The Netherlands & May 5th

Recently was the 5th of May in the Netherlands. It is a day with many meanings and interpretations.

My father was born during the Second World War. He grew up in the Netherlands as the Dutch people were rebuilding their ruined country. He saw a country transform over time for at least six decades.

I am much younger than he is now. I grew up in a much more wealthy Netherlands. There are things I will never understand the older generations have seen and experienced. I read books like Jan Terlouw’s “Oorlogswinter” and Willem Frederik Hermans’ “De Donkere Kamer van Damocles”. I have read numerous books about the 1939-1945 period.

As I learned more about the war situation in the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world I gained some understanding of how some people back then felt. This understanding helps me to appreciate the importance of the traditional commemoration dates. The 4th of May for the dead and martyrs and the 5th of May for the liberation in the Netherlands.

Having learned about the 1939-1945 period I also learned about the post 1945 period. My understanding of the post-war period also makes me doubt the value of the 5th of May. After liberation the Netherlands re-occupied their former territory in the East-Indies with military force and cruelty. The re-occupation campaign was called the “Politionele Acties”.

For the Dutch people liberation day was a genuine celebration of being free again. Berlin was crushed and the allied forces had won. Meanwhile in the colonies, especially the East-Indies the native people saw an opportunity to claim their freedom and independence. Their claim was answered with violence.

What I find fascinating and terrifying is the fact that once freed from occupation a country openly uses violence to repress freedom elsewhere. It makes me aware of how fragile the balance between war and peace is. Peace is the absence of war and war is the absence of peace. What makes the difference is one party that uses violence and weapons to justify its ideology and goals.

The 5th of May reminds me  how some Dutch media have become misleading. The delicate balance between war and peace is easily overlooked the when the word “freedom” sells like hotcakes. It is a good thing that freedom of thought and expression are still appreciated in the Netherlands, most of the time…