Indonesia: Vengeance with a Smile

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The second son among the eleven children of a Moslem merchant named Notoredjo, Suharto was born in the Central Javanese village of Sedaju-Godean near Jogjakarta. As a child he played soccer and attended a local secondary school, then went to work briefly as a bank clerk. It bored him, so in 1940, when he was 23, Suharto joined the Dutch colonial army. With Japanese occupation during World War II, he was sent to officer-training school for the Japanese-sponsored home-defense forces —which quickly became the secret plotting ground for the postwar independence revolution. Recalls a classmate: "Suharto was a serious man. He always did his best, and he had no time for relaxing. He was always training, always working."

A Girl Named Titi. When independence was declared in 1945, the home-defense forces became the Indonesian army, and Suharto served with guerrilla units fighting the Dutch in Central Java. He rose fast. By 1949 he was military commander of the vital Jogjakarta area and led a brazen attack which drove the Dutch out of the city for four hours, just long enough to give the sagging independence movement a victory it badly needed.

The days of Dutch occupation in Jogjakarta had special personal significance for the young officer. During a lull in the war, he found time to marry a local girl named Titi, but when their first daughter, Siti, was born, the fighting had resumed and Suharto was back with his troops. Anxious to see his child, he sent a courier to arrange a secret meeting right under the noses of the Dutch. They met for one hour, in the cook's quarters of the palace of the Sultan of Jogjakarta. He did not see his family again for nearly two years.

As a dedicated soldier, Suharto became deputy chief of staff of the army shortly after the Dutch finally withdrew, went on to command the forces charged with "liberating" West Irian from the Dutch. In 1964, Defense Secretary Nasution named him head of KOSTRAD, the powerful headquarters from which he rallied the army to crush last October's Communist coup.

Throughout his career, Suharto has earned great respect as a professional military officer. Fellow officers say he has always had an uncanny feel for the instincts of his subordinates. "When he was a regimental commander, his decisions were right in line with the views of battalion commanders," says one of his generals. "He's tough as hell," observes a Western military man, "a hard commander with a one-track mind."

Matter of Pride. Suharto had the Bung's number from the start. As a fellow Javanese, he understood Sukarno as the Sumatran Nasution never could. Like Sukarno, he consults his guru. And like Sukarno, he has become identified with a Javanese folk hero of the past—Wrekudara, the legendary Wajang warrior who preferred to walk to battle rather than ride in a chariot.

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