Wherever General Steven Taelman goes, he dominates the space around him. Although he serves on the Knootian Defence Force general staff he is far from being just a pencil-pusher in a steel grey uniform. He has been described by those who have worked with him as impatient, boisterous and restless. At heart a romantic, he often speaks sentimentally and theatrically, at times arrogantly, while remaining brash and displaying an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence.
As a child of middle class parents growing up in the eastern city of Wernhoutsbrug, Steven was unusually rowdy. Robbert Fransoos, one of his child companions, joined him in kindergarten and ended up graduating ahead of him in high school. Robbert described how Steven seemed disinterested in the school curriculum and would often get into fights with other kids. He was expelled from the vocational-preparatory programme at the Wernhoutsbrugger Lyceum at age fourteen but his parents pushed hard for his acceptance at the Generaal Aaldenberg College, a charter school with a focus on strict discipline, inter-student competition and strenuous physical activity.
Steven thrived in this new environment and displayed a talent for the science curriculum that had not been discovered by the standardised tests that he had previously taken. Taelman enrolled in the military immediately after his graduation and claims to have breezed through the Landmacht officers’ school. During one of the extensive desert training missions in Ale-Yarok he earned his nickname, ‘Staalman’, or ‘man of steel’, and won the respect of his fellow officers.
After graduating officer school and receiving a commission as a Lieutenant, Taelman angled for command of a Peace Corps infantry platoon, with its potential for seeing combat abroad. He was reportedly livid when his superiors decided that he didn’t fit the profile of a peace corps officer, and instead appointed him to a post at army appropriations.
The opinions of the people he served alongside during his time at army appropriations are mixed: nobody doubts his keen interest in technology, industry and science. At the same time, one of his detractors from that time thought of him as superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, lacking the drive to see things through to the end and having little sense for sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for at times for reality.
"Men like Staalman are behind much of the ill-thought gunboat diplomacy, the reckless military interventions and bluster that has characterised our foreign policy", this detractor said when interviewed about Taelmans’ later appointment to the general staff, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I once heard him say that the people of Knootoss are eager for war, but that they just don’t know it yet. Outrageous, delusional stuff. Pure projection."
Even so, there are few people willing to criticise the General and see their name in print. Eccentric, technically brilliant and outrageously aggressive, ‘Staalman’ may represent the best and the worst that the Dutch Democratic Republic has to offer.
Stubborn and hot-headed