Establishing U.S. foreign policy involves making an unending series of decisions about which governments to treat as allies, which to oppose, when to intervene (and in what ways) and when to stay home. These decisions can be exceptionally complex when authoritarian leaders who support U.S. political and/or economic goals also commit atrocities against their own people. That was the case in 1965, when the Indonesian government killed an estimated 1 million of its citizens in the name of fighting communism.
The Indonesian genocide is examined in Joshua Oppenheimer’s Academy Award®-nominated documentary The Look of Silence. In this lesson, using clips from the film, students will practice listening, reading and research skills as they examine this part of Indonesian-U.S. history. Then they will use what they learn to evaluate American relationships with current allies accused of human rights violations. POV offers a lending library of DVDs that you can borrow anytime during the school year—FOR FREE! Get started by joining our Community Network.
Two class periods (about 80 min.), plus homework.
In this lesson, students will:
- Learn about the 1965-1966 genocide in Indonesia
- Practice listening skills, note taking, reading informational text, using film as an information source, research skills
- Examine the efficacy of U.S. support for authoritarian governments
- Assess U.S. culpability when the authoritarian regimes the country has supported commit atrocities
- Write a persuasive essay that makes a public policy recommendation
- Film clips from The Look of Silence and equipment on which to show them
- Internet access for research Clip 1 Transcript
- Handouts (see end of lesson plan)
POV: The Look of Silence — http://www.pbs.org/pov/thelookofsilence/ — The POV site includes a filmmaker interview and resources, including a discussion guide with background information and additional activity ideas.
The Look of Silence Official Website — http://thelookofsilence.com/ — The official film website includes additional information on the film, articles, helpful background on Indonesia and the 1965-66 genocide and reports, articles and case studies for further reading.
Human Rights Working Group: Indonesia — www.trunity.net/hrwg/topics/view/51cbfc7ff702fc2ba812b263/ — This coalition of human rights organizations and initiatives has a page dedicated to Indonesia. Of special interest is a report on now-elderly victims of the purge: www.trunity.net/hrwg/view/news/51cbefc47896bb431f69ef2a/?topic=51cbfc7ff702fc2ba812b263
KontraS (The Commission for “the Disappeared” and Victims of Violence) — www.kontras.org/eng/index.php — This Indonesian nonprofit advocates for human rights and justice for victims of more recent violence and abuses.
The National Security Archive: “The United States and Suharto: April 1966-December 1968. Memorandum From Donald W. Ropa of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow).” — http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB52/doc427.pdf — This government document covers U.S. involvement and response to the events discussed in the film.
Tempo: “Requiem for a Massacre” — http://theactofkilling.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/TEMPO-UK-Edition-HiRes.pdf — In 2012, one of Indonesia’s leading news magazines published this 75-page special edition on the 1965-1966 killings. It includes testimony from the perpetrators.
United Nations: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights — http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html — The full text of this seminal United Nations document is available online and may be helpful to students in their analysis.
The Washington Post: “U.S. Officials’ List Aided Indonesian Bloodbath in ‘60s” —https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1990/05/21/us-officials-lists-aided-indonesian-bloodbath-in-60s/ff6d37c3-8eed-486f-908c-3eeafc19aab2/ — In 1990, journalist Kathy Kadane wrote this article detailing the involvement of the United States (through the CIA) in Indonesia’s 1965 purge of communists.
POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films http://www.pbs.org/pov/educators/media-literacy.php This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
STEP 1: Discuss Research Findings
Begin the activity by having students use findings from their homework to generate a list of what was going on in the world in 1965. Ask them how the Indonesian events they read about fit into the context of their list.
STEP 2: Play Clip 1
After a brief discussion, play Clip 1 three times:
- The first time, play audio only (black out the screen). Ask students to take notes with a focus on understanding the essential content.
- The second time, show the video along with the audio. Again ask students to take notes on the most important content in the story. After this viewing, pause to divide the class into pairs or small groups, then have students discuss the differences in their notes. How did seeing the video change what they focused on?
- The third time, ask students to focus on analyzing the report. Distribute the Clip 1 Transcript Handout (see the end of this lesson plan). Have students use it to jot down questions they have about what they’re seeing and hearing. Then distribute the annotated version of the handout. Either as a full class or in small groups, ask students to compare their own questions with the questions in the annotated handout.
STEP 3: Guide the Discussion
As the discussion continues, guide students to think about the follow questions:
- Does the U.S. government, which knew about the violence, share the responsibility for the atrocities? Does knowing that currently the United States has friendly diplomatic relations with Indonesia, and that the perpetrators of the genocide are still in power, affect your answer?
- Should Goodyear be held accountable in any way?
- How does what you’ve learned about the events in Indonesia inform your opinions about recent or current U.S. relations with governments that violate their citizens’ human rights?
If you are constrained by 40-45 minute class periods, wrap up the discussion, but let students know you’ll continue to examine these questions in the next class period.
STEP 4: View and Discuss Clips 2- 4
To help students think more deeply about the questions in Step 3, show and discuss Clips 2, 3 and 4.
Before you begin, provide context by explaining that in The Look of Silence, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer follows an optometrist, Adi Rukun, whose brother, Ramli, was killed by the death squads. Adi is questioning perpetrators about their role in the killings. Remind students that those who ordered or carried out the executions have remained in power; their actions are officially viewed as heroic. None have been held accountable. That makes many of them unusually willing to talk about their role in the genocide.
STEP 5: Writing Assignment
After the class has had an opportunity to explore fully the film clips and the questions, give this assignment for individual papers:
Choose a nation with which the United States is allied—either diplomatically, economically, or both—that has a dubious track record of human rights violations against its own population (e.g., Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Dominican Republic, China). Write a position paper arguing why the United States should maintain the relationship or why it should end the relationship until the human rights violations stop. The paper should make explicit references to the ways that the Indonesian genocide informs the student’s thinking.
Optional: Set aside another class period for students to share their papers with one another.