The four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch in North America was an occasion of both symbolic and contemporary significance. Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Crown Princess Maxima’s official visit to the USA celebrated the historic journey of Henry Hudson in 1609 and looked forward to a continuation of the alliance between the Netherlands and the USA, which the Crown Prince passionately believes is of vital importance to the challenges of our times. The royal tour kicked off in New York, the natural starting point for the anniversary celebrations. The city was founded after Dutch fur traders bought the Island of Manhattan from the indigenous Lenape people. Its original name was New Amsterdam, subsequently changed to New York when the British conquered the city in 1664. On a personal note it is also the city that Willem-Alexander and Maxima lived in for five years. On hand to welcome the royal couple were New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the city began a series of Dutch themed celebrations. At the welcoming ceremony Prince Willem-Alexander, Mayor Bloomberg and Secretary of State Clinton were united in wearing sober black, strikingly offset by Princess Maxima, whose penchant for vibrant colours saw her in a red ruffled suit and matching hat. The opening ceremony saw a flotilla of ships, including a replica of Henry Hudson’s ‘Half Moon’ sail past as a Dutch naval ship gave a twenty-one gun salute. In his address the Crown Prince mused on the impression the shores of the future Unites States made on the seventeenth century sailors: “We can only speculate about the feelings of a small group of men on board of the Halve Maen when they first arrived on these shores exactly 400 years ago. They must have been struck by the beauty of these islands and by the riches they beheld.” Adding to those riches the Dutch government has gifted the city the New Amsterdam Pavilion. The Mayor’s office describes the pavilion as a showcase of “state-of-the-art Dutch architecture and design. The entire 5,000-square-foot ‘New Amsterdam Plein & Pavilion’, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Ben van Berkel of UNStudio, Amsterdam, will be completed in the spring of 2010.” Opening with themes that underlie his view of US-Dutch relations, HRH spoke of the pavilion as a “mark of the deep bond between our country and this great city in this great nation, we want to present the City of New York with a lasting token of our friendship. The Dutch pavilion symbolises both our shared legacy and our joint commitment to the future.” The past as a foundation stone and a guide to the future: the itinerary for the tour retraced (albeit, or perhaps appropriately as a sign of innovation and change, by helicopter)?the historic trip made by Captain?Henry Hudson and his crew on behalf of the Dutch East India Company in September 1609 up the river that now bears the English adventurer’s name. The Hudson river runs north to south for 315 miles through New York State. For the native Americans it was known as the Great Mohegan by the Iroquois and as the Muhheakantuck by the Lenape.
Crown Prince Willem-Alexander’s first stopping point was a very modern landmark, the United States Military Academy West Point. For HRH it was a particularly significant moment to express his gratitude for the Americans who fought and died during World War Two. “The Second World War added another dimension to Dutch-American friendship. The gratitude of the Dutch people to their liberators has endured over time; the sacrifices American soldiers made have not been forgotten. The American Cemetery in the Dutch town of Margraten, which is the final resting place of over 8,000 military dead, has become a symbol of freedom to the Dutch. Local people have adopted and maintain the graves of the fallen, as an expression of their deep gratitude. Later this month, we will commemorate Operation Market Garden, which started 65 years ago. General Petraeus, Commander of US Central Command, and coincidentally of Dutch descent, will be present at the ceremonies. General Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq: the same 101st Airborne Division that fought so bravely in 1944 to secure our bridges and territory, facing fierce German resistance. After World War II, US and other NATO soldiers continued to stand guard for our freedom. From my childhood, I remember the bumper stickers on the cars in the town where I grew up, near Soesterberg Air Base where American F-15’s were still stationed at the time. ‘Jet Noise: the Sound of Freedom!’ these stickers read. Each year, we remember the American lives that were lost so that we can be free. Each day we continue that effort to preserve freedom, together.” Such heartfelt sentiments were also made with an eye to the contemporary conflicts in which the USA and the Netherlands are allies through NATO.
HRH’s views on the controversial conflict in Afghanistan were no doubt welcome to his audience as he spoke about positive achievements on the ground. “Right now there are two thousand Dutch soldiers there, most of them stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan. We are convinced that the best path to victory in Afghanistan is to make the Taliban irrelevant by giving the Afghan people hope for a better life. This is why our military is also engaged in small-scale projects, in an effort to improve the situation of Uruzgan’s people and to win their hearts and minds. I have been to Afghanistan several times, and with each visit I have seen improvements on the ground. The last time I visited, in April this year, I was struck by the lights that greeted me in and around the city of Kandahar. A town that hardly had any electricity before was now brightly lit. I walked the streets of Chora, two years ago still the scene of the longest and fiercest battle our forces have been involved in in recent history. A town impossible to visit due to lack of security could now be experienced on foot without helmet!” These hopeful signs strengthen HRH’s belief that a steadfast approach to fighting the Taliban combined with diplomacy and economic development can bring positive results. That robust faith in what co-operation between the USA and Europe can achieve allowed the Crown Prince to end his address to the cadres of West Point on an inspiring note: “The United States and the Netherlands believe in freedom. We believe in democracy. And we believe in human rights and human dignity for all. We cherish these values. This puts us in a great position to meet the challenges of this new century. In Afghanistan and elsewhere. Thomas Jefferson founded West Point so that it would train future leaders and teachers, not mere soldiers. His idea was to create a cadre of guardians who would stand against any threats to civil freedom. I am convinced that together, the United States and Europe can be a decisive force for good in the world. We should not fall short of that noble goal.” At the end of the week Willem-Alexander and Maxima paid a visit to President Obama at the White House. It was an interesting culmination as President Obama has cited the Dutch health care system as an example in his campaign to reform the USA’s health system. TRH were met by First Lady Michelle Obama for tea and to exchange gifts, after which President Obama joined the group for an informal discussion in which the healthcare issue was raised. Whether or not aspects of the Dutch system will find their way into American legislation, it was a further sign of the shared values Crown Prince Willem-Alexander had been so passionate in promoting. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 21/08)