The Third Cold War Oral History Workshop "Reconceptualizing the Cold War"

The Third Cold War Oral History Workshop "Reconceptualizing the Cold War"

"Reconceptualizing the Cold War: On-the-Ground-Experience in Asia" Project Workshop

14 September 2020 - 26 September 2020

Online by using Google Docs

The third Reconceptualizing the Cold War workshop was held online from Sept 14 to 26, September 2020, in which we discussed eleven papers that focus on diverse local experiences of “social warfare” in different places of Southeast Asia. Due to the COVID-19 situation, this workshop was held virtually by utilizing Google Docs. We read one paper a day, and exchanged 35-100 comments per paper. The workshop enabled scholarly exchanges among our local research collaborators who had been working on our digital oral history archive project in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Event Details

Day 1: “The Danger is Internal: The Philippine Marines in the Early Cold War Philippines”

September 14th (Monday)

Veronica B. Sison (University of the Philippines): This paper begins by narrating the background of the Huk Rebellion in the Philippines (the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan / People’s Liberation Army, from 1946-1950) as well as the government and military’s response. Then, she shares some important findings from her interviews with former Filipino marines as well as other primary sources. She writes that the confrontation between the Philippine military and the Huks is remembered by former marines as a Filipino “civil war” rather than integral part of a global confrontation. Starting with Veronica’s paper is appropriate for some reasons. First of all, it looks at some continuities from the World War II period (e.g. many marines were veterans of the WWII and the Huks emerged as a resistance movement against the Japanese). Second, it was supposed to be the first major “communist” rebellion defeated by U.S. /Filipino counterinsurgency operations.

Day 2: “Becoming Literate: Youth, women and the Socialist Front of Malaya”

September 15th (Tuesday)

Pa Kuan Huai (National University of Singapore): This paper “Becoming Literate: Youth, women and the Socialist Front of Malaya” explores the experience of the ethnic Chinese youth and women, Socialist Front members, who were labeled as “communists” by the Malaysian government in the 1960s-70s. Instead of focusing on the real war between the government and the CPM (the Communist Party of Malaysia), her paper shares us about the people’s experience of social activism through literary education, cultural activities, labor unionism, political detention, etc. She argues that the Cold War rhetoric, used by both the government and the Socialist Front members, was a pretext, or a veil that we academics should peel away. Her paper enables us to glance “social conflicts” that were happening in Malaysia in that period.

Day 3: “Voices of the Victimized: Tracing Experiences through Former SOBSI Political Prisoners during the Cold War in Indonesia”

September 16th (Wednesday)

Appridzani Syahfrullah (Universitas Gajah Mada): This paper explores experience of former members of All Indonesian Workers’ Union (SOBSI) after the WWII to roughly until the Indonesian Red Purge in 1965. In the scantiness of scholarly investigation on the history of labor movement in Indonesia, Appridzani attempts to reconstruct SOBSI members’ involvement in the Madiun Affair, the nationalization of Dutch companies, strikes, and so forth based on oral history interviews.

Day 4:“Another Solidarity Cold War? Shipping Indonesian Teachers to Malaysia under Soeharto’s New Order, 1965-1985”

September 17th (Thursday

Siti Zaainatul Umaroh (Center for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia, Universitas Negeri Surabaya): This paper reconstructs the experiences of Indonesian teachers who were dispatched to Malaysia, a less known aspect of international cooperation within Southeast Asian countries in the post-independence period.

Day 5: “Brothers in War, Enemies in Peace: The Takeover of Hanoi and the Transition to Socialism in North Vietnam, 1954-1956”

September 18th (Friday)

Uyen Nguyen (University of California Berkeley): Until yesterday, we have read papers that focused on particular groups’ experiences; Filipino marines, Malaysian members of the Socialist Front, Indonesian unionists and teachers. From today on, we will discuss three papers that thematically focused on “social warfare” under the Cold War logic. This paper revisits Viet Minh’s takeover of Hanoi and aftermath through mainly three individuals’ experiences, especially in the fields of bureaucracy and hierarchization of heroes / social classes.

Day 6: “Terror in Java: NU-Army versus PKI Conflict Before and After 1965 in Southern Wlingi, Wlingi District, Blitar Regency, East Java, Indonesia”

September 21st (Monday)

Imam Muhtarom (Universitas Singaperbangsa Karawang): We have been reading papers that focus on “social warfare.” Uyen’s paper reconstructed how rigid application of “class” and people’s identification with living space (North / South) prior to the takeover in 1954 shaped post-1954 hierarchization of revolutionary “heroes.” Today, Imam Muhtarom’s paper explores the village level context of the 1965 Indonesian Red Purge in Southern Wlingi, Wlingi District, Blitar Regency, East Java. He narrates the intensification of hostility between Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI, Indonesian Communist Party) through interviews with people, who are mainly affiliated with NU.

Day 7: “Socio-Cultural Polarisation and the Cold War: Islam and Communism in West Java, Indonesia, 1945-1965”

September 22nd (Tuesday)

Mathew Woolgar (St Cross College, University of Oxford): Yesterday, we read Imam Muhtarom’s paper that explores intensification of hostility between PKI and NU in a village in East Java, Indonesia. Today’s presenter is Mathew Woolgar, who studies the situations in West Java, with a particular focus on PKI’s initially calm relations with several religious organizations such as Masyumi, NU, and PSII (Indonesian Islamic League Party). The paper highlights PKI’s careful efforts not to depict “Islam” itself as an enemy, examining how the party developed various relations with different religious organizations.

Day 8: “Unruly Agriculturalists and Empire Building: Emancipatory Agrarian Movements and the USA’s Covert War in Sumatra’s Plantation Lands 1946-1960”

September 23rd (Wednesday)

David E. Gilbert (University of California, Berkeley): Yesterday, we read Matthew Woolgar’s paper that explores changing relationship between PKI and Islamic organizations in West Java in the 1940s-60s. Today’s presenter is David E. Gilvert who explores the U.S. attempts at containing “communists” among Sumatran agriculturalists, with a focus on how the latter took advantage of the former. In narrating this story, this paper also provides insight into how the landscape of Sumatra’s agricultural lands changed overtime.

Day 9: "Indonesian 1965 Mass-killings: Rituals and Their Implications in Shaping a Genocide in the Context of Cold War"

September 24th (Thursday)

Robert Moisa (National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Romania): We have been reading about diverse “Cold War” conflicts in various parts of Indonesia. Today’s presenter, Robert Moisa also explores Indonesia’s “Cold War,” with a focus on the 1965 massacres in Bali. Like Imam Muhtarom and Appridzani Syahfrullah, Moisa's paper is concerned with the socio-cultural background of the massacres. Theoretically, he interprets this event as a "ritual killing."

Day 10: “On-the-ground Experiences of the Cold War: The Javanese Village of Bejiharjo from the 1965 Repression until the End of Suharto New Order in 1998”

September 25th (Friday)

Juliette Senda (Université d’Aix-Marseille, France): We have been reading papers on Java, Sumatra, and Bali. Today’s paper concludes our readings concerning Indonesia’s “Cold War.” Like Imam Muhtarom’s paper, Senda’s paper “On-the-ground Experiences of the Cold War" also uses an oral history approach to examine local situations on the village and regency levels. After describing historical contexts such as the famine in 1963 and rapid increase in PKI membership in 1964, the paper looks into the experiences of the 1965 massacre with a particular focus on a village of Bejiharjo (and broader Gunung Kidul regency) and depicts the repression as an aggression by the army (outsiders) to the village that supposedly disturbed the pre-existing “village harmony.” Then, the paper narrates the post-1965 period as a development of a surveillance society.

Day 11: “Assimilation of Chinese in Thailand during the Pibun Era, 1948-1957”

September 26th (Saturday)

Cui Feng (National University of Singapore): Our final presenter is Feng Cui, whose paper concerns the assimilation of ethnic Chinese in Thailand during early Cold War. The paper starts with a comparison of statistic info about perceptions of ethnic Chinese in Thailand and those in Indonesia, and states that the former has a stronger attachment to their Thai nation. Then, he traces back how the Chinese in Thailand were assimilated over time, with particular attention to Cold War contexts in the mid-20th century.