Subject: BP: Dramatic U-turn for US and Australia

Bangkok Post 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.


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.


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 returns home."

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.


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 Timor."

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 considered realpolitik.

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 standards."

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).

Back to May menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from