An Interview With Stephen P. Halbrook
it comes to World War II, most people tend to figure out only two
actors: the Axis vs. the Allies. In modern terms, it was a clash
of civilization, so to speak, where the champions of Good and Evil
fought to the death. Of course, reality is never so simple, as any
individualist could point out.
"great history" is known to everyone. But few know the
role of Switzerland during the conflict. That small country succeeded
in preserving its traditional liberty even when Hitler was supposed
to win the war and establish a New World Order. Swiss citizens were
always united in opposition to the Nazi dictatorship. Nor did they
sign any sort of alliance with Britain, the US, and the Soviet Union.
They had the policy of armed neutrality, and deterrence was their
major arm – leave aside the weapons privately owned, which posed
a major threat to any invading army, German, Soviet, or otherwise.
I talked about Swiss behavior during WW2, and tried to learn something
useful for our own future, with Stephen
P. Halbrook, author of Target
Switzerland. Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II. Mr.
Halbrook also authored several books and articles about the right
to keep and bear arms: among them, the famous That
Every Man Be Armed. The Evolution of a Constitutional Right.
Many people believe Switzerland was quite "collaborationist" with
Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Your book shows things
went differently. How could the Swiss defend their independence
without compromising with the regime of Hitler?
Every man in Switzerland had a rifle at home. Shooting was the national
sport. A look at a map shows tiny, democratic Switzerland surrounded
by the Axis powers stretching all over Europe and into Russia and
North Africa. This nation of riflemen situated in the Alps managed
to remain neutral and to dissuade a Nazi invasion.
Churchill, England’s wartime leader, wrote as the Allies were engaged
in conquering Germany in 1944: "Of all the neutrals Switzerland
has the greatest right to distinction. . . . She has been a democratic
State, standing for freedom in self-defence among her mountains,
and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side."
contrast, the year before, Adolf Hitler stated that "all the
rubbish of small nations still existing in Europe must be liquidated
as fast as possible," and that if necessary he would become
known as the "Butcher of the Swiss."
Hitler knew that the Swiss were gun owners and that many Nazis would
be butchered in the process. Located in Bern, American spy Allen
Dulles, the head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), explained:
"At the peak of its mobilization Switzerland had 850,000 men
under arms or standing in reserve, a fifth of the total population.
. . . That Switzerland did not have to fight was thanks to its will
to resist and its large investment of men and equipment in its own
defense. The cost to Germany of an invasion of Switzerland would
certainly have been very high."
Italian partisan leaders would slip over the border into Ticino,
the Italian-speaking Swiss canton, and arrange with the OSS for
air drops of supplies to their mountain bases.
German generals studied several plans to invade Switzerland.
All of them worried about the strength of the Swiss army, as well
as about the ability of Swiss to make them pay a very high price.
Let's play history-fiction: had the Germans really tried an invasion,
what fate would they have been likely to find?
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Nazi propaganda depicted Switzerland
as one of several countries to be annexed as part of "Greater
Germany." Unlike the other European neutrals, which spent money
for the welfare state, the Swiss immediately began military preparations
to repel an eventual German attack. In 1940, Switzerland was a potential
southern invasion route to France, while Belgium and Holland were
the northern invasion routes. The Germans avoided Switzerland, where
every man was armed and the spirit of resistance predominated.
after the fall of France, the German forces devised several new
invasion plans against Switzerland the Nazis would occupy the
German and French speaking areas, and Fascist Italy would occupy
the Italian speaking area. These plans acknowledged that the Swiss
were well-trained marksmen, and recommended considerable forces
for the attack. While Hitler hated Switzerland which he called
a "pimple" on the face of Europe – for refusing to join
the New Order, he was distracted by the Battle of Britain and then
by Operation Barbarossa, the battle with the Soviet Union in 1941.
just days before the assault on Russia, Hitler and Mussolini met
on the Brenner. The record states: "The Führer characterized
Switzerland as the most despicable and wretched people and national
entity. The Swiss were the mortal enemies of the new Germany."
The Duce called Switzerland "an anachronism." Attack plans
against Switzerland continued to be made.
the Fascist government collapsed and the liberation of southern
Italy began, Germany occupied northern Italy – which greatly increased
the risk to Switzerland. Germany wanted the Swiss Alpine routes
to ship soldiers and weapons, and the Swiss refused. But Switzerland
provided sanctuary to Italian and French partisans and refugees.
Nazi invasion of Switzerland during any of the above periods would
have faced the following: The Swiss border forces would have fought
to the death and would have been eliminated. But the bridges and
roads were charged with explosives and would be destroyed, as would
the Gotthard and Simplon tunnels on the Alpine routes to Italy.
Swiss forces were concentrated in the Alpine Réduit. Panzers
and the Luftwaffe could not operate in these steep mountains. Wehrmacht
infantry would have been subjected to murderous fire from artillery
hidden in mountain sides. Swiss forces could hold out indefinitely
in the Alps.
German occupation of parts of Switzerland would have had extreme
costs in blood. Unlike any country Germany occupied, every Swiss
man had a rifle at home. The Swiss government and military ordered
that no surrender would take place, and any report of a surrender
was to be regarded as enemy propaganda. The Swiss would have waged
a partisan war unequaled in European history. While many Swiss would
have been killed, the invaders would have faced a Swiss sniper behind
every tree and every rock.
You make a strong point in defense of the Swiss military organization:
Switzerland could resist against Germany thanks to its armed citizenry.
Do you believe this system is still good, despite the dramatic changes
we have experienced in the last decades, both in the kind of enemies
(e.g., terrorism) and in the ways of waging wars?
Shortly before World War I, the German Kaiser was the guest of the
Swiss government to observe military maneuvers. The Kaiser asked
a Swiss militiaman: "You are 500,000 and you shoot well, but
if we attack with 1,000,000 men what will you do?" The soldier
replied: "We will shoot twice and go home."
today, every Swiss male on reaching age 20 years old is required
to attend recruit school and issued a Fucile d’assalto 90 (model
1990, 5.6 mm selective fire rifle) to keep at home. Many women also
participate in the shooting sports, as do teenagers and elderly
persons. Weapons are carried so commonly on public transportation,
around towns, and to hotels especially when a shooting match
is about to occur – that foreigners think a revolution is occurring.
For an example of a contemporary shooting match which took place
in the Swiss canton of Ticino, visit
my website and look for "An Armed Society."
Swiss militia army consists primarily of an infantry of the armed
populace, but also includes modern artillery – some of which is
hidden in Alpine fortifications – and fighter jets. As for terrorism,
depending on the circumstances, a vigilant and armed populace may
be instrumental in stopping a massacre. If terrorist acts occur
on Swiss soil, the citizenry will resist however possible.
Most RKBA supporters assert that gun control is the key to tyranny.
In fact, Hitler disarmed his enemies (starting from German Jews)
before they could organize a resistance. Do you believe there's
a link between the Swiss tradition of an army of the people, and
the tradition of liberty of that country?
said it best: the Swiss are "armatissimi e liberissimi."
From 1291, when the Swiss Confederation was born, armed Swiss peasants
and herdsmen resisted the aggression of some of the great armies
of Europe. Every man was expected to provide his own arms and to
defend against any invasion.
Hitler came to power, his henchmen burned the Reichstag and blamed
it on the Communists – the excuse to suspend all constitutional
rights and to disarm all political opposition. Under the gun control
laws passed by the liberal Weimar republic, the Nazis began disarming
Jews. Then came Reichskristallnacht in 1938, in which the Nazis
smashed up businesses and homes with the excuse that the Jews were
dangerous and must be disarmed. Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler threatened
20 years in the concentration camp for any Jew caught with a gun.
the Nazis occupied France and other countries, they found the registration
lists of firearm owners in the police departments. Gun owners who
did not turn in their firearms within 24 hours were shot, as were
those who failed to inform on their friends and relatives. For whatever
reason, historians have shown no interest in highlighting the cruel
fate of Jews and subjects in the occupied countries who were firearm
owners. And yet some of these gun owners who eluded the Nazis were
able to use their firearms to save their families, refugees, and
others and even to mount armed resistance. The Warsaw ghetto uprising
of 1943 was initiated with only a half dozen illegal handguns.
Switzerland, the only "gun control" law was that every
man must shoot accurately at 300 meters. Had they attacked, the
Nazis would have needed no gun registration records – they could
have assumed that every man had a gun. As war clouds approached,
in 1938 at the World Shooting Championships held in Luzern, Switzerland,
Swiss Federal President Philipp Etter declared:
is probably no other country that, like Switzerland, gives the soldier
his weapon to keep in the home. . . . With this rifle, he is liable
every hour, if the country calls, to defend his hearth, his home,
his family, his birthplace. The weapon is to him a pledge and sign
of honor and freedom. The Swiss does not part with his rifle."
Nazis heard this message in countless other venues. They knew that
they could not execute every Swiss for having a weapon – instead,
they knew that countless German soldiers would die from Swiss snipers.
The powerful German army could make Switzerland into a wasteland,
but the German blood that would be spilled was unacceptably high,
and the country would be ungovernable.
The American Founding Fathers warned that a professional standing
army could be a threat to liberty, because it induces a strong temptation
to imperialism. In your vision, is there any correlation between
the peculiar military organization of the Switzerland, and its neutrality?
America’s Founding Fathers recognized that standing armies were
dangerous to liberty because such armies oppressed the population
domestically and engaged in wars of imperialist aggression. That
is why the United States originally followed the Swiss model of
republicanism, a militia army, and neutrality. America’s founders
wished to avoid "entangling alliances" in Europe, and
the US entered World Wars I and II reluctantly.
militia army includes virtually all able-bodied males under arms
in a country, and thus challenges any invader with unending guerilla
warfare. A standing army consists of professional soldiers forming
a small proportion of a country’s population. Numerous standing
armies in Europe collapsed before the onslaught of Hitler’s blitzkrieg
– the governmental elites surrendered and ordered the soldiers to
lay down their arms. An attack on Switzerland would have encountered
no elite to surrender, and instead armed resistance at every turn.
organization of the Swiss military as a militia meant that, while
it could protect its country, it could not have invaded another
country. This was the experience since medieval times. Armed Swiss
commoners defeated the mightiest armies of invading knights at numerous
battles they left Charles the Bold in a ditch with his head crushed
by a halberd at Nancy in 1477 but were themselves defeated when
they ventured into foreign lands, such as at Marignano in 1515.
above is the key to Swiss neutrality. Militia armies are good at
defending their own countries, but are no good at attacking other
countries, and thus avoid foreign wars. Both militia defense and
neutrality thus promote the ideals of peace.
last thought. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution declares:
"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security
of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms,
shall not be infringed." Besides being influenced by the Swiss
example, America’s Founders were also inspired by Cesare Beccaria’s
Dei Delitti e delle Pene (1764), which characterized as "false
idee di utilità" the laws that prohibit peaceable citizens
from carrying arms, which encourage attacks by armed criminals against
the world community enters an uncertain 21st century,
the lessons of history will either be learned or its mistakes will
Stagnaro [send him mail]
co-edits the libertarian magazine "Enclave"
and edited the book "Waco.
Una strage di stato americana." Here's his
© 2002 LewRockwell.com