Unfortunately, they were. But in truth, neutrality does not extend to the people’s minds. During WW2, Swiss citizens were fiercely divided into two camps: pro-Allied and anti-Communist. Most Swiss, however, were also quite vehemently anti-Nazi. Not all, but their vast majority.
So while the Swiss government was the proponent and unflinching practitioner of armed neutrality, the Swiss were not of the same mind.
Neutrality is not an easy choice. It is a burden in a world where people and governments alike think along the same lines: one is either for something or against it.
Life shows us that things are never black and white. Not in the slightest bit.
So while the Allies identified as the Forces of Good, and demonized the Axis, and while it is true that the values of the two camps were strictly opposite to one another, it is also true – and people downright ignore this to their own peril – that all warring parties got smeared in the blood of the innocent, and by the end of the war, nobody was entirely white or entirely black.
The Soviets committed crimes against humanity, both inside and outside the USSR (Katyn, Siberia, East Europe). The Germans exterminated 90-94% of the European Jews, and millions other victims. And the Allies toyed with chemical warfare (Bari incident, Laconia affair), executed POWs both in the European Theater of Operations and the Pacific Theater of Operations, ignoring the Geneva Conventions just like the Axis Powers did. Overall, the Allies (notwithstanding the Soviets) obeyed the letter of the law better than the Axis Powers. But nobody, absolutely nobody, had a clean conscience by the end of the war.
So, it is easy for the victors and losers of the War to sit down after all was said and done, and blame Sweden, Spain, Switzerland, Portugal, Turkey and Ireland (Big Six Neutral), for sitting out the massacre. But then again, going to war is a choice made by state actors as well as people. Wars don’t just happen, and WW2 didn’t exactly start overnight. Its underlying causes were seeded in 1919 under the Versailles system.
The countries that waged this world war knew exactly well what they had created and got themselves into. It is the measure of their monumental degree of hypocrisy that the belligerents could entertain notions such as ‘neutrals’ guilt’, blaming them for not joining in the general melée when in fact, the neutrals had the foresight of gathering there were no prizes to be awarded at the end of the boucherie, just wooden crosses for the dead, and pain and suffering for the survivors.
In my mind, there is no doubt that the principal driver for their criticism is the fact that the Big Six Neutrals showed the smaller countries of the world that there is also a third way, a safer and smarter one. And that, my friends, the Winners and Losers could not and would not tolerate. One cannot accept the principle and practice of armed neutrality without also recognizing the folly of war. And by extension, it put the blame for the World War at the feet of the Big Powers, both Axis and Allies.
Where would we be, if soldiers could choose whether or not they should go out of the trenches in the face of machine gun and artillery fire, said one murderous French general in the epic war movie Paths of Glory?
They’re not cowards, so if some of them didn’t leave the trenches, it must have been because it was impossible.
They were ordered to attack. It was their duty to obey that order. We can’t leave it up to the men to decide when an order is possible or not. If it was impossible, the only proof of that would be their dead bodies lying in the bottom of the trenches. They are scum, Colonel, the whole rotten regiment; a pack of sneaking, whining, tail-dragging curs.”
The same principle applies here. The act of armed neutrality is a declaration of independence from the stranglehold, the criminal yoke of the adage ‘Who is not with us must be against us’ the Big Powers like to pontificate onto the world. When the judges are rotten, the judgment carries no value.