Target Switzerland – Stephen P. Halbrook

13 Apr

Seems like Switzerland wants us to expect more, pay less.

See the picture on the right of Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II.  Does the font of “Target” strike you as funny?  It might, if you had worked there for 6+ years.  Target, I mean.  That has to be the same exact font that the merchandiser with all the trend-right gear uses.  I know because I feel a distinct need to buy things that I won’t remember purchasing.  Zebra-striped wallet?  Check.  Mr. Bubble?  Check. And I want to say Hostess Easter Brownies but I’ve somehow managed to hold off against their treachery.

So back to the book.  Let’s talk about its contents, shall we?  I’ve got to say that the details it shares are really interesting.  It is written by an academic and that’s how it reads.  I don’t think it takes much storytelling to make this period in world history interesting though.

Halbrook starts off with telling us the history of Switzerland.  It started off as three different small states, or cantons, and it would end up 26 in total.  As this group of states grew slowly through war and more war, each canton had a well-established personality.  Imagine if Texas and New Jersey had been separate as for hundreds of years before joining the union. They’d have their own royalty, currency and set of measurements, not to mention major league baseball teams.

There are two defining things about Switzerland that determined its role in WWII.  The first is that every Swiss male is required to sign up for military duty.  If they are accepted they will have training for about 18-21 weeks.  After that they will remain active until they are 34 (some until age 50).  The Swiss military depends largely on the citizen.  They keep uniforms and gear at their house and at the ready.

The second thing that makes Switzerland so different is that it’s a democracy.  While it wasn’t the only country that professed neutrality in WWII, it was the only one able to stick with it.  Hallbrook states throughout the book that Switzerland stayed neutral because it didn’t have a centralized leader.  The Swiss president is only a figurehead and serves for only one year.  The majority of the work is done by Parliament.  And with no one person to announce surrender, the Swiss got armed and ready.  They protected their borders against any who would pass through them – Axis or Allies.  They were even told that any cease fire that was issued would be propaganda from the other side and to ignore it.

The Swiss were brave and they were generous.  They almost bankrupted the country by trying to provide for prisoners of war from both sides and refugees.  They treated all comers fairly.  The Red Cross and the Geneva conventions both originated with the Swiss, after all.  I know that the Swiss did do some banking with the Nazis and that this is sometimes enough cause for people to think poorly of their behavior during the war as a neutral country.  Once they realized the threat of the Third Reich to democracy they started looking for opportunities to become more financially independent from their Eastern neighbors.

I really liked this book.  It helped me to understand the Swiss as a people.  I think before they were only a bank or the maker of great utility knives in my mind.  I’m going to try not to think of what their generalization of us Yanks is.



One Response to “Target Switzerland – Stephen P. Halbrook”


  1. Swiss Build a Fortress Around Their Hearts « Trip Ahoy! - 2011/05/01

    […] brings us back to the theory of armed neutrality.  Remember, I read a whole book on it?  What I learned there is that it’s not enough to say “we’re neutral” and […]

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