We owe this article to a lunch conversation with our colleague RZ. It was an interesting discussion, as usual, this time about Cold War times in Switzerland. Suddenly we recalled a particular Swiss government publication, that was distributed to all families in November 1969.

Excerpt of the Zivilverteidugung German version Buch, 1969

The publication was entitled Zivilverteidigungsbuch in German, Défense Civile in French and Difesa Civile in Italian. The title could be literally translated into English in Civil Defense Book. It was a guidebook published by the Swiss Federal Council (in German: Bundesrat) within the notion of the Spiritual National Defense mindset (in German: Geistige Landesverteidigung), aimed to foster the civil protection of Switzerland. The publication was originally scheduled for the Expo64 in Lausanne, but several revision forced it to be postponed. In November 1969, the Federal Department of Justice and Police, on behalf of the Federal Council, distributed the book free of charge to all Swiss families.

Organizational scheme of a revolutionary fighting apparatuses, pages 246-247,
Zivilverteidigung, Miles Verlag, Aarau 1969

The purpose of the book was to draw the attention of the population to the defense of the nation in times of the Cold War and to the counter-measures planned in case of conflict. Among the topics treated beside Resistance (see picture above) were, for example, the consequences of an atomic attack (pages 142-146) or the destruction of Alpine water dams (pages 70-71 and pages 104-109) . In addition to illustrating technical measures of this kind, however, the text also sought to strengthen Switzerland’s “inner resistance” and avoid “pacifism” and “defeatism” (pages 232-235).

Financially the publication went over budget, and costed in 1969, something like CHF 4.7 Mio., converted with the National consumer price index inflation calculator, the publication would have costed in 2018 approx. CHF 14.7 Mio. The total number of book published was of 2.6 Mio books in three languages (German, French and Italian). The book – according Wikipedia – was then translated in several languages, including Chinese.

There is not direct connection with Southern Switzerland, particulary Ticino or Insubrica region. What surprises however is that among the contributors, there is the citing of a known figure from Ticino, that is Prof. Dr. Guido Calgari. Calgari was a fervent promoter of
the Spiritual National Defense mindset and was already during the Second World War author of several pamphlets in this prospect. It is not known which was the specific contribution of Prof. Dr. Calgari, it must have been however very quantifiable, as his name appears right on the top of the contributors list. His involvement in this publication goes probably beyond the fact that Calgari, after the death of Giuseppe Zoppi in 1952, had been his successor at the chair of Italian Literature at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) in Zurich. Probably Calgari contribution was somehow larger that the mere translation into Italian.

Guido Calgari (1905-1969), picture copyright: rsi.ch

Perusing the 320 pages of this tiny red book in 2019, it can appear shocking that the Swiss Government endorsed such a publication. However, when this tiny red book appeared in 1969, the population had still vivid memories of the invasion of the troops of the Warsaw Pact states in August 1968, which put an end to the Prague Spring. Together with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 the fear was manifested that Soviet troops could rapidly invade Switzerland. In this risk context the scenario seems, even today, quite realistic.

Addendum 7.4.2019: Over the weekend we got hold in our library of the original Italian translation of the Zivilverteidigungsbuch, entitled “Difesa Civile”. There were indeed two more Ticino personalities that contributed to the Italian translation of this work. Engineer Mario Buzzolini and Professor Manlio Foglia. We couldn’t find much on Buzzolini, beside the fact that he was born in 1936, was originally from Genestrerio and did in 1966 a PhD at the ETHZ in Zürich. Where as for Foglia, originally from Paradiso/Lugano, he was in the 1960’s director (in German: Rektor) of the Scuola Magistrale in Locarno, the same position that Guido Calgari had covered in 1940’s. Foglia appears in the Italian publication as post-mortem, so that by 1969 he was likely already deceased.


Rolf Löffler , “Zivilverteidigung” : die Entstehungsgeschichte des “roten Büchleins”, Zeitschrift: Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Geschichte = Revue suisse d’histoire = Rivista storica svizzera, 54 (2004) (source)

The pdf of the German version of the book Zivilverteidigung can be downloaded at this address.