Sunday, March 01, 2009


Ethnolinguistic map: University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

Back at the hotel bar I met a tall American with a furrowed face and a flowery T-shirt. He was working for some kind of aid organisation and living in Bandung with his Indonesian wife, and children by two marriages. We got onto the subject of Bandung and chatted about everything from the aircraft industry to architecture.

"Bandung is where they have the Indonesian Army Staff and Command School," he said. "The U.S. Military is rumoured to have had some influence there back in the 1960’s. They’re suspected of having helped set up the state-within-a-state."

"How do you mean?"

"The people who really run things here are the army people, whether at the village level or the district level or the regional level. The Americans are thought to have helped create this system."

"Why would they want to do that?"

"In the 1960’s they wanted to fight communism and help American business. So lots of money is said to have been handed over to certain generals, those whom the CIA approved of."

"So who organised the 1965 take-over?" I asked.

"Who organised the anti-Chinese riots in Bandung in 1963?" he responded, giving me a funny look.

"I’ve no idea."

"Who killed Kennedy?" he continued. "I suppose we’ll never know for sure. I was in the Philippines before this, in Baguio. We used to wonder if Marcos was a creature of the CIA. At first the American media made out he was a wonderful guy. Possibly stories were planted. The trouble was that Marcos and his cronies got so corrupt, the country was bankrupted and the communists grew stronger. What was Reagan to do?"

"What did he do?"

"He let Marcos retire. Maybe he had a quiet word with Ramos."

"Cory took over," I said, to demonstrate that I had heard of the Philippines.

"But the army continued to do its own thing. A-state-within-a-state. Military death squads continued to kill people. The rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor. Most of the wealth remained in the hands of a few families."

"What do you think’s going to happen here?" I asked.

"Who knows. I’ve got a house back in Texas if things go wrong. I like the East though. I liked Vietnam. I fought there."

"What went wrong in Vietnam, for the Americans?" I was full of questions.

"I think the top brass thought they were doing the right thing, bombing people, trying to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

"Greatest happiness. That was the idea of Jeremy Bentham." I felt quite clever remembering the name.

"They forgot about justice. If you kill some innocent peasants to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number, you’re forgetting about justice."

"What about the boat people?"

"Oh, both sides were bad. Don’t get me wrong."

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