By Max Lane
SYDNEY — More than 2000 people attended a public lecture by Noam Chomsky on January 20 organised by the East Timor Relief Association. Chomsky devoted most of his lecture to exposing US and Western foreign policy in relation to Indonesia and South-East Asia and how that strategy led to support for Indonesia's invasion of East Timor in 1975.
He reviewed US policy in the 1950s and 1960s, quoting frequently from US State Department documents to prove the US government's concern about the growing influence of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The PKI threatened US interests not because it was revolutionary, Chomsky claimed, but because it defended the interests of the poor.
A political victory for the PKI was seen by the US ruling class as a victory for independent nationalist development and a dangerous virus which must be stopped from spreading. Indeed, argued Chomsky, the US war against Vietnam was aimed at stopping that very same virus from spreading from Vietnam to Indonesia.
US support for Indonesia's right-wing military rebels in the late 1950s and then for what Chomsky called the "staggering mass slaughter" of 500,000 PKI and left supporters in 1965 were also examples of this policy.
The Suharto dictatorship's 1965 slaughter was considered a great service to the US and the West, said Chomsky. US defence secretary Robert McNamara was euphoric when he pointed out how US military aid to the Indonesian army had finally "paid dividends". It was partly in gratitude that the West became such strong supporters of Suharto, Chomsky explained. Another key factor was the opening up of the Indonesian economy to Western corporations.
Approval for Suharto's policies lay behind the US government's support for Jakarta's invasion of East Timor. Otherwise, the old virus of independent development might spread from East Timor to Indonesia and threaten Suharto's New Order.
Chomsky also pointed such factors as a concern with the former Portuguese colonies, which led the US to support contra forces in Angola and Mozambique. Secure access for US submarines to deep water channels in the Timor Sea was also important.
He also referred to the leaked secret cables, sent by Australian Ambassador Woolcott to Canberra, warning that it would be easier to get access to the Timor Gap oil from Indonesia than from an independent East Timor. Chomsky frequently cited examples of the treacherous role of foreign minister Gareth Evans in supporting the Suharto dictatorship, including the example of Evans visiting the New York Times office to cajole its editors to stop harassing the Indonesian regime on human rights and East Timor issues.
Progress is being made in the struggle for East Timorese freedom, Chomsky said. The US solidarity movement had helped bring it onto the political agenda; currently a very broad sector of opinion is calling on Indonesia to withdraw. He also pointed to the increasing opposition within Indonesia, specifically the public criticisms made by academic George Aditjondro and by the student movement.
Chomsky called on people to take up the struggle to change society as have Indonesian students, labour leaders and academics, not to mention the struggling East Timorese people. He emphasised that the ability of the East Timorese to achieve political and economic independence is dependent on those in the rich countries acting to change their own societies to end the pattern of the rich continually plundering the poor.
Next week: Our next issue will provide more coverage of Noam Chomsky's Australian visit, including his comments on the Middle East peace process.