Another right-wing American commentator has taken a swipe at how Europeans run their own countries. So far, so predictable. But the former NATO Commander, John Sheehan, has stepped over the line of logical argument into blatant prejudice. His argument? That the Srebrenica massacre which took place during the war in Bosnia, was down to the fact that the Dutch army allows openly-gay soldiers to serve.
I’ll allow you a moment to let that sink in.
He’s saying that Serbian forces were able to overrun the lightly armed and operationally-restriced Dutch peacekeeping forces because the Dutch had some gays in their ranks.
Following recent remarks from Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, that Europeans had gone soft, Sheehan argued that changes after the end of the cold war had reduced Europe’s appetite for combat.
“They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialise their military – that includes the unionisation of their militaries, it includes open homosexuality. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war,” he said.
“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. That was the largest massacre in Europe since world war two.”
The genocide at Srebrenica was due to a combination of factors: poorly-equipped peacekeepers, a restrictive and weak mandate from the UN, lack of air support from nearby NATO forces and finally (let’s not forget) the overwhelming superiority – in numbers and armaments – of the Serbian forces. Taking all these factors into account, can anyone seriously ascribe the failure of the Dutch forces to the face that there might have been the odd gay in the ranks?
Does Sheehan even know if there were any gay soldiers present at Srebrenica? Or is he saying that morale was so impacted by the theoretical presence of gay soldiers, the Dutch simply gave up? The Dutch, for their part, are not amused:
“Total nonsense,” said General Henk van den Breemen, the Dutch chief of staff at the time. The Dutch embassy in Washington dismissed the US officer’s argument as worthless, Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister said that it was not worth commenting on, and the Dutch defence ministry voiced incredulity.
“It is unbelievable that a man of this rank is stating this nonsense, for that’s what it is,” said the ministry.
“Scandalous and not worthy of a soldier,” added Eimert van Middelkoop, the Dutch defence minister.
Sheehan is demonstrating the poorest possible logic, focusing on the one element in the equation with which he feels a (negative) resonance, ignoring all the contradictory evidence as it doesn’t fit with his theory.
I wonder if I’m alone in theorising that Sheehan might be preparing for an entry into the world of politics… His type of prejudice will be welcomed with open arms by the Tea-Bagging (snigger) crowd.