Did Gen. Sheehan Really “Climb Down” From Blaming Gay Soldiers for the Srebrenica Massacre?
March 30th, 2010
That’s what some European news outlets are reporting. That “climb down” comes in the wake of outrage over Gen. John Sheehan’s testimony in support of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he blamed the presence of gay Dutch soldiers for the 1995 massacre of more than 8000 Muslim men and boys. Sheehan claimed that this is what the Dutch chief-of-staff General Henk van den Breemen of the Royal Dutch Marine Corps had told him.
Members of the Dutch military swiftly and vigorously challenged Sheehan’s remarks. The Dutch defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, called Shehan’s comments were, “scandalous and unbefitting a soldier,” and the Prime Minister denounced him as “irresponsible.”
Sheehan has climbed down somewhat from his accusation in a letter sent yesterday to the now retired Gen. van den Breemen, in which Sheehan wrote that “the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in now way the fault of the individual soldiers.” A copy of the letter which has been provided to BTB and other outlets reads:
Gereral Henk van den Breemen
Royal Dutch Marine Corps (Ret.)
[personal address redacted]
29 March 2010
Thank you for our much appreciated conversations of the past week. During the mid-1990s, you and I discussed a broad range of issues and policies that reflected the social, political and financial pressures under which NATO Alliance members struggled. I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military. It is also regrettable that I allowed you to be pulled into a public debate. As a fellow Marine, I have the deepest respect for you personally and professionally. NATO and the Netherlands were well served by your leadership.
To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers. The corporals and sergeants executed their orders based on the priorities of the political authorities. Unfortunately, the rules of engagement were developed by a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military. As we know, the consequences of those compromises were devastating.
I wish you the very best during this Easter season.
General U.S.Marine Corps (Ret.)
This is a climbdown from Sheehan’s placing blame on individual gay soldiers in Srebrenica, but it is not a complete disavowal of Sheehan’s position. In this letter, he now shifts his blame to “a political system with conflicting priorities and an ambivalent understanding of how to use the military.” This echoes accusations hurled by opponents to DADT that allowing soldiers to serve with honesty and integrity — two core values of all branches of the armed services — somehow represents a political meddling in the conduct of military affairs. (I would also hasten to add that civilian control of the military is also a core value insisted upon by our founding fathers and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.) So while media outlets and DADT repeal advocates may celebrate over this climb-down, I have a feeling that Sheehan’s position hasn’t changed one bit.
Anti-gay general’s comments infuriate the Dutch
March 19th, 2010
When Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee invited retired General Jack Sheehan to speak in opposition to allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the US Military, they certainly didn’t think he would start an international incident with his comments. But as it has turned out, Sheehan’s comments have now become a point of anger, ire, and ridicule around the world.
Sheehan sought to counter one of the most compelling arguments for lifting the ban on gay servicemen: that many of our allies have done so without problem. He wanted to persuade committee members that, indeed, modern militaries that have “liberalized” their forces and allowed gay soldiers to serve have suffered dramatic consequences.
So Sheehan blamed one of Europe’s military blunders, the inept protection of a town in Bosnia by Dutch peace-keeping forces, on these liberalizing perspectives, and in particular the policy of including gay soldiers. And he claimed that he had this on the authority of Henk van der Breemen, the Netherlands Chief of Defense Staff.
The massacre of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica is an important event in the modern history and culture of the Dutch people. The Netherlands government commissioned a study and delved deeply into the causes which contributed to the inadequate defense, and the event led to the ouster of van der Breemen and eventually the resignation of Prime Minister Wim Kok. And while the Dutch take responsibility for their part in the tragedy, they rightly note that other nations share blame as well for not committing adequate resources and for not sending air response when requested.
To speak of this event – and to claim Dutch sources – from an outsider’s perspective was a most incautious action. And is was also unwise not to recognize that the Dutch pride themselves in their acceptance of gay people into the fabric of their culture and life and that they see statements that appear to be homophobic as boorish and personally offensive.
Though not exactly a parallel, testifying that the Dutch military leaders blamed the massacre at Srebrenica on gay Dutch soldiers is a bit like some foreign official claiming that Dwight Eisenhower had told him that the incarceration of Japanese-Americans was the fault of Jews. It is irrational, touches on matters of national shame, is deeply insulting and causes an immediate anger, disgust, and revulsion.
And, indeed, the Dutch have been deeply insulted. And have responded vehemently to deny any connection between the events in Bosnia and the Dutch policy of allowing gay soldiers.
The statement has been denounced by van der Breemen, who called it “absolute nonsense” and stated that he does not and never has shared Sheehan’s views on gay soldiers.
The Dutch Ambassador to the United States, Renée Jones-Bos, released a statement saying that she couldn’t disagree more.
I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, such as in Afghanistan at the moment.
The military mission of Dutch UN soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims.
As we noted yesterday, the Dutch military was quick to respond. But the statements caught the attention of the Dutch people and the government of the Netherlands and seemed to slur the identity of the Dutch as a people. A reader informs us that the story was on the news all day and the claims elicited response from several officials. (New York Times)
The Dutch defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop, added that the comments were, “scandalous and unbefitting a soldier.” Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister, chimed in on Twitter, calling the explanation of what happened at Srebrenica “extremely strange.” Jan Kleian, the head of the Dutch military union ACOM, told Dutch television, “That man is just crazy.” He added, “That sounds harsh, but what else can I say, because it is complete nonsense.”
The anger and response went to the highest level of government (WaPo)
The Dutch prime minister Friday denounced as “irresponsible” a claim by a retired U.S. general that gay Dutch soldiers were partly to blame for allowing Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
Dutch officials, from the Cabinet to the military, were outraged by retired Gen. John Sheehan’s remarks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
But this story is not limited to US and Dutch media. Media from around the world, including many nations that are allies and whom allow openly gay soldiers, have picked up the retired general’s comments. And, as reported, they appear to show contempt for foreign militaries and for the soldiers who are fighting by our side in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So now we have an international incident. Now our perception around the world has been tarnished. And now our State Department has had its job made more difficult.
Dutch military disagrees with Sheehan’s revision of the Srebrenica massacre
March 18th, 2010
Retired General Jack Sheehan’s assignment of the blame for the Srebrenica massacre to gay Dutch soldiers was not confirmed by the Dutch. From Voice of America
Asked for comment, Dutch military officials expressed astonishment. The spokesman for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, Roger van de Wetering, told VOA Sheehan’s assertions are “total nonsense” and that he “cannot believe that a man of that rank is stating such a thing.” He added that he had never heard Sheehan’s allegation before from any source in the Netherlands or anywhere else.
Many historians have argued that Dutch peacekeeping forces in the Balkans were under-equipped and hampered by operational limitations imposed by the United Nations.
Sheehan blames Bosnian massacre on gay Dutch soldiers
March 18th, 2010
In a page right out of Scott Lively’s playbook, retired General John Sheehan assigns gay the blame for one of the world’s atrocities. This time, it’s the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. (Herald Sun)
A RETIRED US general today said Dutch UN troops defending Srebrenica in the Bosnian war failed to prevent the 1995 genocide partly because their ranks included openly gay soldiers.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, pressed him to clarify his comments about Srebrenica.
“Did the Dutch leaders tell you it (the fall of Srebrenica) was because there were gay soldiers there?” asked an incredulous Senator Levin.
“Yes,” Gen Sheehan said and added: “They included that as part of the problem.”
Gen Sheehan, who retired from the military in 1997, said he had been told that by the former chief of staff of the Dutch army.
Nearly 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were slaughtered by the Serbs at Srebrenica. This assignment of blame to gay soldiers appears to be a new theory, one that was not discovered by the Dutch in their subsequent review of what went wrong.
Sheehan appeared to be arguing that the liberalization of the European militaries led to weakness and suggesting that allowing gay soldiers to serve resulted in sissy-boy soldiers. He didn’t share his views on how that worked in the Israeli army.
Senator Levin wasn’t having it and called Sheehan out on his biases. (Navy Times)
“I think we all remember Srebrenica,” Levin said. “Any effort to connect that failure on the part of the Dutch to the fact that they had homosexuals … is totally off target. I see no suggestion of that. It’s no more on point than the fact that they may have allowed African or Dutch-African or women” to serve.
“My comment was that the liberalization … ” Sheehan said.
Levin interrupted. “I agree with that,” he said. “They weren’t good in that respect. They were trained to be peacekeepers, not peace enforcers. … But to slide over from that into a suggestion that it had something to do with the fact that homosexuals were allowed in the Dutch army suggests that somehow or other homosexuals are not great fighters. … I think that is totally wrong.”
It will be interesting to hear the response of the Dutch government to Sheehan’s assertions. [Update: Dutch military officials have responded.]
Sheehan also shared his opinions on the attitudes of soldiers, decades after he was last in any position to know. (Stars and Stripes)
On Thursday, retired Marine Gen. John Sheehan, former head of U.S. Atlantic Command, told lawmakers he supports the yearlong review but believes researchers will conclude that such a change is detrimental to unit cohesion and morale.
“Military life is fundamentally different than civilian life,” he said. “Popular culture may have changed over the years, but military culture and responsibilities have changed very little.”
Sheehan said known homosexuals in units he commanded caused disruption for all his Marines, forcing troops to choose sides and creating fear among those who had to work closely with them.
Having presented an argument that is both outdated and bizarrely homophobic, I wonder if Sheehan has actually hurt his cause.