Walls have long been a simple solution to complex problems. You know, good fences make good neighbours and all that. Spend a few days in civil court and you might find that’s not exactly true.
Still, whenever people have had a problem they have resorted to walls as a solution – either to keep people out or to keep people in. The Chinese built the Great Wall – which is not the only human construction that can be seen from space – to keep out the Mongol hordes. It was moderately successful. Of course it was built over many centuries so until it was done, the hordes could always go around.
Hadrian built a wall that is still standing near the ancient border between England and Scotland. He was worried about the Picts. And why not? Anybody who would paint themselves blue and fight naked in the Scottish climate would be someone to be worried about.
The Russians built a wall – though not in Russia. The built it along the borders between Eastern and Western Europe and most notably in Berlin. The purpose was not to keep people out but to keep them in. Many of those lucky enough to live under the Soviet heel often took to their own heels and headed west. The Israelis have built a wall to keep Palestinians out but not, unfortunately, to keep Settlers in.
The Americans have built walls along the Mexican border – a bit like shutting the barn door after 11 million horses have left but better late than… well, maybe a more rational immigration policy would serve them better than a very porous wall. Now Scott Walker, governor of one of those piddly-ass states somewhere in Middle America (I can never keep those insignificant ones straight) wants to build a wall along the Canadian border even though the cost estimates suggest it would bankrupt America once and for all. I for one am fully supportive – after Florida sinks under the waves and California finally burns down completely, we’ll need a wall to keep all those climate refugees from heading north to steal our water, jobs and women.
Now, for the first time in several decades, people in Europe are building walls again, threatening the central principals upon which the European Union is built – open borders and the free flow of people and goods across them. Hungary – led by a conservative government – is taking the lead here but they are not alone. England is fortifying the Chunnel to keep people from crossing from Calais and soon, I suspect, other countries will follow suit.
This is all in reaction to the crisis in Syria, Iraq and increasingly other parts of the Middle East – a crisis that is largely of the West’s making. Right now it seems impossible to get a handle on the magnitude of the problem let alone on possible solutions.
Still, I’m sure that a mixture of humanitarian compassion, rational negotiation and finding common cause against barbarians will serve us better in the long run than more walls, either physical or bureaucratic. It won’t be solved by America or Germany or Canada or Russia or China or Saudi Arabia acting alone but maybe together… That’s a wall worth scaling.
And that’s ten minutes.