Book Preview

Scorched Earth

Peacekeeping in Timor during a campaign of death and destruction

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

Buy E-books

Shortlisted in the 2022 International Page Turner Screenplay (Book Adaptation) Award

Quarter Finalist in the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition

Finalist in the 2020 International Book Awards – Biography, History: Military, Non-Fiction and Christian Inspirational Categories

Long listed in the 2019/20 ADAPTABLE Program with Queensland Writers 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.

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, […]

Read More

34 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.

  16. Told through the eyes of Watt, his personal feelings and reactions to events complement the historical telling. There is an expansive array of coloured photographs of Aug-Sep 99, and another of Watt’s subsequent visits in the last 20 years.

  17. There has been no ‘laundering’ of events in this account which Pemper has fastidiously researched and tells it as it happened and is comfortable in ‘naming names’.

  18. At times this book reads like a thriller. But you have to keep reminding yourself this is all real. This is what the Timorese people went through to throw off Indonesian rule for the right to determine their own future. It’s a timely reminder of how we should value the freedom of self-determination.

  19. As part of an UN Deployment, Peter Watts bore witness to the horror and violence enacted during the East Timor referendum. A powerful true story of the horrors experienced by the Timorese people and those who went to their aid. of UN sanctions.

  20. I’ve read this book, it’s a good read, interesting part of Timor’s and Australia’s history.

  21. The book is a window into the dangerous days of the 1999 referendum in East Timor. It’s a fascinating look at political events that have happened in our lifetime and with our near neighbours Indonesia and Timor. This is a story of courageous people who are prepared to die for the slim chance they could create a democratic country of their own.
    Using Peter Watt’s diaries, Tammy Pemper has recreated the events of 1999 clearly and concisely. The book gives you a good understanding of the day to day operations of the peacekeepers and an insight into their relationship with the resourceful local Timorese people. Peter Watt shares his highs and lows and the frustrations of his UN mission where the future of East Timor lay on a knife’s edge. I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

  22. “We’re given access into stories of people like Juvinal and Nikolai, local men who worked for the UN, and Esmeralda, a Catholic nun who repeatedly put her own life on the line in standing up for the East Timorese people.
    In giving a ground level view of the events leading up to the INTERFET deployment in 1999, Scorched Earth conveys a strong sense of the confusion, uncertainty and, yes, impotence which Watt and other peace-keepers felt as well as the vividly painting a picture of the horrors the East Timorese faced in their struggle for independence.
    But it also shows the resilience of spirit among the East Timorese and how, often at a cost to their own lives, they stood up to be counted despite the sustained campaign of terror – “scorched Earth” – waged against them, so they and their families could have a different future.”

  23. Pemper has an impressive command of language, a necessary skill for creating a sense of place in what could easily be a generic theatre of war. Woven into the background details is this lingering sense of danger and disturbance. It feels precarious.
    Pemper uses a cinematic technique of panning the camera around and letting the observer discover the patterns and what’s out of place. We see more than guns and bloodshed. We see a panorama of the quiet everyday before being pierced once more by military aggression. We see beyond what is there. We see what is lost, and what is at stake.
    The novel contains a respectable amount of technical detail. Pemper names all the various factions and splinter groups and military units, for all those war-history wonks out there. But more than that, the events have been crafted into the narrative arc of a pleasingly familiar three-act structure. Peter changes because he is affected by the events. We care about his journey. It is not like reading an officer’s log or a collection of newspaper clips. Despite half the chapter having headings that are dates, this doesn’t feel at all like journal entries.”

  24. Book Review: SCORCHED EARTH By Tammy Pemper (2019)
    One of the more challenging aspects to address in the Australia’s Engagement with Asia depth study is East Timor, owing to the dearth of available resources to support teachers in addressing its complexities. Consequently, when I came across Scorched Earth, I knew it was a must read for the holidays. I was hopeful it would provide me with a deeper understanding of the experience of the East Timorese and UN Peacekeepers during the referendum for independence in 1999, as context for Australia’s involvement in INTERFET.
    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 Watts’ 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 first being neutrality, and how Watts couldn’t remain neutral in his drive to retain his humanity; a position the book didn’t shirk from holding. This provided me with many opportunities to note down extracts to use with my students to highlight the concept of contestability and explore the responses of Australia and the world to the developments. There are parts of this book I will be using with my students, but its greatest value lays in the enhanced picture and understanding I now have of the chaos in East Timor during their move towards independence.
    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.

  25. Scorched Earth is a story of heartbreak and loss, but also of tenacity and hope. Unfolding events are brilliantly and movingly conveyed through one man’s eyes. This is a valuable historical document bursting with raw human experience; it captured my attention and my heart to the very end.

  26. The author has captured the main character’s voice so well and bravely, and provided a graphic and detailed account. The account of competing interests, so many lives lost with such brutality, divided loyalties and the wheels within wheels weaving through Timorese society, illustrating the futility and the hope of the Timor struggle. It’s indeed compelling reading. We would not be surprised to see a movie come from the book.
    I give the book 5 stars without hesitation. I have read every book of Wilbur Smith and one of author Peter Watt; Scorched Earth is certainly there with these great writers.

  27. Excellent well written recent history of a modern day tragedy. The story told from the perspective of an Australian policeman and a group of United Nations Peacekeepers. The country of East Timor is holding a referendum on independence from Indonesia. The story showcases the catastrophic failure of the United Nations that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

  28. I laughed, I cried and it had me in the edge. I’m going to read it again because I’m missing it. I didn’t want the book to end. It 100% needs to be made into a movie. It was amazing.

  29. I loved this book on a number of levels. It was a gripping read which I found hard to put down and although this is primarily a book written by one Australian Federal Police Officer about another it is so, so much more. It not only draws the reader into Peter’s thoughts and dangerous time during the referendum, it transcends to another level as the endurance, bravery and horrors of the Timorese are so meaningfully and intimately part of Peter Watt’s story and actions. That Australian-Timorese bond and respect that began with Sparrow Force members during World War 2 is repeated here. It showcases why so many Australians and Timorese continue to these forge strong links to this today. Thank you Tammy and Peter.

  30. Some stories are told needlessly…others should’ve been told, but were not. This story HAD to be told and was, in a raw and gripping manner.

  31. On my long list of books read, ‘Scorched Earth’ is at the top. The style of literature appeals to me, no end. It is a heartfelt read, all the way.

  32. This book was sensational. The descriptions on personal accounts were mesmerising and, due to having served there myself in 1999 and 2001, it took me right back there. The 25 Anniversary is upon us (in 2024) and it’s wonderful to know and see that Timor is now well into being self-sustaining and self-generating, not to mention the infrastructure rebuild and the forgiveness and reconciliation the Timorese have towards the Indonesians.

    A lot of INTERFET don’t realise that UNAMET were there before them nor do the general public. The police peacekeepers were unarmed and certainly had their hands tied under the Mandate and morally in a personal approach to the mission.

    On my return in 2016, I was proud to see the locals were playing volleyball with the TNI and decided that my two deployments to Timor were worth it and I saw the big strategic end state of Reform, Rebuilding, Restructure, of society, Law and order and machinery of government and most of all the overwhelming feeling of peace that energised through the country.

    UNAMET are the unsung heroes regarding who had boots on the ground first. Outstanding work and dedication from those involved.

  33. Wow what can I say? PEACEKEEPERS you sure are that.

    If you have not read this book ‘Scorched Earth’ it’s a must.

    Once you start, you will not stop till you finish the book. A real life event that went horribly wrong. Living the worst nightmare of survival.

    What happened at East Timor 28th August to 15th September 1999. How could it get to this?

    This book needs to become a movie: Scorched Earth.

    Blessings & Love to all that survived and all the lost souls. May God be with all of you wherever you are.

  34. “This is an amazing book. It’s far better than Jack Reacher.”

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • No products in cart.