The Swiss Militia System Makes Good Sense

The Militia System

“Switzerland has a firmly anchored tradition of service to the community, under which citizens take on public office which they perform alongside their normal jobs. This is referred to by the Swiss as the militia system. Its best known manifestation is the army, which is largely non-professional, even as far as most of its officers are concerned.

The Swiss regard their politicians as part of the same militia system. Members of the federal parliament do not give up their former jobs when they take their seats…”

Why Mighty Germany Left Little Switzerland Alone During WWII

Although the Germans several times massed troops on the Swiss border for an invasion, the invasion never went forward. With so many reasons to invade Switzerland, why did the Nazis desist?

The Nazis could have eventually have conquered Switzerland, but at a fearful price. The Wehrmacht expected 200,000 German casualties; it would have taken a very long time to remove the Swiss military from the Alpine “Reduit” to which they planned to make a stand. And by the time the Swiss were defeated, every bridge and train track and everything else of value to the conquerors would have been destroyed.

The reason that Switzerland was too difficult to invade—in contrast to all the other nations which Hitler conquered in a matter of weeks—was the Swiss militia system. Unlike all the other nations of Europe, which relied on a standing army, Switzerland was (and still is) defended by a universal militia.

Every man was trained in war, had his rifle at home, was encouraged to practice frequently, and could be mobilized almost instantly. The Swiss militiaman was under orders to fight to the last bullet, and after that, with his bayonet, and after that, with his bare hands. Rather than having to defeat an army, Hitler would have had to defeat a whole people.

Conversely, the Swiss citizen militia, with its extensive network of fortifications, had no offensive capability. The Swiss militia was not going to sweep into Berlin; modern Swiss-bashers who condemn the nation for not declaring war fail to understand that by keeping the Axis out of Switzerland, the Swiss were already doing everything they could for the Allied cause.

From the Anschluss of Austria to the Fall of France, Hitler swallowed nation after nation where cowardly ruling elites surrendered the country to the Nazis—either before the shooting began, or a few weeks afterward. But such a surrender would have been impossible in Switzerland, explains Halbrook.

The Swiss governmental system was decentralized, with the separate 26 cantons, not the federal government, having the authority. The federal government did notify the Swiss people that in case of a German invasion, any claim that there had been a Swiss surrender should be disregarded as Nazi propaganda. And because the military power was in the hands of every Swiss man, the federal government would have been unable to surrender had it ever wanted to. Nothing could stop the Swiss militiamen from fighting to the very end.

[Currently every Swiss man must carry out at least 300 days of military service.  Service is not compulsory for women.]

America’s Founders admired Switzerland as a “Sister Republic” amidst the despotisms of Europe. The American Founders—like the Swiss—understood the moral implications of a universal militia system: a people who are trained to self-reliance and responsibility will defend their freedom to the utmost.

But a people who rely on a professional standing army may not have the nerve to resist tyranny.


Sources:  Topix | Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War II by Stephen P. Halbrook, Published by Sarpedon Publishers



Dady Chery

About Dady Chery

Dr. Dady Chery is a Haitian-born journalist, playwright, essayist, and poet. She is the author of "We Have Dared to Be Free: Haiti's Struggle Against Occupation." Her broad interests encompass science, culture, and human rights. She writes extensively about Haiti and world issues such as climate change and social justice. Her many contributions to Haitian news include the first proposal that Haiti’s cholera had been imported by the UN, and the first story describing Haiti’s mineral wealth.

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