I watched this interview with The Act of Killing director Joshua Oppenheimer over the weekend. He comes across as a man of massive integrity and cultural sensitivity. His film tackles the death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civil society defenders and others in the years leading up to the overthrow of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno in 1967.
Oppenheimer’s own coup is to have got some of the murderers to boast about and even to re-enact their killings, and to thread together the close relationship between these killers of the past and the politics of Indonesia today.
The fact that the killers remain at large, even that they continue to boast of their role in building modern-day Indonesia somehow as revered citizens, makes their stories stand apart from those of the 20th century’s most notorious mass murders.
As Oppenheimer explains:
“…it’s as though I am in Nazi Germany 40 years after the end of the Holocaust, and it’s still the Third Reich, the Nazis are still in power. So the official history says nothing about the killings. But, and yet, the aging SS officers have been allowed to boast about what they’ve done, even encouraged to do so, so that they’ve become these kind of feared proxies of the state in their communities, in their regions, and also perhaps that they can justify to themselves what they have done. And I realized at that point that this was a reality so grave, so important, that I would give it whatever it took of my life.”
This is no ancient history from some faraway country – it implicates not just today’s elites in Indonesia but also the foreign policies of both the United States, Britain and others of their Western allies.
I am definitely going to watch this film and to use it as inspiration for alternative approaches to truth seeking, the goal of any worthwhile journalism project done in service of society.