Donated in 1954, the Netherlands carillon at Arlington National Cemetery serves as a token of thanks for the American lives sacrificed in Europe during World War II.
The Dutch government is now working with the U.S. National Park Service to renovate and expand it, adding three new bells to the current 50 to make it a grand carillon, a fuller representation of the strong historic ties between the countries.
The project is perhaps a metaphor for the relationship between the European Union and the United States, which Dutch Ambassador André Haspels says needs constant tending, especially as a pandemic is compounds skepticism about globalization and strains transatlantic ties.
“The bond has never been a given; it has always been something that you have to work on,” Mr. Haspels said, conceding that the Dutch government is not spending the promised 2 percent of GDP on defense as committed within NATO — a point President Donald J. Trump has been all too happy to hammer home in criticisms of Europe since 2016.
Asked in an interview with World Affairs Council of Atlanta President Charles Shapiro whether COVID-19 has put globalization on the defensive, the ambassador suggested it could use some recalibration.
But for the Netherlands, a trading nation for centuries that relies on exports, scrapping global integration is not an option.
“We cannot be in a position where we are completely on our own, not in the Netherlands and not in the EU. We should continue to engage with countries and work on globalization, but at the same time we might have been naive when we only look at the positive aspects.”
Inequities in how China treats foreign companies, versus the openness with which Chinese companies can access Europe and the U.S., constitute one example of how the pandemic (and perhaps the Trump administration) have shed light on challenges of global integration, he said.
“For me COVID has worked as a kind of magnifying glass for certain trends that were already there, and those threads have become more clear. One of them was the rise of China, but also the dependency on China,” Mr. Haspels said.
From a global perspective, Mr. Haspels did not believe the world should descend into a situation where nations are forced to choose between two predominant models of development and commerce (echoing his predecessor’s comments in an interview with Global Atlanta.) China is a “huge territory,” where Western companies have much to gain. The best defense, he suggested, is continued leadership.
“Our objectives should be that we — the Netherlands, the EU and U.S. — remain ahead of the curve, that we are stronger when it comes to innovation, strong when it comes to applying new ideas, new working methods. That is I think our common challenge.”
The Dutch consulate in Atlanta has been a success in fostering joint investment and collaboration since its launch two years ago, the ambassador said, as well as spurring discussions on issues of diversity and inclusion.
Ard Van der Vorst, the consul general, is by some accounts the first openly gay diplomat posted in the South and has made this part of his personal mission.
‘Looking in the Mirror’ on Racism, Monuments
At a moment of reckoning over race relations in the U.S., Mr. Haspels echoed Atlanta-based diplomats in condemning the death of George Floyd as well as racism and police brutality in general.
But he focused most of his energy on showing how the Netherlands is “looking in the mirror” at its current challenges and colonial past, which include a lamentable and integral role in the transatlantic slave trade.
The same debates over the renaming of military bases christened after Confederate generals or removing statues is playing out in Amsterdam over the names of streets and canals named for wealthy traders who profited using people as property.
“The most relevant thing is that we acknowledge there is something to discuss,” Mr. Haspels said of the monument conversation especially. “This debate is a crucial first step if you want to take this issue further. That would be my plea for the United States and for the Netherlands. Listening is part of a debate.”
In the meantime, the country is undertaking initiatives to honor the contributions of black people, including 172 “black liberators” whose remains lie there still, more than 75 years after the war’s end.
The Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten contains some 8,300 graves of troops who died liberating the country from the Nazis, all of which have been adopted by Dutch families. Scant information was available on the black soldiers, however, and the Dutch government has set about finding their families or descendants. So far, 24 have been identified.
Georgia is among the states from which they hailed, and the embassy is encouraging families with information on these soldiers to contact the Dutch government. Learn more at the embassy’s website or at https://blackliberators.nl/en/
As for the carillon project, one of the three new bells provides a fitting tribute to the history of shared struggle for equality across the Atlantic: It’s dedicated to Atlanta’s native son, Martin Luther King Jr., who is being honored along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Gen. George C. Marshall.
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