Don’t mess with Switzerland

swiss bomb shelter

My new Swiss friends probably wondered how long it would be before I blogged about bomb shelters.

Yes, bomb shelters.

Switzerland hasn’t fought a war in 500 years and has no enemies (it’s true that the European Union isn’t happy with Switzerland at the moment, because of a recent referendum on limiting immigration, but so far as I know is not unhappy enough to go to war), so why would this country require require bomb shelters (stocked with ample provisions) for all of its citizens?

According to Swiss law, every dwelling built in the country since 1968 must have a bomb shelter able to withstand the blast of a 50 megaton explosion at the distance of 700 meters (nearly a half mile). By way of comparison, the Fat Man bomb detonated 600 meters above Nagasaki measured only 21 kilotons.

For those of you who are concerned about me, there is a shelter in the basement of our apartment building with some very serious-looking doors. If a missile comes our way, the Swiss are determined that I survive, along with everyone in our apartment building, most of whom I haven’t met yet.

Interestingly – I did not know this before my move – neutrality does not mean the absence of a military or the lack of willingness to fight. Military service is compulsory in Switzerland (I am just beyond the age when I should be concerned about being drafted), and the Swiss participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Maybe even more surprising, the Swiss are well-armed. Nearly a third of all households have guns, compared to 43 percent of all households in the U.S., which is the most heavily armed country in the world.

And then, as if all of that were not enough, Switzerland is a country where the national hero is William Tell. He’s bigger than George Washington, at least in terms of how the national psyche has been formed. Never mind that his life and adventures are most likely a legend, it’s the spirit that lives on. And it’s a spirit to be reckoned with.

You’ve heard of the ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ slogan? I think it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t mess with Switzerland either.

These people are in it to win it – or at least to survive it.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.


7 Responses to Don’t mess with Switzerland

  1. Susan Davis March 26, 2014 at 6:03 am #

    Sorry to tell you but the bomb shelters are for all Swiss citizens. But I don’t think they will be checking passports at the vault doors. Although, maybe if they run out of provisions, you will be the first to go.

    • Doug March 26, 2014 at 6:06 am #

      I am aware of the ambivalent feelings regarding foreigners. 🙂

  2. Carel March 26, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    I remember well, one of my first weeks here, seeing a guy dressed in normal clothes get on the tram with a huge automatic rifle (that’s what it looked like to my untrained eyes) strapped to his back… For a moment I had “a Swiss man going postal” (or “tram-al”) flashing through my mind… Guess he was making his way to his compulsory annual shooting practice…

    • Doug March 26, 2014 at 9:38 am #

      Have seen the automatic weapons on trains too. A bit disconcerting. A lot like Israel, in fact, except there the threat seems more immediate. (Am impressed that you know the ‘going postal’ idiom!)

  3. Warren March 26, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    The Swiss were historically famous as feared fighters and mercenaries (the Pope’s guards are the last vestige of this tradition). As a then relatively poor country, Switzerland exported fighting men. Neutrality was -not- pacifism, but at least partially marketing.

    Googled a quote I remembered –

    “The War Minister Marquis de Louois, said one day to king Louis XIV in the presence of the Colonel of the Swiss Guard Regiment, Peter Stuppa “Sire, If your majesty still had all the gold and silver that you and your royal forefathers gave to the Swiss you could pave a road from Paris to Basel with Talers. “Sire, that may be so, but if all the blood of my countrymen that served your royal forefathers were collected, one could fill with it a canal between Paris and Basel””.

    James Murray Luck, History of Switzerland (Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 1985)

    • Doug March 27, 2014 at 1:02 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Warren. I can’t help but note that the uniforms of the Swiss Guard work to undermine their reputation as feared fighters.

      • Warren March 29, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

        Well, you can’t say that their uniforms are much funnier than some of the Catholics’ own regalia. And the whole idea of coloured uniforms has somewhat suffered since long-range rifle fire came in (American’s think of the British Redcoats). But, funny uniforms and haircuts are proven elements in unit cohesion and morale for the military, and dare I say, also the clergy…

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