Switzerland: Banks, Chocolate And Army
As nearly as everyone knows or at least has heard of Switzerland’s “eternal” neutrality. Should we have a look into history, it was acknowledged by many states since 16th century. It was ultimately “honored” during the Congress of Vienna in 1815. By the way, two years before that was the last time the Swiss made actual war as yet – when they were forced to provide Napoleon’s army with several thousand of their soldiers for the Battle of Leipzig that Bonaparte lost. Since that the country in the mountains managed to remain merely an observer of conflicts.
What helped the Swiss live relatively quietly in periods of world wars and other extreme times? The most expected answer is that the majority of the world’s money and gold are located in its banks which fostered confidence and stability of the state. In fact, security here isn’t supported from financial side alone. Despite the fact that the state claimed permanent neutrality towards all military conflicts, Switzerland has one of the most powerful armies in the world.
Every physically healthy Swiss man at the age of 18 to 51 is liable for military service. In fact, they are on service their whole lives but spend the total of 260 days tops in barracks unless being officers. Since full legal age and till the age of 30 men who are fit for service annually leave for military bases for three weeks. Later musters are down to two weeks for three years and the last stage – 14 days, prior to demobilization at the age of 51.
It is important to understand that service with Schweizer Armee isn’t some lost time but national pride and way to acquire professional skills. Nobody washes lavatories, eats third-rate food or even stands guard there. Comfort, nutrition and security of military men are provided by private cleaning, culinary and security companies. Over the period of training all draftees, who serve under supervision of officers, are equal: a construction worker, a lawyer and a president.
More to that: men regard these musters as a chance to rest from household problems and work and to chill out – kind of picnic with real weapons and sports trainings. Still, some dodge the draft. It is only possible for three reasons: health conditions, pacifism (all peace lovers get same call-up papers only they “serve” twice as long and are engaged in civil defense, social help and public services) and paying your way out of it – by annual contributions to treasury till draft age expires. And you can guess about price rates there…
All other “dodging” schemes don’t just result in prison time – it is a conviction having which it is hard to even get a job. All in all, army is so solidly interlaced with the life of society that for the period of those three-week-long musters employers are supposed to pay at least 80% of salaries of their absent employees – and the state compensates these losses in its turn.
Number of regular army is merely 5 thousand men but they are all highly skilled experts, one of world’s the best. At that, should military state be introduced, over the period of two days more than 1.5 million well-trained men, who have had a sniff of powder, will take to arms (can be measured to super-states). And all that given population of 8 million people. It doesn’t take to be a mathematician to realize: life of every fourth Swiss is firmly tied to army and he is ready to protect his motherland any minute. More to that: upon retirement the state tries by all means to persuade its already former soldiers to buy out weapons against beneficial prices to keep them home “just in case”. According to official statistics, in free access of people there are over 6 million guns.
This is probably why it seems on the outside that Switzerland is quiet and dull country. Knowing that almost everybody around not just loves (there are just as many shooting ranges as cafés, it’s just tourists rarely come across them) but knows how to shoot, every potential criminal will think a hundred times before committing a felony. Even Germany of Hitler period with all the threats and ultimatums over six years of the world war didn’t dare approach the state.
Basically, local military doctrine is based on the fact that Switzerland with 80% of its relief being mountains has to defend itself in a porcupine-like manner: wind itself into a ball and let spines out. Therefore, in case of necessity, that’s what the Swiss will do. Their state is all burrowed with tunnels, bunkers and bomb shelters. Along the perimeter of the border such fortifications are made that should one blow them up, no ground access to Switzerland will remain. Eternal fogs and high mountains don’t help air bombardment either. It turns out that nature itself created conditions that men further refined to make their home an unassailable fortress.
And to conclude with: modern well-trained troops are high maintenance even for a country with such high living standards. Annually over 3 billion dollars are allocated for military purposes. Therefore a national referendum was held in Switzerland in 2001, on it the state offered citizens to fundamentally reform the army, even minimize service time. The answer was more than eloquent: population said a firm “No” so everything was left as it was. After all, banks and gold are fine, but it is far more comfortable to live knowing you can protect yourself.