Can We Talk About Walls?


Berlin Wall from the American Sector of West Berlin (Photographer unknown)

Berlin Wall from the American Sector of West Berlin (Photographer unknown)

As WC writes this blog post, we are all of us enjoying a special Christmas gift from President Trump: the shutdown of much of the federal government. Isn’t that sweet? The president has wrecked a lot of holiday seasons solely to attempt to coerce Congress into funding his wall along the Mexican border.

Can we examine the premise for this rather extreme tactic? Do walls work?

Let choose as our case study what was arguably the most (in)famous wall ever built to control emigration: the Berlin Wall.

The Berlin Wall was built in 1961 to stop the outflow of citizens from Communist East Germany to democratic West Germany. After World War II and the creation of a divided Germany, the exodus of East Germans was dramatic. By 1961, 25% of East Germany’s total population and as much as 50% of the intelligentsia had left. East Germany erected the wall to stop the flow of its citizens to freedom and opportunity.

West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt called it the “Wall of Shame.” East German guards had orders to shoot to kill if East Germans tried to cross the Death Strip, the no-man’s land between the two concrete fences that comprised the wall. And kill they did; perhaps as many as 200-300 desperate East Germans died trying to escape. Many were shot by their own soldiers. The guards sometimes let fugitives bleed to death in the middle of this ground, as in the most notorious failed attempt, that of Peter Fechter (aged 18). He was shot and bled to death, in full view of Western media, on August 17, 1962.

Nor was the Wall of Shame particularly effective. At least 5,000 East Germans escaped via a variety of methods while the Wall was in place.

And this wall was only 97 miles long. Donald Trump has blown up the federal government because he wants to build a Wall of Shame along the entire U.S. – Mexico border, a distance of more than 1,969 miles.

Will American soldiers shoot immigrants trying to escape from poverty, violence and despotism to the United States? Will President Trump build two fences, separated by a Death Strip? East German soldiers let the citizens they shot lie in the Death Strip, bleeding to death. Will President Trump, an avowedly “pro life” Republican, allow Central Americans to lay in his Death Strip, bleeding to death?

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the world rejoiced. There were very real tears of joy, dancing on the fragments of the wall that weren’t torn down by citizens with sledge hammers. Do you suppose there will be similar rejoicing when Trump’s Wall is built? Will another Ronald Reagan appear to say, “Mr. Trump, build this Wall up,” instead of “Tear this wall down”?

WC thinks the United States is a great nation, easily great enough to find a way to address the problem of illegal immigrants. Without emulating a brutal East German Communist dictatorship. Without machine gun nests at regular intervals. Without shoot to kill orders.

Maybe the premise for the government shutdown is suspect?

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One thought on “Can We Talk About Walls?

  1. On viewing the Great Wall in China President U.S. Grant wrote in his travel diary:

    “It is hard to see any practical use these walls can serve in the present age unless they should be converted into drives”

    “Grant”, Ron Chernow’s bio of U.S. Grant 2017
    Pg 879

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