by Geoffrey Robinson
This is a book about a terrible spate of mass violence. It is also about a rare success in bringing such violence to an end. "If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die" tells the story of East Timor, a half-island that suffered genocide after Indonesia invaded in 1975, and which was again laid to waste after the population voted for independence from Indonesia in 1999. Before international forces intervened, more than half the population had been displaced and 1,500 people killed. Geoffrey Robinson, an expert in Southeast Asian history, was in East Timor with the United Nations in 1999 and provides a gripping first-person account of the violence, as well as a rigorous assessment of the politics and history behind it.
Robinson debunks claims that the militias committing the violence in East Timor acted spontaneously, attributing their actions instead to the calculation of Indonesian leaders, and to a "culture of terror" within the Indonesian army. He argues that major powers--notably the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom--were complicit in the genocide of the late 1970s and the violence of 1999. At the same time, Robinson stresses that armed intervention supported by those powers in late 1999 was vital in averting a second genocide. Advocating accountability, the book chronicles the failure to bring those responsible for the violence to justice.
A riveting narrative filled with personal observations, documentary evidence, and eyewitness accounts, "If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die" engages essential questions about political violence, international humanitarian intervention, genocide, and transitional justice.
Geoffrey Robinson is professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. His books include The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali. Before coming to UCLA, he worked for six years at Amnesty International's headquarters in London. From June to November 1999, he served as a political affairs officer with the United Nations in Dili, East Timor. Robinson lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.
"Intimate, informed . . . the author offers rare insight into the country's internal turmoil. Particularly riveting are Robinson's descriptions of the days preceding the historic vote to separate from Indonesia. . . . Despite the overwhelming brutality of the story, and a bleak assessment of actions from the UN and international community (as much a part of the problem as the solution), Robinson manages to cap his detailed report with a hopeful note."--Publishers Weekly
"Robinson was a UN officer stationed in East Timor and his account is illuminating and horrifying."--Billy Heller, New York Post
"[A] fine book. . . . [T]hough enlivened by the narrative of Mr Robinson's own time as a participant in and eyewitness to the events described, ['If You Leave Us Here, We Will Die'] is also a subtle and nuanced work of history and analysis."--Economist
"There is valuable and thought-provoking material in this book."--Peter Rodgers, The Australian
"A compelling body of documentary and first-person evidence that Indonesian military and civilian leaders orchestrated the shocking violence that marred East Timor's birth as a nation. . . . To be sure, it a sad story, but also one in which international intervention ultimately prevented a much greater disaster. . . . Compelling."--Angilee Shah, Zocalo
Published: Thursday, April 22, 2010