5 May 2015

In memory of freedom

Today, the Dutch celebrate Liberation Day, on the anniversary of the end of German occupation during World War II.

Americans have similar celebrations (Memorial Day, Veterans Day), but the relevance to Americans, I think, is not as strong.

The Netherlands declared itself neutral during World War II. The Nazis invaded in 1940 and tried to enlist the Dutch to their Aryan cause. Some Dutch collaborated, but many resisted. The toll on the country was grievous: 95 percent of Jews died, entire villages were shipped off to labor camps where 90 percent died, houses were demolished for military fortifications, 30,000 people starved in the "hunger winter" when the Germans cut off food supplies. Overall, the Dutch lost over 200,000 citizens (2.4 percent of the population), and their country was in ruins.

The Americans lost roughly 400,000 soldiers in World War II, or 0.3 percent of the population, but the impact was far lighter in two other respects: the Americans entered the war "voluntarily" and the war was fought on foreign soil.

"On the 7th of May 1945, [four men, aged 27-42 years]
fell here, for the freedom of our country."
It's hard to understand the magnitudes of these differences until you think about them. I took the photo at right less than a kilometer from my house. It's a solid reminder that people nearby were living in fear of being shot on sight, robbed at will, raped without warning.

I am new to the "old world," but I am starting to understand something that many Europeans know at a deeper level: war is brutal. It was this reality that the Nobel Commission recognized when they awarded the Peace Prize to the European Union, and it is this reality that underpins many European peace missions around the world. Yes, there are exceptions to "giving peace a chance" in European minds and actions, but peace is taken more seriously in Europe than in the US.

The United States is the world's largest arms dealer. US support for Israel maintains the status quo of apartheid in Palestine. The US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (let alone the numerous invasions since World War II) have not only destabilized many countries, but subjected them to the tyranny of an occupying power that shoots, robs and rapes innocent people.

But I don't think Americans see it that way. Many see the US as a protector of freedom in the world. In some cases, that may be true. In many others, "protection" is worse than neglect.

Bottom Line: Those who have lost their freedom know how valuable it is as well as how cruel it is to take the freedom of others.