Subject: Letter to JRH from Tom Gallagher

An open letter to Jose Ramos Horta:

As a long time supporter of East Timor's independence who counted himself fortunate to serve as a UN Election Officer in your country's 1999 independence plebiscite, I was quite disturbed to read your February 24 New York Times opinion piece embracing the Bush Administration's threatened attack on Iraq ("War for Peace? It Worked in My Country.") One doesn't lightly disagree with a decades-long resistance leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner on matters of war and peace, but in this case silence seems even a less tenable option.

Simply put, the "war for peace" of your article's headline just didn't happen. The fact that you didn't write the headline is a fair enough defense -- so far as it goes. Story writers seldom write their headlines, and we know that an identical piece may appear in numerous publications under varying titles. But you can perhaps see how when you write -- in the context of telling the current antiwar movement to stay home -- of how independence leaders "begged a foreign power to free us from oppression, by force if necessary," a headline writer with less than thorough knowledge of East Timor's history might conclude that this war of liberation from outside must indeed have happened.

But, as you know better than almost anyone else, while foreign powers did have a great deal to do with the end of East Timor's oppression, whose final form was the massacre of upwards of a thousand by local Indonesian-armed "militias" in retribution for the pro-independence vote, those foreign powers, most notably the US and Australia, didn't invade.

They didn't have to. All they, and a few others like the United Kingdom, had to do was emphatically tell Indonesia to make the killing stop -- something they had not previously seen fit to do during its twenty-four year occupation of your country that cost the lives of perhaps a third to a half of the population. By the time foreign troops arrived, they were part of a true peacekeeping mission, not an invasion, because the Indonesian government had put out the word that the occupation of East Timor was finally to be over.

And not only had the US, the UK and Australia not been making an honest effort to get Indonesia to free your people, but for most of the occupation's history, these three governments were its prime facilitators. Indonesia invaded your country using American weapons, with the knowledge of the White House. And when East Timor's American supporters eventually succeeded in making enough members of Congress aware that we were facilitating the attrocities being committed upon your people, the UK took over as Indonesia's principal weapons supplier. But weapons sales nowithstanding, even Washington and London refused to recognize the invasion and occupation of East Timor as legitmate -- Australia stood alone among the world's major nations in doing so.

No, these outside powers waged no war of liberation on behalf of East Timor, but it is not terribly surprising that a New York Times headline writer might not know that. After all, the Times went years without even mentioning occupied East Timor, while small groups of your supporters tried to keep your people's memory alive among the American people.

Although your selective use of certain parts of your country's history in the support of the current foreign policy aims of the two countries that provided most of the armamnets used to suppress your people seems particularly perverse, I can certainly understand how the Foreign Minister of one of the world's newest, smallest, and poorest nations might want to have a freind in the White House, something you didn't have over the course of that murderous quarter of a century.

But I would nonetheless ask you to consider who your real American friends are. I'm sure that you know that if you should ever poll the Americans who supported your people's cause over the years you will find the vast majority in opposition to this Administration's Iraq war plans. Although we detest Saddam Hussein's government every bit as much as you do, we simply do not beleive that raining death down upon the Iraqi people represents a step toward world freedom.

Throughout your country's struggle, you did not lead us astray. We would not lead you astray now.


Tom Gallagher San Francisco, CA

Back to March 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