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East Timor - Flagged

It is not easy to write with feigned calm and dispassion about the events that unfolded in East Timor in 1999. Horror and shame are compounded by the fact that the crimes are so familiar and could so easily have been terminated. That has been true ever since Indonesia invaded in December 1975, relying on U.S. diplomatic support and arms — used illegally, but with secret authorisation, even new arms shipments sent under the cover of an official embargo. There has been no need to threaten bombing or even sanctions. It would, very likely, have sufficed for the U.S. and its allies to withdraw their participation, and to inform their close associates in the Indonesian military command that the atrocities must be terminated and the territory granted the right of self-determination that has been upheld by the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. We cannot undo the past, but should at least be willing to recognise what we have done, and to face the moral responsibility of saving the remnants and providing ample reparations, a pathetic gesture of compensation for terrible crimes.

The latest chapter in this painful story of betrayal and complicity opened after the referendum of August 30, 1999, when the population voted overwhelmingly for independence. Atrocities mounted sharply, organised and directed by the Indonesian military (TNI). The UN Assistance Mission (UNAMET) gave its appraisal on September 11:

The evidence for a direct link between the militia and the military is beyond any dispute and has been overwhelmingly documented by UNAMET over the last four months. But the scale and thoroughness of the destruction of East Timor in the past week has demonstrated a new level of open participation of the military in the implementation of what was previously a more veiled operation.

The Mission warned that "the worst may be yet to come... It cannot be ruled out that these are the first stages of a genocidal campaign to stamp out the East Timorese problem by force."[1]

Indonesia historian John Roosa, an official observer of the vote, described the situation starkly: "Given that the pogrom was so predictable, it was easily preventable... But in the weeks before the ballot, the Clinton Administration refused to discuss with Australia and other countries the formation of [an international force]. Even after the violence erupted, the Administration dithered for days,"[2] until compelled by international (primarily Australian) and domestic pressure to make some timid gestures. These limited measures sufficed to induce the Indonesian generals to reverse course and to accept an international presence, illustrating the latent power that has always been at hand, overwhelmingly so since Indonesia’s economic collapse in 1997.

These recent events should evoke bitter memories among those who do not prefer what has sometimes been called ‘intentional ignorance’.[3] They were a shameful replay of events of 20 years earlier. After carrying out a huge slaughter in 1977-78 with the support of the Carter Administration, the regime of General Suharto felt confident enough to permit a brief visit by members of the Jakarta diplomatic corps, among them U.S. Ambassador Edward Masters. The Ambassadors and the journalists who accompanied them recognised that an enormous humanitarian catastrophe had been created, reminiscent of Biafra and Cambodia. The aftermath was described by the distinguished Indonesia scholar Benedict Anderson. "For nine long months" of starvation and terror, Anderson testified at the United Nations, "Ambassador Masters deliberately refrained, even within the walls of the State Department, from proposing humanitarian aid to East Timor," waiting "until the generals in Jakarta gave him the green light" — until they felt "secure enough to permit foreign visitors," as an internal State Department document recorded. Only then did Washington consider taking some steps to deal with the consequences of its actions.[4]

While Clinton followed suit from February through August of 1999, the Indonesian military implemented a scarcely-veiled campaign of terror and intimidation that may have killed thousands of people. And as he "dithered" in the final weeks, most of the population were expelled from their homes with unknown numbers killed and much of the country destroyed. According to UN figures, the TNI-paramilitary campaign "drove an estimated 750,000 of East Timor’s 880,000 people from their homes,"[5] probably some 250,000 or more to Indonesian West Timor — elsewhere too, according to many reports, though no one is investigating. The Air Force that was able to carry out pin-point destruction of civilian targets in Novi Sad, Belgrade and Ponceva a few months before, lacked the capacity to drop food to hundreds of thousands of people facing starvation in the mountains to which they have been driven by the TNI forces armed and trained by the United States, and its no less cynical allies. The Administration also took no meaningful action to rescue the several hundred thousand captives held by paramilitaries in West Timor.


Flag Note

Almost Chomskyan in its polemical lucidity, this is a fine essay that we dare not review (we restrict ourselves, out of modesty, to student essays).
Submitted by: sheetal

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