“The Act of Killing” should be called “Your tax dollars at work”

Whether or not A.O. Scott knows it, or once knew it, the mass murder in Indonesia was stage-managed by the CIA, which actually provided the regime with target lists. (On the eve of Pinochet’s takeover in Chile, this terrorist graffito appeared all over Santiago: “Jakarta is coming”)

If Scott does know, or once heard, that the US was behind the Indonesian bloodbath, he does well not to know it now—because he’s at the Times, which is a mighty organ of forgetting when it comes to inconvenient truths like this one.

Catch this:

If those murders are less well known than others (like the Khmer Rouge slaughter in Cambodia a decade later), it is partly because Indonesia has not undergone the kind of public reckoning that often follows such catastrophes. “History is written by the winners,” muses one of Mr. Oppenheimer’s subjects, who led a right-wing death squad in North Sumatra. “And we are the winners.”

Well, no. The reason why the slaughter in Cambodia is so “well known” while the one in Indonesia isn’t has nothing to do with any public reckoning in Indonesia or Cambodia, and everything to do with the ongoing suppression (mostly semi-conscious or unconscious) of any kind of “public reckoning” here, when it comes to what our government has wrought abroad.

One way to start waking up would be to look into—and talk about—the involvement of Barack Obama’s family in what happened over there in the mid-Sixties. His stepfather worked for that regime, and was called back to help “mop up” in 1966; and some have argued that his mother also played a role.

Unthinkable? Why? As long as we continue not to face the darker truths about our national past, We the People never will get well.


Mass Murder? Gee, That Was Fun
‘Act of Killing’ Re-enacts Indonesian Massacres
NYT Critics’ Pick
Movie Review: ‘The Act of Killing’: The Times critic A. O. Scott reviews “The Act of Killing.”
Published: July 18, 2013

Films about historical atrocities, whether documentaries or not, usually embrace the perspective of victims, survivors or resisters. The dead cry out for commemoration, and the living need to be provided with consoling stories of courage and resilience. Viewers generally prefer to identify with the innocent, the lucky and the brave, rather than with the monstrous but no less human perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

The documentary “The Act of Killing,” which has Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers, features an Indonesian death squad leader re-enacting his crimes, often with glee.

In the documentary “The Act of Killing” Anwar, center, with a model of himself, offers lessons in death-squad technique.

Read more.

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