Remember the July 1995 massacre of Srebrenica ? The incident where 800 Dutch UN peacekeepers left a town designated as a “safe area” by the UN when 10 000 Serbs arrived, allowing the Serbs to massacre 8000 unarmed civilians? Well, the Dutch government is giving them a medal.

Perhaps instead they should send them to Lucerne to ponder this famous sculpture..and hang their heads in shame…

In 2002, Retired British General Rupert Smith testified at the Hague that ” The impression he had received from Dutch authorities before the massacre was: “It is not worth dying for this.” ”

The Economist Magazine , however, points out the lightly armed Dutch Peacekeepers could not get UN air support or backup for their unit. However, the fact that some of the peacekeepers helped the Serbs sort out men from the women and children, and the fact that they didn’t even try to stop the massacre makes them partly responsible.

What are the duties of peacekeepers caught between warring factions?

At a time when a thousand deaths in Baghdad is being spun as a “civil war” and as a failure by American troops, maybe it is time to remember what a real civil war looks like, and what can and has happened.

Thanks to American troops and their Iraqi and coalition allies, we have not seen wholesale civilian massacres and rapes at the rate that occurred in Bosnia, but the bad news is that removal of this last line of defense may very well result in many such deaths.

Ironically, Srebrenica did not occur under America’s watch, but under the eyes of European UN “peacekeepers” who were trying to stop the civil war by a kinder, gentler way than full intervention. The sixty thousand NATO European peacekeepers who entered the former Yugoslavia in 1994 still did not stop the war: their job was to “keep the peace”, not shoot bad people. It took American president Bill Clinton to stop the killing, and he did it by taking the war to it’s source, by bombing Serbia. (Ironically, the BBC labels the 78 day bombing campaign in 1999 as a NATO effort, but left wing rioters in Greece knew exactly who to blame for the bombing: the USA ).

So what should over matched “lightly armed” peacekeepers do when faced with an overwhelming force but denied reinforcements due to politics and red tape? Should they give up and let civilians be killed, or die fighting?

The Dutch took the first choice.

The Marines of the “Black Hawk Down” incident refused to leave their wounded comrades even when requested backup by Pakistani tanks were delayed for hours by red tape. Ben Laden sees the movie as a victory for jihad, but I see it as a monument to those willing to die rather than let their friends behind.

Similarly, the Swiss Mercenaries of Lucerne died to protect the French royal family. Three hundred years later, they are still remembered by the Lion of Lucerne, who continues to weep for soldiers who give their lives up to save others.

One doubts that 300 years from now anyone will still remember or mourn the Dutch peacekeepers for their actions no matter how many shiny medals they received.
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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and an extended family.
Her website is Finest Kind Clinic andFishmarket .

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