An op-ed that ponders if U.S. tax dollars could be better served elsewhere when taking in to account the relative ineffectiveness of border walls throughout history…
by: Bonnie Wilkins Overcott
President Trump’s continued insistence that The United States needs a wall along its southern border to keep the country safe made me curious just how effective border walls are. Without that wall, President Trump says, rapists, gang members and terrorists will flood the country with drugs and murder the innocent at will. Throughout human history, the wealthy and powerful have built walls to keep marauders out and to protect their precious money and lives. The rubble of ancient walls and barriers that are found scattered around the world are a monument to people attempting to keep others out.
Perhaps the most famous wall is the Great Wall of China, a wall so massive it is visible from space. Possibly inspired by China’s Great Wall, President Trump campaigned in 2016 on the idea of building a massive border wall, one that you could imagine he would brand the “Great Wall of Trump.” The 13,000 mile long Great Wall of China never effectively prevented invaders from entering. Conceived by Emperor Qin Shi Huang and built over hundreds of years beginning in the third century, BC, the Great Wall of China averages twenty to twenty-three feet high with guard towers spaced at regular intervals. Around 1474, construction on the Great Wall of China, as we know it, began in earnest. However, its presence didn’t stop the Manchus from broaching the wall and conquering China in the 1600s, setting up the Qing Dynasty to rule for 250 years.
The Walls of Troy in Turkey withstood ten years of attacks by the Greeks memorialized by Homer in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Archeologists found nine Troys built on top of each other. Every time a town was destroyed, a new one was built on top of it. The sixth from the bottom is thought to be Homer’s Troy penetrated by the Trojan Horse. Yet another example of a wall failing to prevent intruders from entering.
Hadrian’s Wall, named for the Roman emperor Hadrian, was built in England and consisted of seventy-three miles of walls, forts, and gates with guard posts. The wall was fifteen feet high and ten feet wide, and too failed to get the job done. Built around AD 122, Hadrian’s Wall marked the northern limit of Britannica, separating the barbarians from the Roman Empire. Around AD 180, marauding tribes breached the wall and murdered the general and troops guarding the wall’s fort. Eventually the Romans left Britain and the stones in Hadrian’s Wall were taken to build castles, churches, houses, and other buildings until the 18th century when it was decided to preserve what was left.
The Walls of Ston in Croatia, with its series of defensive forts and towers, are one of Europe’s longest. Started in 1333 and taking around 400 years to build, it protected the city of Dubrovnik and its salt pans from marauding hordes. Dubrovnik has been producing salt for 4,000 years and the Walls of Ston, sixteen to thirty-two feet high, were never destroyed by invaders. The walls were last used defensively in the 19th Century by the Yugoslav army and are an example of the rare case where a walled system worked.
The Sacsayhuaman Walls built by the Inca in Peru were thought to be more for religious observances and storage than defense. Begun in the mid-15th century, the walls are a feat of engineering. While they didn’t keep the Spaniards out when they were used for defense, the massive structures withstood centuries of earthquakes.
The Berlin Wall was built beginning on August 12th, 1961, by the East German government in Berlin. Rather than keeping people out, the heavily guarded concrete barrier aimed to keep people in. Originally constructed of barbed wire with a phalanx of sentries, it eventually was improved upon, ultimately consisting of a solid, concrete block wall twelve feet high. Regardless of its imposing presence and its heavy fortifications, 5,000 East Germans managed to escape across it while 140 were killed trying. Westerners dubbed the Berlin Wall the “Wall of Shame.” On November 9th, 1989, I sat in my father’s hospital room watching coverage of the Berlin Wall being torn apart. As we watched, my father, William Wilkins, a WWII veteran, said, “I never thought I’d live to see that wall come down.”
Gated communities serve as protection for the wealthy in the modern world. For example, Tuxedo Park in Orange County New York, built in the United States for Episcopalians in the 1880s, consists of 2,600 acres providing privacy, protection, and prestige to those who can afford to live there. It’s estimated around nine million Americans live in gated communities and about one-fifth of our population would like to live in one today.
Are residents safe in gated communities? Not necessarily research shows. On the evening of February 26th, 2012, for example, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, armed with a bottle of Arizona fruit juice and a bag of Skittles, was shot and killed in his father’s gated community while walking home from a convenience store. The man who shot him lived in the same gated community, had a prior criminal history, and went on to be involved in several more brushes with the law including domestic violence and threats made with his gun.
Despite the assurance that a wall will keep out crime, statistics show we should be more worried about the people who are already inside the wall. According to Factcheck.org, “The arrest rate for illegal immigrants was forty percent below that of native-born Americans, and the homicide arrest rate for native-born Americans was “about forty-six percent higher than the illegal immigrant homicide arrest rate.” That leads to the question of whether our tax dollars are better spent on fact-based crime prevention like reducing poverty, eliminating racism, accessible treatment for mental health issues like depression and anger, drug treatment, quality education, and reducing family dysfunction and abuse, as well as modern, proven methods of controlling our borders, north, east, west and south.