Thursday, May 30, 2019

General Henri Guisan and Swiss Neutrality

Switzerland was surrounded and divided. Germany had annexed Austria. Italy was Germany’s ally. France had fallen. Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Greece also fell. Many Swiss were aligned to the German Nazi  party. About 12,000 Germans of military age were in Switzerland in 1941; and they were organized under the German High Command. Germans and their agents carried out acts of sabotage. (Fifteen Swiss and two foreigners were executed for their crimes.) Others adopted an unsurprising and seemingly realistic and pragmatic attitude, accepting Germany’s domination of Europe. The central government of Switzerland was granted emergency powers to make laws without legislation. Any criticism of Germany by any newspaper was considered “unneutral conduct.” Independent journalism ceased.
Inside book cover text showing title, author, and publisher: Spying for Peace:  General Guisan and Swiss Neutrality  by Jon Kimche  (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1961).
Spying for Peace:
General Guisan and Swiss Neutrality

by Jon Kimche
(London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1961).

The meaning of “neutrality” evolved over 400 years. The oldest and easiest definition is that a state (and they were mostly small) did not take sides in a dispute between two other states. In the 16thcentury, the standard was not actively helping one side or the other. By the 18thcentury, it was merely being inactive. (Consider the inactions of Spain and France in the early years of our War for Independence, despite their granting various helps or not enacting hindrances to our conduct.) By 1899, the Hague Conference, which was reconvened in 1915, set 47 articles of neutrality. (The Hague and Geneva Conventions are archived at the Yale Law School’s “Avalon Project” here.) The rules included protections for non-combatants and civilians in general.

Gen. Henri Guisan wanted those rules suspended. All male Swiss citizens age 20 to 60 serve in their armed forces. And they were mobilized to meet the German threat. Eventually, many were released back to civilian life, but all remained available. Meanwhile, over four years, from 1939 to 1943, Gen. Guisan issued a series of orders to create first a line of defense facing Germany, and then, ultimately, an interior “redoubt” (reduit), a fortified central command in the middle of Switzerland, which could hold out against the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe. Tunnels and bridges were armed to collapse, sealing the center of the nation. 

Gen. Guisan understood that however it was defined Switzerland's neutrality would be meaningless--in fact, it would be impossible--without Swiss independence.  Therefore, on July 25, 1940, he addressed his officers in speech known as the Rütli Rapport. Nascent nationalism in the 18th century established a historiography to explain Rütli as the site of the first Swiss Confederation. The Rütlischwur (lit: Rütli Swear = the Oath of Rütli) brought the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden into a common league traditionally dated to 1307. It was also associated with the legend of Wilhelm Tell, certainly as told by Friedrich Schiller.

"Everywhere, where the order is to hold, it is the duty of conscience of each fighter, even if he depends on himself alone, to fight at his assigned position. The riflemen, if overtaken or surrounded, fight in their position until no more ammunition exists. The cold steel is next. ... The machine-gunners, the cannoneers of heavy weapons, the artillerymen, if in the bunker or on the field, do not abandon or destroy their weapons, or allow the enemy to seize them. Then the crews fight further like riflemen. As long as a man has another cartridge or hand weapon to use, he does not yield. " -- from General Henri Guisan's order to Swiss troops, July 25, 1940. ( 

Germany held off. On the one hand, obviously, Switzerland would be a tough nut to crack. This is a nation of soldiers who hold shooting contests for fun and prizes firing everything from crossbows to the most modern sniper rifles. On the other hand, Germany’s own fifth column assured them that rather than a tough nut, Switzerland was a ripe fruit, ready to fall into their hands. 
Swiss shooting Thaler - silver dollar sized coin celebrating a shooting match
"Swiss Shooting Thaler"
commemorative coin
1872 Shooting Festival Zuerich
(Some local issues are rare,
but there is no shortage of the kind.)
Civitas Galleries, Calgary.

Then came Allen Dulles. For Dulles, espionage and counter-espionage were more important than guns. By 1943,. Hitler had lost the confidence of his military command and an agent known as “Viking Line” provided intelligence to the Swiss, and through them to the Allies. As Victor Davis Hanson argued in The Second World Wars this was not a simple matter of Three of Us versus Three of Them. Some Germans held back-channel communications with the USSR, the UK, and the USA. In Yugoslavia, Marshall Tito, acting in accordance with Stalin’s instructions, was willing to throw in with the Germans in order to prevent an Allied landing across the Adriatic. Heinrich Himmler’s SS was willing to write off most of Italy, if they could hold the Alps as the ramparts of Festung Europa. To that end German agents in Switzerland negotiated through Swiss contacts with the Americans and British. Eventually, the American point of view was made clear and the German army in Italy surrendered unconditionally. Switzerland was safe and secure.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.