Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Don't let them break you, punch back!"

It is only 30 years ago that I was drafted into the air force; military service was still compulsory in those days in the Netherlands. Already it is hard to find photographic evidence of the unrestricted hair-length that was then allowed in the Dutch army. 

To be honest, I didn't mind too much when I got in, aged 18 and naive, but I learned fast. I never became the sergeant that I was meant to become; instead I was promoted to chaplains clerk - a cynical punishment for my political activities - there was literally nothing to do but wait for a telephone to ring in an office where telephones never rang - 9 hours a day, 5 days a week.
The military was good for my personal education though; becoming an active member of the VVDM (the Union for Conscripted Soldiers) and the BVD (the -illegal- left wing Conscripted Soldiers Union).

"Don't let them break you, punch back!"
Looking back at it, I can't help feeling proud of what the Dutch army was like then; the liberalism, progressiveness, the mix of people in the forces gave a good reflection of society at the time (compared to the all-voluntary professional army of these days). Compulsory saluting was abolished, much to the chagrin of a visiting US Army major who started a court case against a sentry who didn't salute him (the American lost, by the way). 
And yes, long, long hair was flowing from under our berets.
This cartoon translates as follows:
The Dutch soldier must have discipline, but not at the cost of his personal freedom.
He must be armed, but it shouldn't cost too much.
He must be vigilant, but not too much...


  1. Great article!!
    This is soo much different from the armies of the earlier 20st century and of nowadays, where every order, hovever insane, will be executed without a second thought and everyone is proud of this. We called it "Kadavergehorsam" and it made too much possible.

  2. I'm trying to figure out which one of the soldiers is you in the group picture. Are you the one to the left of the drain pipe?

  3. No David, I'm not on this picture. These guys were in the army; I was in the air force. The few people drafted into the air force were envied for it's prestige and even less discipline, but as I described above, I don't think my particular job held any prestige at all (and I would rather have been one of the 'truckies' on the picture).
    Interesting how hard it is to find any photographic evidence of the soldiers (their hair-length, bracelets and earrings) of that era...

  4. What can I say? I'm a combat decorated US Marine - Then and always. Semper Fi John H