Gen. Henri Guisan and Swiss Neutrality

Posted by  $  MikeMarotta 2 months, 3 weeks ago to History
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  • Posted by CircuitGuy 2 months, 3 weeks ago
    "This is a nation of soldiers who hold shooting contests for fun and prizes firing everything from crossbows to the most modern sniper rifles."
    My understanding of this is probably incorrect and biased by my own policy ideas. But it seems like Switzerland was a country right in the heart of the biggest war known to humankind, yet they avoided being invaded because many citizens were armed and there was not a large standing army.
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    • Posted by  $  2 months, 3 weeks ago
      Short of finding the book in a library or from an online seller, there is no way for you to get into its depth. I found only one review of the book, from Kirkus Reviews:
      "After two decades and countless indefatigable scholars, there are few chapters in the history of World War II which are not, at the very least, twice-told tales. Yet Mr. Kimche has come up with one, a not unimportant one at that, which until now has been almost totally overlooked. How did little Switzerland manage to keep both her sovereignty and her neutrality, completely surrounded as she was by Nazi-held territory? The answer is to be found in the stubbornness and skill of one man, General Henri Guisan, who gambled and bluffed in the face of defeatism and appeasement within his own government, while fighting for time to build a last-stand stronghold in the Alps, and organizing a spy ring with direct contacts in the highest circles in Berlin. Time and again, when invasion seemed a certainty, Guisan was able to convince the Nazi leaders that the price they would have to pay would be too great. Many hitherto unknown aspects of the cloak and dagger game which Allen Dulles played with the German generals are also revealed in the course of this volume. The final section, ""The Impossible Art of Being Neutral"", is a penetrating discussion of Switzerland's example for today's non-aligned nations." -- here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re...

      One point: "... and there was not a large standing army." Ultimately, they rivaled the major powers because all male citizens served from 20 to 60. They had one year of basic training and one year of special training and then the usual summer week of drill. Ages 20 to 38 were on the front lines. Ages 38 to 48 - many senior enlisted and senior officers - were "reserves" to be called up as replacements. Then those 48 to 60 were in the home guard. It came to about 20% of the male population of the time. Many residents were not citizens, such as the 12,000 conscript-age Germans living there then. In the USA, we put only just under 10% into the armed forces.

      Ayn Rand and her lawyer both argued against conscription. It is something of a republican principle that if the government cannot muster the volunteers it needs then it has deeper problems than an invasion by outsiders. During World War 2 conscription ("selective service") was mostly used to organize the volunteers. After WWII it was not clear that we needed the draft until Viet Nam, which was highly unpopular with both the conservatives and the liberals. Ayn Rand's lawyer, Henry Mark Holzer, argued via the Ninth Amendment on behalf of some resisting the draft.
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  • Posted by Lucky 2 months, 3 weeks ago
    I think the message here is that it is best to be strong militarily.

    The bit of history given is that the Swiss were not quite strong enough- the population was trained, armed and motivated but the extent of internal collaboration, the fifth column, was uncertain. They thought at the time that given the strength of the German army it was best to impose censorship so as to not provoke.
    Was this necessary? Maybe not as the Germans were disciplined, they would invade for strategic reasons only.

    Some strength is necessary to be truly neutral, Then you have all the options.
    'Excess' strength brings another kind of problem.

    Side question- How effective would that that Swiss spirit be against the Wehrmacht? I make a suggestion, not so effective.
    Consider, the British failed to suppress independence in India and the US has a standoff in Afghanistan. But that works against an invader with rules of engagement and basic humanity, Total war is different.
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    • Posted by  $  2 months, 3 weeks ago
      We have different basic assumptions.
      ".... the US has a standoff in Afghanistan. But that works against an invader with rules of engagement and basic humanity, Total war is different."

      The USSR was thoroughly brutal in Afghanistan and only met with an enemy just as brutal and moreso. The USSR had to give up. I will agree immediately that US policy (if you can call it that) in Afghanistan is problematic at best. However, from game theory "the prisoner's dilemma" suggests that it is in your interest to reward twice someone who betrays you before you retailiate in kind. Peace is more powerful.

      "How effective would that that Swiss spirit be against the Wehrmacht? I make a suggestion, not so effective. "
      And yet, there was Denmark, which had no army to speak of. Occupied Denmark resisted the Nazis as effectively as they could, much more so than the French, by contrast. A Force More Powerful here:
      https://metapeaceteam.wordpress.com/2...
      and here:
      https://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/f...

      "Consider, the British failed to suppress independence in India ..." Today, in many ways, India is more British than we are. The English language unites the country. You might know of the Punjab massacre of April 1919. Its centenniary was not a big event. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jallian.... Today people in the region still harbor harsh feelings about the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. They resent their own government more than the British.

      We could argue alternate histories all day, but realize that in World War I, the USA lent Britain 250 million ounces of silver for use in India. (The UK paid it back, which is why 1921 Morgan dollars are so common.) After World War Two, the old 17th-19th century colonialism could not survive, not ideologically, or economically. It is a losing proposition and no one could afford it. (When the former Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix, was at university, she did her doctoral dissertation on decolonization.) India wanted independence. Australia did not.

      "Maybe not as the Germans were disciplined, they would invade for strategic reasons only. "
      I am not as enamored of the Germans as so many of my right wing comrades are. They marched along OK when there was a parade, but the leadership (such as it was) was divided within the Party and with the Army against the Party. Heinrich Himmler was ready to declare himself fuehrer from 1943 on at any time. His SS was a wedge between Hitler and the general staff and it was his power base for his own goals. The Germans were ruthless. That's true. But they were not alone in that. (Read about the fascist Ustase "resistance" of Yugoslavia.) But the Germans were just as internally conflicted. Their secret spy sabotage mission against the United States failed because one of the guys just up and quit and surrendered. That is not discipline. Despite certain isolated advances, the Germans were nowhere near an atomic bomb specifically because they had three competing programs vying for very limited resources. And the resources were limited precisely because socialism is ineffective.

      On the other hand, whatever its many disadvantages, Switzerland benefted from a nominally capitalist economy and the cutlural base that allowed and supported it. Germany would have beaten its stagnant brains out on the Alpine reduit of Switzerland.

      If you have read Atlas Shrugged who is more disciplined, Hank Rearden or Cuffy Meigs?
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      • Posted by Lucky 2 months, 3 weeks ago
        Yes, but.
        The USSR in Afghanistan, brutal yes, but they also made attempts at civilization, there are photos of girls in school and of women in labs and in public wearing western clothes and with no black shrouds. The USSR weighed the benefits against the costs and long supply lines and made the rational decision to withdraw. Also, the fanatics were getting US support.

        You write ' the Germans were just as internally conflicted'. (compared with the Swiss). Oh? When a side is winning dissent gets few listeners. When it would have been apparent that the war had turned, say late 1944, your article suggests 1943, despite censorship, the population would have picked up the change from triumphal victories to heroic throwbacks of enemy attacks.
        Even then there was (I think?) still no effective German dissent,
        “Viking Line” and bomb plot notwithstanding.

        The Danish link. Agreed that while they did what they could with no preparation, the fact remains that there was no preparation.
        The examples of passive resistance in India etc, show what can be done only when that kind of action is permitted.

        You say Gen. Guisan understood that however it was defined Switzerland's neutrality would be meaningless--in fact, it would be impossible--without Swiss independence.. Very true. The part of the plan you write about was to show that independence in spirit. It does not replace the hardware.

        MM in your comment you hint at German declining resources, generally not just in research. You may want to expound on that, it deserves a paper.

        The question of what would have happened to a German attack on the Swiss has to be decided by speculation, I suggest the same as the conquest of Greece. The terrain was similar, the Greek defense was experienced and motivated, they had pushed out Mussolini's army. But Hitler decided that access to the Greek coast was essential. A new plan was made and the invasion force got the resources to do the job. The story of that resistance deserves its place in history. Churchill said,
        Now, we do not say that Greeks fight like heroes, we say heroes fight like Greeks.
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        • Posted by  $  2 months, 3 weeks ago
          Thanks for the reply. We could go back and forth on the details. I agree that Greece could be a good comparison against Switzerland for many reasons.

          As for Germany's dwindling resources, I consider the essential premise of socialism versus capitalism. I have some sympathy for Hjalmar Schacht, the finance minister. He kept trying to balance the books, but he could not overcome the failings of a centralized economy bent on war. On that point, I think that the marginal differences between Switzerland and Greece (far more market freedom versus far less market freedom) was the determinant. But, as you suggest, there's a lot of history there to be thought through. I think we need a map of Europe, some little army guys, a weekend, and serious beer...
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          • Posted by Lucky 2 months, 2 weeks ago
            This thread is really about the Swiss, a nation who do things differently, and successfully, by and large.
            As for that serious beer, this is on, it awaits only my ship to come in.
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        • Posted by  $  2 months, 3 weeks ago
          Also... I agree with the point that USSR attempted some modernization. They went in to rescue a secular communist regime. But, again, aside from substituting one theocracy (communism) for another, they had no solution. And neither do we.
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