- Dear Jeff,
- Dutch Revolt in Iraq?
- As if there weren't enough troubles already in Iraq,
another tribe there is now in revolt. And this is among folks who would
ordinarily be among the last you would look to for such trouble, the "good
guys," so to speak. I'm talking here about the 1,350-strong contingent
of Dutch soldiers stationed there, and that's a direct quote from the head
of their union, the AFMP, W. van den Burg: they're in opstand, or "in
revolt." What that means in practical terms? Increasing talk about
some sort of "strike action," whatever that is supposed to look
like in the middle of Iraq.
- At least the Dutch still have military forces helping
out there, as one-by-one other national contingents slip away (the Hungarians
being the latest such). After I first came aware of this story and commenced
my usual Dutch press-scanning for it, it turned out that most Netherlands
dailies have declined to cover it, at least on-line. The exception is Allard
Besse, of the Algemeen Dagblad and his article Soldiers in Iraq Grumble
Over Money, but quite a good exception it is.
- And that seems precisely the problem: money, and what
soldiers out in the field in Iraq complain is a kruideniersmentaliteit
on the part of the Defense authorities - a "green-grocer's mentality."
We get quite an informative mini-lesson here in soldier household economics.
Dutch troops sent to Iraq get extra payments in two forms: 39 euros per
day for what the article terms the "extra workload" - taxable
- and 27 dollars (yes, US dollars) per day, untaxed, for expenses. Both
of those payments are unsatisfactory, claims the aforementioned Mr. van
den Burg of the soldiers' union. The dollar-amount for expenses hasn't
been adjusted since 1996, back when the greenback was riding high in the
world's currency markets. Now that situation is quite different, of course,
and with the dollar's fall the purchasing-power of that expenses allocation
has also fallen.
- "WORKLOAD" UNDER FIRE
- But those 39 "workload" euros won't really
cut either, and the clue here is to be found precisely in that label: it's
no longer really a matter of "workload" for Dutch troops in Iraq,
but rather of being shot at rather often and on rare occasions (so far,
thank God) even being killed. In a similar way to those 27 dollars, that
rate of 39 euros was set back when the most Dutch troops could look forward
to in the way of real "action" was humanitarian operations; now,
in the Dutch union-scale compensation calculus, the greater risks run in
Iraq should translate into substantially more of a per diem.
- Putting the problem into stark relief is the fact alleged
several times in the article that Dutch troops actually earn more extra
money going on training to Germany or Norway than they do being sent to
the rather hostile current environs of Iraq. Besse gains such quotes through
going beyond union-head Van den Burg to diligently track down both active
military personnel and their wives back home to take an attitude-check.
From troops on the ground he gets comments dismissing the combat-pay as
a mere "gratuity" that they receive "as hirelings of this
government." From one particular wife back home - whose hubby is in
fact a highly-place officer, so naturally she doesn't want her named used
- comes a tale of how the family was promised by the military authorities
earnings of around 1,500 euros/month more due to the combat deployment,
but somehow has received only about 600/month of that.
- But back to huurlingen van deze regering - "hirelings
of this government." One might respond: "Of course you are that
- what did you think you were?" Once virtually all European military
forces were that, namely back around the Renaissance when cities and states
usually found it more convenient to pay others to perform the dirty-work
of combat. (Although for some, especially cities, this expedient could
come back to bite them as mercenaries actually took over power.) On the
other hand, in the 20th century armies were largely drafted, but often
motivated via some sort of nationalist ideology. (Actually, this was the
innovation contributed by the late 18th-century French Revolution.) To
take up for examination the Dutch Army's most obvious counterpart in Iraq,
the US military could be described as all-volunteer, professional (also
"hirelings," if you want), but still largely motivated by a nationalist
ideology (namely the 9/11 attacks and the "War on Terror").
- What sort of army delivers better combat power? The answer
is probably obvious, apart from the sheer superiority in numbers on the
ground of the US Army and Marines. Still, they should watch out for what
we could call "creeping Dutchification": the recent refusal by
a transport unit to embark on what its personnel considered a "suicide
mission" is one sign of that, coupled with the current strain on the
moral of the many National Guard and Reserve personnel in-country who never
thought that this is what they were signing up for.