Subject: 12/7: Days of Infamy and the American Memory

Dissident Voice News Service Dispatches for December 7, 2001 #2

Days of Infamy and the American Memory 
By Matthew Jardine Dissident Voice; December 7, 2001

Like December 7, September 11 is now undoubtedly "a day that will live in infamy" in the collective memory of the United States. While differences are many, the two dates are undoubtedly alike in important ways: both involved attacks against important sites of U.S. power on American territory, caused the deaths of thousands, and prompted major American war efforts, in part, to avenge the original attacks.

What we recall about these dates, however, is perhaps not as important as what we do not remember about them. As writer Adam Hochschild has observed, "the world we live in . . . is shaped far less by what we celebrate and mythologize than by the painful events we try to forget." And what Americans tend to forget--or not even know--is that Dec. 7 and Sept. 11 also mark, respectively, the beginning and end of U.S. complicity in one of the worst cases of mass killing in the post-World War II era, that of East Timor.

It was on Dec. 7, 1975 that Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony. Then-President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had departed Indonesia only 16 hours earlier after having given the green light for the offensive to the country's dictator, General Suharto. A U.S. official explained a few months later why Washington condoned Jakarta's actions: "We regard Indonesia as a friendly, non-aligned nation--a nation we do a lot of business with."

In terms of East Timor, the business was a deadly one. Washington provided billions of dollars in weaponry, military training, and economic assistance--as well as diplomatic cover--to Jakarta during its more than 23-year occupation. The result was the deaths of well over 200,000 East Timorese--about one-third of the pre-invasion population.

Despite the efforts of the Indonesian military (TNI), however, the East Timorese resistance endured and ultimately prevailed in a United Nations-run referendum on the territory's political status in 1999. The result revealed overwhelming support for independence. But immediately thereafter, the TNI and its "militia" proxies launched a systematic campaign of revenge, destroying 70 percent of the territory's buildings and infrastructure, forcibly deporting about 250,000 people to Indonesia (where tens of thousands remain), and raping untold numbers of women--in addition to massacring at least 2,000. They created what many came to call, ironically, "Ground Zero."

It was not until Sept. 11, 1999--one week into the final campaign of terror--that President Bill Clinton finally ended all U.S. support for the TNI. Washington's ambassador to Jakarta at the time, Stapleton Roy, explained why it took a president who had once called U.S. policy toward East Timor "unconscionable" so long to end Washington's partnership in crime with resource-rich Indonesia. "The dilemma is that Indonesia matters and East Timor doesn't," he stated.

While Indonesia's brutal occupation is now over, Jakarta and its allies are trying to bury their ugly collective past. Although a U.N. commission recommended the establishment of an international tribunal for East Timor in January 2000, for example, the U.S. and other members of the Security Council instead deferred to Jakarta's demand that it have the right to prosecute its own. Almost two years later, Indonesia has not indicted anyone. But even if Indonesia were to do so, its planned tribunal would cover a handful of the atrocities committed in 1999 and completely overlook crimes perpetrated in 1975-1998.

Meanwhile, countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia--whose governments also enabled Indonesia's crimes in East Timor through massive military, economic, and diplomatic support--have enlisted in Washington's "war on terrorism" in the aftermath of the making of "Ground Zero" in New York. And like the United States, they continue to court resource-rich Indonesia while undermining the prospects for justice for impoverished East Timor.

If forgetting is a perpetuation of the crime, remembering can be a form of redemption. But the redemption must be one of action, not just words. Washington and its allies should actively support the establishment of an international criminal tribunal for East Timor for 1975-1999. They should also allow full disclosure of, and atone for their own roles in East Timor's suffering. Only in this manner can the United States and its partners demonstrate that they are truly committed to what now seems forgotten: that true justice requires accountability from all purveyors of terror and their backers--no matter who they are.


Matthew Jardine is the author of East Timor: Genocide in Paradise and the co-author of East Timor's Unfinished Struggle: Inside the Timorese Resistance. He is currently writing a book on the making of "Ground Zero" in East Timor in 1999.

see also ETAN Kissinger Page

Back to December 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