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Foreign Affairs

The Guns of Switzerland

"Switzerland does not have an army; it is an army," goes a common saying among the Swiss. I had the good fortune of spending an evening in the beautiful town of St. Moritz in the upper Engadin this past September, and struck up a conversation with a local at the bar attached to my hotel. We got to prying each other's minds about each other's people, and in exchange for my attempting to explain what a "Tea Party" was to him, he explained Swiss neutrality to me. I inquired how a nation that counts France, Germany, and Italy among her neighbors has managed to stay relatively unmolested in post-Napoleonic Europe. Apart from the massive geographic deterrence of invasion (great mountains and narrow passes), there is an ever greater military deterrence-- nearly every household in Switzerland has a gun in it and someone well-trained in using it. Every able-bodied Swiss male between the ages of 18 and 34 (then volunteers up until the age of 50, and female volunteers) regularly participates in combat training. The entire nation is so heavily-fortified that shelters can accommodate 110% of this well-armed population, and many key tunnels and bridges throughout the country are still wired with explosives and tank traps should anyone try to launch an invasion.

It is estimated that there are over 2 million firearms circulating in this neutral country of 7 million citizens. In response to data that the rates of suicide using firearms is three times greater in Switzerland than elsewhere in Europe, some center-left parties and non-governmental organizations pushed to a referendum vote a ban of army-issued guns in Swiss homes. My weekend in Switzerland was the first I had heard of the proposed ban, and the fellow at the bar seemed to explain opinion on the issue the best-- "Rather than dealing with the problem--the rate of suicides--they seek to destroy our proud tradition." The ban was soundly rejected by the Swiss; they shall remain an army, and maintain their tradition of causing even powerful maniacs like Hitler to think twice before antagonizing them.
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Discussions - 2 Comments

Switzerland is one of the few places in Europe where I would live. Still, they are a funny amalgam of conservative and liberal political sentiments, and of course they tax you like every other place in Europe. Still, they didn't join the EU, and that should inspire some confidence - their sanity is apparently intact.

Not to mention some of the best cheese and chocolate in the world!

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