08 November 2015

Disputable Bravery Medals in the Netherlands

Introduction

The military intervention by the Russians in Syria made me think about the country I live in. That's the Netherland. The Netherlands, once supposedly critical of continuous US armed meddling has become openly a vassal of the US. An unwelcome result of this is the desperate attempt to find a hero for the armed forces.

This article criticizes two handouts of a significant military medal. At the same time it attempts to display the quirks of the Dutch honoring system in general. As a side effect, the Dutch honoring system will be explained as well.

The Dutch Honoring System in Short

The Dutch honoring system is largely based on knighthood orders. Each order outranks the other, and each order has ranks within its order. The highest esteemed order is our combat-based order, called the Military William Order. It has four ranks within that order. The Order of the Netherlands Lion is the highest non-combat order. It consists of three ranks. The final order is the Order of the Orange Nassau, which consists of six ranks. The highest non-combat based medal though, is not the highest rank within the Order of the Netherlands Lion, instead it is a stand-alone medal called the Honorary Medal for Charitable Assistance. These decorations are for both civilians as well as for soldiers.

More On the Honoring System

The Military William Order is the highest knighthood order for combat-related bravery. This order requires combat by either soldiers or civilians.

Another order for bravery exists, which is  the Order of the Netherlands Lion, but the bravery doesn't have to be combat-related. The primary purpose of this order is to honor grandness in a field such as science, sports or arts. It could include certain aspects of bravery and it addresses chivalry in general. This is the very highest knighthood order for non-combat efforts.

Again, a higher medal exists for both bravery and chivalry, which is not a medal based on knighthood. It's the Honorary Medal for Charitable Assistance. The Honorary Medal is the highest decoration and is awarded for bravery for those who carried out an act of bravery or self-sacrifice, with an emphasis on charity.

The highest rank of the Netherlands Lion has been automatically given to Queen Maxima and is given to friendly heads of states. This order reeks of elitism quite profoundly.

One question I could raise is: when does bravery involve the highest rank of the Netherlands Lion versus bravery which involves the Honorary Medal? I don't think it has been properly defined. Even if it is, is that difference really important to distinguish? The highest rank of the Netherlands Lion is so special, next level civilian ranks don't make any sense. That's the gist I'm trying to bring across.

Finally we have the Order of the Orange Nassau. The keyword here is once again "chivalry". The Orange Nassau Order doesn't require grandness in some relevant field, instead it requires an act of chivalry. And again, the highest ranks are given for political purposes to foreign noblemen.

What's the difference between a high rank Nassau-based medal and any Lion-based medal? For example a politician who fended off an economic disaster will receive a medal of the Nassau order, whilst acknowledging its grandness in his/her field is equally feasible (Lion order).

Also, why is chivalry in a field of expertise more highly rated (Lion) than chivalry in general (Nassau)?  The impact of effort, valor, chivalry, sacrifice or bravery should not be defined by whether the person did it within his/her field of expertise. Nor do I like it that the same order can be awarded for either bravery/sacrifice or other types of chivalry.

The First William Order Since WW II

Marco Kroon, back then (2009) a Captain of the Dutch army, received the lowest rank within the prestigious Military William Order, the Knight 4th class. The given honor is persistently called the highest military honor. It is not. The actual awarded rank is part of the extremely high valued military order, yet it's the lowest rank within that order. I do not understand why the government keeps saying that Kroon received the highest honor. The media plays along by the way. If honor-based ranks within a rank-based order are equally honorable, then the point of having ranks is moot.

Whilst (now) Major Kroon received the medal when he was a Captain, the medal involves actions when he was a First Lieutenant Special Forces platoon leader. The research before awarding the medal took three years! He actively fought alongside the men whilst his team was outnumbered, even taking up more dangerous tasks. He ordered bombs on his own position. No men died. Finally, he controlled battle-hardened men because they seem to have kicked dead bodies and whatnot after a heavy fight. Instead he ordered his men to heal the wounded enemies. For this very behavior he was honored by his superiors.

My Criticism

I don't think the Knight 4th class was in place. 

He fought alongside the men, but he's a Special Forces guy in a probably typical Special Forces unit, which isn't a big unit to begin with. A platoon-leader fighting alongside the men when it's all-or-nothing doesn't seem special to me; instead it strikes me as a requirement.

Then there's the Broken Arrow. LT Kroon called a Broken Arrow twice during his stay in Afghanistan. Is that high amount even normal for Special Recon operators? None died, but to me it resembles sheer luck (and/or skill by the AC-130 crew).

Finally LT Kroon reprimanded his men in the field for unprofessional behavior after the ordeal. His leadership right there and then is commendable indeed. But again, does it warrant such a prestigious medal?

Does the combination of his actions warrant such a high medal? Reading up on the events doesn't warrant any medal of this magnitude I feel. As far as I can see he did his job. It's a tough job, I get it.

The reasons for awarding this medal might not have been explained properly by the official sources. But I have to go by what is presented.

Questions needs to be resolved such as: what part of the events is bravery-related with respect to the current magnitude of the Knight 4th class?
(a) The part where he fights? Yes, it's brave, but not worthy of this very medal especially because all of them were fighting and that's their job. If being outnumbered is relevant, then the other operators need to be awarded the same medal as well. 
(b) The part where he took up more dangerous tasks? What exactly did he do?

Is it worth a medal for controlling men when they go berserk on dead bodies immediately following a battle full of horrors? To be honest, no. However, a significant commendation related to future promotions is clearly in place as such a person is politically useful.

Finally, there's an argument that both his men as well as his commander supported the commendation. Such reasoning I don't care for. I have seen myself  what the intensity of military collegiality could mean: the word of the masses doesn't mean anything to me. I love soldiers; the army was once my home, but I have experience with said levels of collegiality and its effects.

An Spec Ops platoon leader performing more dangerous task during a do-or-die fight against an overwhelming enemy force. Is it worth this very medal? Besides, what were those extra dangerous tasks? No one knows. That hasn't been communicated.

The reasons for awarding the Knight 4th class must be well-defined or re-defined and it must not be presented as the highest honor. Also it must be realistic that even a private (or common civilian) could receive the highest ranks within this knighthood. Just like the other orders, this order has an odor of elitism as well.

Note that the requirements state three keywords: bravery, policy, loyalty. It needs to be clear whether all three requirements must be met, or at least one. Such should be the case for all four ranks.

Finally, a research of three years before an award is given is outrageous. I personally wouldn't even be interested anymore. The actions leading to the commendation might be crystal clear, but if one's life and personality isn't good enough for our King, Queen and politicians to be associated with, one is not knighted. But then again, when the nominee is a career soldier, such a critical thinking attitude might not be welcomed.

Conclusion

Details which could illuminate the reasons for Kroon's additional bravery relative to his men, are missing. That I simply do not trust.

Finally, the desperation and the intensity at which the government is attempting to find a national hero makes me distrust this entire enterprise.

Enemy Spotted: Kroon

Major Kroon communicates worse than a truck driver. But let's start at the beginning.

After having received  the honor, Kroon was indicted for drugs- and arms-dealing (electrical shock gadgets). The court-proceedings resulted in sexual explicit content to explain the drugs found on Kroon's chest-hair. Turns out it was his girlfriends. She snorts off his chest whilst being intimate. So eventually Kroon was found guilty of arms-dealing only. He possessed a bunch of electrical shock weapons and sold three of them. The verdict resulted in a fine of €750 and conditional community service. So he got off quite easily. You can't properly punish a hero.

I have no opinion about the drug-related allegations.

He ran a café which was known for having clientèle of less honorable stature. But he was far more in the public eye for his bad communicational skills. Not only does he talk like said truck driver, but he also revealed some details of his conversation with our Queen which is illegal. He also said some inappropriate things about potential sexual behavior of some royalties. He simply can't control the mouth on him. Inside the army he's known for his intimidating style of commandeering.

All in all, the way Major Kroon presented himself is most unfortunate for the upper layers within our society. A new hero must be found so that this one could be forgotten.

The Next William Order

Enter Gijs Tuinman. A cuddly looking Major of the Special Forces (again). Codename "pinkfluffybunny". I made that one up. The point is that a new hero was chosen, and this one was pulled straight from a catalog of non-threatening men. It's not just the looks - Major Tuinman chooses his words carefully and and the overall demeanor is that of a quite civilized person.

Major Tuinman has left the army already when he was asked back to serve as a leader of a Special Forces unit. According to newspapers, several sources within the political and military arena confirmed that he was asked to return specifically because of the behaviour of Kroon. Why our Special Forces had no suitable active-duty officers is beyond me.

The reasons for awarding the - once again - Knight 4th class are vague this time. The media threw out stories of his units (combined marines/special forces platoons) being under heavy fire. Six men (not Tuinman) went out in search of two missing soldiers during the fire fight. They brought them back, one dead. The second story is where Major Tuinman led an operation with never-before-done tactics. It involved landing helicopters nearby and after the initial fight, they went off in the helo's again to catch up with the escaped enemies. I highly doubt something similar has never been done before, but eh. Was it even that genius?

The official reason given is: being continuously capable. That's the short version.

And that's it. Wikipedia doesn't even mention the incidents leading to this commendation. Yet the media, both left and right, think that he's a replacement hero, as our Dutch armed forces do not have a useful hero yet. Besides, experience in life has taught me that if it walks, talks and looks like a duck, it is a duck. He's a replacement hero.

Epilogue

I wish it would have been needless to say that this article is by no means a personal attack on anyone. I never met these guys. Live and let live. The fact of the matter is that I criticize our honoring system and to expose its weaknesses, two recent cases were used as an example. I have no illusions that things were better before my time. But I do want change.

The Dutch were against deployment of troops abroad. Not many of us fell for the lies of the Americans which our government parroted. But troops were sent and the reason is that if we don't co-operate with the Americans, the Dutch will lose prestige in certain high communities. For example (ex) politicians won't get chairs in committees and whatnot. That was a direct reason for the Dutch to send troops to Mali. But an army and a country seem to need hero's to make things more bearable. Hence the need for two Knights.

Major Kroon is the commander in Mali by the way. What do you know?

P.S.

Let me finish by mentioning two events which I have witnessed myself. It's about awarding the Dutch Red Cord of Honor (freely translated). It is amongst the highest military peace-time non-combat honors.

I witnessed this honor to be handed to an NCO for persistent correct behaviour. I kid you not. It was during my driving-lessons in the army. The man (can't remember exact rank) behaved like a robot alright (lol). He was known for that, but that's fine with me, nobody cared, yet awarding such a relevant honor is ridiculous.

The second incident revolves around a Corporal technician who performed a duty for six months which he wasn't trained for, and (almost) without supervision. My entire company was laughing after the ceremony. He later became an NCO. He wasn't unlikable or anything, let's just say he's not the prime example of a man you could trust doing his job honorably. Unless you're looking, then everything is fine. It's always like this.

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