March 18th, 2010
08:29 PM ET

Retired general links gays in Dutch military to massacre

A retired U.S. general said Thursday that the Dutch policy of allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in its military led, in part, to its failure to halt the massacre of Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. 

Immediately afterward, the Dutch ambassador to the United States issued a sharp denial. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, "nations like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Dutch, et cetera, firmly believed there was no longer a need for an active combat capability in the militaries," John Sheehan, former supreme allied commander – Atlantic, told a Senate hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy under which gays are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military openly. 

"As a result, they declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military," he said. "That includes the unionization of their militaries. It includes open homosexuality demonstrated in a series of other activities, with a focus on peacekeeping operations, because they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back." 

"That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I'm referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under-strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them," Sheehan said. "That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II." 

Asked if Dutch leaders had told him that the Dutch military's performance was linked to its gay soldiers, he said, "Yes ... They included that as part of the problem." 

In a written statement, the Dutch ambassador to the U.S., Renee Jones-Bos, said about Sheehan's comments, "I couldn't disagree more. 

"I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, including in leading operational positions, such as in Afghanistan at the moment," she said. 

"The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims." 

They were referring to the incident that began on July 11 1995, when Serb forces overran the United Nations "safe zone" of Srebrenica and systematically executed men and boys while expelling the rest of the Muslim population. In all, 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. jh in NY

    Why haven't there been more massacres in British patrolled zones, then, in Afghanistan and Iraq? The British allow gays to serve openly as well. This is a shockingly bigoted statement.

    March 18, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    I think what General Sheehan was saying is that the Dutch have gotten so worried about the political correctedness that they have lost sight of having a strong military. The Dutch have legalized prostitution and just about every vice and this has filtered through to their military too. It's not just the homosexuals – it's also their whole modernistic, liberal, undisciplined approach.

    March 19, 2010 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Pepijn

    @Steve That may or may not have been Sheehan's point (although I think not, since he explicitly talks about homosexuality, and the hearing was about the "don't ask don't tell" policy).

    However, he would still be wrong. The Srebrenica massacre had nothing to do with a "modernistic, liberal, undisciplined approach". It happened because the Dutch army was underequiped, was not allowed to fight by the UN, and didn't get air support from the UN when the Serbs arrived.

    In fact the Dutch army is highly effective, precisely because it puts more emphasis on tact and diplomacy. Not for nothing is America now taking over the Dutch approach in Afghanistan. It works better than the "tough love" approach. The local population sympathises more with the foreign troops and therefore there is less foothold for the Taliban and less violence in the region.

    It's medieval attitudes like those displayed by Sheehan that are preventing the US from joining the rest of the western world in the 21st century...

    March 19, 2010 at 7:14 am | Report abuse |
  4. FFelici

    I do not believe the Ret. General's statement for one second. It is simply false and no Dutch Politician or General can ever have said such a thing. I can imagine the General made this up to underline his medieval preconceptions on homosexuality.

    March 19, 2010 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Charles

    Your report on General Sheehan from yesterday's Don't Ask, Don't Tell hearing is inaccurate. The General based his analysis of the events at Srebrenica from the Dutch military. They were not his personal views. During the hearing, General Sheehan provided the name of a specific individual within the Dutch military establishment who told him that the Dutch's inability to defend the Bosnian Muslims was based on their lack of military readiness. One of the contributing factors to this lack of military readiness was the inclusion of openly homosexual soldiers within the force, as the Dutch military assessment (and the officer who you do not even mention) stated.

    March 19, 2010 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
  6. Nanique

    I am from Holland and I can tell you citizans and officials here are NOT amused

    March 19, 2010 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. Peter

    @Charles: Yes, that would be former Chief of Staff General Henk van den Breemen. It should also be mentioned that Van den Breemen declared Sheehan's allegations 'absolute nonsense'.

    March 19, 2010 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  8. Eric

    Gays have, are, and will serve in the military. That is the reality of the circumstance; statisstically, a certain percentage of men will prefer other men, much, or all of the time, as a sexual focus; the same, statistically, occurs with women. The question is how to deal with it, and the Dutch and Brits, along with other armed forces, certainly provide compelling case studies that men and women who are same-gender focused. There has been no widespread "collapose" of morale, which is the standard ruberic posed with any change... it's not that long ago that the same claim was made in relation to having women on the front lines......and, in the generation preceeding mine, the integration of the service with – horror of horros – blacks serving RIGHT NEXT TO WHITES!!!!!!

    I remember getting to know some (very deeply closeted) gay men while I served as an Infantry Officer in the early '70's. I knew these men as "hardcore" highly competent soldiers, men who I would (and did) trust with my life. The fact that they preferred other men was not a relevent issue when we were dealing with minute/minute life-threatening issues in 'Nam, frankly. My primary reaction was one of sadness, knowing that these guys had to fake descriptiosn of how they spent their leave......

    Whether he chooses to acknowledge it or not, Sheehan has served with gay men and women. I doubt that his military competency was in any way compromised by that reality. His remarks, which have been widely rejected by the pertinent Dutch officials, can only be construed as a "last ditch" effort to support his own blaues system. Personally, I don't care what he believes in the privacy of his own bivouack, but I do care when he creates an environment of deciet and obsfucation pertaining a real discussion of the issues at hand.

    In fact, the "don't ask don't tell" is a compromise that educates all who participate in that fictive construct to lie, conceal and demean. Are those really the values that build cameraderie, build a ture composed and effective fighting team?

    March 19, 2010 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. 2katznme

    Please write to Senator Levin and urge that he dismiss Sheehan's testimony completely. I am so embarassed by the quantity of anachronic religous zealots in our own backyard that dismiss humanity in leiu of uninformed opinions laden with mis-truths and gossip. I apologize to the people of the Netherlands for this and hope that more people will come to know the nature of the beast is a reflection of mislead souls here and under such men as Bin Laden, Hitler, Musolini, Khmer Rouge, etc. It's time to silence these voices and begin learning how to go about in a humanitarian way that first states we are not all alike.

    March 19, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Graham

    Why didn't the Dutch army rape the Serbs, thereby saving the Muslims?

    April 1, 2010 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |