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  • 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 hardworking 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 riverbank.

  • 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.

  • Then in high school,

  • I was gripped by the stories

  • of the Allied soldiers --

  • soldiers who left the safety of their own homes

  • and risked their lives

  • to liberate a country and a people

  • that they didn't know.

  • They liberated my birth town.

  • It was then that I decided

  • I would take up the gun --

  • out of respect and gratitude

  • for those men and women

  • who came to liberate us --

  • from the awareness

  • that sometimes only the gun

  • can stand

  • between good and evil.

  • And that is why

  • I took up the gun --

  • not to shoot,

  • not to kill,

  • not to destroy,

  • but to stop those who would do evil,

  • to protect the vulnerable,

  • to defend democratic values,

  • to stand up for the freedom we have

  • to talk here today

  • in Amsterdam

  • about how we can make the world a better place.

  • Ladies and gentlemen,

  • I do not stand here today

  • to tell you about the glory of weapons.

  • I do not like guns.

  • And once you have been under fire yourself,

  • it brings home even more clearly

  • that a gun is not some macho instrument

  • to brag about.

  • I stand here today

  • to tell you about the use of the gun

  • as an instrument of peace and stability.

  • The gun may be one of the most important instruments

  • of peace and stability

  • that we have in this world.

  • Now this may sound contradictory to you.

  • But not only have I seen with my own eyes

  • during my deployments in Lebanon,

  • Sarajevo and [unclear] national

  • as The Netherlands' chief of defense,

  • this is also supported

  • by cold, hard statistics.

  • Violence has declined dramatically

  • over the last 500 years.

  • Despite the pictures

  • we are shown daily in the news,

  • wars between developed countries

  • are no longer commonplace.

  • The murder rate in Europe

  • has dropped by a factor of 30

  • since the Middle Ages.

  • And occurrences of civil war and repression

  • have declined since the end of the Cold War.

  • Statistics show

  • that we are living

  • in a relatively peaceful era.

  • Why?

  • Why has violence decreased?

  • Has the human mind changed?

  • Well we were talking on the human mind this morning.

  • Did we simply lose our beastly impulses

  • for revenge,

  • for violent rituals,

  • for pure rage?

  • Or is there something else?

  • In his latest book,

  • Harvard professor Steven Pinker --

  • and many other thinkers before him --

  • concludes that one of the main drivers

  • behind less violent societies

  • is the spread of the constitutional state

  • and the introduction on a large scale

  • of the state monopoly

  • on the legitimized use of violence --

  • legitimized by a democratically elected government,

  • legitimized by checks and balances

  • and an independent judicial system.

  • In other words, a state monopoly

  • that has the use of violence

  • well under control.

  • Such a state monopoly on violence,

  • first of all, serves

  • as a reassurance.

  • It removes the incentive

  • for an arms race

  • between potentially hostile groups

  • in our societies.

  • Secondly, the presence of penalties

  • that outweigh the benefits of using violence

  • tips the balance even further.

  • Abstaining from violence

  • becomes more profitable

  • than starting a war.

  • Now nonviolence starts to work

  • like a flywheel.

  • It enhances peace even further.

  • Where there is no conflict,

  • trade flourishes.

  • And trade is another important incentive

  • against violence.

  • With trade, there's mutual interdependency

  • and mutual gain between parties.

  • And when there is mutual gain,

  • both sides stand to lose more

  • than they would gain

  • if they started a war.

  • War is simply

  • no longer the best option,

  • and that is why violence has decreased.

  • This, ladies and gentlemen,

  • is the rationale behind the existence

  • of my armed forces.

  • The armed forces

  • implement the state monopoly on violence.

  • We do this in a legitimized way

  • only after our democracy has asked us

  • to do so.

  • It is this legitimate,

  • controlled use of the gun