Jess Melvin

The Army and the Indonesian Genocide

Mechanics of Mass Murder

Routledge 2018

New Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Southeast Asian StudiesNew Books Network October 1, 2018 Kelly McFall

It’s not often that you run across a smoking gun. Jess Melvin did, at an archive in Banda Aceh. Since the massacres in Indonesia in...

It’s not often that you run across a smoking gun. Jess Melvin did, at an archive in Banda Aceh.

Since the massacres in Indonesia in 1965-66, academics, journalists, politicians and military officials  have argued about the motivations for the killing.  With little documentation to draw from, these debates relied on careful analysis of context and circumstance.  The result was widespread disagreement about how centralized the killing was and whether the killing was planned in advance.

Melvin, in her new book The Army and the Indonesian Genocide: Mechanics of Mass Murder (Routledge, 2018), puts some of these questions to rest.  It seems clear from her work that, at least in the regions covered by her research, that the Army was looking for an occasion to eliminate the Communist Party.  And that it saw the clumsily executed kidnappings and killings of 1 October as a golden opportunity to put this plan into action.  Finally, while she lacks direct evidence for other regions in Indonesia, her efforts to apply her own insights to the rest of the country seem measured and logical.

Melvin’s research is careful and thorough.  The book reminds me of Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution–it feels like a detective working through every bit of evidence in an attempt to be fair and impartial.  Anyone studying the violence in Indonesia will have to reckon with Melvin’s book.

This podcast is part of a short series on the mass atrocities in Indonesia.  Recently I talked with Geoff Robinson about his book The Killing Season and Kate MacGregor, Annie Pohlman and  Jess Melvin about their edited volume The Indonesian Genocide of 1965:  Causes, Dynamics and Legacies.  I’ll conclude the series soon with an interview with Vannessa Hearman about her book Unmarked Graves.


Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda1994.

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