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January 27, 2008
A Funny Little Story About Suharto
Indonesia's former dictator Suhato, one of the 20th century's greatest butchers, is dead at 86. This reminds me of a funny story!
When Suharto was falling from power during 1998, I listened to an NPR show on Indonesia. It was hosted by the father of someone with whom I'd gone to high school.
The guests and the host spoke about Indonesian history, but made no mention of the "staggering mass slaughter" after Suharto took over in 1965, nor of the US support for all of it. Then someone called in and asked why they hadn't. Specifically the caller spoke of how the US embassy had given the Indonesian military lists of thousands of members of the communist party, so they could be more efficiently killed.
The host found all this preposterous and scoffed. In particular he wanted to know how the caller had gotten the ridiculous idea that the US had handed over death lists.
I don't know where the caller had gotten that idea, but I know where I'd gotten it: from a book on Indonesia I checked out from a library THREE BLOCKS AWAY FROM THE HOST'S HOUSE.
Of course, you can't really fault the host for not knowing about this. He was only a New York Times reporter and graduate of Harvard, so no one had ever taught him how to read.
Also, if I remember correctly, Lyndon Johnson had attended his wedding...which must have been during the same period as the coup, when Johnson was making decisions that led to the hundreds of thousands of people being shot and/or hacked to death with machetes. You can see how you might not want to find out you're the kind of person who has friends like that.
In any case, I've long planned on the day of Suharto's death to listen to a version of "How Can I Keep From Singing?" from the Eva Cassidy album Eva by Heart. And someone's made a little youtube slideshow using it as a soundtrack, so you can listen too, especially the part about tyrants trembling with fear: