Anthropology of the Dutch: the Netherlands Marine Corps


Among all the nations
and people I visited… I never met a stranger breed
than the Dutch. Not just one people, but a tombola of
cultures, clubs and groups. With strange tribes
and exotic communities. Like the classical ethnologists
before me, I will visit them… measure them… dissect and scrutinize them. I’m going on safari in my own country,
in search of the jungle within us. You can call me the Pigeonhole Man. Looking for the marines. How do you recognise them? Where do they live? Are they approachable? What are their modes of transport? What do they like to read? What can’t they get enough of? And what do they think about,
far away from home? A normal day
under the grey Dutch sky. On the Dutch coast. Peaceful waters. Once fought for, and hard-won. And defended for centuries
by the naval forces. The enemy saw
the approaching fleet. With menacingly flapping sails,
they charged the opponent. With cannons on board. And sabres and muskets in hand. Always first in battle:
the naval soldiers. Marines, seafaring fighters. Today, the naval soldiers fight
for the favour of the people. The civilians. Where did you come from? Doorn. What’s in Doorn?
– The marines. Marines aren’t civilians themselves.
There are only 3000 of them. They tend to stay in their holes,
and in society they are often invisible. But they cost society
a lot of money… …so sometimes they have
to show their camouflaged faces. And show what they can do,
why they are useful… …and how nice their gear is. Plus they need to discover
new members of their own species. May I ask you something? Aren’t you a bit young
to be a soldier? Well, yes.
But I’m here every year. Every year? And where
did you get this nice uniform? I bought it somewhere. Do you want to join the army?
– Yes, the marines. You want to join the marines?
– That’s my dream. They all look alike to me, so green. Yes, but the difference is that
the navy wears black and gold stripes… …and the marines wear these:
black and green. How do you know all this? Because I’ve been coming here
since I was five. How old are you?
– 11, so I’ve been coming here… For six years.
– Yes. It’s my dream to be a part of this. Isn’t it very dangerous?
– Yes, but if you die… …at least they’ll bring you back
to the Netherlands. Nice, so you’re dead,
but they’ll take you home. It’s just that they’re all people
who want to take care of you. They’re there for each other?
You like that? That they help each other? The marines are there for you,
whether you have friends or not. So with the marines,
you always have friends? With the marines,
you always have friends. You won’t be lost in the crowd,
all alone. Is it the fighting spirit that bonds? Or a love for exotic locations? Is it about the nice uniforms? Or is it about being a real man
among real men? How do you recognise a marine? You would think he’s blue. Because he’s with the navy. They look like soldiers.
– Correct, these are naval soldiers. Why do they wear green at sea? Because they will land afterwards,
hence the green uniforms. And they’re all boys?
– All boys. So what’s that girl doing there?
– Support. The Marine Corps
is only for tough men. Is it possible to talk
to these dangerous men? Yes, go ahead.
– Do they speak in full sentences? Usually they do, yes. May I ask you something?
What group are you with? We’re the 1st Boat Company,
from Texel. The Marine Corps. From Texel?
– That’s right. Texel is over there?
– That way. The Marine Corps base,
the barracks, is quite inconspicuous. As you sail by, it almost seems
invisible in its inconspicuousness. Maybe they like it that way. It seems camouflaged,
or disguised as some kind of motel. A conference centre
next to the motorway… …where guests are escorted to
in a playful manner. It’s surrounded by fences. If Joost Dourlein hadn’t shown
great courage… …during the Police Actions
in Indonesia in the late 1940s… …there wouldn’t be
a barracks named after him. How may I help you?
– Good day, I’m Michael Schaap. I’ll be right there. Juliet 1. Correct, Juliet 1. Please follow me for the paperwork.
– Thank you. Dourlein always led his men,
even in great danger. This is the habitat of
the amphibious unit of naval soldiers. The base is their own space… …fully equipped
for the marines’ needs and duties. Outside the fences live the people.
Also known as the civil society. On evenings and weekends,
Commander Nommensen… …lives in IJburg, Amsterdam.
– Commander. Two years ago, he took charge of
the barracks on the island of Texel. Your name is Nommensen?
– Yes. What can you say
about the kind of people… I’ll be walking around,
so is there anything I shouldn’t do? To answer your first question:
You’ll meet people of the fleet. He’s very alert. The man with
the bow tie asks multiple questions. All questions are categorised
and answered one by one. So those are the various kinds
of people you’ll meet here. And the marines, of course.
– Question two: etiquette. You’ll see that if you ask questions,
people will often answer in jargon. So if it isn’t clear to you,
you should ask further questions. So you will get the answers
to your questions. I ask this, because there’s
a certain image of marines… …of being real ironsides,
conservative men. I get this image from the protests
at Dam Square… …when they cleared the square
in the 1970s. That’s my last memory
of the Marine Corps. That’s a shame.
– Yes, isn’t it? It’s a no-nonsense welcome. You’re a guest in our barracks,
most welcome. And many English terms are used. In the desert
we wear desert colours. Marines are characterised
by their can-do mentality. Can-do mentality?
– Yes. This community isn’t known
for being accessible. They don’t like people
snooping around. Those outsiders, who only want
to see them shoot and fight. But if you do visit,
it’s best to do so on a Wednesday. Then there’s the famous
Wednesday supper: the Blue Meal. In almost every culture,
supper is a social event. But you can’t just sit down
and join a group of marines. It’s not easy to gain their trust. The commander doesn’t eat alone.
He joins his men. The most relaxed member of
a group is often an old greybeard. He has seen enough strangers
to not be uncomfortable anymore. I notice that people look at me
a bit strangely. Do civilians ever come here? Yes, but not as often as before. Because we don’t want
to be swamped by school trips. So we’re a bit selective
about whom we allow to visit us. Prawn cracker?
– No, thanks. You like the food?
– Yes. The marines are famous for this:
the Blue Meal. The Blue Meal?
– Yes. Because the Indonesians
were the Blues? Why so? I think it dates back
to the old days… …when there were quite a lot of
Indonesian people in the navy. For example, after this meal
we’ll drink a cup of ‘purut’… …which is chocolate milk. And after an amphibious exercise,
the boys take a ‘mandi’… …which is a shower.
There are more words like these. In the jargon, the marines
are clearly different from the navy. We sometimes call
our fleet colleagues ‘fleet bales’. And they call us ‘beetles’. And is there a word for civilians? Yes, there is. They’re called ‘worcivs’. You want to know what it is, right?
It’s ‘worthless civilians’. But that’s a joke, of course. ‘Qua patet orbis’:
As far as the world extends. The motto of the marines. Only a quarter of the residents
is not a marine. And marine or no marine,
beards are rare around here. That’s true. When I was a boy,
my father gave me a sailboat. All those who want to sail as
freebooters must be bearded men. John, Pete, George
and Karel Budde. It doesn’t look very military,
but it’s the foundation. Sailing is a good foundation, I think. The Marine Corps was founded
by naval hero Michiel de Ruyter. Soon after,
their first major achievement… …was the raid on Chatham in 1667. The English fleet was decimated. They became the navy’s flagship
overnight, the cream of the crop… …as they still say. I have to release the other side. Do you know what wind force it is?
– I think it’s wind force 4 or 5. So we’re not going
to unfurl everything. Captain Budde, a real skipper,
became a marine when he was 16. So I arrived
in Hollandsche Rading… …with about 120 boys and girls. They put us through the wringer
for a week. More and more people
dropped out… …and at the end of the week,
there were six of us left. Four of these six could choose:
the Corps or the navy. Two could only join the navy. I was one of the four who could
start serving in the Marine Corps. Mr Budde, can you take the helm?
– Of course. What makes a marine a marine?
What do you need? The right mindset.
– What’s that? Good character,
determination, flexibility. And we stick together
through thick and thin. The people on the navy ships
do great work, of course… …but they still have
a certain degree of comfort. But the marines are often
in the bush, in the snow. Do you have to be tough?
– No, I don’t think so. I can imagine that a young man… …on a nice FRISC like that one
will feel pretty cool. But on average
I don’t think we’re tough. So they’re not tough,
and they’re never late either. That’s for civilians. The language is a bit mechanical. Sorry I’m late.
– That’s normal for civilians. Everything has to be loud and clear.
Plain language. He’ll come along
to Kornwerderzand. Let’s go. The youngest group members,
the freshmen… …still have to be moulded
by the moulders. 30 seconds left. Sergeant Herman knows how
to do this. His voice is his weapon. Short, well-aimed explanations
and orders. You still have time to look around. With sergeant Herman
you won’t be a wimp. Can you say something about… This is the IJsselmeer. When you land, these boys
will have to fight as well, right? Of course, it’s not just
about sailing from A to B. These are the men
who fight on the water. We’re not the men who only sail
from A to B, like the navy. Man overboard, starboard. Not in the water, but on the line.
A bit lower. A little bit.
Stop, a bit higher. Yes.
Stop, that’s too far. A bit lower. Now read the meter. Guide him there.
Tell him when to stop. What do you think of the speed? Tell him then. What do we do with this man? What do we do with him?
– Give first aid. What else?
– Warm him, bring him in. Say it then. What did we say about the key?
– You have to put it back. Why was it in your pocket?
– It was faster. No, that’s not the drill. Lock the door. What else is on your belt?
Why didn’t you go to the edge? Is it firmly attached?
– No. Wrap it up.
Continue the navigation. After eight weeks of training,
a mother will see… …her son starting to vacuum
of his own accord. He’s a go-getter now. We’re still connected.
Disconnect. Bakker, guide him. What is this here? Grab it here. In a lock, you moor
as quickly as possible. After the exercise it’s on to Medemblik.
The night is spent in a unique barracks. The host yells: Too late. He doesn’t blame the bow-tied
latecomer, but the crew. Goddamn it.
Hey, Jeroen. We’ll have frikandels today.
No croquettes, no bullshit. This is a branch
of the Joost Dourlein barracks. It looks like a bar,
but it’s a barracks. The host doesn’t wear a uniform,
but his brothers recognise him. I’m a marine veteran.
That’s why we’re here together. Hundreds of marines
have been here since 1981. Even a model marine
like Erik Jan den Boer. I’m glad you’re here.
Dig in. He had been a marine
for 18 months… …back when there was still a draft. He’s a marine veteran.
It’s forbidden to say ‘ex-marine’. Every year his people stop by.
He welcomes them, and feels free. As if he can be himself again. Eggs for everyone. Eggs, here you go. I’m always invited to farewell
or opening ceremonies on Texel. Then I feel I’m one of the few people
who is part of that. It’s an incredible feeling.
We’re all buddies, it’s fantastic. I miss this a bit in civil society. It’s very individualistic, without
the camaraderie that the Corps has. The Corps as a whole
can always be complimented… …but a marine
never compliments himself. That’s done in a different way,
through promotion. The commander turns Sergeant Herman
into a sergeant major. As first skipper, you’ll be promoted
to sergeant major… …if there are no objections.
Congratulations. It gives pride,
but there’s no need to dwell on it. It’s great, but we have to get going.
So we should be downstairs by 8.15. Great, congratulations. They do make time to pay respects
to a marine killed in action… …or in an accident
during an exercise. Marine Ryan Bakker
has lost his life. I would like to honour him
with a minute of silence. The young man who has died
was 21 years old. He had a sweetheart,
two parents and a brother. He had made his dream come true:
becoming a marine. After the accident
he was brought home. Ryan would have understood
that a marine has to move on. Okay, guys.
It’s sad, but we have to get going. Downstairs in 5 minutes. Yes, guys.
This is great. You know what else is nice?
This thing right here. It’s from Cambodia. The marines once sent this to me.
It’s for mines. Those guys are here now.
Erik Jan den Boer, awesome. The guys are back, it’s fantastic. Erik den Boer, model marine. Not because he’s been on many
missions or hit many enemies… …but because he’s a brother
through and through. Never a career soldier… …but someone who sticks around.
On Texel, with his men. This is a training area, right?
– Yes. And a nature reserve. We have a great view from here. Are you okay,
or do you need oxygen? I once heard a general talk
about a willingness to be killed. I think I do want to give my life
for my country. I want to die for the good cause. That’s what I signed up for,
so they can count on me. You’re willing to die for me?
– If that’s asked of me. Would you do it for me? I hope so.
I can only hope. I think it’s only human
to take care of yourself. But I think we have an extra gene… …that makes us stand up
for each other and help each other. We leave no man behind, no matter what. Erik den Boer also speaks highly
of the Corps’ brotherly solidarity. It almost sounds
like a religious calling. How do you overcome fear?
– I take it in my stride. I hold on to the force
of the Marine Corps. I hold on to the solidarity
that we have as a group… …and the pride of wearing the beret.
I worked hard for it… …so that’s what I emanate,
and this keeps me going. Pride?
– Yes, pride. Are there things
you’re not so proud of? Yes, when you’re away
from home for a while. Life goes on in the Netherlands
while you’re in Somalia for five months. Sometimes you wonder
what’s it all for. When you read the papers,
and the results are minimal. But the effect of our presence there
is now beginning to show. You can get petrol in the Netherlands
because we are there. This keeps things calm,
and there are fewer hijackings. Civil society doesn’t like pirates,
so the marines are sent to fight them. The group members get together
before saying goodbye. Two boat companies.
One will go to Africa… …the other will stay on Texel. They’ll be separated
for more than six months. And any questions
should be asked ASAP. Those who’ll board the Rotterdam
at 10 should report to my deck. Any issues?
Let me know ASAP. Questions?
No? I’ll have a Fanta then. White shoes? You can cross those
out. I still have two unused pairs. They’re part of the package. What’s your shoe size?
– 43, 270 M. 9.5 UK, 10.5 US…
– That’s too much information. …and 585 Japanese. The mother ship has the purpose… …of taking the marines to
where they can be of service. The life of a marine
consists largely of travelling. And waiting. The Corps has already served
in Iraq, Cambodia, Haiti… …Bosnia, Liberia and Afghanistan. And now in Tanzania,
close to Somalia. Founded to protect
merchant shipping… …almost 350 years later,
the marines still do this. The marines are part of the fleet,
but not really. The fleet transports
and accommodates them. The marines eat with the others,
but have their own sleeping quarters. On board you want to sleep
on the port side, due to clogged drains. It never happens that someone… Attention, portside sewage
is unavailable. What did he say? Portside…
– Sewage. The toilets on the port side.
– They’re clogged? It’s a common problem?
– Yes, that’s why I don’t sleep there. Really?
It happens a lot on the port side? The outsider is tolerated.
The door is left ajar. Good morning. In exchange for as little dialogue
as possible. Preferably none. The berth is one’s own,
and it is sacred. Not as sacred as the team spirit,
but still. The personality isn’t shown
to the outsider. So one has to search for it
among the belongings. A thriller about mean
Somalian pirates… …windows to the home front… …Christmas decorations. Marco talks about his daddy
every day. Daddy is on the Rotterdam
in Somalia, catching bad pirates. And then he puts them in the cage. Biceps competition. Food for the muscles. You don’t want to run out
on such a long trip. The ship can smell like oil, sweat
and freshly baked bread. Good morning, it smells good in here.
You always bake your own bread? Yes, every day. You’re a baker by profession?
– Yes, in the navy. How did you start?
– Excuse me? First I was in school, of course. Then I joined the navy,
first as a cook. Later I became a steward,
and then I retrained as a baker. And you also go to the gym?
– Yes, I enjoy it. Absolutely. So it’s not from kneading dough?
– Actually it is, but I’m acting tough. And what do you bake? We bake a hundred loaves
of brown bread every day. Excuse me?
– A hundred loaves of brown bread. And about thirty baguettes. Every day we bake something
to serve with coffee, like cookies. For birthdays and celebrations
we always bake a personal cake. Plus 30 loaves of white,
and specialty breads. Do the marines have different
preferences, different… Consumption? Yes, they consume
much more brown bread. Really?
– They’re athletes, so it’s popular. And when we add nuts too,
it’s gone in no time. Funny.
– Absolutely. So the marines eat more…
– They love healthy bread. Do you know the Marine Corps?
– Yes. Do they have special preferences?
– As long as it’s a lot. Why is that? They just consume huge amounts,
because they’re gone a lot… …and they provide
a lot of intensive labour. For instance, they don’t eat two or
three slices of bread, but half a loaf. Per person?
– Yes, so that’s a lot. On a sunny morning, the mother ship
leaves Dar es Salaam… …the port of Tanzania. Inside the ship it’s freezing, but outside
it’s hot: 40 degrees Celsius. When the marines reach
their location, they can depart. The mother ship opens her belly. With their equipment, they leave
the windowless mother ship… …which offers no glimpse,
neither outward nor in. The marines really want
to do something… …but the mandates are often weak.
Civil society likes to hesitate. Out of the enemy’s sight,
they set up their base… …in the shape of a floating island. Now they’re even more together
than on the big ship. Their own domain. Are they thinking about Stanley? He’s the imaginary womaniser
who visits their love… …when they’re far away from home. They don’t like to talk and reflect.
At least not with an intruder. And definitely not
when it gets too personal. The marines don’t easily
bare their souls. But they do open their duffle bags.
– It’s not a big secret. Sergeant Bergsma’s duffle bag,
for instance. What did you bring?
– A warm top, a Gore-Tex jacket… …and a brush of my own,
for weapon maintenance. I have a whistle.
For emergencies, it’s standard. And a small drinking cup. This is your personal handgun?
– Yes. It’s a chemical reaction. It glows for at least eight hours.
It depends on the colour though. So this is the base now,
here at sea? Yes, this is our headquarters,
that’s right. Finally a chance to dine together.
Pancakes. But the strong arms
remain folded, defensively. But can you be yourself
in a close-knit team like this? Is it okay to be weird? We’re all a bit weird.
That’s why we do this. We all have different interests,
like music or other things. Some of us are very special. But you don’t really boast
about what you do at home. You sometimes talk about it,
but you don’t try to stand out. So what kind of things
should you avoid? What doesn’t fit in here?
I’m talking about deviant behaviour. If you deceive your buddies,
that’s a big mistake. So screwing your buddies over?
– Yes. Are you in a relationship?
– Yes, wife and kids. Isn’t she terrified sometimes?
– Some wives maybe, but not mine. And your children? One of my children
turned four yesterday. Congratulations.
– Thank you. For kids that age it’s hard. Today is Monday,
so it’s the first day of school. And I miss all that. The youngest one just turned one
and can walk and talk now. I missed all that as well. While I’m away,
my baby has grown into a toddler. These are the things I regret. What if your child starts saying:
Dad, please don’t go. Would you consider
not going on a mission? No. Children might ask such things,
but my wife knows not to do that. They do miss their families,
but their colleagues are family too. And not the clichéd surrogate
or symbolic family. They’re really trained to see
their colleagues as their own blood. That’s why there’s such a big taboo
on deceiving your buddies. They make fun of each other
and give each other nicknames. But you don’t screw
your teammates. It’s your own blood, and a marine
doesn’t cut his own flesh. The secret behind this
is the ‘esprit de corps’… …perhaps the only transcendental
and elusive concept of this group. Esprit de corps.
It’s invisible, yet omnipresent. Don’t get too nosy now. Let’s have a look. No one can easily put it in words… …but a true marine has heard
the sacred voice of the esprit de corps. And its word is in the manual. This is a copy of…
Let’s go over there. A copy of our bible, you mean?
Because that’s what it is. Major Richard Peper-de Goede
is a co-author of the new edition. But my copy is from 1958. The Marine’s Manual. I’ll read you a bit.
The esprit de corps. The marine who thinks
he should tell everyone… …that the food at the Corps
is awful… …lies, and lacks esprit de corps.
– Correct. The marine who thinks it is bold
to curse and offend civilians… …is not only a bad soldier,
but he also lacks esprit de corps. It’s almost a prayer.
– It’s a bible. How do you deal with obstinate types?
There are always rebels. Guys who say: Yes, but…
Yes, but what if I do this? There are very simple tricks for that,
which work for a reason. For obstinate types,
but I’ve also had moments… …that I didn’t feel like doing something,
that I refused. You won’t be punished,
but the group around you will. That’s the trick. They get an assignment,
and you have to watch them do it. So the entire group is punished,
while the culprit has to watch? Yes, that’s a method. So you won’t do it again? Yes, you quickly learn
not to do that. The marine who actually prefers
another part of the armed forces… …and thus does not try his best
to be better, stronger, more correct… …and more rigid than any member
of this other part… …lacks backbone
and esprit de corps. That’s correct. Yes, but I…
– The only answer is: It’s correct. But isn’t it true that it’s also a bit… You can keep trying, but it’s simply
correct. The determination… …and the will
to do and be the best… …is always the same,
whether it’s 1958 or 2000. But whom are you doing this for? For each other. Maybe also for
yourself, but mostly for each other. We don’t really think
about our country or our boss. Mostly about each other. More than king and country
and the desire for adventure… …it’s the Corps itself that unites. The team spirit is so well-formed… …that the community seems
an end in itself, not a means. Why do you do it?
For each other. That’s a FRISC?
– Warrant officer Erik den Boer… …is esprit de corps incarnate. Let’s see how this goes. First my knee. Grab my hand. Thank you. Do you feel the civilians outside
understand what you do? And respect it enough? I’m glad you ask that question,
because I sometimes feel… …that the respect is waning a bit. Maybe we partly
owe this to ourselves… …because we’re not so good
at promoting ourselves. We like to keep a low profile. But knowing that there are still
people around… …who’ll give their lives for all
that we’ve built over here… …that there’s a club, a unit,
that guarantees this… …that’s a nice thing to know, I think. In this time of cutbacks,
when people doubt if they should stay… …it’s good to hear when people tell me:
Officer, I’m staying. I’m staying with you. At the end of the year, there’s a speech
for those who stayed home. Gentlemen, welcome. We’re all here
for the closing of the year. It’s about next year, and as always,
the budget will be cut. Civil society deems
the naval forces expensive. Especially the left part,
the portside people. Why all these costs in peacetime? But stay here,
stay where you are now. The marine of today
suffers from austerity. This causes new jargon
to enter the marines’ language. Words like organisational
restructuring. An important step has been taken
in reorganising… A preliminary reorganisation plan… Now that the barracks have agreed
on the reorganisation plan… We’ll start the implementation phase
of the reorganisation… Commander Nommensen is forced
to be the voice of bureaucracy. We will face these changes
united and committed. It’s not in the marines’ nature
to publicly create a fuss… …and raise their voice. Because they have to be
the invisibles. Invisible to the enemy,
invisible to civil society. And often invisible to the family. Not easy to find
on the societal radar. What do they do after nightfall,
when it gets dark? Along dangerous coasts,
far away from here. Heroic deeds?
If it is heroism, it is invisible. And maybe they like it that way. The Corps knows its own strength.
It doesn’t need to share this. And it doesn’t need society
to be grateful. The marines appreciate each other. For demonstrated courage
in public, for instance. Corporals Boomsma and Willems
performed CPR. Zijlstra called an ambulance. And for 35 years of loyal service,
fatherly advice and beardedness. The man with the beard,
who has been here for 35 years. Thank you.
– You’re welcome. And for steadfast command… …during an invasion of
organisation plan implementations. You’re surrounded by your men,
who idolise you. There’s warmth and affection
in this community as well. It’s wrapped in humour
and sportsmanship… …but it’s not invisible. We noticed that our commander,
who’s really there for us… …at some point reached his limit. I see this, for I’m
the thermometer of the crew… …but also of the commander,
and not in the way you think. She said: Give him a bear hug.
I won’t do it myself… …but this is from our hearts.
Once again, congratulations. So that little boy was right after all. A nine-year-old boy, who wanted
to join the marines and said: The main reason
is that you make friends there… …and if you die, they will take you home
and look after you. We’ll always take you home. Here we go. Let’s see.