Modern Switzerland

THERE is carved in the face of a great rock at Lucerne a lion, wounded to death, resting upon a broken spear. It is the monument of the Swiss Guard massacred in the defence of the Tuileries at Paris in 1792. The close connection between France and Switzerland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made it natural that the despotic French kings should employ the faithful and courageous Swiss mercenaries as guardians of their palaces. Louis XIV. in the dark hours of his fate had no reason to regret the trust he had placed in these Swiss mercenaries as the nearest defenders of his person. The mob coming to the Tuileries demanded of the Swiss Guards that they should give up their arms. Sergeant Blaser replied in the mood with which the Helvetii had spoken to Caesar, and with eighteen centuries of records of great bravery to justify the vaunt : ” We are Swiss, and the Swiss never surrender their arms but with their lives.” The reply cowed the rioters for the time and the king was safe for that day. When the king had left the Tuileries the Swiss Guards were withdrawn. As they went away from the palace they were attacked by the mob and, disdaining to fly, were slaughtered almost to a man. Of 800 officers and men only a handful survived. The incident—showing French patriots furious, cruel, and treacherous, Swiss mercenaries steadfast, brave, and true—gives a good stand-point from which to glance at the evolution of the Switzerland which had grown up in the Middle Ages to the modern Switzerland with its intensely democratic and socialistic Republic.

The brewing of the storm which broke over Paris in August 1792 had been observable in Switzerland as well as in France. Accepting its traditional position as a hostel of refuge for political exiles, Switzerland had sheltered many of the men who had given the first impulse to the Revolution. And there had been a domestic movement in Switzerland working on parallel lines to that of the French reformers. As far back as 1762 the Helvetic Society was formed by young men aspiring to a political regeneration of Switzerland. By 1792 there had been several peasant risings among the Alpine communities in protest against oligarchic oppression. The cry for Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, found its echo in the mountains as it came in a hoarse roar from the French cities. The exiles from aristocratic France to slightly more liberal Switzerland were in time matched by discontented exiles from Switzerland to Paris. The ” Helvetic Club ” formed at Paris of Swiss refugees had for its purpose the application of the principles of the French Revolution to Switzer-land. In 1797 Peter Ochs of Basel was given by Napoleon the task of drafting a constitution for Switzerland which would follow the system of government of the French Directory. In 1798 ” the Lemanic Republic ” was proclaimed at the instance of France, and, being resisted by some of the Swiss, a French invasion followed. The victorious French abolished the Swiss Con-federation and proclaimed ” the Helvetic Re-public,” with a constitution framed on the lines laid down by Peter Ochs.

The new constitution was not in itself altogether suitable to the political circumstances of the country. And no constitution, however perfect, could have pleased the Swiss if it came to them from the hands of a conquering foreigner. But to make quite sure of antagonising the Swiss the greedy and impoverished Directory of France set to work to rob the national treasuries of the Helvetic Republic in the cause of Republicanism. The Forest Cantons, always to the fore in the cause of independence, entered upon a hopeless campaign of defence in which Reding was the chief hero. Brilliant victories were won. Tragic defeats were sustained, culminating in the capture of Stanz. Then, prostrate, Switzerland accepted the French command to be free, and ” the one and undivided Helvetic Republic ” came into more or less peaceful existence. Later a Franco-Helvetic Alliance was signed, and almost immediately afterwards the little land suffered for its alliance by being invaded by Russia and Austria, then making war upon France. For the first time in history an Austrian invader was welcomed by a part of the Swiss nation. The story of the campaign need not be told in detail ; but it had one vivid incident of which any visitor to Switzerland interested in military prowess should seek out the memorials. General Suwarow, commanding a Russian army, marched from Italy to junction with General Korsakow at Zurich. Suwarow forced the Pass of St. Gothard in the face of a French force and passed down the valley of the Reuss to Lake Uri. Here he found his path to Zurich blocked, as no boats for the conveyance of his troops could be found on the lake. Turning up towards the mountains, Suwarow led his army along the Kinzig Pass to Muotta, and there learned that Korsakow had been defeated and driven out of Switzerland by the French. Suwarow led his army then along the Pragel Pass, hoping to find ii the Canton of Glarus a friendly Austrian force. The hope was vain, and the path to Naefels was blocked by the French army. The old Russian general, indomitable, turned back to the mountains and crossed the Alps again by the Panixer Pass. This was in October. After terrible hardships the Russian army reached Cranbunden and made its way to Austrian territory and safety. It would be an interesting Alpine holiday for a stout walker to follow in the track of Suwarow’s marches.

Switzerland had an evil time under the French Directory, despite its ” free and undivided Re-public.” But when Napoleon felt himself safe in the saddle and could put the curb on the fiery spirits of the Revolution, better days dawned for Switzerland as well as for France. The great soldier and statesman, being a man of imagination, could not help having a real sympathy with the heroic Swiss. They were people after his own heart. In 1803 he took thought for the vexed condition of the Swiss people and summoned to Paris the ” Helvetic Consulta ” of sixty-three Swiss representatives to draw up a new system of government. He presided personally at the meetings of this body, and the constitution agreed upon bears the impress of the grand political sagacity which was associated with Napoleon’s military genius. Switzerland, under the Napoleonic constitution, became a Federal Republic of nineteen cantons, each of which preserved its local autonomy but yielded full control of national matters to the Federal Diet. This new constitution conferred upon Switzerland internal peace and a reasonable instrument of government, under which the material and moral advancement of the nation was greater than at any previous period of history.

The fall of Napoleon in 1813 brought a fresh crop of troubles to the Swiss. The constitution he had granted to them was put aside by the European Powers, not because it was bad but because it was Napoleon’s. A congress at Zurich drew up a new constitution, and this was submitted to the Vienna Congress in 1814, and with some changes approved. It was far inferior to the Napoleonic constitution, and plunged the country into another series of internal troubles. Yet it survived from 1815 to 1848, when, taking advantage of new troubles in Europe, the Swiss settled their system of government anew, and shaped a Federal constitution which exists to this day.

Switzerland now is divided into twenty-two cantons, self-governing as far as their local affairs are concerned, but united into a Federation for national purposes. The system of government is purely democratic and marked by a Republican austerity. All citizens are equal. Most offices are elective. The emoluments of office are scanty. There is no standing army, but every male citizen is trained to the use of arms in his youth. Thus the whole nation can take up arms in defence of the country. The good quality of the citizen troops has been vouched for by many competent judges. Australia has imitated the Swiss system in her military organisation, and it is practically the same system which a powerful party in Great Britain urges as a measure of military reform in this country. The Federal Government has, of course, the control of the army ; it ,has also the management of the railways, posts and telegraphs, universities and schools, and the regulation of the conditions of labour. Full religious liberty is allowed, but the Jesuits are not allowed to come into the country. No spiritual courts are allowed. The Judges of the Supreme Court are elected from amongst the legislators. Neither capital punishment nor arrest for debt is legal (a defaulting tourist’s baggage may, however, be put under arrest). Laws passed by the Federal legislature must be submitted to the people by direct vote before they become effective. If this Referendum does not give them approval they lapse. There is machinery by which the people can directly initiate legislation, i.e. propose measures without the intervention of the legislature.

So wide-world an interest is taken in the Swiss military system (it has its enthusiastic admirers in America as well as in Great Britain), and so great a part does it take in the general life of the Swiss people, that a brief summary of its salient features is worthy of space here. The system dates from 1874, the Franco-Prussian War on their borders having warned the Swiss of the possibility of their land being invaded. From his earliest days the Swiss citizen is prepared for his country’s service. In the public (Can-tonal and Communal) schools instruction in gymnastic exercise is regularly given (60 hours yearly), and almost all the boys participate in this instruction, which is mainly given by the schoolmasters.

Between the ages of 16 and 20, when military service begins, there is preparatory military instruction, comprising physical training, gymnastic exercises, marching, obstacle racing, simple drill, the use of the rifle, and preliminary musketry. In the year before he attains 20 the youth is enrolled by the Cantonal authorities (in his commune or place of domicile) as a recruit —the canton being subdivided into recruiting districts —and is fitted out with uniform and equipment, and in the year in which he attains 20 (the year, too, in which he becomes entitled to vote at elections) the recruit becomes liable to military service and presents himself for instruction at recruit schools, beginning either about March 15, May 1, or July 1, as directed. All soldiers, whatever the rank they are destined for, pass through the recruit schools, and the periods of duration of these schools (including musketry) are : for infantry, etc., 60-70 days ; cavalry, 80 days. The soldier on completion of recruit school is considered as having entered the Army. As a soldier of the Army he has to attend an annual training camp.

The demands made on a citizen’s time by this system are not very great, say 70 days as a recruit, 80 days as a member of the Active Army, and a few days afterwards as a member of the Landwehr or Landsturm. In all the citizen is forced to give about 160 days during his life-time to the service of his country, an exaction which is very slight in the total compared with the demands of countries where conscription rules, and is almost negligible when allowance is made for the fact that it is so well distributed over the. term of the citizen’s life.

In ordinary times of peace there is no Commander-in-chief. The Army Corps and Divisional Commanders are the highest appointments. There is a Committee of National Defence, composed of the Minister of War (president), four General Officers (militia), four ” Chefs de service ” (staff officers), appointed for three years. This Committee stands at the head of the Army in time of peace, but, when war is imminent and a General is appointed by the Federal Assembly, the Committee drops out of existence, the General taking all its powers.

Under this system the Active Swiss Army on a peace footing numbers about 150,000 men. The trained army that could be called out for service represents practically the total of the male population. Training for military service is looked upon not as a burden but as a pleasure by the citizens, and many of their voluntary sports are designed so as to assist the work of military education.

Happy Switzerland that has thought out a system of military service which imposes little burden on the national exchequer and no burden at all on the national content, and which is yet withal highly efficient if the experts are to be believed ! I quote from one of them (Lieut.-Col. G. F. Ellison) :

Of the Swiss Army, as a war machine, it is impossible to write in terms other than those which, to anyone who has never witnessed its performance, must, I fear, appear somewhat too laudatory. That it is perfect in all its details, or that it is the same highly finished instrument that the French or the German army is, I do not pretend to assert, but I do unhesitatingly affirm, and in this opinion I am supported by more competent judges than myself, that taken as a whole it is, for war purposes, not unworthy, so far as it goes, to court comparison with the most scientifically organised and most highly trained armies of the Continent. In some respects it even surpasses all other armies in its readiness for war, for of no other military force in Europe can it be stated that the establishment in personnel is the same both for peace and war, and there is certainly no other country, that I am aware of, a fourth of whose army is annually mobilised for manoeuvres on exactly the same scale of equipment and transport as it would be for actual warfare.

For the Englishman there is certainly no army in the world which can afford more food for serious reflection than that of Switzerland. He will learn, too, to appreciate what, for a sum that appears insignificant when compared with the military expenditure of other States, can be done towards producing for Home defence a really well-trained force under a militia system, provided that the system is based on universal liability to military service, and that all ranks alike bring goodwill and intelligence to bear on their allotted task. While he watches this army there need be no grave misgivings in his mind such as, perhaps, he may experience else-where, lest, in spite of all the pomp and splendour, the burden that such military display means to a nation may be crushing it beyond endurance.

And that was written before the revised law of April 12, 1907, which was the subject of a general Referendum. By its acceptance the Swiss people intimated their desire to have the army maintained at such a degree of efficiency as would ensure their independence and neutrality, and agreed to several improvements in the system of training imposing further obligations on the citizen soldiers.

In the present day the Swiss have no navy, and no need of one, and ” Admiral of the Swiss Navy ” is a title equal to that of the Seigneur de Chateau Rien. But once upon a time the ” Swiss admiral ” did exist. He was an English-man named Colonel Williams, who in 1799 was in service with the Zurich government and commandeered a small fleet on Lake Zurich, having orders to oppose with it the French army. When the French, under Massena, completely routed the allied armies of Austria and Russia, Colonel Williams calmly watched the battle from the lake. Then, enraged at his own inaction, he discharged his crews, scuttled his vessels, and took to flight.