Dutch soldiers diddling each other was the reason that 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were massacred by Serbian soldiers.
Such is the professional judgment of retired Marine Corps general John Sheehan, who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to oppose the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the U.S. military.
According to the Washington Post, committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin was stunned by Sheehan’s testimony about the 1995 Sbrenica Massacre, when Serbian troops butchered Bosnian Muslims while 400 Dutch peacekeepers did nothing. Sheehan explained that the former chief of staff of the Dutch Army had told that the presence of gay soldiers – who are allowed to serve openly in the Dutch and other European armies – had weakened military efficiency.
Far be it from me to criticize a decorated Marine general, but Sheehan is a jackass. For starters, it’s not gay soldiers who make the Dutch Army different. It’s the fact that the Dutch military is unionized. Soldiers don’t have to salute their officers, and they can wear long hair and earrings. Not that saluting officers is necessary for a great army – Israeli soldiers don’t – but Dutch military culture is clearly different than that of the U.S. Marine Corps.
For another, the Netherlands is another one of those small NATO countries that was never really meant to fight. If Soviet tanks had invaded West Germany during the Cold War, the Benelux nations would have let the Americans, British and West Germans do most of the fighting. In 1995, the Dutch Army hadn’t fought a war in 50 years.
Finally, for a military professional, General Sheehan seems remarkably ignorant of tactical considerations. At Sbrenica, 400 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers faced thousands of Serbian soldiers backed by tanks and artillery. The Dutch have been criticized for their passivity during the Serbian ethnic cleansing, and rightly so. Outnumbered or not, they were soldiers who had a duty to protect civilians, and one suspects that U.S. Marines would have fought back. But in the end, the peacekeepers at Sbrenica were in an untenable position, and that had nothing to with the presence or absence of gay soldiers. Banning gays didn’t win the Vietnam War for the U.S. military, and if we’re doing better in Iraq and Afghanistan now, it’s not because of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s because we got of rigid, bigoted fools like Sheehan.