The Sad History of Walls

by Tommy Macias
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, March 1, 2019

Stone wall running through green hills
“Hadrian’s Wall, Pennine Way, Hexham” by Robert Linsdell is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Here’s a sad fact of life for walls and barriers everywhere: they all can be defeated. Let’s use the most heavily defended border on earth as an example. This is the 160 mile-long Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. The DMZ is the front line between the two countries as the 1950-53 Korean War never really ended. Only an armistice or cease-fire stopped the fighting. Both countries are technically still at war.  There are several million armed soldiers in close proximity on both sides of the DMZ. This border is defended by landmines, watchtowers, sensors, dogs, aircraft, barbed wire, tanks etc. If there is a device that can detect, immobilize, or kill a person, it probably has an address somewhere along the DMZ. And the DMZ can be penetrated by people. You yourself can safely do this. In the 1970’s it was discovered that North Korea had built a series of tunnels underneath the DMZ, some of them big enough to fit a tank. The tunnels are obviously able to accommodate large numbers of people intent on crossing this border. Don’t take my word for it, Google it. Or better yet, see one for yourself. Trips are available in South Korea to visit the tunnels. Tourists can literally walk underneath the most heavily defended stretch of real-estate on Mother Earth while they sip their lattes. Coincidentally tunnels also run underneath our 2000-mile-long, DMZ-free southern border. I’m sure tours of these can similarly be arranged. $8 billion won’t get a wall to first base, much less from sea to shining sea. To complete a barrier will require many billions of dollars more. A hefty bill for the certain outcome that a wall can never deliver on its promise. All this to accommodate an emergency that is a figment of the political imagination.

Another word for “History” is “Data,” and what the data shows is that walls, lines, and barriers have a sorry track record.  In World War II France’s Maginot Line did not keep Hitler’s armies out, nor did Hitler’s own Atlantic Wall keep Allied armies from liberating Normandy beaches on D-Day. The Soviet Union’s Berlin Wall did not keep Germans from seeking their freedom in the west. Walls, lines, and barriers have been something invested by those on the losing side of history. Time and again, wall builders have been bested by more inventive folks who have figured out ways over, under, around, and through. You can no more build an effective wall across our southern border than you can around Kendall County. Walls only provide a temporary and misguided sense of security, one that has historically come to a very rude end. To those who put their faith it walls, it’s probably best to have a Plan B.

When a person wants an expert opinion, they seek out specialists. On issues of national security and emergencies, who better than those who have studied this issue since they were 18-year-old cadets at West Point? Martin Dempsey, a recent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, i.e. the top officer in the U.S. Military, dismissed the notion of the southern border as a national emergency. Dempsey has also labeled the current deployment of forces to the border as “wasteful.” Barry McCaffrey, the former commander of U.S. Southern Command, the command which focuses on threats originating from Latin America, has likewise been at odds with administration policy.  Having both commanded troops in combat I think the generals know what they are talking about. Funding for a wall will be diverted from military construction (MILCON), i.e. training facilities, hospitals, hangars, i.e. things our military needs to win against real adversaries such as Russia, and not those imagined or created. No wonder the generals are up in arms.

A wall is not a policy, a law enforcement strategy, and least of all a solution. It is a symbol.  A symbol similar to how the three concentric circles that form a bullseye are a simple, easily understood communication to shooters on where to aim and fire. A wall symbolizes those such as immigrants we have chosen as scapegoats to mask our real national challenges.  As a symbol, the best a wall can do is serve as a wretched monument to a sordid era in American political history. A period when governmental decisions were made on the basis of racial stereotypes. A period to learn from. A period to put behind us. A period never to repeat.

Thomas Macias is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a Kendall County Democrat.

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