Holding the line against your nation's army

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

As the US military prepares to topple Saddam Hussein by force, US expats in the Netherlands tell Tiffany Aron why they are marching for peace.

In the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks, US president George Bush cautioned the world: "You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror".

European governments rallied to the cause as he moved to oust the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden from their power base in Afghanistan. But cracks in the unity have appeared now that the focus has shifted to Iraq. The big two European Continental powers, Germany and France, appear very reluctant to back a military campaign against Saddam Hussein, much to the chagrin of many of the US president's supporters.

The debate has got very heated with accusations doubters are betraying their allies and that France, in particular, has forgotten how the US pulled its bacon out of the fire in the First and the Second World Wars.

The image of the US and some NATO allies in dispute with other "reluctant allies" split over the Iraq issue with other "ungrateful" allies is compelling. But how do you explain a group of expats marching in the anti-war demonstration at the Dam in Amsterdam on 15 February?

Some are old timers, several are new comers, but all are American. The core group of planners describe themselves as non-partisan and welcome anyone who wishes to march under the "Americans Against War with Iraq" banner.

"And that’s what we are," says Linda Deak, 55, a health administrator, who has been living in the Netherlands for 13 years. "On Feb. 15, that’s what we are".

They maintain that this is not a gathering of only leftists, "tree huggers" or hippies, but a group of Americans representing a broad spectrum of political and religious persuasions and occupations.

Some 25 people turned up to the first planning meeting, including three whom protested for the first time in 1968 against the Vietnam War. Also in attendance was a practicing Buddhist, three young mothers, two corporate wives, a pediatric resident, a published author, several educators, a freelance copywriter, an historian, an attorney, and a corporate executive, to name a few.

They are united by their nationality, their experience of living abroad in the Netherlands, and by their desire to try and stop the threat of military action. Similar marches will take place simultaneously in several other cities around the world.

Their personal motivations for protesting are varied. Back home, the majority of their peers support the war. According to an ABC News poll, 61 percent of Americans agree that US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his speech to the UN, presented a convincing case that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. However, many in this group of expatriates are fed up with the president and his administration.

For Sheila Gogol, 60, who has lived in Holland for over 40 years and has worked as a high school English teacher and Dutch translator, the whole issue comes down to money.

"My feeling is that, in the past, the United States used to oust governments in these so called banana republics at will, for their own financial advantage," she says. "This time, also, it’s all about money. It’s all about the price of oil".

The "garbage" that is put out by the media and the government in the United States is one of the reasons why Denis Campbell, 45, is going to protest. This business coach and published author was never politically active when he lived in Southern California.

Five years ago, he elected to move to the Netherlands and settled with his Dutch wife on a farm in the east, near the German border. He describes the area as having a lot of roots, where the people are filled with a sense of pride.

He used to feel the same type of pride for his own country, but the threat of war has made him question the type of world in which he is trying to raise his three children, aged three, two and one.

Speaking about where things are headed with the current administration in the US, Campbell says, "Something needs to be done to stand in front of this freight train. It really bothers me that there is such arrogance".

The tactics of the Bush administration have been "shameless, blatant, and corrupt," according to Suzanne Duarte, 58, who has been practicing Buddhism and teaching ecology for 15 years.

She moved to the Netherlands just over a year and a half ago, so that her Dutch partner could help care for his aging father. Duarte was not planning on making the move here permanent, but due to her disgust with what is happening back home, she may end up staying much longer.

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