It seems likely that the two most widely circulated remarks ever made about Switzerland's military prowess were made by Napoleon Bonaparte and Orson Wells.
Wells said, " In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they have brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."
Napoleon said, "The best troops – those in whom you can have the most confidence - are the Swiss."
Wells spoke his lines in "The Third Man", a motion picture deservedly attracted an extensive worldwide audience. The screenplay was written by Graham Greene, who later published the preliminary treatment in book form, but Greene was not the author of the lines about the Borgias and Switzerland. They were interpolated by the ingenious Wells, who may have chosen to suppress in his memory the fact that when Italy was enjoying the Borgias, Switzerland was enjoying a reputation as - to quote Douglas Miller's "The Swiss atWar" - "the most powerful and feared military force in Europe".
Switzerland was about as neutral in those days as had been Mongolia under Genghis Khan. Not only were the Swiss ready to fight. They fought. They had a militia system that could mobilize 54,000 soldiers. They knew enough about warfare and bloodshed to sicken a Borgia. They were so chillingly belligerent that even if they were destroyed in battle they had been known in the same moment to win a war.
One afternoon in mid-Renaissance, a few hundred Swiss who were outnumbered fifteen to one elected not to run away but to wade across a river and break into the center of the opposition, where all of them died, but not before they had slaughtered three thousand of their French enemies. The French Army was so unnerved that it struck its tents and fled.
"A popular theory today explains our pessimism, our contorted poetry, our formless art, our discordant music, even our beatniks, as a reflection of an age so disturbed, upset and terrified by new forces that classical decorum has no place in our life or art. Our artists must reflect the difficulties of the age. This is both a facile and a futile explanation. The Elizabethan age had many experiences that parallel ours, even to the fear of death and disaster. Yet theirs was an age of hope and courage and of a great and enduring literature. For reasons that remain inexplicable there is a difference between the Elizabethan spirit and ours. The Elizabethans were bursting with enthusiasm, energy, zest for life and the optimistic faith that the world was their oyster, which they could easily open. If at times Elizabethan writers expressed bitterness and cynicism, such moods were not characteristic of the age. There were no Elizabethan beatniks. They did not suffer from world-weariness and ennui. They lived and loved and died, if need be, in the belief that theirs was a glorious world to be made the most of. A seventeenth century equivalent of Rabelais enjoined men not to be “squint-minded”, not to “look out at life through a little hole”, and so to live that one could maintain “a gaiety of spirit in contempt of fortune”. Our ancestors could face both life and death with a cheerful spirit. Men could go to their deaths with a jest – and a prayer – but they never groveled in self pity. Theirs was not an age that pitied itself."
I've lived in 4 states (New York, Northern California, Iowa and Washington state) and developed software professionally for over 20 years. One of my passions for much of that time has been motorcycling. I've also taught basic firearms safety classes and done indoor rock climbing. I volunteer as a belayer at the climbing wall of a local YMCA.