In 1975, the small country of East Timor situated in the Indonesian archipelago, claimed independence from Portugal. Later that year, Indonesia invaded East Timor. What transpired afterward was a bloody series of violent massacres, systematic ethnic cleansing and widespread displacement in order to make room for Indonesians and claim oil and gas rights for their own. This reprehensible series of events occurred with the support of the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia, who all stood to profit from the genocide in East Timor.
John Pilger, an Australian documentary film maker and journalist traveled to East Timor in the early 1990’s to document the ghastly effects of the genocide in East Timor and to interview the victims. In addition, he obtains interviews with major players in the events, including British masterminds of arms sales to Indonesia, the Indonesian foreign minister and the former Portuguese ambassador to Indonesia. Weaving together a web of first hand interviews and news footage of massacres in East Timor, Pilger creates a documentary that is hard to ignore.
The genocide in East Timor was a confluence of ethnic smugness of Indonesia and profits which flowed to Western defense and oil companies and to Suharto‘s incredible corrupt regime. The East Timorians, like the plights of many indigenous peoples, barely register on the radar of Americans or the British, enabling vast exploitation and murder without impunity. Unfortunately, the situation in East Timor is not unique and will continue to be repeated as long as first world countries demand resources and defense manufacturers continue to pollute our governments.
The connections of finance and warfare are insidious but not shocking. However, the brutal treatment of the East Timorians by the Indonesians sinks to levels visited by the Germans in WWII. Indonesian doctors willingly participated in mass sterilizations of East Timorian women, and in giving Depo-Provera shots without consent, ostensibly to eliminate the East Timorian population. East Timorians were moved to massive concentration camps and largely left to starve. The repercussions of a disrupted culture and mass displacement continue to plague the country to this day, which finally established itself as an independent state in 1999.
Death of a Nation is a masterpiece in documentary filmmaking, mostly for it’s massive impact in generating awareness for the West’s complicity in the genocide in East Timor. Pilger pulls no punches in describing the extent of the events, and offers no apologies for the actions of his countrymen. Although the subject matter of the documentary has long since passed, Death of Nation should continue to act as a record of the despicable nature of genocide and the economic and state forces which create conditions that enable it. in the history of documentary film, the impact of Death of Nation on public perception and policy cannot be underestimated.
You can watch the documentary, along with the rest of Pilger’s work here.