Photo of Swiss Air Force jets by ping_ch used under a Creative Commons license.
John McPhee, La Place de la Concorde Suisse (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984).
Written more than two decades ago during the Cold War, when the threat of a land invasion of Switzerland seemed somewhat less remote than it does today, this is a short, journalistic look at the Swiss military. Switzerland has not been invaded in many centuries, but it maintains (or at least it did then) a militia of 650,000 reservists — a huge number, in per capita terms — ready to be mobilized in a matter of hours, and has turned the Alps into a fortress. McPhee explores the cultural significance of the Swiss Army and the country’s stance of neutrality. As always, McPhee is a pleasure to read.
Here is an abstract of part of the book published in The New Yorker. Here are reviews from Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (The New York Times), Shriram Krishnamurthi, DrPat (BlogCritics), Glen Engel-Cox, and J. Rufus. Eric Weinberger recommends the book in his piece on The Alps in Salon’s Literary Guide to the World. The book is recommended reading for business people by faculty at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Weston Cutter appreciates McPhee. It appears that President Bush has not read the book. And here is some Top Gun-style video of the Swiss Air Force.