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Jack Waterford and the history of our region - a response

  • 28 August 2006

This letter was sent in response to Jack Waterford's article published on the 22/8, found here.

Dear Editors,

Jack Waterford's appeal (ES 22/8) for Australians to study the history of the Asian region is admirable, but it is scarcely the virgin territory he suggests. There are outstanding historians of Asian countries in
universities around the country who do not focus on themes and flights of fancy at the expense of facts and narrative.

It is Mr Waterford himself  who engages in a flight of fancy when he writes of the systematic massacres of perhaps a million Chinese in Indonesia. Despite a widespread and tenacious myth to this effect outside Indonesia, there is simply no empirical evidence to support the view that there was a kind of Chinese Holocaust in Indonesia in 1965. The victims of the 1965 anti-communist massacre (who may indeed have numbered as many as a million but more likely about half that number) were overwhelmingly Javanese and Balinese, not Chinese; the slaughter was politicide rather than genocide.

If Mr Waterford wants the facts, he could start by reading Robert Cribb (ed) The Indonesian killings of 1965-1966 (1990) or Charles Coppel, Indonesian Chinese in Crisis (1983).

Associate Professor Charles A. Coppel and Dr Jemma Purdey

Jack Waterford responds...

I did not mean to imply that no one has studied the 1965 massacres, and I am sure that many, including the authors, know the subject better than I. But that there are a lot of uncomfortable lacunae on this subject is shown by the fact that reputable historians cannot agree whether 100,000, 500,000, 1 million or 1.5 million died, let alone on regional sequences of events. I acknowledge that many ethnic Indonesians were killed, but most of the observers and commentators I have read think that Indonesia's Chinese were peculiarly and particularly singled out.



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Existing comments

When I was in year 9 or 10(I forget which) a forward -thinking Sister of Mercy at the Convent High School in Kyneton taught us Asian history using a textbook written by Professor R.M Crawford. It was well-written and interesting; I found it illuminating and most useful .
Eileen O'Neill | 07 September 2006

I think I forgot to note in my letter relating to this that the Asian history lessons happened in the 1940's
Eileen O'Neill | 07 September 2006


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