Book Review: Faces Of Neutrality

Faces Of Neutrality: A Comparative Analysis Of The Neutrality And Other Neutral Nations During WWII, by Herbert R. Reginbogin

This book, despite its lengthy and almost pedantic title, promising something that most people find boring, a comparative analysis [1], is in reality a fierce defense of Switzerland against the accusations that it was a docile pro-Nazi neutral during WWII. Despite the fact that this book is a translation, with a few minor errors that seem to spring from difficulties in perfectly capturing subject verb agreement and a few minor spelling errors, of a book originally published in Switzerland, the book manages to capture the sense of passionate outrage at the double standard Switzerland has suffered in terms of reputation and the matter of reparations. Not only that, the author makes a persuasive case that it is Switzerland’s commitment to being a neutral, a commitment that was guaranteed by all European powers after the end of the Napoleonic Wars [2], that appears to have accounted for the fact that it was treated far harsher than other European neutrals whose aid was of much greater material benefit to Germany, namely Sweden’s iron ore, tungsten from Spain and Portugal, chrome from Turkey, and the logistical and technological expertise of American subsidiaries in Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe that were essential in aiding the German war effort.

In terms of its organization, the book is divided into three unequal parts, bracketed by an introduction that comments on the dispute between Swiss traditionalists, who emphasize the heroic armed neutrality of Switzerland against overwhelming German might, and revisionist historians who appear to wish to cover Switzerland’s reputation with dishonor over their trade deals with Germany. Then the book spends about half of its text (about 100 out of its slightly more than 200 pages) discussing the situation in Switzerland before and during World War II, including its political difficulties, and the immense pressures it faced from both Axis and Allies, to which it responded with a great degree of fierceness and finesse, successfully managing to remain neutral despite immense difficulty. The author reminds us, and we must remember as well, that Switzerland was entirely surrounded by Nazi-occupied Europe for several years and still managed to preserve its neutrality, while Sweden, in a similar situation, was forced into more degrading situations, but also given more mercy by Allies in the postwar period. The second part of the book gives a comparison between Switzerland and other neutral countries, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, Vichy France, and most provocatively, United States before Pearl Harbor. Here, the author demonstrates the way in which most of the neutrals struggled to balance their desire to avoid choosing sides with their possession of valuable real estate and/or strategic raw materials. Over and over again the author points out that while Switzerland has received far harsher criticism than other neutrals, its lack of raw materials meant that other nations helped out Germany’s war effort during WWII far more, and with far less blame. One can feel the outrage coming out from the pages, almost. The third part is perhaps even more provocative, when it points out the double standard by which American companies gave critical support to the German WWII war effort, often without blame or scrutiny or any consequences whatsoever. The conclusion only drives home the point that the author feels, with good reason, that Switzerland has been unfairly maligned for its lack of compassion when no one else wanted to take Jewish refugees either, for stealing Jewish gold when plenty of others did as well, and for providing aid to Nazi Germany when plenty of that was going around as well.

This is not to say that the book is perfect. In particular, the book is at its weakest towards the beginning, when the author appears to endorse the bogus socialism of the Swiss Social Democrats and appears to endorse a facile materialistic (even Marxist) view of politics. The book is on far stronger grounds when it leaves behind the dubious political and economic worldview of the author and focuses its attention on the widespread moral complexity of the situation of European neutrals and the difficulties that they faced. The book makes its point clear, and this book ought to be required reading for anyone who wants to argue issues like reparations for long-gone historical wrongs, about the sort of damage it does to brave and fierce people who are slandered and libeled as being moral monsters for doing what everyone else at the time was doing without blame, and doing even better despite difficult circumstances. In reading this book, one can feel the sort of bravery in the face of despair that led the Swiss to risk Nazi aggression to preserve their honor and dignity as a free and independent state, despite the fact that they felt isolated and alone, surrounded by threats. Perhaps the Swiss are a bit too prickly of people to readily have compassion on them, but this book makes a compelling case for those who have it in them to be empathetic to those in such a spot as the Swiss were during the horrors of the Second World War.

[1] For the record, not everyone finds comparative analyses boring:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Faces Of Neutrality

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