES: So the three hundred million means things just won’t get any worse and this of course is the problem. Sukarno’s one-man rule is finished. The communists are out of power. Sound social and economic reforms are in the works. The biggest country in Southeast Asia is a friend again. Now comes the intricate task of stabilizing this unexpected victory and repairing Indonesia’s ruin before the hungry and emotional country rebels against the New Order. Right now, they’re waiting and hoping and trying to survive day-to-day. Sanusi’s worry this morning is simply whether his son can sell all the cookies and turn a ten cent profit.

Ted Yates, NBC News, reporting.

National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC News). All rights reserved.

Broadcast February 1967.

Transcript produced for non-commercial historical research (fair use).

(See also: the commentary on this documentary.)