Last month the US asked the Netherlands to participate with the military presence in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan. Several members of the Dutch parliament and the majority of the Dutch people think it is still much too risky an environment for ‘peacekeeping’. The American government is stepping up its diplomatic pressure, but how does an American citizen view the doubts of the Dutch?
Alex Fields seems to be a true Californian. Relaxed and laid back, he shares his thoughts on the issue. He lives at Droevendaal, loves the Dutch bike and finds Holland a comfortable place to live. He arrived in Wageningen a year ago to do his MSc on Plant Sciences, but in the meantime he has become board member of his study association and has participated in the OWI study programme committee.
When it comes to the American media coverage of the Dutch doubts on Afghanistan, Alex is very clear. ‘To be honest, once or twice the issue might have been briefly mentioned in the news, but in general most Americans have no idea. This is different from here, where everybody seems to be concerned with the news. In general Americans do not even follow politics in the US itself, let alone on the other side of the Atlantic.
‘But if you ask me personally, I can’t blame the Dutch for their doubts. Until the Afghan province is stabilised it is too dangerous to do peacekeeping so it won’t work. Besides that, I think that our army went in much too quickly and that we should never have gone in without the backing of the international community. Half of the American population was against the war, but in times of fear and emotion our government made hasty decisions.
‘Altogether I find it difficult to say much about how I experience the Californians back home on issues like Europe or Holland taking part in the war. What is clear is that in general California is really liberal compared to other parts of America like for example the conservative Midwest. In the central plains of America the Christian fundaments and family values are still very strong and president Bush still receives widespread support for his policy.
‘I think that most Californians feel a certain responsibility towards the world community rather than towards the nation and Christian values. But of course there are conservative people in California as well. What you often see is that those people do not really feel a responsibility towards the rest of the world, but see issues like Afghanistan much more as a national problem. Basically they are conservative in the sense that they are strong nationalists, they want revenge for September 11 and sometimes write signs on their farm fences like ‘US out of United Nations’. They probably do not even know that other countries are taking part in the Afghanistan mission as well. As a liberal I would prefer different opinions but as long as the conservative people are willing to listen, I respect them. However, sometimes they are very closed off.
‘On the other hand, for me as an American, the open discussions on politics that you have here in Holland were very new to me. Most of my friends and relatives are very liberal but a discussion on politics is not a thing that you normally have in your family. Politics is a very individual feeling that you keep to yourself unless something extreme is happening like the invasion in Iraq. However, although people are not really political, even in California, I often experience my home region as more liberal than Holland. We really are a society where differences are accepted while here in Holland, with the recent discussions on ethnicity, I sometimes get the feeling that there is understated racism around.’ / Martijn Vink