Dutch Ask, Dutch Tell

Retired US Marine Corps General John Sheehan’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee of March 18 caused quite a stir on both sides of the Atlantic last week.

Sheehan was asked to remark on the proposed repeal of the American military’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which allows gay men and women to serve their country as long as they keep their sexual preference to themselves. The Netherlands has allowed homosexuals to serve openly for many years. According to Sheehan, that was “part of the problem” when Dutch UNPROFOR forces were overrun by Serbian troops in Srebrenica, Bosnia in July 1995 which resulted in the deaths of some 8,000 Muslims men.

The Srebrenica massacre is a national embarrassment in the Netherlands that prompted many studies, the foremost of which was conducted by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation. It concluded that the mission was ill-conceived from the start and well nigh impossible to execute. Upon its release in 2002, the Dutch government resigned.

Never has the fact that gays are allowed to serve openly in the Dutch military been connected with the failure of Dutchbat’s mission and the genocide that ensued as a consequence. When pressed, General Sheehan referred to a non-existent military officer who supposedly informed him of the connection: one “Hankman Berman.” A Henk van den Breemen does serve with the Dutch Defense Ministry, yet he described Sheehan’s remark as “absolute nonsense.”

Reactions from other Dutch officials have been equally fierce. The defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop said Sheehan’s claim was “damaging” and unbecoming of a soldier. Even Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende weighed in on the issue, denouncing the comments during his weekly press conference as irresponsible and “way off the mark.”

Rachel Maddow gathered all of the official responses on her MSNBC show last Friday. Listening to the different comments leaves one with no alternative but to accept that General Sheehan was lying before the Armed Services Committee the day before; lying, for political purposes.

This should be a shame for any man, for a military man especially. But not only did General Sheehan serve with the Marine Corps for over thirty years, fighting in Vietnam and in Iraq; he acted as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander-in-Chief of the United States’ Atlantic Command for many years and retired a distinguished officer. That he should lie before the United States Senate, presumably in the hopes of influencing policy, is an outrage.