Bush Honors World War II Dead in the Netherlands

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Bush thanked the Dutch people for adopting and attending to the graves of U.S. troops whom they never knew.


“Each man or woman buried here is more than a headstone and a serial number,” Bush said.

     

He also noted how the local Dutch citizens treated American troops during World War II “as your sons and daughters.”


Bush compared the fight for freedom in Europe 60 years ago to his efforts to spread democracy today.


“The world’s tyrants learned a lesson — there is no power like the power of freedom and no solider is as strong as the soldier that fights for that freedom,” Bush said.


“The free and peaceful world that we hope to leave to our own children is inspired by their example.”


Before his speech, Bush and Queen Beatrix laid wreaths in a light, chilly rain at the U.S. cemetery at Margraten near the southern city of Maastricht, where 8,301 U.S. war dead are buried.


A bugler played taps, and military aircraft streaked over the cemetery.


Earlier, Bush held a working breakfast with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who thanked Bush for the U.S. liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis.


“Our debt of gratitude is too great to express in words. They gave us the most precious gift — freedom,” Balkenende told those gathered at the cemetery. “Today, I salute them.”


Bush is on a whirlwind tour of the continent to mark the 60th anniversary of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day.


After the Netherlands, Bush heads to Moscow, where he will join dozens of other world leaders at Monday’s Red Square victory celebration.


Bush will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday night, a day after the U.S. president — in a speech to the Latvian people — called the Baltic nations’ transfer to Soviet control after the war “one of the greatest wrongs of history.”


“The Baltic countries have seen one of the most dramatic transformations in modern history, from captive nations to NATO allies and EU (European Union) members in little more than a decade,” Bush said Saturday.


Bush met in Riga, Latvia, with the three Baltic leaders — Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Lithuanian President Valdus Adamkus and Estonian President Arnold Ruutel.


Bush referred to the 1945 conference at Yalta, often cited as the beginning of the Cold War, and acknowledged the United States’ role in it.


U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt participated in the conference, along with Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Roosevelt later faced criticism for what critics saw as giving Eastern Europe away to Stalin.


The conference, Bush said, resulted in the captivity of millions — “one of the greatest wrongs of history.” Bush also called Soviet oppression “evil.”


“When powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable,” he said.


“We have a great opportunity to move beyond the past and learn the lessons of that painful history,” he said. The countries were annexed by Moscow after the fall of Nazism and chafed for decades under the Kremlin’s iron-fisted rule.


“The Baltic peoples kept a long vigil of suffering and hope,” Bush said. “Though you lived in isolation, you were not alone. The United States refused to recognize your occupation.”


Bush earlier told reporters the end of the war 60 years ago “meant peace” for much of the world but “brought occupation and communist oppression” to the Baltic states.


In answer to a reporter’s question about Russia’s displeasure with Bush’s trip to Latvia, he said he would “continue to speak as clearly as I can to President Putin that it’s in his country’s interests that there be democracies on his borders.”


“The idea of countries helping others become free, I hope that would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy, as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy,” Bush said.


The Kremlin has expressed concern about Bush’s visits to Latvia and Georgia, which the president will also visit on this trip, because of Moscow’s strained relationships with its former satellites.


Russian officials also have objected to Bush’s use of the word occupation in reference to the fate of the Baltics. (Full story)


Baltic leaders have urged Putin to renounce a 1939 pact between Russia and Nazi Germany that led to communist rule in their countries. The Associated Press reported that Putin told German television that Russia had renounced that deal in 1989. (Full story)


Bush also called for free elections, set for next year, in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, which his administration has repeatedly referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe.


The people of Belarus “should be allowed to express themselves in free and open and fair elections,” Bush said.


Earlier Saturday, Vike-Freiberga presented Bush with her country’s highest honor, the “Three Star Order,” calling him a “signal fighter of freedom and democracy in the world.”


“I admire your country’s courage,” said Bush, who along with Vike-Freiberga laid wreaths at the foot of Freedom Monument, a towering obelisk that marks the country’s independence from communist rule.


Bush also is scheduled to visit Georgia before returning to the United States.

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