The Cold War--how it was fought and brutally won by the U.S. on a global scale--has defined international politics for more than half a century. That is one of the central arguments of journalist Vincent Bevins’ new book, The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. Through meticulous research and extensive interviews with over a hundred people in more than a dozen countries and several languages, Bevins connects the dots between a U.S.-sponsored terror scheme that killed more than a million civilians in Indonesia in the 1960s, and the slaughter of leftists in Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere in the following years.
The connection the former Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent finds between these seemingly disparate national tragedies is not just a despotic goal shared by the likes of Augusto Pinochet and Suharto to seize power through the execution of any opposition. Rather, the main link between Operation Condor in Latin America and mass killings in Southeast Asia is actually the American desire to brutally suppress even the whisper of communism worldwide in its fight against the Soviet Union for global hegemony in the post-WWII era. Seemingly in order to cement its new position on the international stage, Bevins’ book illustrates, the U.S. government and the Central Intelligence Agency were willing to commit unspeakable atrocities, depose democratically-elected leaders, and prop up brutal regimes--all of which not only impacts current American foreign policy, but has continued to define it throughout the 21st century.
“The book that I ended up deciding to write,” explains Bevins, “tells the story of the massacre of the Indonesian Communist Party, and a lot of people that were not in the party that were accused of being in the party, in 1965. I present this as one of the most important turning points in the Cold War.
“It is a victory for the Western powers, especially the United States,” the “Jakarta Method” author continues. “The way that that victory was achieved--and this is perhaps why we haven't heard about it so much ever since--is that approximately 1 million innocent civilians were taken and slaughtered with the active assistance of the U.S. government. Then this success was so obvious to the rest of the world's right-wing, U.S.-allied, Cold War governments that it was reproduced in other countries. And this is the Jakarta method.”
The conversation is a fascinating meeting of the minds: the “Scheer Intelligence” host not only lived through the historic moment Bevins so eloquently and effectively portrays, but also met and interviewed many of the main players in the book during his work for the Los Angeles Times. With his extensive experience and knowledge of Cold War politics, Scheer outlines what he sees as one of the main conclusions one can draw from Bevins’ book regarding a historical moment few will have heard of.
“Everybody forgets the great hope coming out of World War II is that the largest mass of people in the world who had been disenfranchised, had been enslaved, had been colonized,” says Scheer, “They think now, with the UN, with the new world order, we're going to have a chance to find our own way. And that ability to define their own history, make their own history, is taken away from them--yes, by the Soviets, who do it in Eastern Europe, and by the U.S. that seems to do it all over the world.
“And that is really what is at issue here,” concludes Scheer. “We overthrew Sukarno, we helped get Nelson Mandela in jail, we challenged, undermined Allende and destroyed his government. So what's really at stake here was the development of a model that you defined very clearly in your book of a crony capitalism that is highly militarized and run by the generals.”
In a chilling comparison, the two journalists discuss the deaths caused by Soviet regimes and those that the U.S. either inspired, backed or carried out in various ways. Bevins quotes historian John Coatsworth, who found that between 1960 and 1990, U.S.-linked murders "’vastly’ exceeded” the number of those killed by their communist counterparts. And this harrowing story doesn’t end with the countries Bevins explores in his book.
“I found at least 20 countries across the world where U.S.-backed Cold War allies carried out mass murder programs of innocent civilians,” says the author. “So that's intentional murder of innocent civilians, not people killed by bombs or starvation or bad governments. And then if you add the wars in Indochina, I think it's pretty clear you can argue that Washington's anti-Communist crusade, as I put it, killed millions of innocent people in the 20th century.”
Listen to the full conversation between Bevins and Scheer as the two discuss how modern day politics are playing out before the backdrop of the Cold War, and what that says about the narratives Americans consume and cling to regarding their country’s role in recent history.