Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Military legitimacy during the Cold War: The Dutch army and its criticasters

Subproject of "Historicizing Security. Enemies of the State, 1813 until present".

Constant Hijzen
NWO Vidi NWO Vidi

1945-1989: Threats to military legitimacy

The onset of the Cold War brought to the fore new international and national threats to the military. On an international level, Moscow and its allies became a permanent military and political danger. Nationally, organizations from inside and outside the army started to criticize the military culture, its national and international security policy (including the Dutch contribution to the NATO), or even doubted the legitimacy of the military institution itself.

Paramilitary groups after 1945 

Already before World War II paramilitary groups were active, sometimes even with governmental support. After 1945, they entered the stage once again. These paramilitary groups consisted of the remnants of Dutch resistance fighters, former intelligence officials and concerned veterans. They were very suspicious of leftwing movements in the Netherlands and were of the opinion that the activities of the government and the military to counter this threat were ineffective, or worse still, absent. Therefore, they tried to convince the government and the army that communist ‘fifth column’ organizations were undermining the existing domestic order and that their help was needed to counter the treat.   

After 1945, national security became more institutionalized and postwar administrations were not willing to accept roaming groups of paramilitary, armed civilians carrying out law enforcement and intelligence activities on their own. The government as well as the military felt threatened by these paramilitary groups that offered to ‘rescue’ the Netherlands and aimed to take over branches of state power (intelligence, Law Enforcement, espionage). Interestingly enough, subsequent governments as well as military leaders in the first post-war years were more afraid of the danger posed by these paramilitary groups, than by the external and internal communist threats these paramilitaries claimed to fight. 

Democratization of the army 

In 1966, soldiers established the first military labor union: the Vereniging van Dienstplichtige Militairen (VVDM). This union wanted to establish a more democratic army. In their opinion, the military and political culture did no longer match and this was a problem because from the 1960s onwards, soldiers emphasized the fact that they were civilians as well as soldiers. Between 1966 and the late 1970s, the soldiers took various actions to establish a more democratic army. A famous example of this was the refusal of soldier Rinus Wehrmann to cut off his long hair. In the 1970s soldiers tried to obtain the right to strike, with no success however. In the 1980s, the VVDM as well as professional soldiers joined in their rejection of the nuclear weapons the Dutch government wanted to station on Dutch soil. 

Détente politics and antimilitarism 

For some civilians, the democratic changes within the military itself, were not enough. Against the background of the international détente politics, they no longer believed the Warsaw Pact to pose a real threat to the Netherlands. With their perceived absence of this international communist threat, they believed the military to only serve the military-industrial complex. To protect the military-industrial complex, the military was even used as an internal strikebreaker. The Bond voor Dienstweigeraars was established in 1967 (it changed its name in 1970 in: Bond voor Dienstplichtigen) and Onkruit in 1974. The Bond voor Dienstplichtigen organized anti-NATO-congresses published sabotage pamphlets and tried to intervene in the VVDM, which turned out to be a success. Onkruit launched the so-called ‘action year’ in 1979. From 1979 on, her members, among other things, broke into several military buildings and stole classified military documents. 

The paramilitary groups again 

In the 1970s and 1980s the paramilitary groups entered the stage again. They protested against what they viewed as a growing fatalism and weakening of the Western defense vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact. They had serious concerns over the growing antimilitarist sentiments and the declining military legitimacy, not only within Dutch society but within the Armed Forces themselves. The paramilitary organization felt the urge to take matters into their own hands and they encouraged their followers to conscribe to the army, in order to neutralize the antimilitarist and (what they viewed as) subversive sentiments from within. 

Research questions 

This research project investigates the reaction of the military on the assault of its legitimacy, as well as the influence the left- and rightwing critics had on the development of the army during the Cold War period. The following questions will be addressed: 

  • What criticism on the army was expressed between 1945 and 1989? 
  • What was the view of the left- and rightwing organizations on military legitimacy? 
  • What kind of security measures (new doctrines, decisions, organizations, policy guidelines or concrete bans, emergency state-measures etc.) were adopted by the military against these organizations?
  • How did the military perspective on right- and leftwing organizations evolve over time?

These questions will be answered by studying the development of left- and rightwing groups and its activities, and studying the reactions of the army concerning these groups.

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