Rutte again apologizes to Dutch veterans at National Indies Monument
Prime Minister Mark Rutte again apologized to veterans who were place in a battle that "was unwinnable" at the 35th annual commemoration at the National Indies Monument 1945-1962 in Roermond on Saturday. He also acknowledged widespread extreme violence on the Dutch side of the conflict.
Repeating the apologies the Cabinet made at the beginning of the year, Rutte spoke to the crowd about an "impossible mission," in which authorities failed to sufficiently support the Dutch military and conscripts. The yearly commemoration is for Dutch soldiers who died between 1945-1962 during the battle in the former Dutch East Indies and New Guinea.
The responsibility rests with the authorities of the time –– such as the government, parliament and the army –– "not with the individual conscripts," Rutte said. He emphasized that the impossible position veterans were placed in has affected them and their families up until present times.
"Apologies to all veterans who behaved as good soldiers at the time," Rutte said. "Apologies to all those who have since suffered severe physical and mental consequences, something for which there has been too little attention and too little recognition for a long time." The prime minister also apologized to later generations, "who grew up with the pain and sorrow of their parents and grandparents."
The prime minister also said "we have to face" there was extreme, widespread violence from Dutch soldiers in Indonesia as well during the independence struggle of the then-colony. In Februrary, he apologized to the people of Indonesia for the violence and for "the previous Cabinets who consistently looked away." This apology was prompted 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), the Netherlands Institute for Military History (NIMH) and the NIOD, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
However, the monument's chairman Jo Kneepkens strongly criticized the conclusions the research, telling the audience of veterans that the conclusions were wrong on many counts. He felt the results of the report were not balanced and that people had forgotten how many positive contributions Dutch soldiers made to the Indonesian population at that time.
Kneepkens spoke of the construction of roads and provision of food –– matters that, in his opinion, were hardly discussed in the investigation. Moreover, the vast majority of the Dutch military had a supporting role, he said, and the majority have never been involved in extremist acts.
One of the main conclusions of the scientific research, which Kneepkens took issue with, was that extreme violence from the Dutch armed forces was widespread and often deliberately used. This was tolerated on a political, military and judicial level. Although Kneepkens acknowledged that there was extreme violence, he said the report did not fairly represent the majority of the soldiers who had behaved correctly. "They didn't deserve this," he said, speaking of "a missed opportunity."
The turnout at the commemoration was much smaller than in 2019, the last time a major event took place at the monument. Over 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 came to Roermond this time has to do with their advanced age.
Reporting by ANP