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Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality in World War ll Hardcover – August 1, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The recent focus on Swiss accommodations to the Third Reich has obscured the facts surrounding Switzerland's success in deterring Nazi invasion, argues Halbrook in this narrative of Switzerland's preparations for armed resistance during WWII. Concessions on commercial or refugee issues, Halbrook contends, were not enough by themselves to fend off one of history's most ruthless dictatorships. What was decisive, he finds, was Swiss determination to defend itself by an armed force based on armed citizens. In contrast to Holland, Denmark or Norway, Switzerland during WWII successfully maintained its neutrality. It did so, argues Halbrook, by convincing Nazi Germany and its own citizens that any invader would pay in blood for every foot of ground, and in the end would find only devastation. Halbrook, a practicing attorney rather than an academic scholar, relies primarily on journalistic sources to make the points that Switzerland was prepared to abandon most of the country and fight to the last man from an Alpine redoubt. Among other questionable premises he accepts uncritically, he takes as given that militiamen armed primarily with bolt-action rifles and 50 rounds of ammunition constituted an effective fighting force in an age of mechanized war. His account, while written from a limited vantage point, nevertheless establishes a series of elements in danger of being submerged by the recent furor over bank accounts and trade figures. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Halbrook vigorously and, inevitably, controversially argues a conservative defense agenda with his thesis that Switzerland's federal system, which lacks a central authority capable of surrendering the country, and its militia-based defense (shades of the Minutemen, the Second Amendment, and the NRA!) effectively enabled Swiss neutrality during World War II. He offers much evidence that the Swiss armed and equipped themselves at considerable cost to defend their independence, for which most of them were prepared to fight even against the might of the Wehrmacht. Whatever the range of Swiss sympathies was, and however much the necessary bribes to the Third Reich may have benefited the Axis, the Swiss deterred the Germans, remained neutral, and thereby benefited the Allies--and the many thousand refugees allowed into Switzerland--far more. Whether the Swiss would have offered a last-ditch resistance in the face of the full range of German terror tactics remains an open question, of course, but Halbrook suggests that the question of Swiss "complicity" with the Third Reich should also remain open. Roland Green

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Sarpedon; 1st edition (August 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1885119534
  • ISBN-13: 978-1885119537
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #793,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A slightly different version of this review appeared in "The American Enterprise" magazine.
Review by: Dave Kopel
If all you know is what you read in the papers, then you must think that Switzerland is one of the most despicable countries in the world. Switzerland, rather than joining the Allied cause, stayed neutral World War II. After the war, Swiss banks helped themselves to the deposits of holocaust victims, rather than giving the deposits to the victims' heirs. Case closed?
Not at all, historian Stephen Halbrook shows in his new book Target Switzerland: Swiss Armed Neutrality In World War II. Wrongful as was the bankers' post-war behavior, the behavior of the Swiss people during the war was morally exemplary-superior, indeed to the conduct of most of the rest of Europe. As Winston Churchill recalled, "of all the neutrals Switzerland has the greatest right distinction... She has been a Democratic State, standing for freedom in self-defense among her mountains, and in thought, in spite of race, largely on our side."
Except for Britain, France, and Canada, virtually all of the Allied nations during World War II joined the war only because the Axis declared war on them, Halbrook reminds us. Even after Pearl Harbor, the United States remained neutral in the European war, until Hitler declared war on United States a few days later.
Nazi maps showed that the Third Reich would eventually include Switzerland, just as it would include all portions of Europe with German-speaking people. While the majority of Switzerland's population is German-speaking (the rest being French, Italian, or Romansh) the nation was virtually unanimous in hoping and praying for the defeat of Germany.
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Format: Hardcover
At one point in his narrative, Stephen Halbrook quotes Philipp Etter, a Swiss federal counselor from the 1930s through the 50s. In 1937, Etter wrote, 'The armed defense of the country is a primary and substantial task of the state. The mental defense of the country falls primarily not on the state but on the person, the citizen. No government and no battalions are able to protect right and freedom where the citizen himself is not capable of stepping to the front door and seeing what is outside.' No one familiar with Halbrook's other works should be surprised that this seems to be one of the key lessons Halbrook wants us to learn from his history of Switzerland in World War II.
Halbrook makes it clear that Switzerland walked a tightrope during the War. Fierce and well trained as the Swiss citizen-army was, it was not eager to tangle with Hitler's Wehrmacht. Though unquestionably sympathetic to the allies, the Swiss were determined to maintain their neutrality. If that meant making some economic concessions to Germany in order to keep the Nazis from overrunning the country, the Swiss were willing, reluctantly, to do that. It's easier to second-guess that decision from half a century's distance than it must have been at the time, when national-socialist armies dominated the continent and liberation was still a distant dream.
As other reviewers have noted, Halbrook is clearly sympathetic, not only to the Swiss nation generally, but specifically to its armed-citizenry approach to national defense. With Switzerland being so greatly maligned in recent years, it's not surprising that voices have been raised in its defense as well. While not perhaps perfect, 'Target Switzerland' is a fascinating and enlightening explanation of the dilemma in which Switzerland found itself in the 1930s and 40s, and why and how that nation chose to do the things it did.
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Format: Hardcover
When I saw the ads for this book, I was skeptical. The timing seemed too good, with a book that reflects well on the Swiss coming out just as Swiss Banks were getting a lot of bad publicity. But having read it, I've changed my tune. Halbrook doesn't waste time defending Swiss banks (who at any rate may have been no worse than Chase Manhattan -- read Charles Higham's "Trading with the Enemy" for the disgusting story of American business' collaboration with the Nazis), but rather tells the story of the Swiss people and the Swiss Army. Those two entities are more or less the same thing, which in part explains how the Swiss mobilized one-fifth of their population (and armed most of the rest) to deter a Nazi invasion. The most persuasive part of the book consists of quotations from fulminating Nazis -- Hitler, Goering, Himmler, etc. -- about those damned Swiss and their incomprehensible willingness to die fighting rather than surrender to the Reich. Halbrook also notes how the Swiss traditions of armed citizenry, federalism, and democracy made the kind of surrender-by-elites that took place in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc. impossible and pretty much unthinkable in Switzerland. If the rest of Europe had done as the Swiss, Hitler would never have made it out of Germany. Even though I knew the ending (naturally) the book kept me turning pages until the end. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a history buff and have always been interested in World War II, especially in Europe. In TARGET SWITZERLAND, Stephen P. Halbrook gives a fascinating explanation of Switzerland's role in that epic conflict.
I had never given much thought to the Swiss experience in the Second World War. About the only current material I had seen on Switzerland tended to be critical of it for staying neutral and maintaining a certain level of commercial cooperation with Hitler and his allies. Jean Ziegler's THE SWISS, THE GOLD AND THE DEAD, is an example of contemporary Swiss bashing.
Halbrook's book provides a well-written, thorougly researched antidote. He describes how a polyglot republic with a population of only 4 million could defend its territory while surrounded by 120 million Nazis and Fascists devoted to Hitler's and Mussolini's dreams of conquest.
Switzerland placed an unprecedented one-fifth of its population under arms in the process. That didn't leave enough people for agriculture so the Swiss were hungry throughout most of the war, and cold. German coal heated most of their homes.
Yet, when Luftwaffe aircraft invaded Swiss airspace they came under attack and several were shot down. It is interesting to compare the Swiss response to that of the Great Powers and their policy of Appeasement.
I enjoyed this book and came away with a new found respect for the Swiss and their determination to keep the Holocaust off of their soil.
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