In 1965, the nationalist government of President Sukarno in Indonesia was toppled in a military coup d’état. Sukarno was a visionary and idiosyncratic leader who, over the preceding 15 years, had struck a precarious balancing act between the country’s ultra-conservative armed forces on one side and its popular and assertive communist party, the PKI, on the other. He was also instrumental in establishing the so-called ‘Third World’ movement of left-leaning, non-aligned states that emerged after the Second World War.
By the start of the 1960s, however, that act had begun to falter. In the middle of the decade, the generals made their move. With the explicit backing of the United States, the Indonesian army ousted Sukarno and then rapidly set about eliminating their ideological rivals. Over the next 12 months, up to one million Indonesian civilians and suspected PKI members were slaughtered in what was, by any measure, one of the worst instances of organised political violence to have occurred during the 20th-century.