US general goes potty over gays in Dutch army

It seems that US general Sheehan is a declared opponent of revoking the US Army’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, under which gays may serve in the army, but not acknowledge they’re gay. That’s ... not fine, but it is as it is.

Yesterday, however, Sheehan went completely around the bend by linking the Bosnian muslim massacre in Srebrenica in 1995 to the fact that the Dutch army, which was supposed to protect them, had openly-serving gay members.
(Source: Political Animal)

In other words, if the lousy, liberal Dutch hadn’t allowed filthy homosexuals to serve in their armed forces, the people from Srebrenica would have been spared. This is not only breathtakingly false, it’s also ridiculous.

When a representative asked him whether Dutch leaders blamed the massacres on the gays, Sheehan said, apparently “They included that as part of the problem.” That’s not only false, it’s also insulting.
(Source: Washington Post blog)

Srebrenica made a deep impression on the Dutch, linked as massacres (and genocide) are to the not-very-brilliant performance of the Dutch under the nazi occupation, when the majority of the Dutch Jews were deported and murdered.

Srebrenica has been researched time and again, and the consensus is that the Dutch troops were too lightly armed, had too strict orders, and were abandoned by NATO supreme command when they asked for air support. In the end they had no choice but to basically capitulate.

When the formal report was delivered in 2002, the Kok II government resigned over it. (This was mostly a stunt aimed at the elections that were less than two months away, but there was some genuine feeling involved, too.)

In any case, the absurd remarks of this American general were immediately denounced by just about everyone who has some link to the Dutch military. First in line was defense minister Van Middelkoop (CU), who called Sheehan’s remarks “scandalous, and unworthy of a military man.”

It should be noted that Van Middelkoop’s party, the CU, is not exactly pleased with the equality gays have conquered in Dutch society and deep in their hearts prefer to turn the clock back a bit. Still, Van Middelkoop put the national interest and the army before his party, as he should.

Prime minister Balkenende, the military unions, and the gay emancipation organisation said similar things. From left to right the country has united against this idiocy.
(Source: Volkskrant | Algemeen Dagblad | NRC)

It seems a practical joker even updated Sheehan’s wikipedia page to say that he came out as a gay back in 1988. False of course, and meanwhile removed, but this is the sort of thing you can expect.
(Source: Nederlands Dagblad)

Apologies ought to be offered, but probably won’t be. Such is life for a minor ally.

By the way, did you know the US army lost the Vietnam war because it had too few gays serving in its ranks? No, really!

Update: New factoid: Sheehan was one of the supreme commanders of NATO forces during Srebrenica. That means he just wants to redistribute the blame for Srebrenica, and it makes him even more untrustworthy.
(Source: Volkskrant)

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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.


Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Leonid on 21 March 2010 | Permalink

Historic examples (e.g. The Sacred Band of Thebes) show that homosexuals can be first-rate soldiers. Still I wonder whether Sheehan was not at least partially right.

In the past the military was judged based on its fighting skills. These days the attention has shifted to social issues, such as successful integration of women/homosexuals/ethnic minorities.

Given the long years of peace experienced by the Dutch this shift may have been inevitable. However, it is bound to take a toll on the military preparedness for the actual fighting.

P.S. Sorry, this is not quite related to the topic but since you a history expert I thought this might be in your field. Has Netherlands ever won a war without allies?

2 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 21 March 2010 | Permalink


I'd be more inclined to believe that the military's increasing emphasis on social integration rather than fighting efficiency were draining the latter if it hadn't already racially integrated itself so very successfully. It's even managing to get women into the ranks without losing effectiveness.

Accepting out gays in the army is actually a step toward military effectiveness. The US is in a recruitment and retention crisis, and cutting out a section of the population who are otherwise willing and able to serve isn't helping. And requiring them to hide their orientation has opened the door to blackmail and harassment, both of which reduce troop efficiency.

(You know, I could make as fair a case that My Lai was the product of an overly macho, defensively heterosexual military as Sheehan has made that Srebrenica was somehow the product of gays in the Dutch army. They're both crap arguments, but nicely inflammatory and playing to people who care less about facts than about "their side" winning.)

This is what happens when one side has no arguments left but mudslinging, and no shame about indulging in that. Sheehan should be ashamed of himself.

3 Posted by Leonid on 22 March 2010 | Permalink


I was not claiming that including women or homosexuals in the military damages its effectiveness. Merely that such inclusion along with other liberal social policies became essentially a goal in itself. And when any organization is judged based mainly on something other than its performance the inevitable result is that its performance eventually deteriorates.

“It's even managing to get women into the ranks without losing effectiveness.”

You may be totally right but what evidence do you have for that?

Recent performance of the US military (not to mention Europeans) is not very inspiring. In Somalia, for instance, they were opposed by lightly armed tribesmen who kill homosexuals, take no women into their ranks and care nothing about the “hearts and minds” of their enemies. The outcome is known.

4 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 22 March 2010 | Permalink


It's possible to judge an organization on more than one basis at a time. Wanting the US Army not to be a bastion of homophobia (and sexism, and racism) is a valid desire. And when it turns out that that will *also* improve recruitment and retention and reduce the opportunity for the unnecessary abuse and dismissal of trained and effective servicemen and women, it isn't actually anti-efficiency, even. It strikes me that you attack the motive because you can't attack the effect.

On the subject of women in the armed forces: It's impossible to measure, of course, if they have cost effectiveness. There are so many complicating factors. Absent proof, I sincerely doubt that it has.

I note you don't try the same line about racial integration, too, which was argued against as a piece of "liberal social policies" rather than a military decision.

It's also impossible to measure if gays in the military hampered Dutch efficiency, though I note that the people on the ground don't think it did. Which is where this thread started, despite any diversions into Somalia (a more complex situation than you make it out to be).

Sheehan was speaking, to put it mildly, with no basis in fact. That's the point.