Watch CBSN Live

Are The Swiss Over Prepared?

Here in Europe, we always thought that Donald Rumsfeld and his absurd "old Europe" taunts were just so much hooey. How about this as proof that the Swiss, who haven't fought a war for five hundred years and who steadfastly maintain their neutrality, may know a bit more than any of us bargained for?

Do you remember at school in the fifties, "duck and survive", when you had to tuck yourself under your desk as a rehearsal for the day when the Soviets would drop an atom bomb on your town? Most historians believe that the Cold War ended seventeen years ago, when the Berlin Wall came down and with it the risk of a nuclear war between NATO and the Soviet bloc. But not the good citizens of Switzerland.

Under Swiss law, the Government is still required to find spaces for every citizen in fall out shelters. And the authorities in Lucerne are still doing just that. A new motorway tunnel is being built under the Alps and while they're finishing off the road, they're also constructing a shelter big enough for twenty thousand people, hiding from the nuclear threat from where exactly?

The idea is based on what the British did during World War Two, using subways as safe areas for Londoners trying to hide from German bombers. And don't think that the Swiss are just doing this in a half hearted way to keep up with their own out of date laws. These are serious shelters. The doors are four feet thick, and each weighs three hundred and fifty tons.

Inside there are vast dormitories, an operating theatre and even a prison, because crime continues even if the world outside doesn't. There are also coloured lights, indicating whether or not it's daylight outside. And they're able to withstand a one megaton bomb, equivalent to seventy Hiroshimas. And don't think that this is the only one. There are more than a quarter of a million shelters in Switzerland and they're still building them.

The Swiss reasoning for continuing with fall out shelters is, well, very Swiss. A Government spokesman said: "We decided that since we built all these things, let's just carry on building them". Way back in that old movie "The Third Man", Orson Welles as Harry Lime reckoned that the only thing the Swiss had ever given the world was the cuckoo clock. Can I add to that? They now have the finest wine cellars and ski stores in the world.
by Simon Bates