The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Army and the Indonesian Genocide

Mechanics of Mass Murder, 1st Edition

By Jess Melvin


322 pages | 5 B/W Illus.

Outstanding Monograph 2018
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For the past half century, the Indonesian military has depicted the 1965-66 killings, which resulted in the murder of approximately one million unarmed civilians, as the outcome of a spontaneous uprising. This formulation not only denied military agency behind the killings, it also denied that the killings could ever be understood as a centralised, nation-wide campaign.

Using documents from the former Indonesian Intelligence Agency’s archives in Banda Aceh this book shatters the Indonesian government’s official propaganda account of the mass killings and proves the military’s agency behind those events. This book tells the story of the 3,000 pages of top-secret documents that comprise the Indonesian genocide files. Drawing upon these orders and records, along with the previously unheard stories of 70 survivors, perpetrators, and other eyewitness of the genocide in Aceh province it reconstructs, for the first time, a detailed narrative of the killings using the military’s own accounts of these events. This book makes the case that the 1965-66 killings can be understood as a case of genocide, as defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The first book to reconstruct a detailed narrative of the genocide using the army’s own records of these events, it will be of interest to students and academics in the field of Southeast Asian Studies, History, Politics, the Cold War, Political Violence and Comparative Genocide.


"This book is a breakthrough for the study of the mass murder of 1965-66. Melvin has uncovered much new evidence and has leveraged the case-study of the province of Aceh to reveal hidden aspects of the national-level decision-making. She presents an original argument on why the mass murder should be understood as a genocide. Her book is not an ordinary contribution to the field of Indonesian history -- it is a game-changer." John Roosa, University of British Columbia, Canada

"It seems impossible to overstate the significance of Jess Melvin’s monumental, heartbreaking work. Not only does she make a devastating argument that Indonesia’s mass killings constitute genocide under international law, she took a simple yet fateful step in the history of scholarship on Indonesia: she walked into a military archive and asked for their records. That nobody had done this before attests to the formidable courage it required. She analyzes thousands of pages of hitherto secret documents with patient attention to detail and unflinching moral clarity. The result transforms our understanding of Indonesian history, identity, and politics. Beautifully written, endlessly important, Jess Melvin has authored one of the great studies of genocide, anywhere. Period." Joshua Oppenheimer, Academy Award nominated director, The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014), Denmark

"Melvin’s book is a dramatic breakthrough in our understanding of the Indonesian killings of 1965-66. She taps new archival sources to demonstrate powerfully that the Indonesian military was deeply engaged in planning and carrying out the murder of Indonesian communists. In the process, the military manipulated domestic and international public opinion to conceal its role in political genocide." Robert Cribb, Australian National University, Australia

"[A]n importance far beyond Indonesian studies…[it] revises our definition of genocide, draws conclusions about the close links between militarism and mass violence, and reminds us forcefully of the nefarious interventions of western powers at cold war turning points." The Guardian

"Melvin’s astonishing discovery [from the government archive in Banda Aceh] forms the core of her groundbreaking book […] Melvin's book will forever alter the telling of what happened next. […] The documents Melvin uses to explain how the army planned and organized the killings shatter the official narrative that has prevailed for more than fifty years and continues to be taught to Indonesian schoolchildren today." Margaret Scott, New York Review of Books

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Indonesian Genocide Files

1. Why Genocide?

2. The Struggle for the Indonesian State

3. The Order to Annihilate, 1- 6 October 1965

4. Djuarsa’s Co-ordination Tour, 1- 11 October 1965

5. Pogrom and Public Killings, 7 October- November 1965

6. Killing to Destroy, 14 October- December 1965

7. Consolidation of the New Regime: Anti-Chinese Violence, January - August 1966, and the Purge of Aceh’s Civil Service, October 1965 – March 1967

Conclusion: Anatomy of a Genocide

About the Author


Jess Melvin is Rice Faculty Fellow in Southeast Asia Studies and Postdoctoral Associate in Genocide Studies at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

About the Series

Rethinking Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a dynamic and rapidly-changing region which continues to defy predictions and challenge formulaic understandings. This series will publish cutting-edge work on the region, providing a venue for books that are readable, topical, interdisciplinary and critical of conventional views. It aims to communicate the energy, contestations and ambiguities that make Southeast Asia both consistently fascinating and sometimes potentially disturbing.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies