Memorial Day at Margraten: conflicts past and present

There’s an immediate similarity between Germany’s former Nazi regime and Afghanistan’s former rulers, the Taliban. That, at least, is according to the United States ambassador to the Netherlands, who was speaking on Sunday at the annual ceremony of remembrance at Margraten military cemetery here in the Netherlands.

The cemetery contains the graves of more than 8300 American soldiers, around 40 percent of whom lost their lives during military operations in the Netherlands and the adjacent part of Germany in 1944 and 1945.

Past and present
It’s not often that Memorial Day, the day on which the people of the United States remember their wartime dead, is used as a moment to reflect on current events, but US Ambassador Roland Arnall indeed seized on this moment while at Margraten to draw a comparison between Afghanistan’s toppled Taliban regime and Adolf Hitler’s National Socialists who controlled Germany from 1933 until the end of the Second World War:

“Both countries, their duplicitous – though charismatic – leaders, are guilty of attempting to exact complete domination of their people, envisioning global domination. The Nazi’s through social-political control; and the Taliban through social, religious and theocratic control.”Annihilation
The senior US diplomat also referred to other similarities between the Taliban and the Nazis. He pointed out, for instance, how the Nazis had persecuted and, ultimately, exterminated ordinary people who they regarded as inferior:

“In Germany, it was the suppression and eventual annihilation of ordinary, so-called ‘lesser’ people. In Afghanistan, it is the expulsion of all western influence, the repression of its people, the ultimate extinction of all infidels. Nazi dogma pursued racial purity; wanted to create an Arian nation. The Taliban pursues extreme religious fundamentalism, through ill-conceived, adulterated adherence to their beliefs”.

Keeping memories alive
Also at Margraten for Memorial Day, senior military commander of NATO US General John Craddock stressed the importance of the annual ceremony of remembrance here in the Netherlands and at many other military cemeteries elsewhere in the world.

Speaking to Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the general commented that remembering in this way also keeps memories alive of what actually happened during World War II. He, too, made a connection with recent events in Afghanistan, although his words were not as strong as those of Ambassador Arnall.

General Craddock referred, for example, to the fact that some of the soldiers buried at Margraten belonged to a regiment that is currently on active duty in Afghanistan: the 1-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.

US-Dutch cooperation
Back in 1944, this unit was involved in fighting at Groesbeek and Nijmegen here in the Netherlands. Now, some 60 years later, a unit of the Dutch Airborne Brigade recently worked closely with paratroopers from the 1-508 regiment during a NATO offensive against the Taliban in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

A weblog kept by Dutch military personnel in Afghanistan mentions a somewhat remarkable coincidence which took place recently and which reflects the military connection between the US and the Netherlands that Margraten also embodies.

In April this year, while taking part in ‘Operation Achilles’, Dutch Corporal Cor Strik became the first and – so far – only Dutch soldier to die in a conflict situation in Afghanistan when he was killed by a roadside bomb. A US sergeant from the 1-508 regiment – a man of Dutch ancestry by the name of Alex Van Aalten – was himself killed when he stepped on another explosive device as he attempted to recover the body of his Dutch colleague.

Speaking to RNW the NATO commander confirmed the report of this remarkable course of events, describing it as a  ‘sad, but poignant’ incident. However General Craddock also said it was one that highlights how the camaraderie, what is known as the ‘band of brothers’ between soldiers still exists more than 60 years on from the last world war.

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Memorial Day at Margraten: conflicts past and present
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