| A couple of weeks back we were treated to a shameful display by General Jack Sheehan when he was invited to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In that testimony he embarrassed himself terribly. It was so bad that it was embarrassing to watch, especially as he attempted to place the blame for the slaughter at Srebrenica on the fact that the Dutch military allows gay soldiers to serve openly. When pressed, he said he was relying on statements by the then-Chief of Defense Staff, General Henk van den Breemen.
General Van den Breemen, however, found the allegations of Sheehan "absolute nonsense." He does not share Sheehan's views on the role of homosexuals in the fall of Srebrenica, and has never said anything even remotely like that.
Sheehan's comments caused a lot of eye-rolling and embarrassment among Americans, but the Dutch were outraged, and justifiably so. Not just at the comments, but at the reopening of a wound that should never have been inflicted and most Americans are probably ignorant of, since telling it would have cast a pall over our outsized jingoism and hubris, and dog knows our media would have no part of that.
The truth of the matter is, the Dutch should not even have been there at the time. They were overdue to rotate out, but no relief came. Their NATO allies refused to go in and protect the city because, they claimed, that Srebrenica was too dangerous with its only one intermittent supply route. So the Dutch stayed on, defying the odds, refusing to just abandon the populace.
Sheehan undoubtedly knows this, as do most Americans who served in the European theater at the time. Maybe that is why he has apologized to the Dutch.
The Defense Ministry released an e-mail Tuesday from Sheehan, a former NATO commander who retired from the military in 1997, to retired Dutch Gen. Henk van den Breemen saying he is sorry for his statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 18.
In the e-mail, Sheehan says the 1995 murder of some 8,000 Muslim men in Bosnia's Srebrenica enclave "was in no way the fault of individual soldiers."
Outnumbered and outgunned by Serb forces, Dutch U.N. peacekeepers did not intervene as Muslim families seeking refuge at Srebrenica were separated and the men driven away to be summarily executed and plowed into mass graves.
Sheehan had cited Van den Breemen, the Dutch military's chief of staff at the time of the massacre, as his source when he told the Senate committee Dutch army chiefs had believed gays were "part of the problem" in the fall of Srebrenica.
"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," Sheehan wrote to Van den Breemen.
Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop welcomed the apology.
"The minister is satisfied with the apologies and very pleased that the case is closed," Van Middelkoop's spokesman Otto Beeksma said.
The Dutch are certainly civilized. As soon as the apology was rendered, all was forgiven, even by a group that had hastily organized to sue the General in the US court system for defamation. "Now that he has expressed regret, the need to start legal proceedings has vanished," said the organizer of Pink Army.