Influencing attitudes through disinformation

Elizabeth Pond's series on disinformation [Feb. 26 - March 1] deals with an often overlooked subject of special concern to diplomats. Since the writer mentions in her case study of Jakarta the slaughter of ``some 300,000 suspected Communists and fellow travelers'' following the aborted Communist coup in September 1965, I take occasion -- for the first time -- to disclose how I believe the figure 300,000 was reached.

We began to receive rumors in the American embassy in Jakarta late in 1965 that mass killings had taken place in Java and Bali in the wake of the aborted coup, but there were no estimates of the numbers involved.

In January 1966, I received a message calling me back to Washington to report to President Johnson on the upheaval in Indonesia.

Because I strongly suspected that I would be asked in statistically minded Washington how many had been killed in the bloody aftermath of the coup, I asked each senior member of our staff to put down on a slip of paper his or her best guess as to the number. I then averaged out their guesses. The figure came to 300,000. This I subsequently used during my call on President Johnson, and it somehow became the official estimate of both our government and that of Indonesia.

Since then, I have used the more accurate figure of ``300,000 plus or minus 200,000.'' Marshall Green former US ambassador to Indonesia Washington

Thank you for Richard Wilson's excellent article, ``In Arab lands, a revolution in education'' April 8, which described the drive throughout the Arab world to establish more and better institutions of higher learning. Although the report mentioned many problems these institutions face, one severe problem that was not mentioned, with respect to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is that of harassment by the Israeli military authorities.

A recent incident occurred on March 1 of this year when Israeli troops raided a cultural heritage exhibit at Birzeit University. Claiming that literature ``inciting to military resistance'' had been found on campus, the Israeli military governor closed down the university for two months and declared the campus to be a ``closed military area.''

Unfortunately, this closure seems to be part of a conscious Israeli policy to deny the Palestinians the education they hunger for, and thereby preclude the development of an indigenous social, economic, and political infrastructure.

Birzeit and other West Bank institutions are frequently penalized by such closures, constituting acts of collective punishment in direct violation of the Geneva Convention's concern for the rights of civilian populations in occupied territories. Academic freedom in the West Bank is also routinely infringed by strict censorship and the harassment of students and faculty members through such measures as detention without charge, town arrest, and restriction of travel.

Higher education in the West Bank suffered yet another blow on April 1, 1985, when the Settlements Council, which represents Jewish settlements in the West Bank, launched a formal campaign to close Birzeit University permanently. Elaine C. Hagopian, Public Affairs Association of Arab-American University Graduates Inc. Belmont, Mass.

In reading the article, ``11th-hour fight for aid to contras'' [April 23], I could not help but be offended by the characterization of the government of Nicaragua as ``Marxist.'' I consider this to be inaccurate and wonder this adjective was used. Nicaragua is not a one-party state. In comparison to other nations in the region it has conducted competitive and open elections, as has been confirmed by the Latin American Scholars Association. In fact, the three parties running to the left of the Sandinista's criticized the Sandinistas for their ``capitalist'' and ``bourgeois'' policies. Certainly Nicaragua has a state or nationalized sector in its economy. But it continues to have an even larger private sector. This makes it no more ``Marxist'' than Sweden or Great Britain. Kenneth A. Wilson Boulder, Colo.

Language can be subtly used to influence attitudes and opinions.

Therefore, when you insist on calling the government leaders of Nicaragua the ``ruling junta,'' [``Reagan's Nicaragua peace plan faces hard sell on Capitol Hill,'' April 8], you ignore the country's internationally supervised legal elections last November. ``Ruling junta'' means, to most people, a group of persons controlling a government, especially after a revolutionary seizure of power (Webster's).

On Page 2, quotation marks are around Gorbachev's ``peace initiative.'' The grammatical decision announces that the Soviet Union's moratorium on the deployment of certain missiles is not really a peace initiative. It is. I am sure that if President Reagan halted the stationing of US missiles, quotation marks around ``peace initiative'' would not be used. Laura Blacklow Cambridge, Mass.

The article ``Vatican reinforces Catholic prelate's role in Nicaragua'' [April 12] states, ``In a country as devoutly Roman Catholic as Nicaragua -- and, in spite of the Sandinista revolution in 1979, one of the most pious in Latin America . . .'' I think that is an incorrect and, worse, biased statement which does not stand in the face of the actual situation in that country. The church in Nicaragua is much freer to be the church than in El Salvador or Guatemala.

Not much is really mentioned about the Sandinistas' advances in meeting basic human needs in the 1979-81 period, before Nicaragua's resources were increasingly directed toward fighting the US organized and supplied contras.

The writer agrees that in this period, ``The Sandinistas made no move against the church, yet the archbishop and others . . . mistrusted the revolutionaries and feared they were leading the country down the Cuban path.'' The Sandinistas will only walk down a Soviet-Cuban path if the US forces them to do so, much as it forced the Cubans to do 25 years ago. Do we not learn from our mistakes? Rev. Conley A. Zomermaand High Falls, N.Y.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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