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Guest Voice

How Suharto Got It Right

By Pranay Gupte

In the cascade of condemnations and condolences that followed the death of Indonesia’s former strongman Suharto on January 27, one voice was conspicuously missing. That voice was of Dr. Haryono Suyono, the Chicago-trained sociologist who served for almost two decades as Suharto's minister of population and family welfare.

Those two decades represented the most benign of Suharto's authoritarian rule, not the least because of Dr. Haryono's emollient personality. If there was an architect of Suharto's social development policies - one that resulted in a dramatic drop in what had been a galloping rate of population growth in the world's largest Muslim country - it was Dr. Haryono.

He didn’t bring about that drop by coercion. There was no forced sterilization, as there had been in 1975-1977 during then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's "emergency" rule in India, when the Constitution was suspended and the only daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru (India's first prime minister and co-founder, along with Mahatma Gandhi) assumed dictatorial powers that far exceeded anything that Suharto ever exercised. There were no penalties imposed on families with more than one or two children, as had been done for quite a while in nearby China.

Suharto and Haryono created a model of social development by tapping into a simple, central understanding: people want families that they can economically support; parents want only as many children that they can afford to educate properly; and men and women, particularly in traditional societies, seek insurance in their old age through producing children whose own longevity can be assured.

In the Suharto-Haryono model of economic and social development, that meant the creation of more jobs in the Indonesian archipelago, which consists of 13,000 islands, through governmental subvention and by encouraging the private sector to go into the previously neglected rural hinterland. It meant establishing a wide assortment of secular schools to teach not only a tolerant form of Islam, but also foreign-language and vocational skills. It meant broadening the national network of primary health-care clinics.

The Suharto-Haryono model meant focusing on education and employment for women because, as Suharto always liked to say, women - particularly in male-dominated countries of the 135 nations of the Third World - were the wisdom-keepers, the purveyors of family values. Haryono would add that he always found that women managed family finances far more diligently than their men folk.

The model worked. While elsewhere in the Third World the population growth rates were exceeding 3 or 4 percent annually - in India, at one point, some 18 million people were being added each year, the size of Australia - Indonesia was able to bring down its growth rate to just a shade over 1.5 percent in 1975 from 4 percent in 1965, when Suharto seized power in a military coup.

Implementing that model meant vigorously advocating birth control measures such as use of condoms by men, and pills and intra-uterine devices (IUDs) by women. I remember covering large rallies at which Haryono would rouse audiences through songs and poems, extolling the value of small families. Meanwhile, his associates would course through the crowds, distributing literature, condoms, and birth-control pills.

Indeed, a documentary I made for American public television on Haryono was titled "Doctor of Happiness” – an apt name.

Haryono would frequently request that Suharto attend meetings with mullahs in order to persuade them to use the power of the pulpit to preach the importance of small families in nation-building.

Needless to say, when Suharto left the Indonesian presidency in 1998, not entirely of his own volition, Haryono's tenure as minister also ended. He subsequently became an academic and a syndicated columnist.

Regrettably, the Suharto-Haryono model was abandoned by subsequent governments. They seemed more determined to investigate allegations of corruption on Suharto's part and that of his family. No one ever impugned Haryono. In fact, he became popular on the international lecture circuit, particularly at conferences organized by the United Nations. The support of multilateral agencies such as the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) had been vital in expanding the Suharto-Haryono population-control model.

That model needs to be revived, not only in Indonesia but in many other developing countries. The world's population is still growing at the rate of more than 85 million people annually, 90 percent of such growth occurring in poor countries.

That is an unsustainable rate, one that rapidly diminishes what scientists call the earth's carrying capacity. Overpopulation contributes to a variety of social ills - congested cities, impoverished rural regions, deforestation, and poor health. And overpopulation contributes to global warming because unsustainable demographics inevitably result in increased use of fossil fuels in cities, and firewood in villages - pollutants that trap gases in the atmosphere and overheats the planet below.

Suharto-Haryono demonstrated an expeditious and culturally acceptable path toward social development. Because of that, they were backed not only by multilateral agencies such as the UN and the World Bank, but also by governments including the United States, and several European countries, most particularly the Nordic countries and the Dutch, Indonesia’s erstwhile colonial rulers.

With the vitriolic attack on family planning from the Right since the Reagan era, U.S. support for family planning programs globally has been whittled down. Even the Europeans have been lackadaisical of late.

One more point: I interviewed Suharto several times, and covered Indonesia quite extensively during many of the years that he was in power. I am not one for endorsing dictatorships, nepotism and state-condoned corruption. But you could look far beyond Suharto and see worse. I don't think that even in his sternest periods of rule, Suharto was the kind of nail-puller and torturer that, say, Mobutu of Zaire was.

That is to say, let's be a little more careful about making sweeping judgments about Third World rulers, even those who come to office through unconventional means. Pulling nails and murdering people wasn't in the Indonesian tradition, at least not in Suharto's time.

Nor is public display of personal grief. Maybe one reason Haryono Suyono's voice has been missing from the coruscating chorus about Suharto's alleged villainy is on account of that time-honored tradition. In that tradition, one simply doesn't speak ill of the dead – particularly of someone who did much to spur social development and transform lives at a time when it truly mattered.

Such transformation needs to be accelerated in Indonesia today, an oil-rich country where democracy wobbles along. At least governance was sturdy in Suharto's time. And with that governance - however authoritarian - came a special form of progress, one that benefited everyday people by persuading them to opt for smaller families. Small may not always be beautiful, but it was certainly progressive in Suharto's lifetime.

Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist who has written for The New York Times, Newsweek International and Forbes. The author of six books, he currently writes for Portfolio.Com, and is working on a major book on the Middle East.

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Comments (63)

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Kevin:

Dylan---

Guess what? There's a left-wing effort to rehabilitate the reputations of monsters like Stalin, Lenin, Mao, etc, etc, etc. Most of these efforts are rooted in academia and the media. You know--communism wasn't really THAT bad! It only led to the deaths and enslavement of UNTOLD MILLION! But it was such a GREAT THEORY! That, sir, is the rubbish that should concern you.

Robin Chen:

As an overseas Chinese (born in America), I am saddened by Pranay Gupte's piece which celebrates a man who butchered and oppressed so many innocent Chinese. Suharto started a system of ethnic cleansing that was irreversible and its tragedy could be felt even modern times (see: the 1998 riots). I understand that he brought progress to Indonesia, but shouldn't Chinese Indonesians, who lived there for many generations take part as well?

trippin:

For the love of Jesus, a glowing message of support for a brutal dictator?

Read Naomi Klein and educate yourself (thanks to Mahatma X)

... General Suharto, backed by the CIA, began the process of seizing power and eradicating the left. The CIA had been quietly compiling a list of the country's leading leftists, a document that fell into Suharto's hands, while the Pentagon helped out by supplying extra weapons and field radios so Indonesian forces could communicate in the remotest parts of the archipelago. Suharto then sent out his soldiers to hunt down the four to five thousand leftists on his "shooting lists," as the CIA referred to them; the U.S. embassy received regular reports on their progress. As the information came in, the CIA crossed names off their lists until they were satisfied that the Indonesian left had been annihilated.

[snip]

The shooting lists covered the targeted killing; the more indiscriminate massacres for which Suharto is infamous were, for the most part, delegated to religious students. They were quickly trained by the military and then sent into villages on instructions from the chief of the navy to "sweep" the countryside for Communists. "With relish," wrote one reporter, "they called out their followers stuck their knives and pistols in their waistbands, swung their clubs over their shoulders, and embarked on the assignment for which they had long been hoping." In just over a month, at least half a million and possibly as many as 1 million people were killed, "massacred by the thousands," according to Time. In East Java, "Travelers from those areas, tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies; river transportation has at places been impeded."

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp. 67-68.

Just the way the Bush administration would have it if he had his way. Wait, there's more:

They passed laws allowing foreign companies to own 100 percent of theise resources, handed out "tax holidays," and within two years, Indonesia's natural wealth - copper, nickel, hardwood, rubber and oil - was being divided up among the largest mining and energy companies in the world.

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, pp. 69.

The author of this piece should be ostracized and shamed by the public. Judging by the responses, that's what's happening. The Washington Post is equally culpable for giving such a fascist extremist a platform.

Next we'll be hearing from Lew Rockwell on the redeeming qualities of Pinochet.

John Roosa:

Suharto's population control measures were part and parcel of his political strategy. He believed that the popularity of the communist party was due to poverty and poverty was due to overpopulation (in Java). Too many people fighting over too little land. Thus, he also moved about 2 million people out of Java through a "transmigration" program. In his first meetings with US officials after taking power, he was asking for aid to reduce the population in Java. The glib, naive sycophantic Gupte is right on one point: Suharto wasn't a "nail-puller"; the torture his army routinely practiced didn't involve nail-pulling. Usually it involved beatings, electric shocks, and what his US masters call waterboarding.

arjay1:

It might be worth considering the idea that the quality of democracy in a country is inversely proportional to the two hundred year accumulated anarchy in that country. Many Americans have an illusion that democracy can miraculously appear in any society in a couple of years even though the society has existed in despotism for centuries and that was a ‘norm’ for human existence. Various democides (mass extermination by government, not necessarily genocide which can be carried out by one ethnic tribe against another or apdicide, extermination by a group of serial killers) during the 20th century were in many cases carried out as reactions to anarchy and chaotic political conditions. Socialist democides in Russia, Germany (Nazi means National Socialist), China, Cuba and Vietnam were all considered ‘revolutionary necessities’ to destroy the Old Order. Indonesian democides were not much different, noting that many of those killed were ethnic Chinese suspected of foreign Communist sympathies. To believe that democracy ideals could overcome hundreds of years of totalitarian processes including normal everyday democide is absurd. The best a democracy process could hope for would be the gradual implementation of conditions that eventually lead to democratic systems of justice and freedom and this appears to be what Mr. Pranay was admiring in the Indonesian turmoil.

Bill Tetzeli:

Hey, you forgot to mention that he also made the trains run on time. What a load of Malthusian bullcrap.

Someone quoted Milan Kundera recently, who said the struggle of the people against oppression was the struggle of memory against forgetting. Thank you for siding with oppression by encouraging forgetting. And your article is redolent of the foul odor of "because it wasn't the worst, therefore it wasn't bad". You also forgot to mention that Suharto, even absent Suyono, had managed to cut down the population of Indonesia by about a million using his own horrific means.

Of course after a brutal and oppressive dictatorship the new government wanted a settling of accounts. It's called "justice".

Max:

Yeah, and Hitler built the German Autobahn system and the Volkswagen bug.

Clyde:

American readers have that white hat black hat mentality, a leader is either 100% bad or 100% good. Indonesia's history is confusing by this view; you can't paint Sukarno or Suhurtos with a 1 step broad stroke. Suhurto was corrupt. And so is a load of our own born in the usa leaders. You have to look at the good and the bad to have a clear view. These reactions stink with the "yer an evildoer or you're with us" idiotic mindset.

That said, I'm sure most of the credit reducing population growth detailed in this article should go to the health minister, and not Suharto.

Jesus:

I was impressed with this article. I see that the hypocritical religious-right are expressing their misguided views.

Before you complain about population control, try to do something about the destruction of the environment through overpopulation. Without a clean environment, we will all die.

Jesus:

I was impressed with this article. I see that the hypocritical religious-right are expressing their misguided views.

Before you complain about population control, try to do something about the destruction of the environment through overpopulation. Without a clean environment, we will all die.

Dylan McArthur:

I visited Indonesia in the early 1990s. One night I was a guest at the home of a villager. As soon as everyone heard an American was there, all the men in the village came. We talked about God. They asked what I believed about God; I told them I wasn't sure, but that I suspected there was no God.

They looked at me in astonishment. One of them asked, "If there is no God, who will solve all the problems?"

I said, "Men". They burst out laughing.

I've often wondered exactly what their laughter meant. But I know that, in part at least, it came from Suharto's bloody tyranny, which made a mockery of the effort of common people to better their world and themselves.

There's a conservative movement afoot to rehabilitate the reputations of right-wing monstrosities such as Pinochet and Suharto. People with any sense need to be vigilant and not let it happen.

excellent!:

Excellent analysis. This world needs more population control, not less.

Jai:

I actually cannot believe it - is this column written seriously, or is it some sort of joke (I know its not April 1 today). Benevolent despot or not, a despot he was. Pervez Musharraf also thinks that he is the savior of Pakistan - is he also "getting it right?" I don't think so. As for Indira Gandhi, yes, she did impose the emergency for two years, but she didn't kill a million Indians in the name of fighting communism and helping the country progress. If Mr. Gupte likes the governance dished out by authoritarian states, he should move to the banana republic of his choice.

Jason:

It wasn't just family planning though. It was also schools.

The first thing Suharto did when oil money started flowing in during the 70s was to make sure that every village would have a primary school. In doing so he raised primary school enrollment rates from 50 percent to near universal.

The guy ruled as a king, but not simply as an unruly despot. He made real and important contributions to the country. That part of his record ought to stand alongside the killings and the corruption.

Here is another nuanced view from an Australian diplomat:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23117558-25837,00.html

Jkoch:

Suharto achieved at least two things: 1) curtailment of ethnic Chinese advances in business or politics, under pretext of "cleansing of Communists," and introduction of all kinds of state measures to favor industries run by people with the right ethnic and political credentials; and 2) perfection of the "crony capitalism" model of development, which fostered a few billionaires whose principal skill was scratching backs of Suharto kin. The GDP growth was no great achievement, since Indonesia started from a low base, has ample resources, and a population whose skills have yet to be fully tapped. The real question is whether today's Indonesia will attain an upward momentum in a democratic context, stagnate into the semi-corrupt complacency of the Philippines, or regress into sectarian fanaticism.

JRLR:

Regards to you, Luis Lopez.

Hope to see that documentary, one day.

We need courageous truth seekers like yourself.

The best of luck! You deserve it.

... Always!

Vivek Date:

Pranay should understand demography better before making sweeping comparisons. No doubt, what Haryono did was great, though the coercion during emergency was an aberration. Is he aware that India's population growth rate has dropped to below the replacement rate. He should know that drop in death rate is the real cause of net increase in population and the birth rates are natural to a society and they do differ.

Carlos:

At any time in history, no matter who is in power, good things happen in a country. During Hitler's regime there was an economic bonanza in Germany and a lot of scientific advances took place. I assume Mr. Gupte's next piece will be an apology of the Nazi government and a passionate defense of Hitler's contribution to mankind. According to his logic only people were slaughtered and there is a legacy we should recognize and applaud.

Ajith Kumar, Abu Dhabi:

Pranay Gupte hided very cleverly the CIA sponsored massacre .

IMGoph:

there is a link after all of our comments that says "report offensive comments". i'd like to report this entire article as an offensive comment. do the good folks at WPNI have editors who look over this dreck before it is posted to your website? this is an article praising a man who killed hundreds of thousands. a murderer.

everyone has something redeemable in their character, as others have pointed out, but that doesn't dismiss this author's willful negligence by completely whitewashing the evil this man committed. it's shameful that WPNI let this through. you people are disgusting.

"at least mussolini made the trains run on time" would be a more appropriate title for this trash.

Anonymous:

Very little mention of the millions of people that were killed make this article fall under the category known as: propaganda.

Her Lao:

Hitler got it "right," too.

He started a process that, bad as it was, ultimately created many unsurpassed heroes and heroines.

If you have not dropped by the local bookstore lately --- say, in the last 60 odd years --- please, do so. You'd be amazed at the endless parades of books, articles, shows, and merorabilia attributed to the heroes of the second World War.

Hitler, too, yes, got it "right" when he did what he did. He created so many exceptional heroes out of ordinary men and women who had nothing better to do. No, that's not true; they were exceptional men and women destined to be exceptional no matter what; Hitler merely provided them the, shall we call it, "vehicle" in how they ultimately did it?

Next time we will review Stalin, Mao, Emperor Hirohito, Pinochet, Andrew Jackson, Marcos, and other hitory greats who contributed so much not only to their own local people but people all around the world...

Bill:

How disgraceful! To praise one of the bloodiest mass murderers of the 20th century as a statesman in a public forum like the Washington Post is simply unacceptable. I cannot believe my eyes! Population control is the new name of genocide?

Shame on Gupte, and shame on the WP.

Luis Lopez:

The problems with the whole "well, they were all communists about to overthrow the government" excuse is that:

- Not all were communists. As a matter of fact, what people describe as "communists" in most cases amounted to nothing more than village politics, personal vendettas, rumors and lynch mobs, intellectuals...aided and helped by the government. The accounts of revenge are endless.

- Also...Why is it they talk about this genocide as its repercussions did not linger? How many children born to so-called "communists" after 1965 had to pay the price for something they did not do? How about the chinese-indonesians? They were targeted simply because they were well off.

As for the "the west is worst" complaints...We are not talking about Bush. He isn't dead. We are not talking about Blair. He is not dead neither. But Suharto is dead, and that is why his legacy is the subject of discussion. And last time I checked, not everyone in this forum is American or from the West.

As for the population control aspect of his "achievements"...So? One thing does not have anything to do with the other. You can be a benevolent ruler and have population control. Or you can try and fail. Or -as I suspect- you simply cannot control the population unless you are...a dictator. So to me, this great achievement is actually only a testament to his true nature as a cold and calculating person.

Jerath M:

There is only one thing wrong with the analysis. That while others reduced their rate of reproduction, the Suharto like rabbits and minks increased his lot 10 time more to make sure his clan and cohorts maintained control and followed the status quo. One great step for Indonesia to keep it a third world divide country of the haves and have nots.

Mrinal J.:

"How Suharto Got It Right"
The title seems to be getting everyones goat.

The author seems to be making a sweeping statement on Suharto the human being,(or not), but let's give him the benefit of the doubt in that he is probably extolling "a social policy," that worked.

The brutality of Suharto's regime is already one for the history books. I doubt anybody is capable of rewriting them. On the other hand we Americans are masters at creating history through supporting dictators, and then spitting them out when the embers burn to hot. How we conveniently brush aside our role in backing Suharto and providing him the very platform needed for his brutality.

What is being raised in this article is the need to visit models on family planning that worked.

What's wrong with a healthy debate to get all you male goats going?

Mrinal J.:

"How Suharto Got It Right"
The title seems to be getting everyones goat.

The author seems to be making a sweeping statement on Suharto the human being,(or not), but let's give him the benefit of the doubt in that he is probably extolling "a social policy," that worked.

The brutality of Suhartos regime is already one for the history books. I doubt anybody is capable of rewriting them. On the other hand we Americans are masters at creating history through supporting dictators, and then spitting them out when the embers burn to hot. How we conveniently brush aside our role in backing Suharto and providing him the very platform needed for his brutality.

What is being raised in this article is the need to visit models on family planning that worked.

What's wrong with a healthy debate to get all you male goats going?

Dwi:

What some people have labeled Suharto, "charming yet like a steel," is probably what best describes the former President. I personally witnessed how Suharto via Welfare Minister Dr. Haryono campaigned the family planning program in (throughout rural areas) Indonesia, and social welfare was certainly a significant program in the New Order Cabinet under then President Suharto. His charm was displayed in everyday media in Indonesia through successful social development programs such as this.

On the other side, President Suharto was known for not tolerating disorder in Indonesia. This was perhaps his way of bringing stabilty to the country. I would agree that he deserves credit where it is due. I certainly don't condone the massive torture that he is supposedly responsible for.

Hasyim Wahid:

I have to admit one thing:

You, First World and Second World people, are definitely better salesmen than us, Third World people.

From us you took, are taking, and will always take trillions of Dollars, Euros and whatever.

To us you only gave two heaps of worthless paper:
Declaration of Human Rights and Geneva Convention.

Proof? Why haven’t you brought Bush and Blair to the International War Tribunal yet?

Yes, Soeharto was a dictator who ordered the murder of 500.000 of alleged members of Indonesian Communist Party, after which, Richard Nixon the Crook - the only student ever expelled from Harvard for cheating in an exam - said: "We had just won the Crown Jewel of South East Asia".

Yes, he was a dictator who ordered the annexation of East Timor with a cost of 200.000 human victims, at the urging of the unelected Gerald Ford and the man wanted by the French Court for war crimes, America's Dearest Henry Kissinger.

Yes, he was a dictator who rubbed shoulder -while founding APEC- with the oral sex addict at the White House named Bill Clinton.

Yes, he was a dictator, and a pathetic pawn of the USA in the Cold War like his friends Shah Iran, Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Pinochet and countless others where the USA has 700 military bases across Planet Earth.

Next time, read carefully the Bloody History of the Evil Anglo-American Empire, including Australia with its treatment on the Aborigins, before making comments on other heads of state.

Look at what your leaders have done in Latin America, Iraq, Palestina, Diego Garcia, and now the talks of bombing Iran!

Look at who your leaders are now supporting in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and other puppet countries of the USA!

How come and since when, a nation whose historical foundation consists of the blood of American Indian and American African (and Australian Aborigin too !) has a high moral ground to judge heads of state of other nations?

Have a look at what your leaders are doing right now across Planet Earth!

White Men Burden, anyone? Peak Oil, anyone? Subprime mortgage, anyone?

I better stop before I start to sound like George Galloway. If I don't stop right now, in the next paragraph I will be suing the Dutchmen to return to me the national dam of the Netherland that was built by the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors.

Momo:

Suharto was Semar, the Indonesian mythical character who is too fat to walk but still gets around. Semar constantly reminded Indonesians that things aren't always as they appear. Like many Asian leaders, Suharto was neither good nor bad, but functional. He may have murdered a million people, but a lot of them were communists trying to overthrow the government and were coming after him before he went after them. Had Indonesia gone communist, the beautiful cultures of that region, including Hindu Bali, would have vanished to the culture less and Godless mono-culture communist proletariat. Environmental degradation would have been more vast than it is now, and poverty would have increased. Furthermore, economic growth would have been non-existent, and had it gone the route of the Khmer Rouge, families would have been broken up for the party.

Suharto also distrusted democracy because he knew it was not from his own culture, but the culture of the West. He knew it was being imported and forced on him and his people. He understood that just because it worked for some Western countries, that didn't mean it would work everywhere--that the notion that it will is very politioc-centric. He followed in the steps of political rule that had worked for centuries in Indonesia, that of a king. Indonesians see democracy as 51% of the people tyrannizing 49%. Now, with unemployment in Indonesia at 25% and underemployment at 65%, Indonesians are looking less to a political system they don't understand and more toward a Suharto that can rule like a king.

Under Suharto, Muslim radicals were all but non-existent. Exiled, executed, or jailed, he knew they were causing more trouble than good. And for 32 years they bothered nobody in Indonesia. Now they are destroying Bali and Jakarta and are caught up in the corrupt and bureaucratic legal system of Indonesia, moving freely wherever they like.

Suharto invaded East Timor, perhaps the worst mistake of his career. Even he admitted in the end it was wrong. Did he steal $70 billion dollars from the World Bank, or was it given to him? Recent reports indicate that Haliburton, through the World Bank, gave him that money if they could come into Indonesia and extract oil. Did he not share the money with his people because he is king? Or from greed?

His children were nuts. Spoiled, rich monopolists, they were the ones that helped give him a bad name. Tommy Suharto killed his mother in the act of trying to kill his brother and then assassinated a judge. His children forced Balinese off their land by gun point or forced them to spend nights in a lake up to their necks; they exploited the Balinese from Nusa Dua to Tanah Lot, and surely Suharto did as well. Not to mention Papaua.

I was in Indonesia when the riots broke out in 1997. I was studying abroad at the prominent university UGM in Yogyakarta. At the time I backed the students and their cause. Now, more than ten years later, I am beginning to see that democracy isn't for everyone. And Indonesia, like Semar, is complicated, a state that lives in a world where everything isn't always as it appears.

Greg B:

Points taken on torture. I don't condone it either. But let's give credit where credit is due and praise the main point of the article, which is that Dr Haryono engineered an unprecedented family planning miracle that 130 developing countries would do well to mimic.

I do agree with Sulu Sun - the Philippines is desperately in need of a Dr Haryono, immune to the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church and the US right wing.

mnnngj:

I'm sure that nice little man cut back children's births but depopulation was one of Suharto's great legacies. Like killing over 1,000,000 people. It does tend to show up as less population growth.

sulu_sun:

I wish the Philippines will have a Dr Haryono without a Suharto.

forestbloggod:

"pyramids of naked prisoners, broken bones and exposure to severe heat and cold while naked and shackled, controlled drownings called "waterbushing," these aren't American traditions, at least in the grand looting years of the Hundred Year Graft."

holocaust denier...indonesia's military acted on orders. supported by the cia perhaps?

who was head of cia in 1975?

timor, was.

Chris:

I think Pranay Gupte wants to be a Brit when he grows up. Any old butchering dictator will do when David Rockefeller and Kissinger need to divie a country up for a little imperialist corporate profit. Why the Post prints such outlandish rubbish... oh yeah the Post feels the need to compete with FOX. I guess the Post feels one upped by the NYT for not hiring that master of fallacy William Krystal. These, by the way, are the kinds of rationalizations and justifications that got us into Iraq... and Vietnam. Perhaps if India had such a fine ruler as Suharto, India would be immensely better of today. Care to respond Mr. Gupte? I applaud the Post readers for retorting with fact and sources to refute Mr. Gupte's hyperbole.

bloggod:

i am truly shocked to see such a blanket of unqualified understatement and apologetic amnesia laid over the voluminous mounds of corpses from the bloodink pen of suharto.

another ally, and oddly enough, during carter years.

"That is to say, let's be a little more careful about making sweeping judgments about Third World rulers, even those who come to office through unconventional means. Pulling nails and murdering people wasn't in the Indonesian tradition, at least not in Suharto's time. "

by the way: in this country, we don't NEED to be more careful of criticizing leaders.

especially those who "come to office" thru "unconventional means."

Luis Lopez:

I am currently working in a documentary about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia. Yes, another one of those.

We have interviewed hundred of "communists" and their descendants. In some cases, kids as young as 13 today are still ostracized because their grandparents or other family members were accused of being communists.

We have interviewed dozens of prisoner camp survivors, most of which were in jail for ten years without a trial (although the Bush administration is on its way to top that at Guantanamo).

In Bali, mass graves remained underground because in some cases (like Bali) hotels have been built upon them. Even speaking about it can get you in trouble if the "right persons" are around....

Thousands of children ended up in orphanages or living in the streets of Jakarta, many living of prostitution and crime. We interview quite a few of those.

Chinese-Indonesians paid with their lives for what amounted to basically racial hate. Once again, the "communist" excuse was used.

No amount of propaganda, academic BS or political excuses will be able to cover up these facts. Not even a well written piece of garbage such as this will be able to cover it. Suharto was untouchable in Indonesia. But not here. Here he is called what he is.

Suharto won a lawsuit against Time magazine for 80 millions dollars for slandering after it published an article about the facts listed above. Many journalists won;t touch the subject because in Indonesia this could mean removal of visa and deportation.

In my opinion, this guy was basically like a softer, US-friendly version of Sadam Hussein: A dictator that made a fortune while its country barely awoke from colonialism and who killed many for very arbitrary reasons.


And here is the kicker: The US helped these atrocities with their CIA support. And yet, you tell any American about this and usually they look at you with a blank stare as if you are speaking in Martian. And if that person happens to be conservative, then they call you.....

You guest it...a communist.

bloggod:

i am truly shocked to see such a blanket of unqualified understatement and apologetic amnesia laid over the voluminous mounds of corpses from the bloodink pen of suharto.

another ally, and oddly enough, during carter years.

"That is to say, let's be a little more careful about making sweeping judgments about Third World rulers, even those who come to office through unconventional means. Pulling nails and murdering people wasn't in the Indonesian tradition, at least not in Suharto's time. "

by the way: in this country, we don't NEED to be more careful of criticizing leaders.

especially those who "come to office" thru "unconventional means."

baldie mceagle:

Sorry Greg

That's NOT all he's saying. Read closely. Look for references to torture, for instance.

Baldie McEagle:

Just one question.

What's "unconventional" about coming to power via a military coup in a Third World country?

I'd ask how the author could be so willfully ignorant and still be called a journalist, but that would be a second question.

Greg B:

I think you people are missing the point. The author doesn't condone Suharto's corrupt and sometimes violent regime. He is simply praising Indonesia's benign family-planning revolution - for indeed it was a revolution, as any development, gender or population specialist can tell you. And the rest of the developing world has much to learn from this revolution. That's all the author is saying, and he is right on the money. Full stop.

david church:

I cannot believe the author of this article is of sane mind, is just stupid or perhaps likes to stir things up.
Suharto was, and will be remembered in history as a murdering despot. How anyone with a semblance of intelligence can support his and his death squads responsibility for the torture and slaughter of countless thousands of his fellow countrymen, leaves me cold.
East Timor's invasion, supported by the USA, now there is a familiar story, was work that would have made Hitler proud.
Many contributors before me have made the case, this evil dictator leaves his country a burial ground of innocents. Where ever he has gone, good riddance, may the Indonesian authorities now prosecute his family and send them to trial for the theft of millions of dollars from the people of Indonesia.

Extraordinary Rendition:

God, am I glad I cancelled my subscription to this paper!

Bangalee Babu:

Re: Indeed, a documentary I made for American public television on Haryono was titled "Doctor of Happiness” – an apt name.

I guess if you add Josef Mengele - the Infamous Nazi Doctor to this short list you'll get two people who cared much about happiness in quite different ways!!!!

Bangalee Babu:

How typical of a person to compare apples and oranges as in "Indira vs a despot"

So someone introduced family planning and got it right?

And the 1 million "reds" who died were also part of the population thinning process, were they?

Pranay Gupte is a veteran international journalist and also a sycophant and revisionist historian!

JRLR:

Pranay Gupte is quite right: we need "...be a little more careful about making sweeping judgments about Third World rulers, even those who come to office through unconventional means."

Suharto was only an unconventional man, after all.

"Up to one million workers and peasants were slaughtered in a CIA-organised army coup led by

General Suharto which swept aside the shaky bourgeois regime of President Sukarno, crushed the rising movement of the Indonesian masses, and established a brutal military dictatorship."

(www.wsws.org/exhibits/1965coup/coup-1.htm)

Well he might have been a little more unconventional than other men were, but not outrageously so.

"What went on is that General Suharto, who had been the darling of the U.S. and the West generally ever since he took power in 1965, carrying out a huge mass murder, the CIA compared it to the slaughters of Hitler and Stalin and Mao, described it as one of the great mass murders of the twentieth century, it was very much applauded here. He wiped out the main, the only popular-based political movement, a party of the left, killed hundreds of thousands of peasants, opened the place up to Western investment, virtual robbery, and that was greeted very warmly. And so it remained, through atrocity after atrocity, including the invasion of East Timor, which was supported very decisively by the U.S. and up until 1997." (Noam Chomsky)

(www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Timor/chomskybar.htm)

To repeat, the man was not as unconventional as some would make us believe.

"... President Suharto of Indonesia tops the all-time corruption league table... Transparency International(TI), in its Global Corruption Report, uses the list to show how political corruption and private bribery hurt development. Suharto's alleged haul of $15-$35bn in 31 years of rule, TI said, demonstrated how abuse of power "undermines the hopes... of developing countries"."

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3567745.stm)

Alas,

"... protests and riots throughout the country... dissension within the ranks of his own Golkar party and military finally weakened Suharto, and on May 21, 1998 he stood down from power."

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suharto)

Once again, Pranay Gupte is quite right: "Suharto left the Indonesian presidency in 1998, not entirely of his own volition...", however much he'd "got it right", which was most unfair.

To sum up:

An outstanding human model we all ought to propose to the young, a humanist everyone ought to remember and imitate: Mohammed Suharto, dead prematurely, age 86, an invaluable loss to humanity.

wayne:

So because he was into family planning, that makes him okay? Talk about moral relativism! A murderous dictator is still a murderous dictator.
Hey, I hear Kim Jong-il likes Hollywood movies, basketball, golf and French wine. Sounds like he can't be all that bad.

Wayne Ryerson:

How sad that the world mourns and honors a blood thirsty butcher, and of course another in a long list of killers supported by the US, such hypocrites, if we would just admit that nothing matters to this country but money and power and stop pretending we are trying to do things for the better good and democracy, well at least we would be honest if nothing else.

Greg:

Suharto was just one of many corrupt third-world dictators the US propped up and supported around the world because they said they were anti-communist. He enriched himself and his family at the cost of the Indonesian people.

Marc Schlee:

The biggest mistake a nation can make is to let a tyrant die a natural death.

Richard A. Rosenthal:

Sounds like Suharto had a liberal health minister. But Suharto could have had a Jeffersonian conversion of government as well but he did't so he was a murdering dictator.
Likewise, some people praise Stalin for the "good" he did but one murder or one war is all it takes to go to hell (if there is such a place)

anderson:

Good grief.

As if the talking heads' see-no-evil outpouring for Pinochet wasn't bad enough, now we get this public scrubbing of Suharto's legacy, one replete with abuse, murder and corruption. He was ranked first on a list of the world's most corrupt leaders compiled by Amnesty International.

Please, just stop this.

Kevin:

The author makes numerous well-founded points. To me, Suharto's greatest achievement was preventing his nation from becoming communist--and therefore kept it from becoming another satellite for the Soviet Union and China. To allow communists to take power and do nothing in the name of "human rights" is suicide. Rest assured there's not an example of communism anywhere in history that respected human rights. Suharto saved the lives of millions by keeping the commies at bay. Good for him.

Fred Zackel:

Please go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/

In the "search" box in the upper right.

Type in "kissinger ford timor."

At the next page, click on BBC News and Sports.

Click on the 7 December 2001 entry.

US 'endorsed East Timor invasion'

The United States gave Indonesia the green light for the 1975 invasion of East Timor, freshly declassified documents reveal.

The United States gave Indonesia the green light for the bloody 1975 invasion of East Timor, subjecting the territory to 24 years of occupation, according to newly released state documents. ...

The documents record talks in Jakarta between then US President Gerald Ford, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Indonesia's former President Suharto, a day before the invasion of East Timor.

Read it and weep ... for the dead.

Fred Zackel:

Please go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/

In the "search" box in the upper right.

Type in "kissinger ford timor."

At the next page, click on BBC News and Sports.

Click on the 7 December 2001 entry.

US 'endorsed East Timor invasion'

The United States gave Indonesia the green light for the 1975 invasion of East Timor, freshly declassified documents reveal.

The United States gave Indonesia the green light for the bloody 1975 invasion of East Timor, subjecting the territory to 24 years of occupation, according to newly released state documents. ...

The documents record talks in Jakarta between then US President Gerald Ford, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Indonesia's former President Suharto, a day before the invasion of East Timor.

Read it and weep ... for the dead.

Zathras:

Overall, this is a sensible view of Suharto and his regime.

Suharto left Indonesian politics enfeebled, in the sense that strong institutions among which power could be safely dispersed were not encouraged under his rule. Years ago, when traveling in Indonesia I would hear praise of the tolerance, economic growth and stability Suharto fostered and think to myself, "all well and good, but even in the best case the man has to die sometime. And what then?" Yet the praise was not empty; tolerance, growth and stability were no minor achievements for such a wildly diverse country. Considering the alternatives -- the Communism prevalent in Third World countries in Suharto's time or the intolerant political Islam prevalent in some circles today -- Suharto may be said to have left his successors a stronger foundation on which to build that many outside Indonesia appreciate today.

gili:

This article is in stark contrast of what we know of Suharto. For example, consider the statement below:

"Pulling nails and murdering people wasn't in the Indonesian tradition, at least not in Suharto's time."

By many estimates, about 1 million people were massacred between 1965 and 1968 when Suharto rose to power - the second largest manslaughter in modern Southeast Asian history, second only to the Khmer Rouge.

And what about East Timor and Papua, which were equally obliterated?

How does the author react to articles like the following, which appeared in today's Boston Globe:

http://www.boston.com/news/world/asia/articles/2008/01/28/mass_killings_under_suharto_recalled/

Joe:

I guess using this reasoning that Pranay Gupte would also say that Stalin got it right....

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