The Act of Killing

The documentary film tells the story of Indonesia in which at least half a million people were killed by death squads backed by the army of General Suharto (Cribb 233). The Indonesian massacres occurred between 1965 and 1966 and targeted alleged communists, the Chinese and other minority groups. The film starts by highlighting the situation in Indonesia prior to the attempted coup of 1965. There is much bad blood between the Indigenous people, who are Muslims and politically pro-democracy, and the Chinese, who are non Muslim and pro-communist. Both the military and the government are dominated by communist-leaning leaders. The film reveals the hostility that exists between the right wing and the left wing. The country’s president, Sumato, is a communist sympathizer who also advocates for nationalism and Islamic religion. Even then, the Muslim and army groups do not support the president and his communist stand.  The main problem in Indonesia is the antagonism among the orthodox and non-strict Muslims, democratic and communist parties, and the army. President Sumato has created a private army and called it “the fifth force”, which terrorizes non-communists.

A group calling itself the “September 30 Movement” massacres army generals and top leaders, but the surviving general, Suharto, assumes command and quashes the coup. The film shows the gruesome manner of killing practised by the army and civilians. It is shown that the massacres are purposeful, and not revenge for the massacred officers, also notes the 3-week time lapse between the attempted coup and the purge. According to the film, the army under its new leader, General Suharto, is supported by western governments to crash the coup attempt and start one of their own against the sitting president. What follows is a major purge of communists and Chinese communities living in the Indonesian islands.  

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At the beginning of the purge, there emerge two hideous persons as main characters in the documentary. The two gangsters, Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, are real-life persons at the time of the coup. Initially they operate a black market movie ticket selling ring, where they make a fortune, but they seize the opportunity of political turmoil to form a ring of an extortionist and death squad. The two leaders extort protection money from Chinese business, kill those who cannot pay, and drag some to the army squads. Congo and Zulkadry manage to kill at least 1000 Chinese, yet Anwar later transforms into a respected political leader in the post-purge period.  In the documentary, Anwar dramatized his role in the killing squads, painting himself as a hero, but some of his associates disagree with his methods of and motives for killing, terming them as wrong. They also see Anwar’s acts as bad for their public image and future consequences. Later on, Anwar changes his position and starts to repent his actions, but he is reminded that it is even more painful for the Chinese victims he molested. He sees himself as a victim of the system and not a perpetrator of atrocities. Meanwhile, the army succeeds in getting rid of all communist leaders in the army and government. 

The film exposes the big conspiracy to cover up the massacres, which the government greatly understates, since it reminds of a shameful part of the country’s history. America and western countries are actively involved in the massacre by providing names of members of the communist regime and supplying military hardware for the operation. 

When the communist party tries to fight back, they are repelled mercilessly, so most rebels escape.  It is sad how civilians like Anwar are encouraged to also kill communists and foreigners, especially in East Indonesia. The manner of killing is chilling, since the killers use crude weapons and methods like beheading with samurai swords, bludgeoning, and amputating. Looting and arson follow the killings which target Chinese, Hindus and Christians. The documentary film concludes that between one and three million people are killed. 

Works Cited

Cribb, Robert. “The Indonesian Massacres.” Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts (2004): 233-262.

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