Top Ten Books on the Indonesian military

Here’s a list of the top ten english-language books to read when you want to understand the Indonesian military (the list for the Indonesian-language books will follow soon). Unfortunately, I would have to admit that I have trouble arranging the ranks, so these are not in priority order. I also chose the books here based on what I thought to be the most pathbreaking study when they were published and how they add to the building block of our understanding of the Indonesian military.

1. Ulf Sundhaussen, The Road to Power: Indonesian Military Politics, 1945 – 1967 (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1982). This is perhaps the best book detailing the political rise of the Indonesian military in their first two decades of existence. What’s noteworthy however is the book’s ability to also portray in detail the civilian side of the politicking that went on in that period, and thus presenting a more balanced view of civil-military relations than most conventional accounts. A classic I must say.

2. David Jenkins, Suharto and the Generals: Indonesian Military Politics, 1975 – 1983 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, 1984). It was said that journalist David Jenkins was formally banned from Indonesia because of this book (although chronologically, the New Order’s discomfort over his writings may have started before the book was published, but this is a story for another time). That said, the details, insights, and intrigues surrounding Suharto’s generals, based on extensive interviews with insiders, in that period remain unmatched. The book is also seminal in that it showed how fragile the New Order was at the ‘height of their power’ and how military factionalism was becoming more acute.

3. Peter Britton, Military Professionalism in Indonesia : Javanese and Western Military Traditions in Army Ideology to the 1970s (MA Thesis, Monash University, 1982). This thesis was eventually translated and published as a book in Indonesia over a decade later (by LP3ES in 1996), but I found this work to be most valuable for its account of the cultural foundation of the officer corps, the role of the military academy, the impact of the different intellectual and training backgrounds, and the anecdotal evidences of the generals’ day-to-day activities. The only work that subsequently uses cultural lenses to account for the Indonesian military’s political behavior is Sukardi Rinakit’s book (also recommended).

4. Harold Crouch, The Army and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988). Most scholars and observers concur that this hugely popular book (later reprinted in 2008 and republished in Indonesian) is the standard bearer for the study of civil-military relations in Indonesia. It covers a wider range of issues than Sundhaussen’s and includes an interesting account of the infamous 1965 coup attempt.

5. Bob Lowry, The Armed Forces of Indonesia (Leonards, NSW: St Martin’s Press, 1992). Unlike most scholars working on the Indonesian military till then, Lowry did not produce a study of civil-military relations, but instead examine the ABRI as an institution–its structure, doctrine, Orders of Battle, command and control, etc. This approach is very valuable because a strictly ‘civil-military relations’ lens only provides a partial understanding of the Indonesian military, especially if we don’t examine how and why the military thinks of itself, how it’s organized to fight, and how the organization actually works. An updated and much longer version of this approach of understanding the Indonesian military as an organization over a decade later is Leonard Sebastian’s book.

6. Jun Honna, Military Politics and Democratization in Indonesia (London: Routledge, 2003). Despite what others think, I believe this is the best systematic and scholarly book of the immediate post-Reformasi period examining the state of civil-military relations and the role of the Indonesian Army. What I found pathbreaking were not just its proper use of the existing theoretical literature and the excellent detailed account, but also it’s treatment of various internal military documents and even student papers (written by high ranking officials in their educational assignments). It was certainly much better and solid than many similar works based primarily on interviews.

7. Tatik Hafidz, Fading Away: The Political Role of the Army in indonesia’s Transition to Democracy 1998 – 2001 (Singapore: Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2006). While covering only a short period (3-years), this book is extremely detailed. Using various interviews, media reports, and documents, the author (a former journalist) provides an extremely detailed account of both the crucial transition period in May 1998 and the subsequent chaotic events thereafter. Anyone seeking to understand the empirical detail of civil-military relations in this crucial period would do well to read the text and the accompanying footnotes.

8. Douglas Kammen and Siddharth Chandra, A Tour of Duty: Changing Patterns of Military Politics in Indonesia in the 1990s (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, 1999). As I said earlier, understanding a military only by its relationships with the civilian leadership is obviously flawed. This book takes a small part of the Indonesian military’s organization, that of manpower policies and academy class structure, and takes it to new heights. Its excellent detailed account of the role of different officers, and the correlation with their academy class background, in Indonesian military politics in the 1990s remains pathbreaking. I should also note that their work (and their subsequent World Politics article of the post-Suharto period) provides an unmatched internal structural account of the politics surrounding military reform–and thus far, the only that systematically uses statistical data and methods.

9. Katharine E. McGregor, History in Uniform: Military Ideology and the Construction of Indonesia’s Past (Singapore: NUS Press, 2007). Very few historians took the effort to systematically study the Indonesian military, thus depriving us a solid work on this area. McGregor’s excellent work that uses primary documents, interviews with key actors, and her observations of various parts of the training portions in the military academy, helps fill this lacunae. Although she had wanted to show how the New Order manipulated history for regime maintenance purposes, she also provides many solidly researched account of ‘military history’ and the politics surrounding it (e.g. how the different services think about key events like 1965 differently) and more importantly, a broader picture of the military institution beyond the civil-military lens.

10. Marcus Mietzner, The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Elite Conflict, Nationalism, and Institutional Resistance (Washington, DC: The East-West Center, 2006). This is a seminal text in understanding the post-Suharto military reform within the context of civil-military relations. The account of how the post-Suharto civilian leadership bargained and interacted with the military leadership–and how that shaped the progress or regress in military reform–remains an invaluable starting point in understanding the subject. It’s listing of key reform efforts is also a valuable contribution.

Aside from these 10 books on the TNI in general, those interested in more ‘specialized’ topics would find these works useful: Lex Rieffel and Jaleswari Pramodhawardani’s Out of Business and On Budget: The Challenge of Military Financing in Indonesia, Rudolf Mrazek’s The United States and the Indonesian military, 1945-1965: A study of an intervention, Richard Tanter’s Intelligence Agencies and Third World Militarization: A Case Study of Indonesia, 1966-1989, and Bilveer Singh’s Defense Relations between Australia and Indonesia in the Post-Cold War Era.

Please feel free to add to list. Also, for those unfamiliar with Indonesia’ security establishment, this Dictionary on Indonesian Comprehensive Security: Acronyms and Abbreviations published by FES Jakarta should be very helpful.

Note: The list was created in 2009, but there hasn’t been any new books since that makes me want to change this list, unfortunately. That said, as of 2012, I’m currently working on an overall literature review of the study of the Indonesian military, covering both English and Indonesian language sources, tentatively called “The Study of the Indonesian Military: Measuring Progress and Charting a New Course”. 


One thought on “Top Ten Books on the Indonesian military

  1. Pingback: Civil-military relations | Student N

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