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.


JB said...

Excellent trans Atlantic perspective. The U.S. Needs to get out of the military industrial ditch!

RM said...

An excellent post – Thank You.

On our visits to Europe, we seem to find many such landmarks; Milano where allied bombers dropped bombs on a school, the concentration camps @ Auchweitz-Berkenau, and the sculpture/artwork in Vienna. I’m certain there have been more, and I need to pay closer attention – because they have meaning to each and every one of us.

Vladimir Vysotsky said...

It is jarring to see the same article mentioning the Jews of Europe who were abandoned by the rest of the world and perished in the Holocaust; and just a couple of paragraphs later implicitly dismissing and denying the right of Jews in Israel to accept aid in defending their current homeland against terrorism and threat of armed invasion. David, out of respect for the 6 million deaths, you could have left Israel out of this post.

David Zetland said...

@Vladimir -- no idea of what you're talking about. Jewish deaths were important (they were victims), just as America's support for Zionist policies (with Palestinians as victims). I am speaking in favor of victims, no matter their religion, ethnicity, or nation.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

YK said...

On wars. European not only suffered the pain of war, they also inflicted it. Moreover, European termed WWI "the war to end all wars" and they suffered terribly in it. Still they embarked on WWII (if you take Germans to be Europeans). United States saved civilization twice in these two wars. At least you agree, I hope, that the US saved the world in the second war. Didn't it?

David Zetland said...

Yes, I agree. That's why I weighted most of my piece on post-WW2. The Americans who returned to the US after that war (the greatest generation) had a foundation for sympathy that could have been very helpful to the world, but it was co-opted by the "war mongers" of the military industrial complex and rabid-anti-communists. It's in that sense that "we" inflicted pain. Voter accepted it b/c they had no experience (compared to Europeans).

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