The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a senseless, inhumane, and barbaric act.
298 men, women and children of various nationalities lost their lives. About two-thirds of them were from the Netherlands.
As someone who was born and raised in that small country, I am devastated, and I am livid.
I am devastated by the tragic loss of innocent life. I am livid about the disrespectful way the dead have been treated, and about the way the crash site has been intentionally compromised by despicable thugs.
I am haunted by images of the smoldering wreckage fallen from the sky in sunflower-filled fields. In the horrible rubble of bent steel and burnt fuselage, a row of chairs came down undamaged, passengers still strapped in their seat belts. One photo shows the hand of a victim, palm upward, pointing at the heavens in a gesture of terror and despair.
Children’s toys, books, passports, beach sandals, and open luggage tell stories of families, lovers, AIDS experts, students, soccer fans, and flight crew. Their vibrant lives have been desecrated, and their broken bodies lie looted by locals looking for jewelry, cell phones, credit cards, and duty-free goods.
Masked men who in the past felt small and insignificant, were in charge of the crash site, empowered by big guns and cheap booze. The voice of reason and respect has been silenced by the barrel of a Kalashnikov, and a radical nationalist ideology. International observers and investigators were denied complete access. Spin doctors from all parties are still playing a sickening blame game.
In every corner of the earth, families in shock are trying to come to terms with what happened. The Dutch town of Hilversum where I spent most of my working life, lost three families. A total of 13 people perished. The mayor described visiting an elderly couple. They sat on the couch, holding hands as he came in. Not only did they lose their grandchildren, they also lost their son and daughter-in-law. Both 86-years old, the frail couple was inconsolable.
The northern town of Roden where I grew up, is also in mourning. The Van der Linde family, father Rob, mother Erna, daughter Merel (17), and son Mark (12) were looking forward to a fun vacation in Malaysia. Merel had taken her final exams, and Mark had just finished primary school.
Two other victims, Lisanne Engels and Hannah Meuleman, lived in the central town of Utrecht. That’s where I spent 19 years of my life. Lisanne studied medicine. She was on her way to do an ophthalmology internship in Malaysia. Hannah studied psychology, and was traveling to Bali with her boyfriend Pieter. She was on track to graduate after the summer.
In the next few days, most of the passengers of Flight MH17 will come back to the Netherlands for identification. Yesterday, the first forty coffins arrived, as the Netherlands observed a day of national mourning. Thousands of people lined the roads to pay their respects as the hearses passed. Thousands of others marched silently through the center of Amsterdam, wearing white. In other cities, people followed suit.
Even though I now live and work in the United States, I can’t stop thinking about the people on board of Flight MH17. I find it hard to focus on my job, and I follow every new development as it unfolds.
In the past few days, many of you have reached out to me, and I want to thank you for sharing your outrage, your frustration, and your support. It means more to me than words can express.
This crash –the deadliest airliner shootdown in history- is an example of what people can do to other people when they are driven by fear, extremism, and hate. It shows a total lack of respect for human life, decency, and dignity.
In one way, this crash is “just” a symptom of a much deeper problem. It brings us to one of the most fundamental questions we are facing today:
“How on earth can we resolve our conflicts in a peaceful way?”
If we don’t find the answer(s) to this question, more and more innocent people will be hurt by hate, and lose their lives, wherever they may live.
Of course there are no easy answers, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking. And rather than leave it to the politicians and war lords, I think we should start close to home. Because if we can’t overcome our differences on a small scale, we don’t stand a chance when it comes to resolving the big geopolitical issues of our time.
Can I make one more suggestion?
In this quest to end conflicts peacefully, I think the women of the world should take the lead.
For centuries, men have had their chance, and they blew it big time. Macho politics has failed miserably. Instead of aggression, we need compassion. In my opinion, women are more capable of leaving their egos at the door; they are more caring and compassionate, and able to compromise.
Imagine for a moment what would happen if women were to take over in the Middle East. Would Israelis and Palestinians still be fighting each other? Would Sunnis and Shiites still kill one another? Can you imagine a UN summit led by people like Malala Yousafzai and Mary Robinson? Would the world finally take concrete steps to combat climate change, child labor, gender inequality, and starvation?
What would happen in Russia, if it weren’t led by a testosterone-driven, power-hungry, He-Man of a leader? Would it still be providing rockets to the rebels in Ukraine?
Of course it is too late for those who died on Flight MH17. But we owe it to them to try harder, to do better, and to take unusual steps to bring people together, and make peace. Let’s begin in our own backyard.
Otherwise, history will simply repeat itself, and we will soon mourn the loss of other people who do not deserve to die.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
photo credit: “Schiphol-Airport-Memorial-MH17-Victims-July-2014– Photo by Persian Dutch Network” by PersianDutchNetwork – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Anneminke van der Velden says
Thank you Paul, for exactly expressing my thoughts. Your words brought me to tears, once again.
I have been a flight attendant for 36 years and have always felt safe. One day before disaster struck over the eastern Ukraine, I flew over that very same area. In the past I flew over former Yugoslavia when the war was at its height, as well as over Iraq, Afghanistan…you name it. I saw lightflashes when I looked down and my blood went cold. But I never, ever thought something like this could happen.
The world has, once again, definitely changed. And you could be right: maybe women should do the talking now. A few days ago I read an article in which the author suggested that all leaders should come together for talks. Not about war and peace and solutions and agreements, but just to talk about their children and grandchildren. So they would see each others human, sentimental side. And how different would the official talks be after that! As long as there are still too many men on the top, i think we should really follow this idea.
James Phillips says
Thank you, Paul!!
Mark Middlestadt says
Thank you Paul, I was hoping your blog this week would touch on recent tragedies.My heart goes out to you and your fellow Dutch who have been affected so closely by the violence of, yes, fearful cowardly individuals.
Why as humans do we forget that despite the fact that we speak a different language, eat a different food, that we are all still Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers!
I worry that history will keep repeating itself!…My late Jewish Father grew up here in Toronto, Canada. Sixty five, seventy years ago he wasn’t allowed in many stores, public beaches. Gentiles only! Blacks, Italians, Irish, & other immigrants who faced such intolerance. We have come a long way, and yet have so much further to go!
Violence begets violence. I’m inclined to agree, perhaps its time Men as word leaders step aside and see what Women of the world can do?
Peace be with you Paul!
Matt Forrest says
Very touching, Paul, and beautifully written. How anyone cannot be moved in light of this tragedy is beyond me. And yet, the people who caused this and others like them will continue to create havoc, violence, and despair because, unfortunately, some people simply know no other way to live. Some people are violent, angry people, and cannot be changed. That is not to say we should not try to make our world a safer, better place – but ultimately, we have to recognize the fact that not everyone on the earth WANTS peace, sad to say.
Brett Hyberger says
I’m so sorry, Paul. When you believe so much in an ideal that you are willing to sacrifice other lives without so much as a thought to the victims and and the emotional cost of the situation, that ideal loses all empathy and integrity. I’m sure whoever did this thought they were sending their message to world, but the reception is always different than what they want. I am shocked about the looting of the crash site. How disparate can a person get to lower themselves to that standard? We need new leadership in this world, not just in the US, and women should take more control than they have. There needs to be a balance, and the world would definitely be a more livable, lovable place to live if women took a more prominent spot today. Thank you as always for sharing, Paul. Prayers and thoughts to you and your homeland.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you all for your heartwarming responses of sympathy and support.
Apart from clashes over religion, land and ideology, let’s remember one reason why armed conflicts continue. As long as people believe there’s more money to be made with war than with peace, the industrial-military complex will continue to feed violence. Only when we discover that we can actually profit from peace, things may slowly begin to change.
Liz de Nesnera says
Dan Friedman says
I’m so sorry Paul. There is far too much violence in this world. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Twice actually. First, how we deal with conflict begins at home. In my house we teach our sons to communicate rather than fight and to accept people for their unique qualities and individuality. Second, the women do need to take charge. They have nurturing, sensitivity and communication down far better than men. They have the power to solve many of our worlds problems.
Be well my friend.
Randye Kaye says
I can only add my thanks as well. You have expressed what so many of us are thinking. I just finished listening to the audiobook of “I Am Malala” – amazing. All she and her family wanted- and still want – are the basics of love, peace, possibility, and the right to learn and express.
This tragedy just makes no sense. It is truly heartbreaking and senseless.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you Dan and Randye. It is sad that some of the most essential life skills such as effective communication, active listening, and non-violent conflict resolution, are not taught in every home and school. The seeds we sow lead to the crops we grow. Kids growing up with hate, end up hurting others, perpetuating a deadly cycle of violence. Thank goodness for role models like Malala and her father. We desperately need more of them!
Rick Lance Studio says
Paul, I was expecting to hear from you in this way. I was sure this incident was heavy on your mind right after you heard of it. And all of us who know you immediately thought of you after realizing this sick tragedy and it’s even sicker aftermath occurred. We appreciate your more personal account, knowing first hand of the grief and suffering of the folks back home. It was not unexpected, knowing your regard for human life, dignity and consciousness, that you went a little further to explain your underlaying thoughts on the world as it is. It truly is the shame of mankind that we show such a great lack of tolerance and understanding for each around the world. But I don’t see an end to the effects from this behavior… only further escalation of conflict and war. My thoughts are with you, Brother!
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you for this virtual hug, Rick. The more I think about these tragic events, the more I am convinced that things will only change once we are able to change ourselves. Every person is capable of hating and hurting another person. Rather than striving to bring about world peace, each one of us should look inside, and deal with our demons. If all of us start small, we could create a wave of positive change!
I was moved by your country’s show of affection in the WSJ. Not sure that our current administration shares the same affection. Not sure that a prospective female challenger to our current administration would do any better…
Paul Strikwerda says
It all remains to be seen, Nicholas. I’m hoping for a new generation to stand up and take over.
Joe Van Riper says
Your insight, as always, is spot on. The terror inflicted on our world would certainly whither, if not disappear completely, under the temperance of a distaf leadership. A friend of mine, a diehard male chauvinist, shocked me once when telling of an aborted takeoff of a commercial flight he was on.
“The pilot was a woman, thank God!”, he said.
Knowing that he, too was a pilot, I asked why he said that.
“Because a man would’ve seen the warning lights as the runway got shorter and said; ‘Hell, I can get this SOB off the ground… Hang on!””
Only one problem. How do we get the male maniacs who hold power to agree to let women handle things?
Paul Strikwerda says
Good last question, Joe. I guess that’s for the women to decide. If we as men attempt to lay the groundwork for them, we’re still operating from the old paradigm.
Susan Hadash says
The loss of so many people on that flight is simply heartbreaking. May their memories be blessed. Your heartfelt words really resonated with me, as I read them from Israel. I think you have a great idea about women leading the way for peace, and in particular taking over in the Middle East! Although it’s good to know that there are men like you in the world giving out good energy for peace 🙂
Virginia Muzik says
I thought of you, Paul, in the wake of this awful event and wondered if you’d write about it. What a heartfelt, sensitive, and sensible post you wrote. I am so sorry for you and your fellow Dutch to have lost so many in a senseless act of violence.
I, like you, am deeply haunted by this tragedy. As an Australian (we lost 36 people on that flight) of Ukrainian derivation, and with a Dutch partner, my psyche and my heart are especially distraught.
In fact, my partner was on flight MH17 exactly a week before the one that crashed, coming back from visiting his family in Holland. Too close a call for my liking, but believe me, we’re counting our blessings!
While I can never imagine what the families who lost loved ones are going through, I’m taking comfort in the solidarity between the Netherlands and Australia especially, in giving some dignity to those who died – it was a Dutch and Australian plane transporting the coffins to Holland. And to hear today that the Dutch will be taking over investigations at the crash site, with great assistance from Australia, is somehow really comforting for me.
I hope (perhaps against hope?) that some good can come out of this in waking people up to what REALLY matters in life… and you’re right – it does begin in our backyard.
And I hope your heart heals in time.
Paul Strikwerda says
Wow… what a story, Virginia. I’m so glad both of you are safe. The cooperation between the Netherlands and Australia is remarkable. Our foreign secretaries seem to work well together. Soon, a joint Dutch/Australian force will be policing the crash site so investigators can do their jobs.
Hopefully, we won’t see this type of disaster ever again.
Steven Lowell says
Thank you Paul,
I admit I tried to write a similar blog, but could not find a way to get through finishing it.
Compared to years ago, the industry now involves immediately getting to know people from around the world; good people and it is hard to understand why such hatred exists.
What struck me was the death of six AIDS researchers, people who were working to save lives, not take them in the name of political agenda. The 90’s for me were about NY theatre life and I lost several friends and teachers to AIDS in the past 25 years. Knowing these scientists had perished means knowing a combined knowledge of more than 60 years of research dying with it, setting back a cure maybe for decades.
As a New Yorker with a downtown view of Manhattan for the last 15 years, it is hard to forget the pain, fear, and impact on families and communities from such a great loss of life, taken with such a reckless disregard for human life.
I do agree with you. I also see the first step in making change is getting a woman in the White House in 2016. Over 100 years ago women won the right to vote. It is about time they win the right to run a country from the top on down and show people a new way of thinking. We are currently brainwashed as a society into thinking ‘violence is the only answer’.
Paul Strikwerda says
I believe that love comes naturally, and that hatred is taught, often by example. If you accept this to be true, the answer to creating a more caring and loving planet is as simple as it is challenging. We have to teach our children the skills to communicate; we have to teach them empathy, and show them that small acts of kindness can change lives forever.