More on the Dutchbat medal

The award of medals to the Dutchbat 3 soldiers who abandoned the civilians they were obligated to protect has certainly got a response! Participation in the “Aferim!” campaign (linked in the previous post) promoted by the student radio station of Sarajevo has been worldwide in scale, and there have also been press responses. This modest site has not been immune from it, either, since I posted an item on the issue yesterday. Usually East Ethnia gets somewhere between 100 and 150 visits a day. So far today there have been over 1500 visitors (and it is not yet noon here!), nearly all of them from the Netherlands, with a wide variety of responses being left in the comments. Some people are expressing agreement, some offer a different perspective, and some disagree quite vehemently. Of the ones who disagree, there seem to be a few who are under the mistaken impression that the whole issue involves somebody’s mother – I am not quite sure where this association comes from. Leaving those remarks aside, the comments offered in defence of the soldiers of Dutchbat would seem to call for me to define a position more precise than simply outrage at the awarding of medals for abject failure.

First of all, in what does the responsibility of Dutchbat consist? At bottom, in dereliction of duty. Their job was to protect the civilian population, and when the moment of decision came, they decided to protect their own personnel instead. Some of the arguments in defence of Dutchbat come down to pointing out that an effort to protect civilians would have put the soldiers at risk. This can only be persuasive if one fails to distinguish between soldiers, who take on risk as a condition of their employment, and civilians, who do not.

This is of course not the whole story, and a whole variety of other failures (as well as factors contributing to those failures) are detailed in the NIOD report, as well as in other places. In addition to political and military failures and misunderstandings, there were cultural ones, many of them detailed by Guido Snel in a very interesting reflection.

A more persuasive objection has to do with the unenviable situation in which the Dutchbat forces found themselves. The elements of this are summarized in the announcement of the NIOD report. In essence, the unit had poor instruction, poor information and communication, and inadequate support. Some of this was the result of vagueness in the conception of the UN “peacekeeping” mission in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and some of it was the result of decisions made by military commanders from Dutchbat and from forces commanded by the military of other countries.

Some of the problems have to do with problems endemic in the activity of “peacekeeping” itself. In situations in which there is no peace to keep, the activity can – and does – easily devolve into auxiliary support for the warring parties, and peacekeeping forces can easily be used as a secondary strategic resource. Many of the problems have to do with a lack of political will on the part of the UN and the most influential international political actors to take any action that went beyond giving the appearance of concern. That is to say, some of the responsibility for Dutchbat’s dereliction of duty can plausibly be transferred to other actors. This does not diminish the obligation of the commanders to act in accordance with international law and in the interest of the people they are bound to protect. How well this obligation was carried out is illustrated in the photo in the post below, showing colonel Kerremans raising a glass with Ratko Maldić. Živeli, a potom više nisu.

Probably it is the case that minister Kamp saw the distribution of medals as a gesture of reintegration of the soldiers, some of whom must have been traumatized by the obvious failure of their mission, and some of whom were deterred by their commanders from doing what a soldier is obligated to do. This sort of situation may call for therapy, certainly calls for action against the commanders and review of procedures. But a medal on the chest of an accomplice is a slap in the face to the people who trusted and depended on the forces that failed them.


wickedmind said...

what dissapoints me in this story is the following..
You finally managed to put some objectivness into it, to end it with the sentence to destroy the whole objctivness.
I can find my opinion in a almost everything you wrote.
But in the last sentence you again write about a medal and as a reward.
With that you missed the complete essence of what the thing is about.
It isn't a medal it's a token of recognition to support the troops in their struggle against the fact that they are held personally responsible.

So tell me what would be an appropriate way to let them know that they aren't the ones to blame for the failure of the mission?

Eric Gordy said...

If by "objectivity" you mean "agreeing with you," then you are not likely to be satisfied. Tell me what you think is an appropriate way to let the troops know that nobody has forgotten that they handed over thousands of people to the forces who would murder them over the following days.

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to be Dutch these days. Those soldiers were the victims of policitics, but it's not right at all to award them.

wickedmind said...

(again it wasn't a reward but just a token of recognition, you as a dutchman should know.)

No, honestly i think ppl can disagree as long as they are willing to consider they bacground of the other's opinion.

And with objectivity i didn't mean agree-ing, i ment that you put some nuances to a small post which made a very easy score.

Let me be clear, i think it's horrible what happened not only there but in the whole of former Yugoslavia, i know i've been there.
(in(around) Knin and in(around) Sisava and not in the best of times)

WHat you so easily forget is that the troops where send to HELP and with the mandate they had, they did the best they could to my opinion.

I also understand your standing that it's easy to hide behind mandates and decision makers.

Nevertheless, the troops where helping for more than a year, they got overrun..
Nothing to figth back with.
Now tell me what would have happend if the troops wouldn't have been there to the women and children?

So yes there was a lot of bad things happening, but it could have been a lot worse.
But also ppl have been saved and helped.
But that's just something on the side right?

And if we look at the core of things that happend..
3 parties where at war, 3 parties where guilty of crimes at eachother.
so the first blame lies with those parties, no matter what you say.

ANd honestly the question i ask myself now, were those 3 parties worth my effort, my struggles, my voluntairy help?
The answer is yes, i still have friends, from all 3 parties.
Why? because when we get together politics isn't an issue, it's just friends having a ball.
And altough that isn't a big number.. 1 is a number to start with, and that's exactly what i and many of my former collegues thought.

But when they got back after that blamage of the UN, they and no one else where held responsible.
And that just wasn't right.
Because they where not there to self scarifice them for people.
That is something no one would do, when being send on a mission to help and turns bad.
NGO's even retreated out of the region.

So if you wanna blame, blame the whole international community and don't put that on the individual soldier that did just do his/her best to help, and finally gets some recognition for their troubles.

Eric Gordy said...

Wicked, I think that probably we agree more than we disagree. As for the soldiers, certainly they had little choice in the matter. But to see Kerremans up there -- he had a choice, and made the wrong one.

As for Kamp's idea of offering a ceremony as a symbol of reintegration, it reminds me of Ronald Reagan's visit to the Bitburg cemetery in Germany. He defended it by arguing that the SS members there were also victims. I suppose they were, in some very broad metaphysical sense, but this is hardly a way of constructing memory in the service of honoring genuine victims who had no choices about being put into that category.

I am neither anti-soldier (my father was a soldier) nor anti-Dutch (an ex-girlfriend of mine is Dutch, but after all these years we remain quite friendly). But there is a fundamental dishonesty in the whole process here, and it seems as though the soldiers are being used again as instruments in somebody else's political gesture, which serves neither their interests nor anybody else's.

wickedmind said...

And with that eric, i agree completely.
the only thing that struck me was the fact that the whole world was putting the blame again on the soldiers.
And that is something i think is unjustified.

With that being said..
tnx for your replies.

Edwin said...

I am sorry to say, but you also belong to the many liers, who distorch the truth and aren't man enough to call the real cowards to the stand. I will tell you the real story, which you have to accept as the only truth. I wont go into a debate with you, because you have shown to be lazy in gathering the facts, although they are easily obtainable. First of all the real cowards and only responsibles are the UN, US, UK and France. The UN called it a peacekeeping mission, however most experts bach then already knew it could only become a fighting mission. Just consider the impossible strategic location of Screbrenica from a defense point of view, lying in a valley surrounded by hills occupied by the Serbs. Dutchbat was send on its mission with no firing power whatsoever, because it was only a 'peacekeeping' mission. When Dutchbat was ran over by Mladic' troops they were betrayed by that French general Janvier, who called off the air support. However not before some strikes were carried out in which a few Serbs were killed. That 'shameful' picture was taken very shortly after Mladic took out on Karremans, because he was mad as hell about this incident. He knew Karremans asked for that support and therefore Mladic held Karremans accountable for the death of his men. Mladic was so angry that Karremans feared for his live and for that of his men. You could say that a gun was held to his head, which in fact was the case. What you see on that picture and the film that is made at the same time is Karremans down playing the situation and trying to calm down Mladic with some jokes and trying to please the madman. It looks very pathetic, but what else could he do after just being betrayed by his own people? Ofcourse you would have contradicted Mladic and made him even more angry. Btw, who do you think is operating the camera(s)? It's now proven that the Netherlands and Dutchbat have been betrayed mainly by the US and the UK long before the fall of Screbrenica. They (Owen etc.) made a pact to assure that any failure would be blamed upon the Dutch. They knew long before, that the Serbs would take Screbrenica anyway, but 'failed' to inform the Dutch gouvernment. What are friends for!? Holland is a very small country, but sometimes we think we are listened to when we are asked to play along with the big boys. Big mistake! We are only asked, better say pressured, to join in to be used as a scapegoat when necessary. When asked to appear in front of the Parliamentary Enquiry Committee the French gouvernment and the French coward, general Janvier declined. The reason is obvious. Holland was the scapegoat and should stay that way. Why do I never hear any critisism towards the US, UK and France from you people? Why do I never read any accusation against those countries? Why do I never see a demonstration in front of any gouvernmental institution of those traiters? Asking that question is answering it, I guess.

Bg anon said...

Well, I'm happy to see that people are talking about this topic in the Netherlands as well as in Bosnia. This isnt really much of a current topic in Serbia at the moment.

Well done on all the hits Eric - you should have enabled advertising before setting this topic :)

Eric Gordy said...

I'm not sure what I think about the discussion as it has developed. I appreciate the detail, but (as I think you pointed yesterday), the extreme positions that people are taking seem awfully familiar from somewhere.

It has only happened a few times that an item I post gets me a ton of hits, never by any of my doing, but because by some fluke a popular site puts up a link. It's sort of fun watching the numbers accumulate, but it also makes me miss the homey feel.

Eric Gordy said...

To the people who are writing to claim that peacekeepers had no mandate to use force, what follows are paragraphs 9 and 10 of Security Council Resolution 836 (1993), which authorized the use of peacekeeping forces to defend safe areas in Bosnia-Herecgovina. The full text of the resolution (with reference to other relevant resolutions) is available at:

9. Authorizes UNPROFOR, in addition to the mandate defined in resolutions 770 (1992) of 13 August 1992 and 776 (1992), in carrying out the mandate defined in paragraph 5 above, acting in self-defence, to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, in reply to bombardments against the safe areas by any of the parties or to armed incursion into them or in the event of any deliberate obstruction in or around those areas to the freedom of movement of UNPROFOR or of protected humanitarian convoys;

10. Decides that, notwithstanding paragraph 1 of resolution 816 (1993), Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, may take, under the authority of the Security Council and subject to close coordination with the Secretary-General and UNPROFOR, all necessary measures, through the use of air power, in and around the safe areas in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to support UNPROFOR in the performance of its mandate set out in paragraph 5 and 9 above

WARchild said...

Europeans need to get a spine and admit that they can't fight. French, Dutch, it's all the same shit. When it came down to Dutch life over Bosnik life, the choice was loud and clear.

I thank God for America, otherwise Kosovo and Bosnia would have perished all the way through.

Edwin said...

Have you read my comment? I don't think you did. The real cowards in this tragedy were the United States along with the UK. They have betrayed us long before and during the time Mladic and his troops took over Screbrenica. Again proof of the moral inferiority of the US. Who needs enemies with friends like that? I hope you stay in that imbecile country of yours. Everywhere you morons set foot on land you create havoc.
Btw, the fighting in the Kosovo crisis consisted in firing cruise missiles and dropping bombs. Big deal, very heroic!

What do you want to say by writing down paragraphs 9 and 10 of Security Council Resolution 836? What has this got to do with the real situation on the ground? Bring in the law books! That will help you win the battle! This is exactly the arrogant thickheaded attitude of all the people who are judging Dutchbat, but in fact no nothing, that pisses me off.

Eric Gordy said...

Edwin, if you are interested in a discussion, that is fine. But if all you are going to do is make extreme claims and insult people, that accomplishes nothing.

Go away. You are a boring, repetitive twit.

Anonymous said...


I guess you're from Dutchbat 3.
Ás you should know by now and if you read the comments here yourself you'd know that the whole thing wasn't about what the Netherlands did or didn't do.
It was about the soldiers.
Therefore the way you react is way out of context.

Who's to blame or not is and always will be,the question just let there be some concensus about the fact that the troopers stationed there can not be hold individually responsible for the whole drama that took place..
Because that is the only thing you can achieve.
It's futile to take such blunt and in my opinion overdone opinions and have no opening for a small debate.
For you forget one thing:
World politics are way over your head when not working in those areas.

you just had the bad thing happen to you that you've been linked on a rather rightwinged website.
And with that you might understand the somewhat fierce reactions you got.

Bg anon said...

'seem awfully familiar from somewhere'

Yes, but if it were balkanites that were doing the arguing - well supposedly further evidence of primative eastern nationalism etc!

As far as the popularity is concerned rough with the smooth as they say. You know I despair that over at my blog at B92 my most popular post was a rather sad effort on Big Brother. And then when you make an effort to write about something seemingly worthy (like the envrionment for example) nobody is interested or worse still you get (ostensibly - although one frankly wonders when they show characteristic usually associated with the right) pro Western, identity obsessed morons making irrelevant comments. Kind of makes you wonder if its worthwhile.

Still, the last anonymous has explained why this debate has become rather emotionally charged shall we say.

Eric Gordy said...

Anonymous, thanks for the "inside" information. This helps make some sense of the comments I am getting, since I had a feeling they were not terribly representative of public opinion in NL.