Question: How do you get a lot of people to complete a simple action?
Think about your favourite sports team for a moment.
I’m sure many of you have been to a home-game and experienced the atmosphere inside and outside a stadium before, during and after. From the moment you arrived you knew who you were there to see. This didn’t suddenly hit you when you sat down. As you approached the stadium you saw lots of people wearing the team kit, there was singing, there were collectors programmes for sale, team flags, jackets and someone wearing a team mascot costume.
There is a dominant unifying narrative that surrounds a sports team. People turn up as individuals and become part of something bigger. The story that is told draws people into a powerful collective identity. You turned up to support team ‘X’ defeat team ‘Y’.
It’s our ability to tell a single, unifying, collective story or narrative that draws hundreds of thousands of individuals together every single week into a collective unit.
Question: How do you build an empire and conquer the world?
Well, the Romans did it by telling a unifying narrative; by telling a story. If you’ve ever read any ancient history or literature you will know that the Romans were the masters of telling stories that unified the masses.
At the heart of the Empire was the story that the first Ceaser (Julius Ceaser) was born of ‘the divine’, which made every one of the Emperors that followed a ‘Son of God’. This was a way of identifying Ceaser’s as special, as saviours, and this narrative resonated throughout the Roman Empire.
The Romans ruled with 'the power and favour of the gods', and the story that they told to the masses was;
“I am here to bring a universal peace and posterity”.
This was done in very obvious ways and in more subtle ways; first century Roman coins depicted the Ceaser of the day and inscribed above was the phrase ‘Peace through Victory’.
This phrase is very telling; the Ceasers said “I am here to bring peace – and the way that I bring peace is through victory”. What kind of victory – military victory.
At its peak the Roman Empire stretched from England to India and covered more than 5 million square kilometres and during 211 AD the Roman army was a comprised of a staggering 450,000 individuals.
Toasts of the President and President Suharto at a State Dinner in Djakarta. July 27, 1969
This army moved around the world invading and subduing realms. New expansions were announced as “good news”. This was peace through victory and this was the dominant story that untied the masses.
We are talking about a world where Might is Right. History is written by the victor; because anyone who opposed the dominant narrative was killed. Empires do not expand by being open and inclusive.
This is a clear example of the Indonesian dominant narrative. In the above quote, Sukarno has united the all people while outlawing any bid for freedom or independence by any religious or ethnic group. He even put Geographical parameters on it.
When you see the Government of Indonesia eject human rights organisations from the West Papua region…
When you hear, the Indonesian delegation duck the questions at the United Nations General Assembly and refuse to discuss West Papua with other regional leaders…
When you learn that awar criminal wanted for committing crimes against humanity against the people East Timor (General Warunto) has been appointed as the minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs in West Papua…
When you read countless cases of horrific crimes committed and carried out against the West Papua people…
We must remember that this is an ancient propaganda machine that has been around for thousands of years. One which only shows and talks about the parts of history that bolster the unifying narrative. It ignores criticism, flaws, failures and doesn’t talk about the crimes it’s committed to maintain power. There is no space for people who say “we don’t want that” or “but that story is oppressive and leaves people out”.
This is why any highland villages that wanted a genuine Act of Free Choice in 1969 were bombed by the military. (As detailed by the Asian Human Rights Commission 2013 report The Neglected Genocide.)
Indonesia invaded a land full of people who wanted nothing to do with them. How else were they going to ‘unify’ all people “from Sabang to Merauke?”
What you are seeing is the process of how people accumulate and maintain power while oppressing others.
In its most noble form the power of the press is to keep those in power accountable for the decisions that they make and what they do with their power.
It exposes wrong doing, highlights injustice and works to inform people about what’s really happening. This is something that Reuters Correspondent Hugh Lunn did when he reported on the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’.
In a so-called democracy, you have to start ejecting and restricting free movement of the press and human rights organisations.
You might even invite an ally’s foreign secretary to the region and on a shared platform she’ll bolster the dominant unifying narrative.
So, what can we do when the truth and what really happened is brushed over?
If you find yourself asking this question then stay tuned for pt. 2
If you already want to help end the genocide in West Papua, you can sign the petition here. Add your name, #BackTheSwim and help #LetWestPapuaVote