With Hermann Suter (18 December 1940 – 3 July 2015) and Franz Betschon (29 November 1941 – – 27 August 2015) Switzerland lost two personalities who have worked wholeheartedly for the fundamental values of their country. Both of them were personalities who were highly critical of the Swiss Army’s ongoing dismantlement and fought the cuttings with all democratic means. Together, they founded the group Giardino, an association of former and active military personnel who did no longer want to just look on what was going on in politics. Giardino‘s goal is to plead for an army that is worthy of the name and is able to fulfill the constitutional mandate, namely to ensure protection and defense of the country and the people. With respect to this task Switzerland must rely on itself and must under no circumstances join an alliance.
With their commitment they did not always make friends, and so it were mainly the supporters of the army‘s abolition had fought Hermann Suter and Franz Betschon with unfairest methods and zeitgeist-soaked arguments. Nevertheless, it was also due to their commitment that the weapons initiative was rejected which had demanded that every military man or woman would have to give his or her gun back to the military armory. By way of these tireless efforts – and not least due to the group Giardino – the Swiss voted in favour of the militia army with a great majority. Thus majorities in the population had been obtained in two major military issues, which meant that the Swiss defence capabilities were strenghtened.

Again and again either in books or in articles and interviews both personalities drew attention to the precarious situation of the Swiss Army. In the years when the defense capability was being dismantled in a naive frame of mind assuming that a war in Europe would no longer be possible, both of them perceived these proceedings as one of the greatest threats to our country. What about neutrality and sovereignty of Switzerland, if we are no longer capable of defending the country against an aggressor? According to the general finding that a country will always have an army, either its own or an invading one, the latter possibility was unbearable to them because as former officers of the Swiss Army they knew only to well, what that would mean for a country and its people.

Both, Hermann Suter, PhD in history, who for decades as rector of the Teachers‘ College in Lucerne had stood up for a good and thorough education, as well as Franz Betschon, doctorate of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, ETH engineer who had worked in many parts of the world for international companies, were true patriots who repeatedly drew attention to the dangers of the current geopolitical situation. It was their great concern to raise the awareness of the young people for this problem so that future generations would not have to “pay“ for today’s mistakes. On panels or in other discussions they addressed the people, even the young ones, and appealed to their rationality. But they found that for today‘s generation, the threat of war is very far away. To the last, they did their utmost to prevent future generations from a rough awakening. For them the militia army was one of the foundations of the Swiss state model, since it contributed to its sense of identity and to the cohesion of the country across language borders.
Both personalities died much too early, and they will leave a great void. It is up to us to continue their commitment to an effective national defense, so that Switzerland will regain an army that meets the requirements of the Head of the Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport, Ueli Maurer: The Swiss Army must be the best army in the world that will be deployed only as a last resort, but then will be able to carry out its task.

Thomas Kaiser

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