The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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An American Looks at Switzerland - Dialogue with a Reader

Michael R. Bowen, MD

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Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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"Nobody would like your simple way of democracy.  First, learn, study, get cultured, and forget John Wayne, Mickey Mouse, and Coke.  The world is not so simple as you seem to think."
-- from an e-mail sent by a Swiss reader

March 25, 2003


My Dear Herr Baechle,

After a day of thinking about your comments, I've concluded that you are unaware of how we Americans view Switzerland.  Pay attention:  you'll be surprised.

First, remember that Switzerland is one of the few nations of Europe which Americans haven't died to save.  Yes, it's true that if we hadn't stopped Hitler he'd have conquered you sooner or later; nonetheless we didn't have to fight to liberate you.  And why is that?

Because of the Swiss tradition of armed independence.  Hitler knew that the Swiss were well armed, and more importantly, he knew that they were determined to fight.  The cost was just too great at the time.  Perhaps you have seen the old postcard from before the First World War?  It showed the Kaiser addressing a Swiss militiaman, asking him what the 250,000 Swiss soldiers would do when attacked by half a million Germans.  "Shoot twice", replied the Swiss laconically.

Americans love that.  An armed and determined people who will molest no one unless attacked -- that's a concept dear to our hearts.  Whatever you may think of our present foreign policy, I invite your attention to the very icon of American popular culture which you mock:  John Wayne.  Mr. Wayne would have fit right in with the Swiss, because he always portrayed characters who preferred peace but would fight rather than be enslaved.  Time and again his antagonist would provoke him, but he would never draw his gun until he had no other choice.  America, Herr Baechle, has been repeatedly attacked.  We now believe we have no other choice.  You may disagree with our assessment of the situation, but you cannot honorably disagree with our response to the situation as we see it.

We are also naturally sympathetic with your federal system, especially the relative independence of your cantons.  This was the American ideal, although history has weakened the independence of our states.  There was a time when the nearest thing to America was Switzerland, and both countries recognized it.  Since then our governments have mutated, but both still pay homage to the principle of a federation of independent states.

Americans have stereotyped images of Switzerland, just as you Swiss have of us.  Some are benign, like the images of beautiful mountain villages, precision instruments, and the legend of William Tell, while others, like the image of the amoral Swiss bankers holding Nazi gold, are more cynical.  But overall we value Switzerland as a free nation which wants nothing more than to go about its business, but which will not be trifled with or intimidated.  That, my friend, is a description of the classic American cowboy.

I've been hearing for some years now that you Swiss are moving away from the tradition of a citizen militia and compulsory military service.  You also seem to have begun to surrender your treasured political isolation from the rest of Europe, and perhaps before the decade is over you will have joined the one-world herd.  That's your option, but remember that when a scattering of individuals is fused into a herd, the tone will be set by the biggest and strongest individual.  That would be America, Herr Baechle.  Be careful what you wish for.  We Americans hope that you will always remain armed, and always independent, and that there will always be a Switzerland.  Please don't disappoint us; we are lonesome enough as it is.


Mr. Bowen:  You are quite right, the Swiss may not be "pacifists".  Anyway they keep their rifles at home for practical reasons, because they are part-time soldiers who assist service for about two weeks every year only and it would be too complicated to waste that time to get properly "dressed" first.  Anyway:  you seem to overestimate the army's part in world war 2, as the historians found out that Hitler wasn't afraid of the army.  He wished however to keep the Swiss banks (!) with German money not to be destroyed.  Moreover he wanted to have a safe way from Germany to Italy.

As far as our time is concerned, we deeply hate America's role as a world policeman.

Of course Saddam is a monster, but unfortunately there are many monsters all over the world.  Today I even read in a paper:  Saddam is a danger for world's peace, fitted with terrible weapons, neglecting the U.N. and not elected by his people.  What's the difference to Bush?

The war has been prepared by an enormous propaganda machine and a press not daring to write other opinions.  You can't tell me Iraq is a danger for the U.S. or the world, but the war which is going to start is indeed.  I think the Americans are not critical enough to form an opinion of their own.  Bluntly expressed:  they have got comparatively few (but brilliant) intellectuals, but the majority seems quite naive (not to say silly).  Even Bush didn't know at the time of his election essential facts about life outside America.

By the way:  Could you think of country in Europe bringing its people to ban the word French Fries?  Could you imagine a president here praying at church looking like the Holy Ghost himself without being laughed at by his people to be hipocritical [sic]?  Though being a Christian:  nobody would dare ending up his speeches by "god bless you"  Naive people admire such kind of things. (as I could see myself when I was in Salt Lake City to see the Mormons Temple)

Yours, Peter B.


Hello, Peter!

It's a common mistake to confuse sophistication with wisdom.  As C. S. Lewis said, it is lies which require subtlety and nuance and euphemism and sophisticated expression.  The truth comes much more humbly attired.  It is the prostitute who must be well-dressed, perfumed, and painted; the virtuous woman can afford to look like who she really is.

I think a number of your points were neatly addressed in the John Derbyshire article I sent. (Mutual Incomprehension)

By the way, you seem to view America and the world with the same absolute, simplistic eyes you so criticize.  I realize that if I attempted to express myself in your language, I too would sound simplistic; nonetheless, your criticisms sound petty and childish.  I'm sure you can come up with better reasons why Bush is wrong than just saying that he's religious.  Or is the Pope also wrong in his position on the war, because he's religious?

I enjoy hearing from you, Peter--let's keep talking!

Mike Bowen

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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