Netherlands - Personnel

The Netherlands armed forces consist entirely of professional military personnel. Conscription does still exist in the Netherlands, however. The obligation to enlist has been suspended indefinitely, so men aged between 17 and 45 are no longer called up. They do receive a letter when they turn 17, however, informing them that they have been registered for military service. If the Netherlands were to enter a state of war, they would be called up. No new conscripts have been called up since 01 August 1996.

The Christian Democrats advocated bringing back compulsary military service. CDA leader Sybrand Buma presented his manifesto in October 2016 and a prominent part of the Christian Democrats’ program was a re-introduction of conscription, not just for boys but girls too. All youngsters would dedicating six months or a year of their lives to the greater good of society. That, says Buma, will ‘combat rampant individualism’. According to the CDA compulsory civilian service will solve such societal ills as vandalism and people going around insulting each other.

The Dutch army allowed long hair from the 1970s to the end of conscription in the 1990s. For 15 months during the 1970s, Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, allowed soldiers to wear their hair long, reflecting trends in society. The move angered the country's NATO partners during the height of the Cold War and earned the military the disparaging nickname of the "German Hair Force." The Nazirites, who are mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible, didn't cut their hair because they wanted to demonstrate their closeness to God. Many heroes in Greek mythology also had long hair. The Roman historian Tacitus even reported that male members of Germanic tribes were only allowed to cut their hair after they had killed an enemy. In the centuries that followed, it was largely upper-class men who wore their hair long -- including in the military. The original military style of very short hair (crew cut, etc.) was due to hygiene issues during WWI; one of the big problems in muddy trenches is lice. Short hair prevented that problem. The military adopted that as a standard. The rules about facial hair were very practical. A gas mask has to seal properly, and it can't do that if a soldier had a beard. Another advantage to the military haircut is uniformity. The military wants to emphasize that everyone's part of some larger whole, rather than just individuals, and giving everyone the same look is one part of that.

In the 19th and 20th centuries most countries in Europe employed a system of compulsory military service, usually called conscription. This meant that a large part of the male citizens had to serve for a particular term in the army or the navy. They all had to do their duty defending their fatherland, as it was said. Besides being considered an obligation, military service could also be seen as a privilege.

Conscription was introduced in the Netherlands in 1811. At that time the Netherlands were part of the French empire. Napoleon Bonaparte had taken away the kingdom of Holland (1806 - 1810) from his brother Lodewijk Napoleon who opposed the conscription. And that was the end of his kingdom. Before 1811 a ruler had to hire soldiers from countries like Germany or Switzerland to fight a war for him. The ruler who was willing to pay the most, got the best mercenaries. However, Napoleon didn’t have the money to hire soldiers and as an alternative simply introduced conscription.

From 1811 on, every young man had to serve in the army. Registration of these conscripts took place when they were 18 years of age in the municipality where they living at that time. They were registered by the local authorities in the "militia records" being registers of young men who qualified for the draft in a particular year. The records were judged by a military counsel for requests of exemption due to e.g. a handicap. As soon as it was known how many soldiers were needed, the conscripts were called up by the mayor for a lottery. This lottery served the purpose of determining who actually had to serve in the army and who would be dismissed. For those who were drafted, their lottery number was very important. The lower the number, the greater the change that they would have to serve.

The conscripts joined the army at the age of 20 and they were known as the National Militia. Until 1898 a conscript had the possibility to be replaced by someone else, known as a "remplacant". Usually the sons of the upper classes took the advantage of this opportunity. The agreement between the conscript and his replacement had to be confirmed by a notary public by means of a contract, including the amount they had agreed on as a "reward". The possiblity to have oneself replaced was eliminated in 1898 in favor of personal conscription.

The call for cannon-fodder was loud. Europe’s wars in the 19th and 20th centuries were fought primarily by conscripts, who basically had no choice but to fight (and die) for their country. In 1940 the Netherlands had a conscript army with only a very tiny base of professional NCO's and officers. The conscription system that the Dutch maintained provided for a yearly draft of about 19,500 men. While the education of professional staff officers was poor, it is quite obvious that the conscripts were educated to an even lower standard.

The Defence organisation makes a distinction between two types of task for reserve personnel. Firstly, Military Duties Reservists perform tasks in national territory as part of the support and military assistance tasks, as well as ceremonial duties. Civilian Expertise Reservists perform tasks in international crisis management operations and occasionally in support of the civil and military authorities in the Netherlands, whereby use is made of their civil expertise and experience.

Dutch doctrine holds that the morale of the personnel is a key factor in the success of an operation. For the benefit of the operational deployment, the commander must therefore promote a sense of self-respect and a unity of effort among his personnel. One aspect that affects morale is the duration of an operation, which can affect the unit’s perseverance. Crisis management could require the long-term involvement of the international community, including international organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and of a military force. This means that account must be taken of, for example, the desired objectives in the longer term and the political and legal restrictions which the military force may encounter in the course of the operation. It is precisely in a long-term mission that keeping up morale is not only essential to ensure the sustainability of the military force but also requires particular attention from the commander.

Military personnel must be absolutely sure of how to cope with the complex situations, problems and hardships that crises and wars bring with them. Everyone in the organisation should be familiar with the relevant doctrine prior to the operation. This will also enable military personnel to understand the actions of their commanders and to continue to support the operation as a whole, even when they are not in contact with their superiors.

For mission command to function effectively a superior not only needs to inspire confi dence but he must also have confidence in his subordinates. On the one hand, mutual trust refers to the confi dence personnel have in the leaders of the operation; on the other, it refers to the commander’s confi dence in his personnel that they will perform their mission well and in accordance with his intent. Trust is the cornerstone of command. Trust cannot be demanded but, like respect, has to be earned. The basis for this is laid in the day-to-day business: ‘work as you fight’. Mutual trust provides a vital contribution to good morale. It is the commander who ensures the execution of a mission by conveying action, motivation and energy, the will to “go for it”, to his personnel.

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