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Scorched Earth

Peacekeeping in Timor during a campaign of death and destruction

Authors: Tammy Pemper
(15 customer reviews)
Australian Peacekeeper
C Format

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Long listed in the 2019/20 ADAPTABLE Program with Queensland Writes Centre

A dramatic story of the forgotten heroes who faced down the military might of a neighbouring giant.
Peter Watt, Bestselling Australian Author

An exceptional book that fills the gap in our 24 years of horrific terror.
Bi-Hali Gusmao, Vice-President of Veterans Institution, Dili, East Timor

As an UN peacekeeper, I joined the East Timorese fight for life. By then, the earth had drunk the blood of one third of their population. But worse was still to come.

I would see it for myself.

I saw bodies carried to their deaths, machetes carve flesh from bone, and bullets spray into crowds of Timorese and at us peacekeepers. I learned the true meaning of fear, hopelessness, and courage. Shades of truth were twisted for evil gain. Every day I prepared to die. Decisions I made, which seemed so right, jeopardized the lives of others.

Police held automatic weapons to my head, militia wrote my name on death lists, and people drew their last breath, all of them brave, braver than me.

For this is the true story of my experience. In the midst of the East Timorese fight for independence, militia were determined to enact their scorched earth policy and raze Timor to the ground.

Timorese voted, Timor burned. It is their story, our story: a story that must be told.

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Tammy Pemper

Tammy Pemper

Tammy Pemper is an Australian writer who has worked with the United Nations, Australian Federal Police, and the US Peace Corps to name a few. She is married to Peter, the Australian peacekeeper who is the central figure in this book, and came under fire in Timor. In addition to her passion for writing, Tammy continues to support projects worldwide, […]

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15 reviews for Scorched Earth

  1. The media release promised an unimaginable story of horror, violence and trauma, but also of extraordinary human spirit. Pemper delivered this in her story of Peter Watt’s first fortnight’s experience in East Timor during the time of the referendum and the violent uprisings in response to the result, before the evacuation of the UN ahead of INTERFET. This was a gripping book, full of detail and descriptions that at times made the stomach lurch. It opened with an explanation of the unwritten rules of peacekeeping, the frst being neutrality, and how Watt couldn’t remain neutral in his drive to retain his humanity; a position the book didn’t shirk from holding. I thoroughly recommend it to all, but particularly to those of you teaching Australia’s Engagement with Asia in Year 12, or Movements for Peace and Security in Year 11.

  2. The book was so amazing to read! All I can say is just WOW! I was absolutely hooked from the start. The love the main character has for his Shayhara was so sweet and fairytale worthy. I can’t even tell you the last time I picked up a book, and I never thought I would again but the author has definitely changed that for me. And I am so very thankful for that. I really just want to know so much more. It’s like I’ve got the start of the movie paused and I need to see the rest of it, that’s how I feel. So excited. I can’t wait for the next book. I’ve read Scorched Earth through once and am starting on reading it again.

  3. Tammy and Peter have made a most significant contribution to public awareness of the nature of service of our Aussie Police officers serving in international hotspots. Having served on many Army and AFP deployments myself , this is a gripping account of the stressors involved . It also speaks to the positive humanitarian contribution we are making in the service of peace. I look forward now to the next book and hearing more of their compassion in action response.

  4. (verified owner)

    I just couldn’t put this book down and finished it over 5 nights of reading till I just HAD to get some sleep. It’s riveting but dramatic in its presentation and felt for the people so much that you thought you were there right alongside of them helping to fight their battles. But appreciate those that did as I know I would not ever be that brave. Thankyou

  5. Scorched Earth by Tammy Pemper is a unique narrative-style biography that tells Peter Watt’s story of his service with UNAMET in East Timor between 28/8/99 to 15/9/99. Pemper uses Watt’s voice throughout the story. The effect of which elevates the tension and danger of Watt’s experiences. Through Watt’s eyes you get to feel the fear, anger and frustration he and his colleagues experienced. The increased level of verbal and non-verbal intimidation by the integrationist militia was unrelenting during that polling day and subsequent days and post the result. But nothing could stop the Timorese from casting their vote.

    Scorched Earth is a very important re-examination of the birth of the fragile democracy that grew out of the referendum result. Pemper and Watt drag the reader into this conflict. Watt’s voice is strong and vulnerable. His fears and frustrations elicit a sense of hopelessness and admiration of, not only his effort and that of all those attached to the UN, but that of the Timorese who stood up to the militia and Indonesia to claim their island for themselves.

  6. Riveting read…..Viva Timor Leste. #easttimor #interfet #timor #scorchedearth Shannon French #instragram

  7. I received the book two days ago, and it has been read. I couldn’t put it down.

    It triggered a lot of memories of a time that none of us who were there will forget. Those who were not there may gain some understanding of what happened but will never truly know the impact that it had on lives, Timorese lives, peacekeepers lives, electoral personnel’s lives. There were things we witnessed in total and absolute certainty that convinced us at the time that the people in charge of everything were professionals at turning a blind eye, putting a good face on, and in reality, lying to the world about the reality within which we were living. While I returned there 2000-2001 with UNTAET, it was good to see the healing that was happening, but there was that undercurrent of tension and horrific memories of the inhumanity which was suffered by the Timorese, a legacy which generations will have to deal with.

    A compelling read. A must read.

  8. What an amazing read. The author not only depicts the cruelty, horrors and devastation of a small nation under siege, but also highlights the extraordinary courage and sheer bravery, not only of the peacekeepers, but also of the Timorese people. This is a part of history that should be told and never forgotten. I am not a big reader but once started, I could not put this book down. Tammy Pemper and Peter Watt have illustrated the horrific effects of gross cruelty and intimidation on an innocent nation and the heroic stand by the persecuted inhabitants. Tammy and Peter – a great read, well done.

  9. I found this book very revealing of what the East Timorese suffered during the occupation. The bravery and courage of the UN police and military peacekeepers and the Timorese people is beyond belief. This true story is well worth reading for readers to have first hand knowledge of the reality of what the Timorese went through during this time of terror. I couldn’t put it down. 

  10. Well said Tammy, Even my experiences in Vietnam cant compare with what you must have seen and heard. I for one will be purchasing your book.
    Gavin A. O’Brien | 29 August 2019 | Eureka Street

  11. Thank you to Tammy Pemper for this very moving article and to Eureka Street Magazine for publishing it. And how appropriate it was that Tammy’s book “Scorched Earth” was published just before the twentieth anniversary of the 1999 UN supervised independence referendum in East Timor. While we must pay great tribute to the East Timorese defenders in the armed and civil disobedience resistance for the independence of Timor-Leste, we must never forget the great contribution made by the UN personnel and the civilian police who had to supervise the exercise. Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 26 August 2019| Eureka Street

  12. I chose not to watch Timorese get shot at as they escaped to Dare. Instead, I marched back towards the buildings, leaving Ralph to vainly yell at them not to run. I passed Timorese families sitting on the ground near the buildings. They were just looking at one another as if trying to memorise each other’s faces, as if trying to say their goodbyes. I could see their look of hopelessness. Others were dancing closely for the last time. I had to block out my emotions to prevent myself from crying for them.

    Eureka Street – read full story here

  13. A powerful and well written account of the horrors experienced by the Timorese people seeking their independence and those who went to their aid – Police Peace Keepers – unarmed – it brought tears to my eyes – thank you Tammy for your portrait of this time and place.

  14. I am not the best reader of books but this book felt like I was watching a movie. I had goosebumps reading most of the way. Superbly written and gripping account of life before and after the vote in Timor. I wish that we all had of been sent to East Timor sooner to help Peter and the other brave UN peacekeepers. 5 stars isn’t enough. – Shannon French, East Timor Veteran 6RAR 2000

  15. Best war book l’ve read since Danger Close. Gripping from the first page to the last. Despite an awareness of the Timor situation, I was shocked how little the Australian public had been allowed to know. The reader experiences first hand the unfolding horror of the narrator who in fifteen days went from a starry eyed idealist to a shell shocked survivor. The reader lives each moment of terror along with the unarmed outnumbered UN peace keepers. A book to traumatise and provide nightmares for years to come. If it was a movie, it would be R18. Fully recommend to anyone seeking to understand Asia. Great work, Tammy.

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