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An Insult to My Country and Its Military

An Insult to My Country and Its Military

Letter to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, by André Flahaut, Belgian Minister of Defense. Mr Flahaut is responding to Philip Shishkin's February 13 story "on the decrepit shape of the Belgian war machine…" Source: De Defensa, Brussels, Belgium, March 1, 2003.

I have read The Wall Street Journal's recent article concerning the armies of Europe, and in particular the Belgian armed forces ("Military Budgets Show Why U.S. Can't Rely on Major NATO Help," Feb. 13). Beyond the fact that the article's assertions insult my country and the men and women with a military and humanitarian vocation, I am surprised that a newspaper of this quality is prostituting itself to this level.

Your unfair treatment of a long-term ally of the United States is sufficient to suffocate the most fervent defender of the freedom of the press. Deriding the concept of objectivity with such violence must alarm any citizen (American, European and Belgian).

The ease and vulgarity of your assertions suggest the intention to harm and bear witness to a lack of professionalism. Even if I can understand that the present political context makes you lose the sense for analysis and fair criticism, the deviations you give way to are inexcusable. Is it reasonable, for example, to consider that the prototype of a Belgian soldier is a 24-year-old corporal who is a hairdresser by profession? [Editor's Note: The hairdresser in question is identified in the article as 47 years old, with 24 years of service in the Belgian Army.] I respect any person and profession, as I do respect all the employees, civil and military, of the department I am responsible for. Let me tell you this:

Yes, we guarantee employment to these persons. To my knowledge the same is not true in the United States.

Yes, our personnel may call in their union, because this is part of our commitment to democratic principles of active listening and well-being for our employees.

Yes, the primary mission of our armed forces is to maintain the peace, and to help the civilian population (Belgian or foreign), without being belligerent or being convinced of having been elected by a higher authority to keep watch over the World order.

Yes, our soldiers marched, because unlike some others, we accept that people express their thoughts and their desires, even if we prefer deliberation.

Yes, we spend a reasonable budget that corresponds to our bilateral and international obligations, but we refuse to squander our public funds for the sole purpose of national glory, since we prefer to spend them on social affairs, health care and pensions for our fellow citizens. In none of these fields do we have lessons to receive from anyone else to whatever extent this may annoy them.

I do not wish to lose any more time relating my feelings about what I consider to be an awful caricature, unworthy of a journalist, unworthy of the Americans we like and respect. But every people has its exceptions, every profession has its misfits.

For the quality of information of your fellow citizens, for the honor of American journalism, for the respect toward the men and women of my department, I sincerely hope you will cease to believe yourselves the keeper of universal wisdom.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).