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Den Helder protest against militarism
stop war - 17.07.2002 19:25

On Saturday 13 July, peace demonstrators went to Den Helder, in the Northwest of The Netherlands; for action against recruiting of child soldiers, war propaganda, and whitewashing of Dutch colonial history in Indonesia.

1949: Amsterdam station, protest against colonial war in Indonesia
1949: Amsterdam station, protest against colonial war in Indonesia

Demonstration for peace and against (neo-)colonialism in Den Helder, The Netherlands

On Saturday 13 July, peace demonstrators went to Den Helder, in the Northwest of The Netherlands; for action against recruiting of child soldiers, war propaganda, and whitewashing of colonial history. That day, the Dutch Royal Navy had a propaganda day, admitting the public to its base in Den Helder. This year, the theme of the day was: celebration of the founding of the Dutch East India Company, four hundred years ago. That Company linked shipping and trade to colonial wars, causing many death. Often today, apologists for the Company call it a predecessor of multinational corporations of the present. In a sense, they are correct. As also in these times of multinational corporations today, there is not just globalization of more riches for the rich and more poverty for the poor. There is also globalization of war; from the Gulf in 1991, to the Balkans in 1999, to the so called New War of George W. Bush. A new war, in principle without limits of place or time; in which also Dutch armed forces play a role. As far as the government is concerned, this includes under 18 child soldiers joining the armed forces.

On 13 July, the Navy entertained the spectators, including five year old children, with realistic looking war games. Dutch press agency ANP wrote: “One of the war games showed how the Navy participates in the international fight against terrorism, Enduring Freedom. People could see how the Navy goes on board of a suspect ship.”

The link of Den Helder navy base with Dutch colonial history in Indonesia is also clear at times when there is no celebration of four hundreds years Dutch East India Company. Signs point to “Aceh dock”, referring to the area in North Western Sumatra where the Dutch armed forces waged a decades long bloody war about a hundred years ago.

Peace activists carrying banners, signs, and information leaflets went just outside the Navy base. They had street theatre performances, showing the bloody reality of war, as the Navy inside the base does not show in its glamorous war games. There were three speeches. The first speaker was a member of Aksi Setiakawan, solidarity organization of Indonesians in The Netherlands. He reminded the audience that ever since the founding of the East India Company, and Dutch colonial authority succeeding it, Indonesians had resisted. Dutch conscript soldiers like Piet van Staveren and Poncke Prinsen had refused to fight for colonialism by killing Indonesians. “These are the kind of people we should remember as heroes; not butchers like the East India Company Governor-general Jan Pietersz. Coen. Long live friendship between peace loving Dutch and Indonesian people! Stop war propaganda!”

The next speaker, a historian, explained that without spices in the Spice Islands, the Moluccas, the East India Company would never have been founded. The Company established a monopoly by destroying much of the harvest and killing many Moluccan growers. In this way, the spices became a curse of war for the Moluccas. Like today, oil pipelines and other resources become curses of war for Macedonia, Afghanistan, and other countries.
Ever since the seventeenth century and later massacres, people on the Moluccas sing on the East India Company. A song by Moluccan refugees, Lumai nas wa’a Elya, goes in my English translation:

There were refugees in the village ...
The women carried their children.
They looked for protection under big banyan trees.
The banyan trees made do as a home.The banyan roots made do as a pillow.
The banyan fruit made do for their hunger.
They looked back to the village Kapahaha.
Kapahaha village was burned. Only ashes were left.
Crying, they let their tears flow.

The Moluccan refugees cried because of the East India Company. It is up to us to prevent that in the very near future Somali, Iraqi, and other refugees will have to cry, as armed forces, including Dutch armed forces, invade their country. Maybe jointly with the armed forces of Bush of the US (if they are not too busy with invading The Netherlands, according to the US Invade The Hague act against the possibility of the International Criminal Court trying not only people from small countries, but also from the US, for war crimes).
The third speaker, Ellen, discussed an alternative for militarism: grass roots democracy, instead of the present rule by corporations, including arms producing corporations.
Reactions to the peace activists from the audience of the Navy propaganda day varied. A skinhead started screaming about Pim Fortuijn. In the skinhead’s logic, as the suspect of killing that far Right politician was pro-environment (with an 80 hours working week; not linked to any political party or group), supposedly no one had the right any more to criticize the East India company or militarism.
On the other hand, many passers by were supportive. A crew of maintenance workers, many of East Mediterranean ancestry, coming back from work at the Navy base, saw a protest sign against spending tax money on the US Joint Strike Fighter war plane. They said: “Good that you are here. We dislike Bush as well.”
An African Caribbean man said: “I was born in 1940 during the Second World War. I don't ever want any war again. I see your sign on Bush. Well, Bush is dangerous: with his idiotic theory that only non US soldiers are capable of war crimes; and US war criminals should be immune from the International Criminal Court. Also, in Florida, the police stopped black voters from voting. That’s how Bush became President.”

A Black twenty something brought down the window of his car to accept an anti militarist leaflet: “Keep up the good work! Good that you are here!” Also blonde both male and female thirty somethings give encouragement. An elderly man said: “Please, do you have more leaflets to give to my friends?” A man in his sixties said: “I came all the way from the Eastern province of Drenthe to see warships. However, now I must say I really prefer fishing boats. In the seventies and eighties I used to demonstrate against the neutron bomb and the nuclear cruise missiles. I think I should start to do that again. Maybe, on Tuesday 17 September, I will be with you in The Hague for the big demonstration against the new right wing government coalition.”

Some photographs of the action are at  http://homepage.mac.com/laoc/PhotoAlbum12.html
 

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