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June 20, 2012 9:00 PM   Subscribe

"McPhee describes two things: how Switzerland requires military service from every able-bodied male Swiss citizen—a model later emulated and expanded by Israel—and how the Swiss military has, in effect, wired the entire country to blow in the event of foreign invasion. To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides; mountain tunnels will be sealed from within to act as nuclear-proof air raid shelters; and much more." (via)
posted by vidur (100 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not to mention their Cuckoo Clocks!
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:10 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


From the comments: the places for the charges are not loaded with explosives in peace times. Thus, no inadvertent blow-ups.

That's kind of disappointing. I was sort of hoping that Switzerland really was sitting on a dead man's switch, ready to blow up at the slightest hint of hostile action.
posted by asnider at 9:11 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love it when my fellow Americans complain about those effete, librul, wine-sipping Europeans. These countries still have mandatory service, more often than not of the military sort.

Can you imagine a US president even bringing up the topic of mandatory national service or, god forbid, a draft?

That said I visited a friend in Zurich one summer and her dad nonchalantly showed me his government-issued assault rifle from his bedroom closet.

I'd love to see a batch of College Republicans go toe-to-toe with a similarly aged group of Swiss folks who've done their military service.

Fuck, I'd sell tickets.
posted by bardic at 9:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [51 favorites]


I wonder how their engineers keep bits of their infrastructure from just exploding by random chance. If the border is wired that way, perhaps something somewhere should have blown up by now, through simple bad luck. Is it possible to wire up explosives with that kind of safety record?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:12 PM on June 20, 2012


This feels like a cross-over from the 'what didn't you believe about America' thread. Before I went to Switzerland, I presumed that the 'every bridge wired to blow' thing was an exaggeration. Then my friend took me downstairs to show me the nuclear bomb shelter that was in his house, as they are in every other house (at least, those built prior to 1990 or something).
posted by twirlypen at 9:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The complete destruction of Swiss transport infrastructure in the event of invasion was presumably why Germany was so desperate to acquire this.
posted by figurant at 9:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reminds one of the tactics used by the colonial occupiers on New Switzerland.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:15 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a batch of College Republicans go toe-to-toe with a similarly aged group of Swiss folks who've done their military service.

The College Republicans would cheat, killing all the Swiss before the toe-to-toe started.
posted by snaparapans at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sometimes I think certain things in this world exist purely so that John McPhee can write about them.
posted by gwint at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


Switzerland is home to a pair of exclaves as well.

These sort of defenses are what made the Helvetian War such a slog.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder if they have stock piles of nonperishable foods to go with all those shelters.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2012


If I were fighting the Swiss I would try to stage some sort of mock invasion, whatever was enough to get them to destroy all their infrastructure themselves, then retreat, and point and laugh.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


BP, the article mentions towards the end that the explosives are only wired up in times of war. So you're safe if you want to complain about the soggy sandwich in the buffet car while you're crossing a bridge.
posted by arcticseal at 9:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Service Guarantees Citizenship!
posted by thewalrus at 9:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm a little surprised the article doesn't bother to mention how incredibly stupid and useless this is. Switzerland has no credible external threats, are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them, and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe.

Yet they choose to use a probably non-negligible part of their state budget on this crap. It's pretty unbelievable.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:25 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


astapasta24: I recall hearing that Swiss law requires each town to ensure sufficent shelter space and supplies for all its citizens for a year or something like that.
posted by Canageek at 9:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also from the comments - Switzerland's Jungfrau Region: Interlaken and Swiss Military Secrets.
posted by unliteral at 9:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I remember crossing over to Switzerland in the early 90's and near the german border, amidst the most beautiful bucolic landscape, sheep, pigs and cows, snowcapped peaks in the distance and here was some guy (could have been a woman) driving their tank over the grassy knoll. I asked my german friend WTF, and she said they were practicing for war readiness.
posted by snaparapans at 9:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Joakim Ziegler: Yes, it is wasteful. However, I suspect they make up for it by wasting far less money on other areas then the US government.
posted by Canageek at 9:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


John McPhee is my favorite writer. I've read all but a couple of his 30-odd books. They're all wonderful and the subject of the book doesn't really matter. The Switzerland book is as good a place as any to start but I usually recommend Oranges, The Control of Nature, or Uncommon Carriers.
posted by neuron at 9:30 PM on June 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's all so secret that even the Swiss army doesn't know where 10,000 SLR's are hidden.
posted by pompomtom at 9:30 PM on June 20, 2012


From the CIA World Factbook:

Switzerland spends 1% of GDP on their military, ranked 129th in the world in military expenditure.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


Seems kind of paranoid these days but given the situation with world war I and II, plus soviet invasions of various eastern European countries you can't really blame them.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Switzerland has no credible external threats,"

- At the moment, no, but in the late 1930s and '40s things were much different.

"are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them,"

- I understand it, the Nazis avoided Switzerland in part because they knew what a difficult task it would have been to try to take it. Not just because it was convenient to have a neutral neighbor.

"and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe."

- I think you forget how tense things were during the Cold War 1960s and again in the '80s. And the '90s were certainly not peaceful for parts of Europe, particularly the Balkans.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [25 favorites]


I'd love to see a batch of College Republicans go toe-to-toe with a similarly aged group of Swiss folks who've done their military service.

Of course they'd lose. If a Republican is in college he aint never, ever, ever gonna be in the military.

That's for proles.

WOLVERINES!!!!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:39 PM on June 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm a little surprised the article doesn't bother to mention how incredibly stupid and useless this is. Switzerland has no credible external threats, are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them, and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe.
Most recent military action in Europe was the Balkans, only about 444 miles away. Obviously not a threat, but they're also just a few hundred miles from the Czech republic, Hungary, etc. The soviets would have had to get through Germany to get to them, but up until the fall of the soviet union it would have been a looming worry.
posted by delmoi at 9:41 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


And, of course, Swiss troops served in UNPROFOR in the former Yugoslavia.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:45 PM on June 20, 2012


Yes, I believe that one of the mountains can deploy in seconds, giant scissors missing the springy bit in the middle that isn't very good for cutting up pot any more, a massive magnifying glass that's perfect for burning ants but totally useless as a magnifying glass, and a weird hook thing that no one actually knows what it's used for. Apparently missing are the giant tweezers and gross plastic toothpick thing.
posted by mattoxic at 9:45 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm a little surprised the article doesn't bother to mention how incredibly stupid and useless this is. Switzerland has no credible external threats.

That's what preparation is. You do something when you don't need to because you can't prepare fast enough when you need it. It is the moral of stories like The Grasshopper and the Ant.
posted by michaelh at 9:47 PM on June 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


There is a shooting range by the lake where I live in Zug, Switzerland. It's a rather busy place on weekends. They ain't practicing with hunting rifles. Especially on Sundays and Fridays, you see the guys in their uniforms coming and going to their service obligations, on the fabulous trains and buses.

It's a shame the Swiss waste so much money on such a silly thing as national defence. It would be so much cheaper to roll over like a good little puppy. Oh, wait. Unemployment is 2% and salaries are in the stratosphere. Things are clean and the trains are mostly on time. The food is excellent, the cheese is divine. The scenery is breathtaking.

What was the problem again?
posted by Goofyy at 9:48 PM on June 20, 2012 [55 favorites]


The thing is, it's really fucking tiny.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:50 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually it seems like a very clever strategy. Maintaining a constant state of military readiness specifically in order not to have to fight presumably offers many of the economic benefits of war without all the unpleasantness. And regular inspections of the self-destruct mechanisms surely serve to ensure that the infrastructure itself is kept in good repair. Plus advanced training for the populace, military R&D spinoffs, and little multifunctional knives for all. ("Swiss Army knife" has become such a widespread and generic term in US usage; I was rather delighted, a while back, to see one of my Swiss colleagues using the knife he'd been issued by the actual Swiss army.)
posted by fermion at 9:51 PM on June 20, 2012 [18 favorites]


Most recent military action in Europe was the Balkans, only about 444 miles away

Sounds like "as the crow flies distance", given the topography the equivalent walking distance is probably 1200 miles.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2012


Yeah, I would much rather the US spent our money building elaborate traps for Canadians...hockey rinks where they fall through the ice into a pit of alligators genetically engineered to live in freezing water or something...instead of pro-active defensive invasions and occupations of other countries.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2012 [32 favorites]


Maintaining a constant state of military readiness specifically in order not to have to fight presumably offers many of the economic benefits of war without all the unpleasantness.

Well, this is pretty much why Switzerland wasn't invaded in either world war (pace Joachim Ziegler, Nazi Germany invaded plenty of boring nations - there was a lot wrong with Nazi Germany, but it wasn't snobbish when it came to invasion).

In WW1, the Swiss mobilized their army at the start of the war, deterring encroachment on their borders, and in WW2 they mobilized while simultaneously providing some material and financial aid to Germany - with the intention being that Germany would see the benefits of an independent Switzerland as greater than the benefits of a smoking ruin of occupied lowland Switzerland filled with partisans and a heavily fortified mountain region in the Alps tying up men and material.

Switzerland's neutrality has generally been underscored by the implicit understanding that the Swiss are really pretty hardcore in a fight once you get them going - a reputation they have had since the 15th century.

However, the Swiss standing army has been shrinking in recent years - it certainly doesn't have a war economy, although the militia approach is probably good for Swiss Arms AG.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Evidently Switzerland is what Dwarf Fortress is based on.
posted by XMLicious at 10:13 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Since some Swiss military funds have gone to Victorinox over the years, helping them prosper and, along the way, develop my hands-down favorite stamped kitchen knives and sturdy laptop-toting backpacks, I have to say - Switzerland being set in their peaceful-but-prepared ways has made my life better in a not insignificant way and I've never even been there, so, uh, good job you crazy boobytrapped alpine neutrals you!

Also, props for this because holy crap no other country's government officials could pull off a photo that awesome.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:19 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I mean seriously this would be laughably ridiculous anywhere else!
posted by jason_steakums at 10:24 PM on June 20, 2012


To keep enemy armies out, bridges will be dynamited and, whenever possible, deliberately collapsed onto other roads and bridges below; hills have been weaponized to be activated as valley-sweeping artificial landslides;

I'm sorry, but...a key element of Swiss national security is a plan that would add a bunch of holes to their country's interior?
posted by amy lecteur at 10:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


Also, props for this because holy crap no other country's government officials could pull off a photo that awesome.

Switzerland is governed by the 6 o'clock news team?

I mean seriously this would be laughably ridiculous anywhere else!

And the board of a corporation?
posted by asnider at 10:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but...a key element of Swiss national security is a plan that would add a bunch of holes to their country's interior?

The "eyes" are part of what gives Switzerland it's distinct flavor.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:29 PM on June 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm a little surprised the article doesn't bother to mention how incredibly stupid and useless this is. Switzerland has no credible external threats, are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them, and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe.

Apart from that whole Cold War and potential nuclear holocaust thingie, which the Swiss, like the Chinese decided to prepare for. Had the NATO exercise Able Archer -- which attempted to simulate as closely as possible a true nuclear attack -- back in 1983 been even a little bit more realistic or the Soviet leadership been even more paranoid than they already were, the Swiss may have had good reasons to be grateful for their preparedness.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:58 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The blow-everything-up scheme is not the smartest thing in the modern world. Here is how to fuck with Switzerland.

(1) Threaten them for a while so they actually emplace their explosives and whatnot.
(2) Start a token invasion, just enough to get them to seal themselves in.
(3) Airdrop anthrax or smallpox. Doesn't much matter how horribly virulent it is, because they can't get out. At least, as long as it isn't zombies or xenomorphs. If you're really worried about world opinion, just keep bombing their fields with incendiaries and herbicides.
(4) Wait a few years for everyone to die while you're doing whatever else invading is on your mind.
(5) Clear out the rubble and move right in.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:04 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a time in the early '80s, my father's boss was a Swiss man named Hans. I remember that Hans would summon waiters at restaurants by clapping in the air. (Dad took up this very socially embarrassing habit for a brief while, as well.) I was always impressed, though thought it a bit odd, that Hans had a bomb shelter built into his house back in Switzerland. Since it was still the Cold War era, I totally wanted him to adopt me so I could be near the safety of the bomb shelter just in case the Russkies attacked or something.
posted by medeine at 11:12 PM on June 20, 2012


I'm sorry, but...a key element of Swiss national security is a plan that would add a bunch of holes to their country's interior?

Well, the Swiss are probably better equipped to work around/repair the holes than any invader could possibly be. home turf advantage matters; it's not unusual for countries threatened with invasion to pre-emptively wreck the infrastructure to slow down the invaders.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:22 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


As your resident Swiss person I have to point out that most of these underground defences are now decommissioned. The tunnels are still there, but empty. The fixed guns still aim at mountain roads but no longer work. The Swiss army was reduced from 625 000 to 400 000 in '95, to 120 000 in 2003, and probably now to 80 000. So it's not like they're unaware the cold war has ended.
posted by Zarkonnen at 11:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


John McPhee is an amazing non-fiction writer. Thanks to him I've learned about topics I would never have thought I'd be interested in and been entertained and educated.
posted by girlhacker at 11:26 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


a key element of Swiss national security is a plan that would add a bunch of holes to their country's interior

So you're saying that they want to SWISS CHEESE their country?

*Boom!*
posted by Chekhovian at 11:27 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


The blow-everything-up scheme is not the smartest thing in the modern world. Here is how to fuck with Switzerland.

But why would you waste that much money on Switzerland? If you killed them all you wouldn't get the chocolate or the world class engineers.

Its a pretty good strat all around. Even the survivors would be die-hards with modern assault rifles.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:29 PM on June 20, 2012


"A bunch of holes everywhere" is an extremely disingenuous way of looking at the Swiss defensive strategy. When your country is surrounded by mountains, accessible through narrow passes and tunnels, the ability to seal those entrance points off in a pinch is key. Couple that with enough underground shelter for 114% of the population with major bunker networks located in valleys known to be the most ideal for agriculture and with the earliest spring thaw times and you have a country that's very well prepared. Compulsory military service and a tradition of local and regional shooting competitions as well as presenting demobbed citizens with the option of purchasing their military rifle for a pittance means that you have a healthy populace that knows how to shoot. Do all this for 1% of your GDP annually and throw in a constitution that enforces a pacifistic foreign policy and makes into dogma a government's responsibility for the well-being of its citizens and stupid isn't the word I'd use to describe it.
posted by dazed_one at 12:15 AM on June 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


Yet they choose to use a probably non-negligible part of their state budget on this crap.

Well, as noted, much of this is stuff that was dug or installed decades ago. But really, passive defenses are the best and cheapest defenses you can have. Wargame much? Units get destroyed, and you take valuable turns to get them where you want them, but a passive defense like a minefield can be as effective as having a defensive unit there to fight a battle.

Some people miss the attrition aspects of war. Modern shooting warfare is designed around the principle that causing non-fatal casualties costs your enemy resources in terms of not just taking a fighter out of the battle, but of medical and logistical resources to move the wounded from the field and then replace him or her with a battle-ready fighter. Anything -- in reason -- you can do to the enemy that costs the enemy MORE than it cost you to do it is worthwhile. For instance, these Swiss defenses might be useless if you think in terms of an invasion of such overwhelming force that it will succeed regardless, but in Switzerland's point of view they can buy valuable time to implement a stay-behind strategy that will harass and harry any occupying force, and require that occupying force to be larger. A similar point of view is notoriously evident in a certain other mountainous part of the world.

More broadly, this type of strategy is termed "defense in depth". Poland, somewhat infamously, as a rather flat country overall, has few strategic advantages versus its problematic rivals to the east and to the west. Its WWII strategy was to fall back against an invasion and regroup. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, of course, triggered invasions from BOTH east and west simultaneously, making a hash of the Polish defense. Poland would kill for a few mountain valleys it could close off. More recently, the Cold War planning in the West focused on a likely ground invasion accompanied by Soviet tactical nukes; it was assumed that the easiest route through Germany was near the plains of Fulda incidentally where my Hartung ancestors are from and so NATO counterattacks were prepared on this strategic corridor. Again, the concept is not so much stopping as slowing and focusing an attacker's resources.
posted by dhartung at 12:17 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Not to mention their Cuckoo Clocks!

McPhee addresses this quote in the book, pointing out that Swiss armies and mercenary forces were highly regarded. It's a fun quote, but inaccurate.

"A bunch of holes everywhere" is an extremely disingenuous way of looking at the Swiss defensive strategy.

I think that was a Swiss cheese joke.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I knew I had made that comment before,

"when Italy was enjoying the Borgias, Switzerland was enjoying a reputation as-to quote Douglas Miller's "The Swiss at War"-"the most powerful and feared military force in Europe." Switzerland was about as neutral in those days as had been Mongolia under Genghis Khan."
-John McPhee, La Place de la Concorde Suisse
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:08 PM on February 24, 2010 [+] [!]
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:27 AM on June 21, 2012


dazed_one's comment nailed it, but let's see how having compulsory military service is a great idea (well, military age males can now do civil service, but many still opt for the military because it's quicker).

1) Your country is surrounded by historically aggressive neighbours, including France, Germany, Italy and Austria. (Lichtenstein is probably not a worry.) People have covered this in the thread already, but you can see why a tiny country like Switzerland might have developed a healthy dose of paranoia over the last few centuries.

2) Imagine a Swiss politician suggests an Insane Military Adventure against a foreign country. Remember, the army basically = the population.

You are a high school teacher (average salary approx $75,000). Unlike a professional soldier - who would like nothing better than getting a bit of exercise and trying out new toys - you don't fancy going abroad to be shot at for several months / years.

You start collecting signatures opposing the idea. Once you've got 100,000, there's automatically a nationwide referendum on the idea. All the incredibly highly paid supermarket workers, waiters and hedge fund managers who are your brothers in arms feel similarly about the idea of going to war.

Hypothetical foreign country remains uninvaded.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 12:55 AM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


What was the problem again? endemic racism?
posted by mattoxic at 1:01 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Once you've got 100,000, there's automatically a nationwide referendum on the idea

Really?!? Can we have that too? Please? What a spectacular idea.
posted by coriolisdave at 1:16 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's characteristic of the Swiss mentality to assume that so long as they can be completely cut off from the rest of the world at a moment's notice, all will be well.

The enemy is already among you, Swissburghers! The thing you fear cannot be stopped with explosives or shot with bullets! Not unless, one night, the dreams get so bad you just have to blow your own xenophobic head off.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a little surprised the article doesn't bother to mention how incredibly stupid and useless this is. Switzerland has no credible external threats, are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them, and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe.

Well, John McPhee wrote this article in the 1980s, when there was a credible threat of a land war in Europe. The modern Swiss army is a lot smaller.
posted by atrazine at 1:45 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always believed that Douglas Adams drew his inspiration for the planet of Krikkit from the Swiss. Kind, gentle, ragingly xenophobic people.
posted by deo rei at 2:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The mined bridges and tunnels is one of my favourites, but here are some more awesome facts about Switzerland, otherwise perhaps the world's most boring country.

-- It's a federation, like the US. There are 26 cantons ("states"), each with control of its own taxes, educational policy etc.

The smallest canton, Basel-city, is 40 km^2, or 2/3 the size of Manhattan Island. The biggest is Graubunden, at 7,000 km^2, or about the size of New Jersey.

-- There are four official languages in Switzerland (and about a billion very distinct local dialects). These are Swiss German, French, Italian and Rhaetoromansch, which is spoken in a couple of mountain valleys and is apparently the closest living language to Latin.

-- Although Inner Appenzell was the last canton to give women the vote - in 1971 - currently 4 of Switzerland's 7 presidents are female.

-- LSD was invented in Switzerland

-- Although Switzerland has tightened up its drug laws (previously: free heroin for addicts, ok to smoke weed in train carriages) there are still very dicreet Dutch-style coffee shops in some Swiss cities.

-- 20% of Swiss residents are foreign, like me. Switzerland is crazily xenophobic and banned the building of minarets in 2009, despite there only being 4 in the whole country.

-- Most Swiss apartment blocks built last century have bunkers in the cellar. By law, you can't flush your toilet after 10pm, to avoid disturbing your neighbours. You don't want to upset your neighbours as there are probably about 5 or 6 automatic weapons per apartment block. In fact, Switzerland is the fourth most heavily-armed country in the world, after the US, Serbia and Yemen.

-- Switzerland has a navy, despite being completely landlocked.

-- James Bond is half Swiss.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 2:06 AM on June 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


I wonder if they have stock piles of nonperishable foods to go with all those shelters.

Apparently it's all canned.

People hate serving in the army because even canned food goes off eventually, and they feed the older stuff to the troops while they restock with new stuff.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 2:10 AM on June 21, 2012


Yet they choose to use a probably non-negligible part of their state budget on this crap. It's pretty unbelievable.

It is actually very much cheaper to have all of your population serve in the military briefly, then maintain their readiness to resist invasion, than to maintain an enormous standing army that is constantly invading and using major weapons.

Also, we are in no position to throw stones on wasteful defense spending.
posted by corb at 2:55 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


"A bunch of holes everywhere" is an extremely disingenuous way of looking at the Swiss defensive strategy.

I think that was a Swiss cheese joke.


Yes, it was a Swiss cheese joke. No denigration of either the Swiss military strategy or food products was intended. Theirs is a lovely country with a rich history of military innovation and creativity. In conclusion, Switzerland is a land of contrast. Thank you.
posted by amy lecteur at 3:23 AM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


You are a high school teacher (average salary approx $75,000).

What the Hell is with these people? Priorities!

This is why you have no nuclear capacity, Switzerland. Which would save you all that tedious messing around with mountain tunnels, for only vastly more expense!
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Another reason nobody invades Switzerland:
All those megalomaniac despots have huge chunks of their personal fortunes stashed in Swiss banks, Said banks are undoubtedly rigged to melt down in case of invasion. Would you set fire to the bank where all your money is kept?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:06 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Swiss are no more of all one mind than any other country. There are plenty of farmers still, (I hear cowbells ringing in the night), and the culture makes a point of honoring them. There are plenty of cosmopolitan, enlightened people living in the cities. I'm sure some Swiss are seriously xenophobic. But this is no more typical than you'd find in much of the USA. There is a political element that enjoys using xenophobia and racism to further it's political agenda, but there the more remarkable thing is that, unlike in Germany, this is allowed.
posted by Goofyy at 4:27 AM on June 21, 2012


Burhanistan wrote: The thing is, it's really fucking tiny.

I think Switzerland must have a mind ray or something. It's twice the size of Israel, but do you see people going on about how cute Israeli mine fields are?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:33 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck the Swiss. An entire country based on money laundering. If your depositor is shady he wont complain about the rates he gets, meaning Swiss banks are cash rich allowing Swiss corporates ultra cheap access to funds for expansion and growth. The Swiss have lots of guns because gangsters tend to have lots of guns. Blood diamonds, old gold teeth, sex slavery and all sorts of nasty crimes are whats paying for those stratospheric wages.
posted by Damienmce at 4:37 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fuck the Swiss. An entire country based on money laundering. If your depositor is shady he wont complain about the rates he gets, meaning Swiss banks are cash rich allowing Swiss corporates ultra cheap access to funds for expansion and growth. The Swiss have lots of guns because gangsters tend to have lots of guns. Blood diamonds, old gold teeth, sex slavery and all sorts of nasty crimes are whats paying for those stratospheric wages.

I'm not Swiss but I feel I should mention that UBS very nearly went tits up recently, you know. With the size of the financial services sector compared to everything else it was a US bailout away from being Iceland.
posted by jaduncan at 4:41 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fuck the Swiss.

I say this myself, occasionally. But it usually makes my husband jealous.
posted by Goofyy at 4:44 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Rhaetoromansch, which is spoken in a couple of mountain valleys and is apparently the closest living language to Latin." The closest living language to Latin bit is untrue; it is, in fact, about 1200 years away from Latin. The exact same distance as French, Occitan, Catalan, Spanish, Galacian, Portuguese, Romanian, Sicilian, Italian, Corsican, and Sardinian.
posted by TheTingTangTong at 4:53 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I say this myself, occasionally. But it usually makes my husband jealous.

Zarkonnen, on the other hand, loves being the beneficiary of this idea.
posted by jaduncan at 4:58 AM on June 21, 2012


It's twice the size of Israel, but do you see people going on about how cute Israeli mine fields are?

You can make this comparison when the Swiss invade part of Germany and push the local hausfrau into refugee camps and (ironically) ghettos, only periodically showing up to bulldoze houses to make space for extra Swiss houses.

Protip: at the moment you can't.
posted by jaduncan at 5:01 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure some Swiss are seriously xenophobic. But...

Well, yes and no. The SVP is the largest party in the government, with about 26% of the vote. That's a lot more than comparably rightwing parties in other European states, and unlike e.g. the FN in France, it doesn't owe its rise to economic instability.

An entire country based on money laundering.

Well, yes and no. It's actually still quite an industrial society, which is why they pegged the Franc to the Euro recently, as the strength of the Franc was badly hurting their export markets. Industry in Switzerland makes up 27.5% of GDP, comparable to Germany at 28.6% and well above the US, where it's 19.2%. Now think of the size of Switzerland and the size of its banking sector and you'll appreciate how industrialised it is.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 5:04 AM on June 21, 2012


I love how everyone's arguing the effectiveness of cutting off your borders like this when we all remember how well it works for Madagascar...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course they'd lose. If a Republican is in college he aint never, ever, ever gonna be in the military.

Dude, I hate to burst your bubble, but just who do you think goes into the ROTC programs?
posted by indubitable at 5:39 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


-- Most Swiss apartment blocks built last century have bunkers in the cellar. By law, you can't flush your toilet after 10pm, to avoid disturbing your neighbours.

A friend of mine was just telling a story about a housemate he'd had from Switzerland, who got all worked up and called the landlord in the middle of the night because the neighbors were showering.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:02 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Switzerland has no credible external threats, are so neutral and boring that not even the Nazis bothered invading them, and sits in the middle of very-peaceful-for-the-last-60-years Europe. (emphasis mine)

You've got your causality arrow backwards. I think what you meant to say was: The Swiss defense system is so staggeringly effective that, despite its supreme tactical location and mouth-watering resources, the Nazis (arguably the most powerful and aggressive military machine the world has ever seen, and given to such fits of hubris as, say, opening a second front to invade Russia) gave it some thought and said "nope, it'd be better to just go around them."
posted by Mayor West at 6:06 AM on June 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


A friend of mine was just telling a story about a housemate he'd had from Switzerland, who got all worked up and called the landlord in the middle of the night because the neighbors were showering.

Yeah, we're fighting to avoid getting kicked out of a really nice place we've just moved into by the river.

So far apparently the two of us have shut our doors too loudly, come home late (i.e. after 10pm - we're not noisy drunkards or anything) and moved a bicycle to and from the flat using the communal lift. Literally, last week I had a long conversation with the ladlady convincing her not to give us notice over these extremely serious allegations. We pay about $1500 a month for this shoebox-sized place and we're both professionals, not students or whatever.

But we're lucky! Our building has quite a relaxed washing machine policy. Normally you get assigned a place in a rota and if you're at work on e.g. Wednesday mornings, you'd better just buy new clothes every week, because tough. One place we looked at renting allowed you to use the washing machine once a month.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 6:20 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Switzerland subreddit discussed this topic last week; this might be interesting because quite a few of the people over there actually know the system from the inside.

> I love it when my fellow Americans complain about those effete, librul, wine-sipping Europeans. These countries still have mandatory service, more often than not of the military sort.

The countries with mandatory military service are a minority in today’s Europe. Even Germany has abandoned it by now.

Now if only we could finally get rid of this crap in Austria too. At least our current Minister of Defense wants to convert to a professional army, so there is some hope.
posted by wachhundfisch at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2012


Cool blog post, the comments are as interesting as (or maybe more than) the article. I didn't know Bldgblog had such an international readership.
posted by jamesonandwater at 7:00 AM on June 21, 2012


I don't know what I love more, the writing of McPhee or getting inexpensive used books online (Abe Books FTW). I just found a copy for $7.56 shipped, and as a bonus it's an autographed hardcover.
posted by exogenous at 7:02 AM on June 21, 2012


McPhee is also my favorite writer. Much of my store of informedness about countless issues stems from either reading him or branching off on whatever subjects he has written about.
posted by Danf at 7:40 AM on June 21, 2012


I remember reading a textbook passage in my Medieval Europe class about the desirability of capturing noble prisoners on the battlefield to hold for ransom or to use as hostages. It digressed to mention that this was not a game that the Swiss (who had no nobility of their own) practiced.

The exact line I remember: "The Swiss simply obliterated their enemies."
posted by snottydick at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other great thing about the military reputation of the Swiss is how it was established on a peculiar innovation - The use of pikemen to quite literally pull the gentry down from their high horses, allowing for mobs of peasants with clubs to beat them to death. Then they got their hands on firearms, used the pikemen to protect them during reloading, and became the most sought-after mercenaries in Europe.

The Pope still keeps a pack of Swiss pikemen on hand, just in case.

An entire country based on money laundering.

More like an entire country based on a sort of protection racket that sold safe passage through their mountain passes. That's how their banking industry began.

"Hey, you might want to leave your money here before heading South. Lots of robbers on those roads. Here's a note to give my cousin on the other side of the mountain. He'll give you your cash back, minus a small processing fee."

Of course, that processing fee would be split between the two banking cousins and their other relatives, the aforementioned highwaymen.
posted by snottydick at 8:29 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Fixed fortifications are monuments to man's stupidity."

-General George S. Patton.
posted by clavdivs at 8:55 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Pope still keeps a pack of Swiss pikemen on hand, just in case.

Well, it's working, isn't it? You don't ever hear about cavalry attacking the Vatican.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:02 AM on June 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


In hindsight I may have been overly boisterous in my previous comments. I'm not saying they're all crooks but a lot of that prosperity is if you will imported in a dubious manner. All tax havens are as guilty.
posted by Damienmce at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It has always struck me as strange that there's no limit to the amount of physical cash you can bring into the country or a limit at which you have to declare it. There is a limit at which you have to explain it. If asked.
posted by Damienmce at 9:54 AM on June 21, 2012


Kirth Gerson: "The Pope still keeps a pack of Swiss pikemen on hand, just in case.

Well, it's working, isn't it? You don't ever hear about cavalry attacking the Vatican
"

Well, Christopher Hitchens used to be called one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Of course, you can see how he ended up.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:56 AM on June 21, 2012


Damn, now I want to move to Switzerland.
posted by LordSludge at 10:42 AM on June 21, 2012


That's just part of growing up. Every sane adult should want a lake side chalet in the Swiss Alps.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:50 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or to have attended the Chalet School. Who rather foolishly fled the threat of Nazi aggression by relocating from Switzerland to... the Channel Islands.

Smooth move.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:05 PM on June 21, 2012


Didn't the Knights Templar establish Switzerland after absconding with a shedload of loot?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:21 PM on June 21, 2012


That's another thing the Pope's pack of pikers prevents.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:59 PM on June 21, 2012


If they were drunk, would they be the Pope's pack of pickled pipers?
posted by exogenous at 6:41 PM on June 21, 2012


You could pick up a pike and poke the Pope's pack of pickled pikers, possibly provoking pissed pikeage.
posted by arcticseal at 7:32 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


A mountain you could climb on the inside? There is a short novel by Swiss author Christian Kracht, the German title is Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten – it's a shame the book hasn't been translated into English yet –, in which the last act takes place inside a juggernaut fortress inside a mountain and I thought the totalitarian hyperbole mainly followed from the alternate-historical premise of the book – Lenin did not leave Switzerland for Russia in 1917 … Switzerland and Africa and Mongolian Mercenaries versus fascist Anglo-Saxon-German-Superreich –, and I knew the Swiss take the defense of their country seriously, but a mountain you "could climb the mountain on the inside"?

Awesome!
posted by quoquo at 9:26 PM on June 21, 2012


My family and I lived in Lausanne for 18 months in 1981 and 1982. My dad had a job at a Nestle-sponsored international business school, and the gig came with schooling for us kids as well as lodging.

We lived in one of the tall apartment blocks on Route du Pavement above the Avenue Parc del a Rouvraie, more or less directly north of and elevated above the spires of Lausanne Cathedral and the bishop's palace. These towers were probably built not terribly long before we moved into them.

I can't seem to fish a link out of Maps on the iPad to share, but if you look up the location, you will see about four tower blocks surrounded by green lawns. The lawns have a few wite squares visible on them in the satellite view.

That is because the towers sit on top of a much larger building which is entirely underground. The lawns are the roof of that building.

One day, curious and teenaged, I decided to go through the door at the end of the basement storage area we had access to as tenants. The area behind the door was apparently endless, empty and echoing. I was able to go down an additional five levels before I stopped being able to locate light switches, and wandered around in the levels without really thinking that much about what I was doing.

The last time I wrote about this, I remembered seeing civil defense supplies such as food and water; today, I don't recall that. When I turned around and began to climb back up to the level I had started on, I became disoriented and was happy to reemerge in the common area of the building once again.

However, when I tried to locate the elevator to get back to our apartment, I could not find it. I left by the front door of the building to realize that I had acually come back upstairs in a different apartment block entirely than the one we lived in.

It was easy to walk back to the right building, but after that you may rest assured I never saw the Swiss landscape the same way again.
posted by mwhybark at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Collapsing the transport arteries into a country to gain time is not exclusive to Switzerland. In the Korean Republic you can see, at certain points on the highways leading from and to the northern border, certain massive concrete structures crossing the entire roadway. These can be collapsed, completely blocking the highway.
posted by Catfry at 1:52 PM on June 27, 2012


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