President Barack Obama

And did whatever you were told.

While Subud’s lack of overt dogmas sounded low-key and appealing to educated Westerners, in practice it was a classic charismatic cult with all power over the communes in the hands of the anointed leaders. The cult accumulated enough wealth to build a skyscraper in Jakarta and today seems most active in running a mining company in Indonesian Borneo.

I only became aware of Subud recently, from a friend who had the misfortune of growing up in a totalitarian Subud commune in England.

While Subud’s most ardent followers lived in communes, its political connections tended to be anti-Communist. Indonesia’s new dictator, General Suharto, publicly backed Subud.

It had been introduced to the English-speaking world in the 1950s by John G. Bennett, who had been a British intelligence agent in Istanbul and then a mining engineer. Subud was also a natural fit at the East-West Center at the U. of Hawaii.

Subud seems to have been especially influential among Australian elites posted to Jakarta. For example, novelist / adventuress Blanche D”€™Alpuget, the second wife of former Aussie prime minister Bob Hawke, was married to an Australian diplomat in Jakarta when she began her affair with the rising politician.

Murray Clapham, a legend among Australian foreign correspondents for his hard man’s role in the 1965 Indonesian countercoup, was another Subud follower. His 2011 obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald read:

Clapham appears to have been the model for at least one fictional Australian secret intelligence service officer in the Jakarta of the 1960s, when he was posted there as a diplomat in the Australian embassy. Clapham certainly looked the part and could have walked off the pages of the Christopher Koch novel The Year of Living Dangerously. It was a dangerous time and Clapham went well beyond the normal role of a diplomat in contacting and encouraging the anti-communist student groups known as KAMI and KAPPI. …

Like various other Western diplomats, Clapham was drawn to the spiritual group Subud, founded by the Javanese teacher Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo.

During the later 1960s, Subud became popular among Southern California rock stars, most famously Jim McGuinn, the frontman of The Byrds, who changed his name to Roger at Bapak’s command.

There exists an elaborate conspiracy theory that the SoCal rock scene of the 1960s was a front for the CIA to exercise cultural control over the new generation: the denizens of Laurel Canyon often came from old money (fellow Byrd David Crosby was both a Van Cortlandt and a Van Rensselaer) or military-industrial complex families. For instance, Jim Morrison’s father was the admiral who commanded the fleet during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which you must admit couldn”€™t possibly be a coincidence (assuming you are as high as the Lizard King).

But all that’s unnecessary: California in the 1960s was full of people who wanted to be hippies without being Communists. Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test argued that California hippies were drawn in two polar directions: toward Ken Kesey’s superhero-inspired “€œflag-flying neon Day-Glo America”€ or toward Timothy Leary’s Eastern-leaning Oriental quietism. (By the way, it’s not implausible that the Yale American Studies program where Wolfe earned his Ph.D. in 1957 was something of a CIA front.)

For those “€œseekers”€ attracted to the Wisdom of the East, Subud offered a syncretic Asian religion without any worries that you were coming under Chi-Com influence.

The marriage of Lolo and Stanley Ann was on the rocks by the time she enrolled in 1972 as a grad student at the East-West Center under anthropologist Alice Greeley Dewey (a descendant of two of the WASPiest figures in American history: philosopher John Dewey and newspaper editor Horace Greeley). But Obama’s mother kept returning to Indonesia (with the exception of a spell in Pakistan.)

An odd passage in the President’s life was his love affair in New York in 1983-1985 with Genevieve Cook, the daughter of the future Australian ambassador to the United States. She kept quiet about this until cooperating with Washington Post reporter David Maraniss for his exhaustive 2012 biography of Barack Obama. Maraniss describes their meeting at a Manhattan party from Miss Cook’s point of view, emphasizing how pleasantly surprised she was by how both had so many Indonesian connections. But Maraniss pointedly doesn”€™t mention the names of the people who must have carefully set up the meeting of the two Indophiles, Barack and Genevieve.

Her father, Michael J. Cook, had been the number two man in the Australian embassy in Jakarta (and now served as Prime Minister Hawke’s chief guru of intelligence). Her mother was an expert on Indonesian art. Her mother’s second husband, Philip C. Jessup Jr., was the son of a famous Truman Administration official, who himself was head lawyer for the International Nickel Company. The Washington Post reported in Jessup’s obituary:

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the company, known as Inco, entrusted him to help create a billion-dollar mining and smelting operation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Was getting Obama and Cook together a Subud operation?

That doesn”€™t sound impossible, but I haven”€™t found any evidence to support it.

A more straightforward explanation is that Genevieve’s stepbrother Tim Jessup is an anthropologist in Indonesia who knew the President’s mom.

It’s a small world, after all.



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