Switzerland has not been in a foreign war of any kind since 1815. This would be astounding, even miraculous, for any nation. But Switzerland borders Germany. And France. And Italy. And Austria. And Liechtenstein. Now Liechtenstein has rarely lashed out in Blitzkrieg in a desperate bid to reign ber alles, but ALL of Switzerland’s other neighbors have spent their entire histories invading other countries.
In addition to the encircling foreign marauders, Switzerland itself is composed of four different ethnic groups (German, French, Italian, Romansh) that get along as well as, e.g., Germans and French. They don’t even speak the same language.
Yet the Swiss peace prevails through the centuries. The Kaiser didn’t attack the Swiss. Hitler didn’t attack the Swiss (though he thought about it a lot). Stalin started to pursue some refugees into Liechtenstein at the end of WWII, but retreated rather than face the Swiss-Liechtenstein alliance. Terrorists don’t attack the Swiss.
Nobody attacks the Swiss. Not even the Swiss attack the Swiss; their crime rate is minuscule.
The features of the Swiss system for keeping the peace are simple. They have a president with no power to declare war (of course ours can’t either, but no one has told HIM). They have a very small professional army, even small per capita. And they have very strict gun control. By which they mean that every Swiss male must have a gun, except for those who also have to carry a missile launcher or a mortar. Swiss women are not subject to compulsory military service, but many of them frequent the rifle ranges anyway. In the event of any attack on Switzerland, the whole Swiss population becomes the army.
As an additional deterrent against megalomania, the Swiss have rigged the tunnel vaults of their banks for demolition. Any dictator attacking Switzerland will find the gold in his numbered bank account buried in rubble hundreds of meters under mountains swarming with snipers and missile launchers. It is known that Hitler had a numbered account… maybe that was in the back of his mind when he chickened out.
Switzerland has also provided for defense of the lives of its civilian population against nuclear terrorism. Realizing during the Cold War that nuclear weapons in the hands of power-mad politicians posed a potential public health threat, the Swiss started a nationwide shelter-building program in 1960. By 1991, there were enough shelter spaces in Switzerland to protect everyone in their home or apartment, and also at their workplaces and schools. A Swiss citizen is never more than a few minutes from a fallout shelter with an air filter.
The entire Swiss shelter program was accomplished for somewhere on the order of 35 dollars (1990 dollars) per year per capita. The US spends vastly more every year to support a military capable only of intervening in Third World nations that do not have WMDs.
The huge US war machine could not even intercept civilian airliners on 9-11, let alone credibly stop nuclear-tipped cruise and ballistic missiles from a major power. Nor are there bunkers with filtered air supplies under our glass cities or particle-board suburbs. The only civil defense in the US is for the President and the backup supply of bureaucrats under Iron Mountain. Everyone else is nuclear fodder, except for those provident few (such as the Mormons) who build their own shelters to protect their families.
Switzerland does not send troops to intervene in other nations. Switzerland does not spend tens of billions of dollars yearly to fund dictators around the world, nor did Switzerland donate hundreds of billions of dollars to the Warsaw Pact through bank “loans.” Switzerland does not send billions of dollars worth of weaponry every year to the warring tribes in the Middle East. Switzerland has no enemies. Yet the Swiss are armed to the teeth and dug into every hill and under every building.
The US intervenes everywhere, spies on everyone, supports every faction in every fight. We have as many enemies as there are hate-filled people in the world. We have a vastly expensive conventional army (though the best units are marching back and forth in Middle Eastern deserts, Afghanistan, Korea, and other "strategic" places). We have vast numbers of offensive nuclear weapons for murdering the civilian populations of cities (but against whom will we retaliate in the event of an anonymous nuclear terrorist attack?).
But we have no civil defenses for our children, no shelters, no thought-out plan for recovery from attack. In fact, when we suffered a few thousand dead on 9-11, we panicked and did ten times more economic damage to ourselves than the terrorists had. We also let ourselves be suckered into joining a Middle Eastern tribal war without end, on transparently fraudulent grounds.
Worse, our fears have destroyed much of our own Constitutional freedom. Would we be braver now, if a few anonymous smuggled nuclear bombs killed millions? Or would we just descend tamely into dictatorship without a struggle?
Our Founding Fathers studied the Swiss when they designed our system of government. Maybe it would pay us to study the long Swiss peace again… before it’s too late.
Bill Walker [send him mail] is a research technologist. He lives with his wife and four dogs in Grafton NH, where they are active in the Free State Project.