The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder

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6.14 X 9.21 X 0.81 inches | 1.47 pounds

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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.


"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

"Jess Melvin's book provides a strong factual account of the role of the military in establishing a chain of command connecting the military leadership in Jakarta with that of the province of Aceh. [...] The depth of Melvin's work in unravelling the military chain of command in the mass killings conducted in Aceh is a strong contribution to our understanding of the history of 1965-1966 and also very beneficial for further efforts to challenge state impunity regarding Indonesia's violent past." Ratna Saptari, University of Leiden, Bijdragen

"It is rare that a book makes a big splash in Indonesian studies, even rarer when that book is the author's first. Jess Melvin's The army and the Indonesian genocide: Mechanics of mass murder has made such a splash, and I have been very pleased to watch the water sluice out, pouring over the Indonesian military's lies of the last five decades and, indeed, dampening much of the scholarship written about 1965 in the process. Melvin's book--which draws on the military's own records to prove that the army incited and carried out the killings and mass detentions--confirms once and for all what survivors of this violence have been saying for decades: local civilians often participated in the killings, but it was the army that drove them. Meticulous in her detailing, Melvin devotes the majority of her book to laying out the chronology of the army's 'eradication campaign' against the communists." Annie Pohlman, The University of Queensland, Australia, Bijdragen

"[This book] is an extraordinarily detailed exploration by author Jess Melvin who aims to defy the common understanding of the 1965 'anti-communist' purge which highlights the Indonesian army's part in the arranging the related violence in Aceh, resulting as one of the first locations revolving around a series of widespread massacres in Indonesia. The book presents a unique narrative that ventures into the dismay found within the history of the 1965 anti-communist movement in Aceh. Although other source materials mostly focus on the history of the 1965 anti-communist killings around more popular areas such as Java and Bali, this book in particular represents a limited number of research regarding the purge outside the confines of Java." Patricia Rinwigati Waagstein, Indonesia Law Review: Vol. 9: No. 1, Article 7 (2019)

"Jess Melvin has written a remarkable book. Based on archives and many witness interviews, this study is a breakthrough for establishing the case for the Indonesian military's orchestration and implementation of the 1965/66 mass killings. Due to closed archives elsewhere in Indonesia, the book focusses on Aceh province in northern Sumatra; though it is hardly far-fetched to extrapolate results of Melvin's spectacular research to other parts of Indonesia. [...] Combined with interviews with outspoken and grateful survivors, mostly proud and unfazed perpetrators and other witnesses, Melvin turns this archival treasure into a gripping and compelling narrative. [...] With her archival findings, Melvin is the first scholar able to prove the latter and make a strong case that one can "reasonably extrapolate" from the Aceh case to other areas in Indonesia (303). In her final remarks, she demands justice for the survivors and their families as well as accountability and end of impunity for the perpetrators. A "process of truth-telling accompanied by an official investigation" Melvin considers as "the most realistic and practical alternative" (304) to, probably elusive, punitive justice for individual perpetrators. She is certainly right - but the powerful military, its intelligence service, and its religious and political allies in contemporary Indonesia may prevent even such from (ever?) happening." Bernd Schaefer, George Washington University, USA. The Historical Dialogues, Justice, and Memory Network, April 9, 2020.

"A ground-breaking study [...]" Grace Leksana, Bijdragen, Vol. 175, No. 1 (2019), pp. 67-79

"[This] is an extraordinary book that challenges accepted understandings of the 1965 anti-communist genocide in Indonesia by providing a detailed analysis of the role of the army in orchestrating the violence in the province of Aceh, the first location of the killings. Before this book, several scholars had speculated about the role of the army in the violence and given examples of army coordination and co-operation with civilian vigilantes [...] but none had been able to establish the precise role of the army. [...] The Army and the Indonesian Genocide is the product of many years of detailed research and critical thinking on a very difficult topic. [...] In a decade in which much new pathbreaking research about 1965 is being published, this book stands out as one of the most thoroughly documented histories of the 1965 violence. It is underpinned by meticulous empirical research. The Army and the Indonesian Genocide, will continue to contribute for years to come to multiple fields of research including broader studies of mass violence and genocide, as well as studies of the Indonesian military and the entire canon of Indonesian history." Katherine McGregor Australian Journal of Asian Law (2018)