CTKA is proud to excerpt a chapter from Greg Poulgrain’s new book about the Indonesia coup of 1965. The full title of the volume is The Incubus of Intervention: Conflicting Indonesia Strategies of John F. Kennedy and Allen Dulles. Poulgrain is a professor of History at University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. In 1998, Poulgrain wrote The Genesis of Konfrontasi. That book was about the conflict between President Achmed Sukarno of Indonesia and the proposed union of Malaysia in 1963. There, Poulgrain unfolded a new thesis about that conflict: namely, that it was not motivated by Sukarno’s desire to dominate the Southeast Asian archipelago area. Rather, it was a conscious provocation, created largely by the British to both strengthen their brainchild of Malaysia, and weaken Sukarno. By doing so, they expected to benefit financially. They succeeded spectacularly in both aims.
Poulgrain has now published an even more important book. It deals directly with the epochal, yet underreported, Indonesia coup of 1965. That overthrow is commonly referred to as the bloodiest CIA coup in history. To this day, no one knows how many people perished as a result of it. Various estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000. It was not until 1996 when Lisa Pease wrote her milestone articles about Freeport Sulphur (today called Freeport McMoRan) that anyone focused attention on how the murder of President Kennedy paved the way for this horrendous operation. (Click here for that memorable essay: http://www.thesecrettruth.com/freeport-indonesia.htm)
What Lisa did was to examine American foreign policy towards Indonesia and its leader Sukarno through three presidents: Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. Through that examination, it was obvious that a familiar pattern manifested itself: the Dulles brothers and Eisenhower were hostile to Sukarno (actually attempting to overthrow him in 1958); Kennedy tried to establish better relations and had planned a state visit in 1964; Johnson then halted Kennedy’s policy and decided to revert back to 1958 and the coup attempt. Except, this time, it was successful.
Since that excellent essay was published in Probe magazine, others have built on it. This includes Denise Leith’s book The Politics of Power: Freeport in Suharto’s Indonesia. Jim Douglass treated the subject in his fine JFK and the Unspeakable, and I discussed the issue in the second edition of Destiny Betrayed.
But Poulgrain’s new book goes further than anyone has before. In fact, it appears to be a milestone on the subject. Through extensive research into books and documents, plus new in-depth interviews, this book seems to have rearranged the calculus on what happened in Jakarta in 1965. And, rather appropriately, Poulgrain sees that massive slaughter through the prism of two personal profiles: CIA director Allen Dulles and the fallen president John F. Kennedy.
To show just how rich this book is, and how new and unique its perspective is, I beg the reader to take note of just three highlights in this one chapter.
First, Poulgrain reveals that Kennedy was working with United Nations Secretary–General, Dag Hammarskjold. Not just on the Congo crisis, but on a solution to the Indonesia problem. This was new and I consider myself pretty well informed on Kennedy’s foreign policy. This is arresting in two ways. First, Hammarskjold must have appeared to be an even greater threat to the power elite in this light. Second, we all know how reluctant contemporary American presidents are to work with the UN, especially GOP ones. But here you have JFK working with Hammarskjold on two key fronts in the third world.
Second, he reveals that, as with the Kennedy assassination, Harry Truman clearly suggested that he did not buy the airplane accident story about Hammarskjold’s death. In fact, he even went further in the Hammarskjold case than he did with Kennedy. He actually said he had been murdered. In other words, Truman knew what happened to Dag, and he likely knew what happened to Kennedy. In the case of Kennedy, he wrote a timely and suggestive editorial about the CIA which Allen Dulles tried to get him to retract—but he did not. In the Hammarskjold case, when asked to elaborate, he said in effect, I will let you guys figure that all out. In other words, he was not going to go further, hoping they would.
Third, through information in Susan Williams’ book, Who Killed Hammarskjold? it appears that Dulles's name was on some documents secured by Desmond Tutu through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. These indicate that he would be willing to cooperate in a plot against the UN leader. He was even offering information about the type of plane the UN chief would be flying and the date Hammarskjold would arrive. If Dulles was willing to cooperate in a plot against Hammarskjold in 1961 over Congo, why would he not do the same in 1963 over both Congo and Indonesia? Since as we know, Kennedy continued the struggle for a free Congo after both Patrice Lumumba and Hammarskjold were murdered.
Poulgrain’s work is part of a new path in Kennedy studies. This began with Richard Mahoney’s landmark volume JFK: Ordeal in Africa. It continued with Philip Muehlenbeck’s Betting on the Africans, and Robert Rakove’s Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World. Now, Poulgrain extends that horizon line even further, one which finally shines light on who Kennedy really was and why he was killed.