Sexual Politics as a Justification for Mass Murder in The Act of Killing

Author: Saskia E. Wieringa | University of Amsterdam


How did an army putsch in a complex political and economic situation in the mid 1960s end in a massacre of about 1 million socialist-oriented Indonesians? And how do mass murderers justify their actions? I argue that the "psy war" General Suharto waged against the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) is key to understanding how the army could incite thousands of civilians to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty. At the heart of this campaign is the slander against the progressive women's organization Gerwani. The government's psy war images of naked, seductive, dancing women (who had allegedly castrated the abducted generals) were both sexually arousing and created an atmosphere in which communism was associated with inhuman perversions. The campaign was so successful, though the details were disguised by the New Order ideologues, that to this day the Communist Party and particularly its women's organization is still associated with unspeakable acts of debauchery. The sexual politics that were the core of the army's propaganda campaign against the PKI was turned into the palimpsest of New Order nation building.

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