The mapping out of the political powers involved in the aborted coup of 1965 remains unclear to this day, with historians yet to reach consensus on what forces were behind the incident. Many historical accounts have linked Soeharto’s place in the political power structure with the successful military operations he launched against the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), accused of being responsible for the coup.
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Among the theories are those that suggest Soeharto knew of, if not masterminded, the coup plan, given his difficult relationship with the generals killed in the incident. One question that that the public has yet to find an answer to is whether Soeharto was fully aware of the operation that would be launched on Sept.30, 1965, but let it happen due to his disagreement with the Army generals murdered in the incident.
“The mapping of political powers remains an unfinished task for historians because it is unclear whether Soeharto really hated the generals as has been widely reported,” historian Yosef M.Djakababa told thejakartapost.com in a recent interview.
He further explained that the speculation began from a report revealing that Soeharto was accused of being involved in budget appropriations when he was the head of the Diponegoro Military Area Command IV (Kodam) in Semarang, Central Java, in 1946.
“Following the case, he [Soeharto] was reassigned to a military school in Bandung, West Java, but he was not demoted,” Yosef said.
The case is recorded in a book containing the testimonies of Maj. Gen. Pranoto Reksosamodra, which was first published in 2014 by Kompas with the title Catatan Jenderal Pranoto: Dari RTM Boedi Oetomo sampai Nirbaya (The Diary of General Pranoto: From Boedi Oetomo Military Detention House to Nirbaya).
It was Col. Pranoto replacing Colonel Soeharto as Kodam IV Diponegoro commander that gave way to an audit team led by Brig.Gen.Soengkono to investigate the accusations. It later found evidence suggesting Soeharto’s involvement in illegal businesses, including a clove-trading monopoly sponsored by a cigarette factory owners association.
Although his rank was not downgraded, Soeharto’s military career was delayed and he was passed by younger cadets such as Ahmad Yani, who later became the army commander and one of the seven generals killed in the aborted left-wing coup in 1965.
After that, Soeharto was placed at the Army Strategic and Reserve Command (Kostrad), a military unit that was not deemed to be strategic. At that time, Kostrad was known as the Army General Reserve Corps (CADUAD).
“Don’t think that Kostrad at that time was a large, strategic military unit as it is now. Kostrad was a reserve corps. Although CADUAD commander was considered a high-ranking position, it was not an important corps. This was why for Soeharto, this position was a humiliation for him,” said Yosef.
The historian further explained that CADUAD’s less-than-strategic position could be seen from the fact that it was the Army Paratrooper Command (RPKAD) that had staged the operations to free several strategic posts controlled by the PKI, such as the state-run broadcaster Radio Republic Indonesia (RRI), Halim Perdanakusuma Airport and the Merdeka field, although during the vacuum of leadership after the generals were killed, as the CADUAD commander, it was Soeharto who should have taken the lead.
“As CADUAD had no troops at that time, it was the Red Beret command, or RPKAD, that was summoned for the operations to free the strategic posts,” said Yosef.
The historian explained Soeharto had become desperate after the revelation of his alleged involvement in budget appropriations at Kodam IV Diponegoro. He was even about to deliver his resignation letter to army commander Gen.Abdul Haris Nasution, but the letter was held back by Soedjono Hoemardani, then administration division head at Kodam IV Diponegoro.
Soedjono later became the private assistant of President Soeharto. He was also the founder of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which was widely known as the Soeharto administration’s think-tank.
"In Jusuf Wanandi’s book Shades of Grey, it is mentioned that it was Soedjono who held back Soeharto’s resignation letter. Soedjono, as is widely known by the public, was a practitioner of kejawen (Javanese mystical beliefs). Jusuf revealed that Soedjono foresaw that Soeharto would become a big man in the future. This was why the letter was never handed over to the army commander [Nasution],” Yosef said.
Jusuf Wanandi was an anti-communist student activist, who was also the co-founder of CSIS.
Yosef said there were too many speculations about Soeharto’s role in the failed coup attempt that remained a mystery, such as whether Soeharto knew in advance that the PKI would launch the military operation. “It was strange that Soeharto was not included on the list of targeted generals because he was also a high-ranking military commander,” he said.
Yosef further cited a report saying Col. Abdoel Latief [leader of the Sept. 30 operation] met Soeharto at a military hospital, where the latter’s youngest son, Hutomo “Tommy” Mandala Putra, was being treated for injuries from hot soup spills. Latief then allegedly told Soeharto: “The troops to kidnap the generals are ready.”
"That is based on Col. Latief’s testimony. It was also mentioned by Ibu Sukma (the late former president Sukarno’s daughter Sukmawati Sukarnoputri) during the [ 1965 reconciliation ] symposium,” said Yosef, referring to the 1965 tragedy symposium held in April.
“There are two versions of Soeharto's reply to Latief’s report. In the first, he mentioned he already knew about the military operation plan. In the second version, he merely nodded. Unfortunately, nobody witnessed Col. Latief’s visit to the military hospital," Yosef said.
The historian added that it was hard to confirm the truth of the meeting between Latief and Soeharto before the Sept. 30 coup as there was no third party that witnessed the meeting. When Soeharto was asked to confirm that the meeting had taken place, he replied: “He (Latief) actually came to kill me".
“It is clear that at that time the military was divided into so many factions and according a lot of the literature, Soeharto was not in the circle of the generals but his relationship with the PKI has remained a mystery,” said Yosef.
"The only comment I can offer is that Soeharto was really smart in using the situation. He was a really brilliant military strategist, when the enemy launched a maneuver, he countered it with a better maneuver," Josef said in closing. (ebf)
- Anton Hermansyah The Jakarta Post