The Case Against Switzerland
June 9, 2008
It is my pleasure to bring you Yesterday’s Salad‘s post-inaugural topic-of-the-week: Switzerland. Switzerland follows grammatically from last week’s topic of discussion, as we need to transition from abstract to proper noun. It also follows thematically, for if James Baldwin is to be believed (which he is), Switzerland is somewhere that cosmopolitanism is altogether lacking. So, to add another layer to that eternal question, “should Switzerland exist?” I’m going to say no, no it shouldn’t, on account of the fact that it’s spineless, ridiculous, and simply not as quaint as people say it is.
Politically, Switzerland is synonymous with neutrality, a position that the country has held since 1815. At that point in time, and during the hundred or so years that followed, this was a pretty laudable position to take; in essence, Switzerland declared that it had no interest in the Napoleonic saber-rattling and Bismarckian proxy-wars that plagued the continent. During the mechanized mayhem of the First World War, this remained a sober position. Yet, when the Nazis rolled into town, Swiss neutrality went from high-minded pragmatism to gauche opportunism overnight (unless you consider the point of view of Vichy France, from which Swiss neutrality was gauche for not collaborating enough), as the Swiss were quite willing to provide favorable terms toward the deposit of Nazi finances and plunder. While holding a sixty-five-year-old transgression over an entire nation might appear unfair, consider that Switzerland remains neutral in regard to the Second World War, letting that Nazi gold gather dust in safety-deposit boxes. Either they’re not hip to the fact that we won, or they know something we don’t and expect the Nazis to reclaim their spoils, in which case we should actively pursue Switzerland not existing, pronto.
Were that not enough, the sheer ridiculousness of Switzerland is simply too painful to countenance. Apart from the usual suspects of overpriced watches, knives with more utilities than Batman has use for, and perforated cheese, all of which are exceedingly worthy of ridicule, Switzerland has given the world its national sport of Schwingen, sawdust wrestling. That’s right, sawdust wrestling. However, were this not enough, the Swiss have also devised Hornussen, a cross between cricket, skeet-shooting, and good old-fashioned clobberin’. Were such a sport created in Bulgaria, it might be par for the course, but for the Swiss, it’s ridiculous.
Now, there are many who would say that these perceived faults of Switzerland are just quaint, as Switzerland is essentially Germany’s Canada. I find such reasoning to be repugnant, firstly because I detest false analogies, and secondly I value Canadians. Canada managed to kick ass in World War Two. Canada is being awfully nice by pouring tourism dollars into our once awesome economy. Canada isn’t trying to get us fat on chocolate. Canada plays hockey, not floorball. Canada, you’re looking nice this morning. And whatever you think about the relative merits of steel tariffs, Canada sure as hell isn’t trying to destroy our national book culture (we’re doing a good enough job of that on our own, thank you).
So there you have it. Switzerland is neutral when it feels like it, idiosyncratic when you need a straight answer, and not Canada. But what has been the yield of all these years of malfeasance, of the Swiss living high off the rest of the world’s irritation? Perhaps Orson Welles put it best: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”