Speech by the Chief of Defence, General T.A. Middendorp, on the occasion of the Liberation Parade in Wageningen on 5 May 2017
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
Speech by the Chief of Defence, General T.A. Middendorp, on the occasion of the Liberation Parade in Wageningen on 5 May 2017.
NB: Spoken word is leading!
Knights of the Military Order of William,
Excellencies and representatives of the Allied Forces of Canada, the United States of America, France, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
A very warm welcome! And a very warm welcome in particular to all the veterans gathered here today.
We are deeply grateful to you! Our heritage of freedom is built on your courage and your sacrifices. Thank you so much.
Please allow me, if you will, to continue in Dutch.
Ladies and gentlemen,
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
I was once again struck by those words when, on a working visit to Canada last year, I met a remarkable veteran:
Bob was 95 years old and was in a wheelchair.
And when I sat down beside him, he immediately started to tell me about his time in the Netherlands.
He said that one of his jobs during the war had been as a technical officer at Eindhoven airbase.
There, together with his people, he prepared fighter bombers to provide air support for the Allies.
Or, as Bob put it: ‘To push back the Germans’.
But he also saw much sorrow and misery during that period.
Indelible images, which still give him nightmares.
Bob witnessed, for instance, how the Nazis destroyed our dykes and flooded large areas of land.
He saw exhausted parents and children, with whom he shared his rations because they had nothing left to eat.
And I remember clearly how, during the conversation, Bob suddenly grabbed my hand.
‘I will never forget’, he said, ‘that I ended up with a farming family in Eindhoven.’
‘It was cold, mid-winter, and those people had barely anything to eat.
But they gave me their last teabag. That they had kept for four long years.
Real tea, saved specially for those who came to liberate their country.’
And then, ladies and gentlemen, Bob said no more.
But tears were running down his face.
And at that moment, there was so much I wanted to say to that old veteran.
I wanted to say how incredibly brave he was ….
… that as a young man of twenty-four years of age – together with so many others – he crossed the ocean.
Risking his own life to liberate people.
People he didn’t know. Whose language he didn’t speak.
I wanted to say that thanks to him and all those other heroes, four generations have been able to live in the free country of the Netherlands.
With freedom of expression.
With equal rights for all.
Here there is no single group that controls all others, but room for countless opinions and discussions.
I wanted to say that we are still so grateful for that freedom.
And we show that gratitude during the veterans’ processions, when little children throw flowers from their parents’ shoulders.
Or at the cemeteries, where we light candles every year for those who saved us.
Or on a day like today. Liberation Day. When we come together to celebrate our freedom.
That … is what I wanted to say to Bob Hanley, when he was gripping my hand so tightly.
But all I could say to him at that moment, with a lump in my throat, was …
Ladies and gentlemen,
The great, terrible war was won.
The war in which so very many people lost their lives.
In which the Netherlands was occupied.
In which Europe was ripped apart by a dark ideology which divided people according to group, race, sexual preference and origin.
That war …. has mercifully been over for a very long time.
And that is certainly worthy of celebration.
But the fact that we are free here today and celebrating that freedom does not mean that the horrors of the time no longer exist.
People are still living in fear. People are fleeing. People are disappearing.
There is still hatred.
There is still war.
And we can close our eyes and say that it’s not our problem.
That others need to harden their hearts against the poison of hatred, of revenge.
But have we then forgotten that evil will triumph … if good men do nothing?
Think of Bob Hanley.
Of the resistance heroes of yesteryear.
Of the heroes serving today.
Or of all those people who have made themselves heard over the years ….
… have helped others …
… have been vigilant …
… have sought the truth …
… have given their love …
… or have bridged divides.
They are all people who have kept their faith in the power of peace …
… but who also continued to work on it.
Good people who did something. Good people who are doing something.
Because freedom is not only in the big things.
Freedom is not just for a country, for a particular group.
Freedom belongs …. to us all.
It is how we treat each other. It is remembering. It is passing on to future generations. It is being able to love.
Freedom asks something of us. But it also gives immeasurably.
And that makes the effort all the more worthwhile.