FOTO 6.C RONALD E. KONLuitenant-kolonel Ronald Kon was aanwezig bij de dodenherdenking van 2023 in Tyre. Hij mocht daar een toespraak houden. De indrukken en ontmoetingen lieten hem niet koud… Een verslag staat in de Dubbel Vier #2, 2023 (juli 2023). In dit artikel - vooruitlopend op de nieuwe Dubbel Vier - is zijn volledige toespraak te lezen.

© Ronald E. Kon Tyre, May 4, 2023

“Wreaths for the victims as wreaths for them as winners”

When I arrived in Lebanon in October 1983, nearly 40 years ago, after having graduated from Amsterdam University in the field of Arabic and Islamic Studies, I already had seen Lebanon before during study trips, and I had experienced what life in the MENA region could entail. The life of books was temporarily behind me, and the books of life would be opened in front of me: page per page, during 9 months.

Having exchanged my student’s jeans and t-shirt for a military uniform, and having submitted my pencil and exchanged it for a sword (in my case as a fresh Captain a pistol) I could not anticipate that so much would change for me. Heavy explosions like those in Beirut (October 23, 1983) and Tyre Barracks (November 4, 1983) still echo in my mind, and frame the period the Lebanese had to live in. Especially for the Lebanese these explosions changed –and still change: August 4, 2020!!- a lot.

Two impressions were very strong: (1) how my dear fellows in Dutchcoy I and II I served in were endlessly flexible in performing their duties, and seriously committed to their obligations. They spoke with enormous respect about the Lebanese for whom they came to work in the framework of keeping peace under the umbrella of the UN. (2) Just as strong was the respect I felt, in the field in Jabal Amil (if you allow me the expression) when dealing with the Lebanese, and when I heard how they appreciated the presence of us as Dutch: a wonderful and mixed marriage of good intentions and shared ambitions.

Now that we are gathered here in Tyre, in my case as a retired veteran Lieutenant-Colonel thankfully at the honourable invitation of the Dutch Embassy and its Defense Attaché, on this beautiful day in such a beautiful part of the country, it is with sorrow that we have a heavy task to perform: not all Dutch military personnel who came to walk, talk and work for domestic peace in Lebanon in the Area of Operations of Dutchbatt and Dutchcoy I and II returned home alive. Their names are written here on the monument, and they are in the midst of our hearts. For me they are heroes (in our time there were no “sheroes”), and I am convinced that you as listeners share that idea. In a certain sense that is a miniature mirror image of all those Lebanese who succumbed to the pressure of the civil war in their own country: also they, in much larger numbers, did not see peace return to their country. They all have found a place in the Field of Honour that our minds prepared and cultivate for them.

When I left Lebanon in July 1984, I could not fathom when I would be back. But I had learned how the pen and the sword should be in a better balance, how ratio and emotion should try to find an equilibrium, for the good of all.

The names of the 9 compatriots who gave their lives have just been mentioned. That’s how it should be done. Because if we no longer mention their names they tend to be forgotten. I beg you: let us promise each other, here and now, that that will not happen. This is an In Memoriam for persons mentioned by name but also for a society as a whole: you as Lebanese will also not be forgotten.

For Peace, Safety and Security there should perhaps never be an In Memoriam in which we look back: I sincerely hope that Peace, Safety and Security will continue to be something we look forward to, as the shared hope of all of us, dedicated to the themes of tolerance, mutual understanding, and shared responsibility.

Also now, at the end of my speech, I want to remind all, including the Dutch Veterans present here today, of the peaceful battle cry of our Regiment Infantry Prince Johan Willem Friso: “Always in front”/“Altijd vooraan”.