Current Concerns: Scott Ritter, you have been to Switzerland once but that was a long time ago. Now you have come back. What are your impressions and what were your impressions of the “Mut zur Ethik” conference that you just attended here in Switzerland and what were your impressions when visiting Switzerland on your previous trip?
Scott Ritter: The last time I was in Switzerland was 30 years ago, more than 30 years ago. So, a lot of time has gone by. But when I landed, I was struck with a sense of familiarity because the Switzerland I remember was always a very clean, orderly country, a beautiful country, lovely vistas, well organised – that’s what greeted me here. It wasn’t until this conference and in particular, this issue of Swiss neutrality was raised and I realised that the Switzerland of today is a far different place than the Switzerland that I arrived 30 years ago. And then talking with people too, it’s interesting how you can see something and not understand what’s going on underneath it. And so, had I simply driven through Switzerland, I wouldn’t understand the reality that’s taking place in Switzerland today. The societal angst over education, over the role of democracy, especially Switzerland’s unique form of direct democracy. And then, of course, the issue of neutrality. I think anybody who follows the news knows that Switzerland is going through a crisis right now of its neutrality status.
But for foreigners, like Americans, we just read the news. We don’t attach human feelings to that. And again, if you’re ignorant of how Switzerland works, you read about the direct democracy and you assume that Swiss government officials are acting based upon the will of the people. Then you find out that the will of people is not even being consulted. That the Swiss government is taking steps to do things that run counter to that which defines Switzerland.
Even 30 years ago, when I entered Switzerland, I knew I was entering a special place, a different place. It wasn’t part of NATO. It was a neutral nation. And I made that assumption landing here today just out of habit, because I didn’t associate the news that I was reading about the transformation of Swiss neutrality. I didn’t associate that to reality.
Understanding neutrality as an
American from a Swiss perspective
But this conference forced me to confront this issue and see it through Swiss eyes. That was perhaps the most important thing: to understand it from a Swiss perspective and in doing so, reflect on what that means to me as an American. And just learning about the US ambassador Scott Miller and his inappropriate comments and attitude towards Switzerland. I’m very proud to be an American. And I’m very protective of America’s imperative to fix itself, to deal with its own problems. So therefore, I get angry when Americans try to tell other people what to do about their lives. Because I would get angry if somebody tried to tell me what to do with my life. I know there’s problems. I know they need to be fixed. I will come up with a solution. Thank you very much.
It’s the arrogance and the hubris of an American ambassador trying to dictate a solution to the Swiss people through their government, a compliant government. But I didn’t know that the Swiss government was so detached from the people. That’s a news flash to me.
Understanding “Mut zur Ethik”
And then listening to the passion and the intelligence of the presentations at this conference. I have to say I have to compliment you. I mean, I’m giving away too much about me sometimes, but I didn’t know what “Mut zur Ethik” means and I mean even if I looked up the words, I wouldn’t have known what it really meant. But by coming here and listening to you talk about it and emphasize it, you know, the courage of your convictions. And that came to life in this conference.
It was an interesting, fascinating thing to watch. Then as a human being, you get confronted by the courage of other people’s convictions, and that challenges you to ask yourself, “am I doing enough? Am I being courageous based upon my convictions?” So, this was a really interesting couple of days.
Working together for the
common cause of humanity
What have you taken from the conference, what was most important for you?
I’ve taken a lot from it, but the main thing I took from it is the absolute necessity for everybody to work together towards the common cause of promoting humanity and that the Switzerland, the small European country with a history of neutrality, I think. Just like we protect things in the world, you know, we talk about the extinction of species, and what a tragedy it is for the world as animals go into extinct and the need to preserve them. Not just for the sake of preserving a single species, but preserving all species. Because an ecosystem requires everything to work together in harmony, and the global ecosystem requires a neutral Switzerland. If we allow Swiss neutrality to go extinct, we destroy the global ecosystem. It becomes unbalanced.
And I think I’m leaving this conference more dedicated now than ever because I’ve been educated, I’ve been empowered with knowledge to fight for Swiss direct democracy. Because I’m fighting for American democracy. I’m fighting for humanity. I’m fighting for the preservation of the world, and I wouldn’t have had that perspective had I not attended this.
“Neutrality is perhaps the most
courageous thing in the world”
What does the neutrality of Switzerland mean to you? How do you perceive neutrality from a perspective of someone who has travelled and worked around the world?
To answer this question, I have to be very honest about my ignorance in the fact that what I knew about Swiss neutrality and what I know about Swiss neutrality still is very limited, so I need to be honest about that.
Well, Switzerland is a neutral country, so I guess it’s not just about Switzerland. It’s about the concept of neutrality in general. Early on in my development as an adult I viewed the world in black and white, good versus evil and so a neutral person to me was somebody who refuses to take a stand but they don’t stand for anything. That was my perception. But as I entered adulthood and became confronted the reality of life, we shall say, in realizing that life isn’t black and white, that life’s very grey and many, many shades of grey. What I realized is that through experience and through meeting people, that neutrality was perhaps the most courageous thing in the world. That it’s easy to allow yourself to be captured by one point of view or another point of view, and it’s easy to justify it as US versus THEM, good versus evil, however you want to do it. But at the end of the day, the product of that is very destructive, very destructive. And when you see the destruction that is brought by this, you realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad or whatever perception you had going into the conflict. The conflict just kills people. That’s all it does. It kills people and destroys. And that’s the evil, because both sides think they’re on the right side: “You know, I’m right”. “I’m right”. They come together. The evil that is produced by that conflict results in dead people. And neutrality is designed to prevent that evil. Neutrality is designed to keep these two sides from coming together. The neutrality is an intervention of reason, the intervention of humanity.
“Neutrality is the global safe zone”
Unfortunately, we mostly see it in a post conflict environment where the neutral parties come in afterwards to help clean up the mess, to separate the two, to bring families together to bring assistance to people and it’s seen as a force of good. But when you reflect on neutrality – especially the way that the Swiss do – they’re trying to prevent conflicts. This is the most important thing of all, and that’s been part of my growth. I guess, as an adult, as a human, is to recognize that the cowards are the people that don’t know how to be neutral.
The cowards are the people that take a strong stand, because that’s the easiest path. It’s the path of least resistance. The true courageous person is the one who is able to step away from the singularity of that path and be open to considering the point of view of the other. But that’s a very difficult thing to do, given the prejudices. So sometimes you need a neutral ground to do this.
You need neutrality. Neutrality is the global safe zone that allows people to come together and work through issues to avoid conflict. And so, you know, that’s what I appreciate. I have to be shocked because I thought that’s what the Swiss believed in too. And when I came here and found out that Switzerland was deviating from that posture, I just have to be frank, I think that your government is one of the most cowardly governments imaginable. That they’ve taken the path of least resistance, that they forgot what Switzerland stood for.
Switzerland is forgetting its history. And when you forget your history, you become nobody. Because Switzerland, frankly speaking, if they lose their neutrality, they’ll just become a clone of the EU. They become a little Germany, a little France, a little Italy. They’ll become a little nothing. Right now, Switzerland is a great nation because it stands for something great. But if you take that away, what does Switzerland stand for? Alps, Yodelling …?
Scott Ritter, thank You for this interview. •
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