A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, March 01, 2007

In which the History Geek explains what ignorance about geography does to one

Well, as Gomer would say, surprise, surprise, surprise! Go-ooo-lly!

A crisis in central Europe was averted today as Swiss Army officials said "Ooopsie!" after accidentally wandering into the neighboring country of Liechtenstein. Adding insult to injury, apparently no one in Liechtenstein even noticed that the Swiss Army was there, so stealthy were they.

Ah, I see a hand raised in the back. Yes, you there, with the beret and the faint odor of absinthe on your black clothes? What? No, not the cartoon-loving pop artist Roy Liechtenstein, the greatest artist ever to have lived temporarily in Cleveland.
The teeny tiny country squished between Austria and Switzerland. Look:
ZURICH, Switzerland - What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into the neighboring Principality of Liechtenstein.

According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered just over a mile across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

"We've spoken to the authorities in Liechtenstein and it's not a problem," Daniel Reist told The Associated Press.

Officials in Liechtenstein also played down the incident.

Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.

Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

The Swiss lost no time in taking their empty rifles and skedaddling back home, but even with their brief sojourn they spent more time in Liechtenstein than the first Princes of Liechtenstein, who did not even bother to visit their holdings for the first 120 years that they possessed them, much preferring Vienna to Vaduz. I'm not too sure we can actually call this an "invasion" per se, since Liechtenstein is dependent for its defense upon that same Swiss Army. This incident might make them reconsider that arrangement, or at least to suggest adding a tiny flip-out map or even a GPS device to those celebrated Swiss Army knives.

A little history: Once, Liechtenstein was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte (and how many countries in Europe can say THAT with a straight face?), the principality was released from any feudal obligations to any sort of German authorities in 1806. Even though Nappy was technically the new overlord of the principality, he apparently was distracted with destroying Prussia, crushing Poland, and forming the confederation of the Rhine to actually want to do anything with the principality, thereby echoing the assessment of the ruling Liechtenstein family.

Many of my students, who complain that history is so inconveniently filled with too many people, dates, and events to remember, would love this tiny landlocked country for its geography if not for its spelling challenges: the upper part of Liechtenstein is called "the Over Land" and the southern part of the country is called "the Under Land." Since over my many years of teaching I've had many a student insist that "North" is "Up" and "South" is "Down," this place would suit them just fine.

And apparently the Liechtenstein princes are still trying to act like the Swiss Army and escape back across the border. You have to love a country where the sovereign threatens to run away to Austria in a kind of reverse Sound of Music scenario if he couldn't get the people to vote him more power. What fun it would be if more leaders thought that way! I hear Canada is lovely this time of year.

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