Rutte again apologizes to Dutch veterans at the National Indies Monument
Prime Minister Mark Rutte again apologized to veterans who fought in a battle that “was unwinnable” during the 35th annual commemoration at the National Indies Monument 1945-1962 in Roermond on Saturday. He also acknowledged the widespread extreme violence on the Dutch side of the conflict.
Repeating the apologies made by the Cabinet earlier this year, Rutte told the crowd of a “mission impossible”, in which the authorities did not sufficiently support the Dutch army and conscripts. The annual commemoration is dedicated to Dutch soldiers who died between 1945 and 1962 during battle in the former Dutch East Indies and New Guinea.
The responsibility lies with the authorities at the time – such as the government, parliament and the army –– “not with individual conscripts”, Rutte said. He pointed out that the impossible position the veterans were placed in has affected them and their families to this day.
“Apologies to all the veterans who behaved like good soldiers back then,” Rutte said. “Apologies to all who have since suffered serious physical and mental damage, for which there has been too little attention and too little recognition for a long time.” The Prime Minister also apologized to future generations, “who grew up with the pain and grief of their parents and grandparents”.
The prime minister also said “we have to face up” to the extreme and widespread violence by Dutch soldiers in Indonesia also during the then colony’s independence struggle. In February, he apologized to the people of Indonesia for the violence and for “former cabinets who constantly looked the other way”. This apology was motivated by the conclusions of the report “Independence, Decolonization, Violence and War in Indonesia, 1945 – 1950”, which was carried out by the Royal Institute for Language, Land and Ethnology (KITLV), l Netherlands Institute of Military History (NIMH) and NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
However, the monument’s chairman, Jo Kneepkens, strongly criticized the research findings, telling the veteran audience that the findings were flawed in many ways. He felt that the report’s findings were unbalanced and that people had forgotten how many positive contributions Dutch soldiers had made to the people of Indonesia at that time.
Kneepkens spoke about building roads and providing food –– issues he said were hardly touched on in the survey. Additionally, the vast majority of the Dutch military played a supporting role, he said, and the majority were never involved in extremist acts.
One of the main findings of scientific research, which Kneepkens disputed, was that the extreme violence of the Dutch armed forces was widespread and often deliberately used. This was tolerated politically, militarily and judicially. Although Kneepkens acknowledged that there was extreme violence, he said the report did not fairly represent the majority of soldiers who had behaved appropriately. “They didn’t deserve this,” he said, referring to “a missed opportunity.”
Attendance at the commemoration was much lower than in 2019, the last time a major event took place at the monument. For the past two years, there have only been small private commemorations due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a spokesperson for the foundation, the fact that far fewer veterans have come to Roermond this time is linked to their advanced age.