The University of Wisconsin Press

Asian Studies / Politics / History


Pretext for Mass Murder
The September 30th Movement and Suharto's
Coup d'État in Indonesia

John Roosa

New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
Alfred W. McCoy, R. Anderson Sutton, Thongchai Winichakul,
and Kenneth M. George, Series Editors

"This is essential reading for students of modern Indonesian history, and for anyone interested in political violence, the role of the military in politics, and U.S. foreign policy."
—Geoffrey Robinson, UCLA

In the early morning hours of October 1, 1965, a group calling itself the September 30th Movement kidnapped and executed six generals of the Indonesian army, including its highest commander. The group claimed that it was attempting to preempt a coup, but it was quickly defeated as the senior surviving general, Haji Mohammad Suharto, drove the movement's partisans out of Jakarta. Riding the crest of mass violence, Suharto blamed the Communist Party of Indonesia for masterminding the movement and used the emergency as a pretext for gradually eroding President Sukarno's powers and installing himself as a ruler. Imprisoning and killing hundreds of thousands of alleged communists over the next year, Suharto remade the events of October 1, 1965 into the central event of modern Indonesian history and the cornerstone of his thirty-two-year dictatorship.

Despite its importance as a trigger for one of the twentieth century's worst cases of mass violence, the September 30th Movement has remained shrouded in uncertainty. Who actually masterminded it? What did they hope to achieve? Why did they fail so miserably? And what was the movement's connection to international Cold War politics? In Pretext for Mass Murder, John Roosa draws on a wealth of new primary source material to suggest a solution to the mystery behind the movement and the enabling myth of Suharto's repressive regime. His book is a remarkable feat of historical investigation.

John Roosa is assistant professor of history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest:
cover of Art of Truth-Telling is photocollage of two women with evocative facesThe Art of Truth-Telling about Authoritarian Rule
Edited by Ksenija Bilbija, Jo Ellen Fair, Cynthia E. Milton, and Leigh A. Payne
    "A most worthwhile undertaking."—Archbishop Desmond Tutu

cover of Roosa's book is black and blood-red, with an unidentified cityscape in the blood-red duotone, and the title in a typewriter font.

September 2006

328 pp.    6 x 9
8 illus., 3 maps

Book icon Paper $23.95 a
ISBN 978-0-299-22034-1
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout

"Roosa takes readers into that fascinating hyper-heated political atmosphere of Sukarno's Indonesia . . . His account shows how the bloody denouement of October 1965 was the sum of these tensions-rival military factions, maneuvers by special units within the Communist Party, and the efforts of foreign intelligence agencies to manipulate these divisions. Lucid, thoughtful, and engaging, this is a brilliant, strikingly original analysis."
—Alfred W. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War to the War on Terror, series editor

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated June 25, 2012

© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System