BP: Dramatic U-turn for US and Australia
John M. Miller
May 19, 2002 04:25 PDT
Perspective Sunday 19 May 2002
Dramatic U-turn for US and Australia
In many ways, East Timor's hard-won independence represents a humiliating
defeat for Australia and the US, whose anti-communist paranoia is
indirectly responsible for costing the new Southeast Asian nation's
anti-Jakarta resistance movement over 100,000 lives in its fight for freedom.
After Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, it imposed a news blackout. Its
troops hunted down Timorese resistance, and massacred civilians. From a
small radio mounted on the back of a donkey in the rugged highlands,
Fretilin's independence guerrillas broadcast rare news from the closed
territory. Across the Arafura Sea, Australia's government, appeasing
Jakarta, tried to block the transmissions. Police seized the radio
transceiver operated by a Timorese in Darwin.
A group of Australian leftists, dock workers, Timorese and Aborigines set
up a mobile transceiver. For three years they moved quietly around the
outback, communicating with the resistance and publicising the tragedy.
Federal Police scoured the Northern Territory but were unable to shut down
the radio link. While Indonesian, US and Australian officials covered up
and denied the genocide, a small team of Australian citizens put them to
shame. In late 1978, Indonesian forces killed Timor's resistance leader,
temporarily silencing Fretilin's radio. But resistance continued.
In 1999, regional countries like Australia and Thailand intervened to end
the tragedy, a decision partly owing to the efforts of Australians who had
kept open the flow of information about it. Tomorrow, after more than
100,000 deaths, 25 years of Indonesian occupation, and a UN interim
administration, East Timor becomes Southeast Asia's newest independent state.
Australians had first fought in Timor in 1942-43, when 50,000 East Timorese
perished under Japanese occupation. Australia's consul there in 1962-64,
James Dunn, called this "one of the great catastrophes of World War II."
In 1974, Colonel Bernard Callinan recalled the debt his men owed the
Timorese. He said veterans ``would feel betrayed by an Australian
government that made a facile decision on the future of these friendly,
loyal and courageous people.'' He urged, ``Our Government should ensure
that at least ample time and facilities are given them in their time of
uncertainty to determine and express freely their desires for the future.''
But Australia acquiesced in the 1975 invasion. Again, Timorese had to fight
on alone. And Callinan changed his mind. He wrote in 1977: ``Having lived
with, and closely with, these people, I am convinced that East Timor is not
a viable independent nation. To talk of these people exercising a free
choice is to be quite unrealistic.''
Why did Col. Callinan abandon East Timor? Much of the answer lies in the
Asian policies of Australian anti-communists, and of the USA.
ANTI-COMMUNISM AND ASIA
Callinan was a key figure in Australia's secretive, right-wing National
Civic Council. The NCC's President, B.A. (Bob) Santamaria (1915-1998)
supported Fascism during the 1930s. He opposed Hitler's repression of
Catholics, but in 1939 he denied Germany was ``sufficiently criminal in its
mentality to desire war.'' The anti-communist Movement, which Santamaria
formed in the 1940s, attempted to take over the Australian Labour Party.
When that failed, he supported the conservative parties, helping keep
Labour out of office until 1972.
Santamaria opposed the White Australia policy, but he also opposed
Indonesia's independence in 1949. He hoped Australia ``could be a major
force in the conversion of Asia to Christianity'', and remain ``a nation of
primarily European texture''. He feared ``Australia will be destroyed'' by
communism, Islam, Hinduism or a pagan occupying power, and in 1951 he
predicted war ``against the Asiatic countries''. News Weekly, which
Santamaria edited, warned that 1952 might be ``one of the last years in the
history of the Australian nation as we know it.''
War escalated in Vietnam. Callinan became an adviser to the
Catholic-dominated Diem regime, and Santamaria became a prominent advocate
of US and Australian intervention. News Weekly editorialised that there
were ``no children burned by napalm'', with titles like ``Napalm? No,
Stolen Petrol'', and ``The Great Napalm Lie Exposed''. Santamaria argued
that ``the number of victims is minimal, because the Americans have
undertaken extraordinary precautions''. His explanation was: ``Many
children were burned by overturned oil lamps or by the explosion of
kerosene lamps into which their parents had poured high-octane petrol taken
from fuel dumps''. Santamaria called the My Lai slaughter a ``battle''. The
dead women and children were termed surrendered combatants. Santamaria
regarded Nixon's 1970 invasion of Cambodia as ``long overdue'' and urged
its expansion. He dismissed the publication of the Pentagon Papers,
denouncing ``North Vietnamese wolves in New York Times clothing.''
Santamaria recommended a fellow Catholic and Movement official, James
McAuley, as editor of the magazine Quadrant, launched with CIA funding in
1956. McAuley visited Jakarta after Suharto's 1965 takeover of Indonesia,
during the massacre of 800,000 communists, which the CIA termed ``one of
the worst mass murders of the 20th century''. Time called it ``the West's
best news for years in Asia''. In Quadrant, McAuley wrote: ``The coup and
its bloody aftermath had resulted in a strange stalemate at the time of my
visit. From such a fluid and ambiguous situation anything can arise, and I
shall not speculate upon possibilities...'' Its CIA sponsor found Quadrant
``too right wing'', citing regular contributors like Santamaria.
Quadrant ignored this advice. Its future co-editor, Heinz Arndt, wrote in
1968 that in Indonesia "there is still much exercise of arbitrary power by
civil and military officials, especially outside Djakarta, acts of
oppression, even persecution... But most of this reflects, not the will of
the Suharto Government, but its inability or reluctance to assert its will.
(It) is genuinely and desperately anxious not to be thought undemocratic,
militaristic, dictatorial. It wants to educate and persuade, not to ride
roughshod over anyone."
The stage was set for Australian acquiescence in Suharto's invasion of East
Timor. The US helped too.
KISSINGER AND TIMOR
On 6 December 1975, US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger visited Jakarta. They approved the invasion, launched the next day.
Suharto told them: "We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to
take rapid or drastic action." Ford replied: "We will understand and will
not press you on the issue." Kissinger added: "You appreciate that the use
of US-made arms could create problems. It depends on how we construe it;
whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation. It is important
that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the
reaction in America if whatever happens happens after we return. This way
there would be less chance of people talking in an unauthorized way... We
understand your problem and the need to move quickly Whatever you do,
however, we will try to handle in the best way possible. If you have made
plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President
Back in Washington, Kissinger saw a State Department cable describing
Indonesia's use of US weapons in East Timor as violating the terms of their
supply, legally requiring an end to deliveries. He scolded his aides: "I
thought we had a disciplined group; now we've gone to pieces completely."
He argued there was no need to record a token order to end arms supplies.
"I said do it for a few weeks and then open up again." Philip Habib was
confident: "The cable will not leak." Kissinger retorted: "Yes it will and
it will go to Congress too and then we will have hearings on it." He
warned: "It will have a devastating impact on Indonesia... And we can't
construe a Communist government in the middle of Indonesia as
self-defense?... (The cable) will leak in three months and it will come out
that Kissinger overruled his pristine bureaucrats and violated the law...
You have a responsibility to recognize that we are living in a
revolutionary situation. Everything on paper will be used against me ... it
will be a national disaster."
Kissinger asked: "Am I wrong in assuming that the Indonesians will go up in
smoke if they hear about this? I know what the law is but how can it be in
the US national interest for us to kick the Indonesians in the teeth." When
asked, "What do we say to Congress if we're asked?" Kissinger replied: "We
cut it off while we are studying it. We intend to start again in January."
There was no effective interruption of US weapons supplies to Indonesia.
COVER-UP DOWN UNDER
Australia's ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, cabled home
recommending "Kissingerian realism". Woolcott, Callinan and Santamaria soon
became spokesmen for Indonesia's case. Callinan said that "to talk of
Indonesia withdrawing is not only unreal, it can also only cause
unnecessary friction between Australia and its nearest neighbour."
News Weekly accused Fretilin of "mass executions". It called author James
Dunn "a committed supporter of Fretilin" leading a "Campaign against
Indonesia". Patrick Walsh describes Santamaria's approach: "A report from
Indonesian Church sources compiled in late 1976 painted a black picture of
60,000 to 100,000 deaths (in East Timor), widespread opposition to
Indonesia and widespread support of Fretilin. Clearly there was a need to
keep the source of the document confidential -- such information from
Church sources in Jakarta was in direct contradiction to everything Jakarta
was saying about Timor. Mr Santamaria's Point of View article (9.2.77)
claimed that the source of the report "has never been identified" (true)
but then falsely claims, "nobody knows who produced" the reports (false).
The reason the source had to remain confidential was obvious -- but
Santamaria used this to discredit the information."
Only two months later, Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik conceded that
"50,000 people or perhaps 80,000 might have been killed during the war in
Why did Santamaria try to cover up this tragedy? First, he claimed, "a
government dominated by the Fretilin would extend the tentacles of
Communist subversion to Australia's doorstep". Worse, "an independent East
Timor ... open to Red Chinese or Russian influence, could easily become a
base of subversion, influencing all these repressed and discontented
elements" in Indonesia."
Second, Santamaria shared the official view of successive Australian Prime
Ministers Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating, that relations with
anti-communist Indonesia were crucial to Australian security. Canberra
would not oppose Jakarta's violation of international law. This was wrongly
Finally, Santamaria believed that Australia's domestic "Left" could not go
unchallenged, whatever the truth of its case for East Timor. If its
criticisms were credible, that was yet more dangerous.
Acknowledgement of this, or silence, he thought would yield ground to the
Left. So the policy's very indefensibility ensured that it would be
defended. Like many international ideologues, Santamaria's priority was not
to address problems of East Timor, but to combat communist influence at home.
The attacks on James Dunn spread to the US Congress in 1977. Republican
Herbert Burke lambasted him and asserted that "it is in all our interests
to bury the Timor issue quickly and completely". The State Department's
1977 Human Rights Report did not mention Timor.
In Quadrant in 1976, Heinz Arndt asserted: "At no stage has there been any
assertion by Indonesia of irredentist claims on East Timor." There was a
"Vendetta Against Indonesia", he wrote in 1979. Decrying their
"unrestrained abuse and wild charges", Arndt denounced Jakarta's critics as
"radical ideologues, aggrieved journalists, emotional priests and Wilsonian
idealists." He pilloried Dunn as "grossly inaccurate". But Indonesia's new
Foreign Minister Mochtar Kusumaatmadja now estimated that 120,000 Timorese
had died since 1975.
Still Suharto's forces could not destroy Fretilin's "gangs of security
disruptors" (GPK). Indonesian commanders acknowledged in 1982 that "despite
the heavy pressure and the disadvantageous conditions under which they
operate, the GPK has nevertheless been able to hold out in the bush, and
can still deploy a very sizeable concentration of forces in one place."
After seven years, Fretilin "support networks" still existed "in all
settlements, the villages as well as the towns." These "underground
networks are closely related to customs and to the family system."
Indonesia aimed "to obliterate the classic GPK areas and crush the GPK
remnants to their roots."
A Quadrant columnist lauded Suharto's Indonesia as "relatively
pluralistic". Conservative leader of the Opposition (currently Prime
Minister) John Howard complained that "the preoccupation of the left of
Australian politics with East Timor has needlessly soured our relations
with Indonesia." Quadrant labelled critics of Arndt "fanatical anti-semites".
In 1995, its columnist called pro-Timor activists "lunatics", adding:
"Timor is unfortunate, and when President Suharto shuts down a newspaper it
does not make me happy. But it probably makes the ordinary people of
Indonesia very happy indeed that he is steadily improving their living
Arndt excoriated "the fanatical East Timor lobby", for "its perennial
campaign of propaganda and disinformation against Indonesia". Another
Quadrant contributor asserted that "even in human rights there is a case
for Suharto", who was merely "a monster of the Left's imagination."
In 1995 Arndt saw "little evidence that the majority of East Timorese want
independence. The majority who have benefited greatly from very large
Indonesian expenditure on roads and other infrastructure and on health and
education, so long neglected by the Portuguese, are by all disinterested
accounts not dissatisfied." Only four years later, however, 79% of Timorese
voted for independence in the August 1999 UN-organised referendum. James
Dunn was vindicated.
As the referendum approached, Indonesian officers and militia commanders
met in Dili in February 1999. Lt-Col Yahyat Sudrajad called for the killing
of pro-independence leaders, their children and grandchildren, after
receiving orders from senior commanders. Killing recommenced the next day.
Survivors fled to churches and priests' homes. The governor of East Timor,
Abilio Soares, ordered "that the priests and nuns should be killed". But
Heinz Arndt decried charges of genocide as "propaganda".
Indonesia's commander Tono Suratman warned: "If the pro-independents do win
... all will be destroyed. It will be worse than 23 years ago". An army
document ordered that "massacres should be carried out from village to
village after the announcement of the ballot if the pro-independence
supporters win". Timor's independence movement "should be eliminated from
its leadership down to its roots". After the vote, pro-Indonesian militias
went on a rampage, killing hundreds of people, deporting hundreds of
thousands, and destroying 80% of the territory's homes.
$1 billion in US, British and Australian military supplies had enabled
Jakarta to repeat the Timorese tragedy.
Australian public opinion, which favoured self-determination for East
Timor, now forced Canberra to end the appeasement. As the international
community finally obliged Indonesia to withdraw, Australian troops led a UN
force into Dili, joined by a Thai battalion.
The international commitment remains shaky. The President of the US Asia
Pacific Policy Center said in 1999: "Timor is a speed bump on the road to
dealing with Jakarta, and we've got to get over it safely".
Asia's newest democracy deserves a better deal from Washington, which
violated US law to arm the aggressor. $1 billion in economic aid to Timor
seems appropriate. And if Indonesia's courts fail to deliver justice for
the Timorese, the UN must establish an International Tribunal.
- Ben Kiernan, A.Whitney Griswold Professor of History and Director of the
Genocide Studies Program at Yale University, is author of The Pol Pot
Regime (Yale/Silkworm, 1996).