Talking Points/Discussion Guide: Shatter the Silence
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Talking Points/Discussion Guide:
Shatter the Silence!
Reveal the Truth, Acknowledge the Crime

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

Further elaboration and links to additional reading on these points can be found on ETAN’s website here: You may also want to print and hand out ETAN’s Backgrounder: Breaking the Silence: The U.S. and Indonesia’s Mass Violence.  [see link to PDF at top of page].

1. Indonesia’s communist party (PKI) was an above-ground, legal, legitimate political party in 1965 that had widespread support among the population, as shown through its electoral gains prior to 1965. Membership in the PKI was like membership in any other political organization, and the PKI had programs to assist the poor and support labor. Although a handful of top PKI members helped to plan the kidnapping and murder of military officers on the morning of October 1 (mistakenly called the “30th of September Movement” or G30S), the vast majority of PKI members had no knowledge of or involvement in the plot. Recently discovered evidence reveals that Suharto and his supporters had planned in advance to try and exterminate the PKI, and took advantage of an opportunity to seize power and usher in decades of brutal authoritarian rule.

2. In the aftermath of G30S, Indonesian army leaders and their paramilitary and civilian allies oversaw the extra-judicial killing, torture or imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of alleged PKI members and others. The vast majority of these people had done absolutely nothing wrong.

3. The U.S. government cheered on the killers, helped to give them direction and provided crucial equipment during the bloodbath. The United States provided lists of suspected communists and other enemies to the emerging government, many of whom were killed, tortured, or imprisoned as a result. The United States encouraged the violence, and mainstream media reports in the United States at the time reported on the killings as a welcome development. U.S. corporations greatly benefited from the military dictatorship that seized power.

4. As portrayed in the The Look of Silence, those who weren’t killed were tarred with association with the PKI for the rest of their lives. So were their families – for two generations, family members of PKI associates have been discriminated against and face social sanctions from the general population. Their “guilt” was printed on their government-issued identification cards – they are identified as a relative of a PKI member – which disqualified them from government service and other jobs. For decades, anyone asking questions about these events would be threatened or branded a subversive.

5. Those responsible for the horrendous violence have never been prosecuted for their crimes, from the political leadership who ordered the mass killings to the gangsters, thugs, criminals and ordinary people who carried them out. On the contrary, the perpetrators of these killings are frequently portrayed as heroes and saviors of the nation and many, as shown in the films maintain powerful positions.

6. The “threat” of communism has been used in Indonesia’s history to crack down on political and social expression, organized labor, and political dissent. Those who questioned this tactic were frequently tarred with the communist brush, and faced persecution. Suharto died in 2008 without ever having faced justice for his crimes against humanity and corruption. Oppenheimer began working on these films when he went to Indonesia to document efforts by plantation workers to have gear provided to protect them from pesticides. According to Oppenheimer, the organizing effort ended when the company hired members of the paramilitary Pancasila Youth (one of the groups featured in The Act of Killing) to threaten the workers, who dropped their demands because of memories of their parents being killed for being in a union in the 1960s genocide. They were afraid they could be killed at any time because many of the perpetrators were still in power. Many of the Indonesians who worked on The Look of Silence and its predecessor appear in the credits as “anonymous,” out of fear for their safety. Adi, the protagonist in The Look of Silence, and his family have moved far away from their home region, again for their safety.

7. Following General Suharto ascension to the presidency of Indonesia, he was given almost unconditional support from the West, especially the U.S., to carry out genocidal policies in Timor-Leste and West Papua, to commit atrocious human rights violations throughout the archipelago, to silence political debate, and to amass a huge fortune through corruption. For decades, the U.S. provided military equipment and training to the Indonesian military. Aid occasionally restricted due to grassroots and congressional pressure. Even though the Indonesian military remains largely unaccountable for past and ongoing human rights violations, the U.S. is once again fully engaged with the Indonesian military.

8. As a start, the U.S. should declassify and release all its records of the 1965-1966 period. It should also acknowledge its role in these events. Discussion of these events is finally opening up in Indonesia. We need a similar one here. In the fall, a resolution will be introduced in U.S. Senate on these points. Please, get names and contact information of those who attend the discussion and send them to, so we can follow-up. Also urge people to sign ETAN’s petition here: and this one from Human Rights Watch:

Questions for those who have seen the films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence:

1. What are some of the effects of leaving the crimes portrayed in the film unresolved for decades?

2. Do the perpetrators show any remorse? Why or why not? Do the victims grant any forgiveness to the perpetrators? Why or why not?

3. The Look of Silence shows a school class being taught that the killings were justified. Throughout both films are scenes where the killers are lauded as heroes in the media, at conferences and elsewhere. Are their parallels to events in the U.S.? How can individuals and communities counter such propaganda?

4. The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing portray violence on a tremendous scale. How could we compare and contrast what is portrayed in the film with other examples you might be familiar with, such as the Holocaust, Indonesia's occupation of Timor-Leste (East Timor) or the Khmer Rouge?

5. Responsibility for the killings not only belongs to those who did the killings, but to others as well. What responsibility do countries such as the U.S. bear for directly or indirectly helping as the killings occurred? Who else might we deem responsible?

6. The Look of Silence portrays the lack of resolution among the victims and their survivors. What might bring closure to them after all these years? Is that still possible?

East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, @etan009

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The Look of Silence.

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see also

ETAN Backgrounder - Breaking the Silence: The U.S. and Indonesia's Mass Violence

More about ETAN's Campaign to Shatter the Silence



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