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It's been said that Switzerland is not a country with an army, but rather an army with a country. McPhee shows us how the militia-army concept -- the every-citizen-as-soldier idea that has been emulated by Israel, for example -- plays out in the lives of Swiss citizens like Luc Massy, McPhee's host on a series of military training exercises. The exercises are more like camping trips for the soldiers, but McPhee shows that behind the breezy attitudes, national defense is a deadly serious business for the Swiss nation and people.
Switzerland's pastoral countryside may never look quite the same again, once you realize that nearly every bridge has been fitted with explosives, the faster to destroy them in case of invasion. That any snow-capped peak may hide artillery emplacements or entire squadrons of fighter jets. That a silent glacier (like the title Place de la Concorde Suisse) may become a front-line airfield at the first sign of trouble. And that, of course, most every farmhouse contains firearms and men and women trained to use them.
Since this book was first published in 1983, there has been a spate of books about the Swiss in World War Two. Coming as it did before that storm, 'La Place de la Concorde Suisse' is a useful way to get a feeling for the Swiss militia system, uncolored (pro or con) by the strong feelings that arose a decade or so later. I recommend this book to anyone interested in a look at Switzerland's unique national defense system in practice.
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