Home Diplomatic Pouch A (wry) smile and a thought….

A (wry) smile and a thought….


Column by Eelco H. Dykstra, MD, for Diplomat Magazine

Eelco Dykstra writes a monthly column called “A smile and a thought…” The columns put a playful spotlight on the interface between the Dutch and the International Community it hosts. Yes, his musings may appear at times to be mildly provocative at first sight but they are first and foremost playful – with a little irony thrown in here and there… You be the judge!

His columns are intended to give you ‘a smile and a thought’. A smile because perhaps you hadn’t quite looked at something that way and a thought because the column may leave you wondering…

Please Note: This column is not very playful and if there is a smile at all, it is very much a ‘wry’ smile since the topic is the shooting down of flight MH17/KL1403…



On the day of writing this, the Dutch and other nations flew the first remains of MH17/KL1403 victims to the Netherlands for the grim task of identification. Everyone, including the media, is focused on the pain, the mourning and the emotional outcry.

As an emergency physician and experienced crisis manager, I have witnessed numerous times and in many ways the grief and emotional hardship caused by the sudden loss of loved ones, particularly when this loss of life was deemed avoidable and young children are involved.

In the coming days and weeks, as the acute hardship and the public pain will lose some of its current intensity, additional questions will be raised while others might remain unasked. It would not be the first time that in the aftermath of heart-breaking disasters critical questions are being downplayed or avoided.

Right from the start I found it interesting that everyone is referring to flight MH 17, even though the flight took off from Schiphol also as KL 1403. Which also explains why there were so many Dutch nationals on board.

Some of these critical questions ought to be posed therefore not only to the Malaysian authorities responsible for safety but in particular to the Dutch authorities.

Why was the flight path of MH 17/KL1403 allowed to go over the eastern part of the Ukraine?

The Netherlands are to lead an independent and international investigation into the cause of the downing of MH17/KL1403, yet most of the Dutch safety experts are already calling for imposing strict economic and legal sanctions or even military measures against those believed to be responsible for this tragedy, i.e. Russian separatists and Russia.

I’d like to invite the Netherlands to also critically review their own approach to safety issues and critically look at the performance of their own ‘National Coordinator for Terrorism and Safety’ (http://english.nctv.nl/).

Why did they allow the flight path of MH 17/KL1403 to go over the eastern part of the Ukraine?

Clearly, allowing this flight path was a mistake which made the ensuing loss of lives avoidable.

Remember that it was not for lack of imagination or information; it was quite obvious that an armed conflict had spun out of control and included surface-to-air missiles capable of hitting commercial airliners. Reason enough for authorities and airlines from other countries to re-route their flight away from the area.

In other countries we might already have witnessed the realization that another flight-path would have prevented this tragedy in the first place. So instead of focusing only on those who shot the plain down, public anger and professional criticism could – and perhaps should –  also be directed to (staff within) the Dutch ‘National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Safety’ or Dutch officials responsible for Aviation Security.

Not so in the Netherlands.

No discussion.

Nobody resigned.

Nobody got dismissed.

The question why the separatists had something to shoot at in the first place, seems not to be part of the general discussion – and may not become part of the formal inquiry, even though I argue that it should.

Instead, as we have seen before, also in the Netherlands, there is an alarming habit of public authorities, immediately after shocking events, to publicly proclaim:

“This could not have predicted and this could not have been prevented…”[1]

So it becomes easy: the blame falls on others, there is no need for critical self-reflection.

Why did they allow the flight path of MH 17/KL1403 to go over the eastern part of the Ukraine?

Time for the Dutch and Malaysian authorities and experts to critically review their own performance too – and not only focus their anger and emotions on the separatists and Russia.

In closing, beyond the understandable and emotional heart-break of the international disaster with MH16/KL1403, allow me a more general observation. I’ve always wondered why we as humans seem to always wait until something happens and then, only then, respond.

Would being a little bit more pro-active not make a lot more sense – and, in this case, would have saved us from the considerable – and avoidable – loss of life on board flight MH17/KL1403?

What do you think?

[1]Remember the words of the mayor of Apeldoorn immediately following the attack by Karst T. in Apeldoorn during Queen’s day 2009?

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