Peter van Uhm: Why I chose a gun-1

Peter van Uhm is the Netherlands’ chief of defense, but that does not mean he is pro-war. In this talk, he explains how his career is one shaped by a love of peace, not a desire for bloodshed — and why we need armies if we want peace.

As the highest military commander of The Netherlands, with troops stationed around the world, I’m really honored to be here today. When I look around this TEDxAmsterdam venue, I see a very special audience. You are the reason why I said yes to the invitation to come here today.

When I look around, I see people who want to make a contribution, I see people who want to make a better world, by doing groundbreaking scientific work, by creating impressive works of art, by writing critical articles or inspiring books, by starting up sustainable businesses. And you all have chosen your own instruments to fulfill this mission of creating a better world. Some chose the microscope as their instrument. Others chose dancing or painting or making music like we just heard. Some chose the pen. Others work through the instrument of money.

Ladies and gentlemen, I made a different choice. Thanks. Ladies and gentlemen — (Laughter) (Applause) I share your goals. I share the goals of the speakers you heard before. I did not choose to take up the pen, the brush, the camera. I chose this instrument. I chose the gun.

For you, and you heard already, being so close to this gun may make you feel uneasy. It may even feel scary. A real gun at a few feet’s distance. Let us stop for a moment and feel this uneasiness. You could even hear it. Let us cherish the fact that probably most of you have never been close to a gun. It means The Netherlands is a peaceful country. The Netherlands is not at war. It means soldiers are not needed to patrol our streets. Guns are not a part of our lives. In many countries it is a different story. In many countries people are confronted with guns. They are oppressed. They are intimidated — by warlords, by terrorists, by criminals. Weapons can do a lot of harm. They are the cause of much distress.

Why then am I standing before you with this weapon? Why did I choose the gun as my instrument? Today I want to tell you why. Today I want to tell you why I chose the gun to create a better world. And I want to tell you how this gun can help.

My story starts in the city of Nijmegen in the east of The Netherlands, the city where I was born. My father was a hard working baker, but when he had finished work in the bakery, he often told me and my brother stories. And most of the time, he told me this story I’m going to share with you now. The story of what happened when he was a conscripted soldier in the Dutch armed forces at the beginning of the Second World War. The Nazis invaded The Netherlands. Their grim plans were evident. They meant to rule by means of repression. Diplomacy had failed to stop the Germans. Only brute force remained. It was our last resort. My father was there to provide it.

As the son of a farmer who knew how to hunt, my father was an excellent marksman. When he aimed, he never missed. At this decisive moment in Dutch history my father was positioned on the bank of the river Waal near the city of Nijmegen. He had a clear shot at the German soldiers who came to occupy a free country, his country, our country. He fired. Nothing happened. He fired again. No German soldier fell to the ground. My father had been given an old gun that could not even reach the opposite river bank. Hitler’s troops marched on, and there was nothing my father could do about it. Until the day my father died, he was frustrated about missing these shots. He could have done something. But with an old gun, not even the best marksman in the armed forces could have hit the mark. So this story stayed with me.

Om Namah Shivay

***Write ” Om Namah Shivay ” if you ask for God’s blessing on your life today. Please Like, Tag and Share to bless others!


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