Every year, the Dutch commemorate those who died and those who fought for, defended, and eventually liberated Holland.
May 4th is the evening of rememberance, with ceremonies throughout the country and a 2-minute silent reflection at 8pm. May 5th is a national holiday where the freedom that occurred 65 years ago is celebrated, with events throughout the country. I will cover this in a subsequent posting.
On the evening of May 4th, I decided to take in the Queen's laying of the wreath and other ceremonies at Dam Square in Amsterdam, where we unfortunately were reminded in this post-9/11 world that our notions of freedom, while infinitely better than 65-70 years ago, are not what they once were.
The ceremony on this evening was appropriately solemn, with a few thousand people gathered around the square, watching on large screens a very nice reading of a post-war letter from a survivor. This reading took place indoors, where the Dutch royal family and veterans and other dignitaries held a ceremony before coming outside to lay the wreath and continue to ceremony.
At 8:00pm, everyone stopped. The entire country stops - on the road, in bars, at home, at work. To hear the normal din of Amsterdam's central hub suddenly contrasted with absolute silence was unbelievable, and awesome.
Roughly 90 seconds into the 2-minute reflection though, an incoherent and extremely loud scream came from a man in the crowd about 50m to my right. Seconds later, screams followed as the crowd scattered and a wave of people falling and running and tripping over each other came my way. I didn't know, for a few seconds, if the people falling were being shot. People were falling on the back of my legs. No one knew what was happening. But a number of us stayed on our feet and after 20 seconds or so, the hysteria stopped.
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An announcement came a minute later, telling everyone that a man had become "unwell" but that the ceremony would continue. But it was impossible to concentrate as everyone was rattled and the energy was palpably tense.
It's tough to describe how jarring it is to see women your mom's age bleeding from the head, or girls the age of your niece limping and sobbing uncontrollably. In all, over 50 people were injured, all released from hospital that same night with broken bones and bumps on the head.
The crowd was obviously on edge after last year's tragedy in Appeldoorn, where 7 people were killed at another ceremony involving the royal family by a crazed driver. This same situation was equally inexplicable - the man was known to police, and was apparently just trying to incite panic.
There's not one way to wrap the incident up neatly - obviously, the very people being honoured that night had seen horrors a thousand times that size and as such the incident may seem very minor. At the same time, in today's world where bombings occur not just in remote military outposts, Pakistan, or in the Middle East, but in London and Madrid as well, and where we have instant visual access to worldwide atrocities and horror stories at our fingertips, most of us ordinary citizens have involuntary access to a bundle of nerves within ourselves that wasn't there before 9/11.
Even if, as was the case here, the incident had no terrorist implications at all, we feel the connection, we can identify so quickly with the panic and our minds can too easily make the correlation to other incidents of real terror.
I don't want to overstate the event. Everyone is now fine and it didn't register as even a blip on the world radar as far as what many people live with on a daily basis.
But it still feels as though the volume has been turned up in the past 9 years, and too many world leaders, fundamentalist zealots of all colours, and bargain-basement sh*t disturbers are all too happy to not turn it down.