Death and Survival in the Anti-Communist Violence in East Java, Indonesia
NUS Press 2018
This interview is the fourth and and final interview in a short series of podcasts about the mass violence in Indonesia. Earlier this year I talked with Geoff Robinson, Jess Melvin and Kate McGregor and Annie Pohlman about their works.
All of them have written thoughtful, carefully researched and richly detailed analyses of the violence. Each of them shared a similar interest in the causes and nature of the violence. While their approaches varied, each attempted to shed new light on events which have been hidden or misrepresented.
Vannessa Hearman, in her new book Unmarked Graves: Death and Survival in the Anti-Communist Violence in East Java, Indonesia (NUS Press, 2018), continues this effort. By focusing on East Java, Hearman looks at the violence from another angle, allowing us to compare how different regions descended into violence. Reading her book together with Melvin’s offers us a fuller understanding of the relationship between high-level actors and local officials and between center and periphery. In particular, her analysis of the relationship between the army and non-state actors was eye-opening.
But Hearman offers much more than this. The book, largely based on extensive interviews Hearman conducted over the course of years, recounts the violence on an individual level. Hearman helps us understand how those who were targeted with murder tried to escape. She documents the networks of safe houses, couriers and information sources that emerged within days of the violence. She demonstrates how the Communist Party in East Java tried to understand and respond to the violence, reminding us that, in Indonesia, violence was a process, not an event. And she shows how the army eventually destroyed the Party’s attempt to create a safe space, using violence that affected not only the communists, but other citizens who lived in the region. It’s a richly textured, thoroughly researched and ultimately moving portrayal of people trying to understand how their world was falling apart.
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 Rwanda, 1994.