Monday, April 23, 2007

A World Of Walls

Some walls are good. For example, the walls of a house keep the elements out and provide a safe and secure environment within. However, not all walls are quite so benign.

One of the earliest examples of a less good wall is The Great Wall of China. This wall has a long and complex history, having been built and rebuilt by successive ruling dynasties. The wall is around 4,000 miles long and stretches from Shanhai Pass in the East to Lop Nur in the West. The purpose of the Great Wall, although it actually served many, was for the most part to keep China safe from attack from enemies. Thus, it had a defensive function. However, it also, at various times, became one of the mechanisms that was used to ensure the unification of China. In cases where the local inhabitants, and their local chiefs, may have been less than entirely thrilled about central control, it also served as a symbol of dynastic authority.

A slightly later wall is the wall that was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 76–138). Although Hadrian's Wall has now become a major tourist attraction, it was originally constructed, in AD 122, to keep the the tribes who lived in what is now Scotland from raiding. As such, the wall formed one of the Northern boundaries of the Roman Empire. The wall is constructed from stone and turf and largely still exists today. It has a length of around eighty miles and runs from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the East, to the shore of the Solway Firth, to the West. The point to note here though is that this wall was built by an oppressive invading power, as a means of suppressing the native inhabitants of the area.

Perhaps the most famous wall of the Twentieth Century was the Berlin Wall. Construction of the wall began in August, 1961. It was a symbol of the oppression of the peoples of the Eastern bloc until it was dismantled, beginning in November, 1989. The primary purpose of the wall was to prevent people leaving the East for the West. Indeed, the Berlin Wall stood as the iconic symbol of the whole era of the cold war.

From these three examples, it should be quite clear that walls have historically had an association with oppressive regimes, of one kind or another. Unfortunately, walls of this kind are still with us today. The Israeli Separation Wall that was recently constructed, supposedly to prevent attacks from Palestinian territories, has been subject to much criticism, and has been ruled illegal by some courts. However, Israel is not the only nation engaged in wall building these days.

It seems that the US is now getting into the wall building business. Last year, a plan for a US-Mexican Barrier was announced. Do not be fooled by the semantics. A barrier is a wall, by another name. In the last few days, people in Iraq started protesting about walls being erected in the al-Adhamiyah in east Baghdad. These walls are being built at night by the US military and are unpopular with the Iraqi government. However, there do not appear to be any plans to stop building this wall, just yet.

The reason that these recent US wall building plans and activities are of concern though has to do with the history of the earlier walls. The Roman Empire did not last too long after Hadrian completed his wall. Although China has remained, the various wall building dynasties did not last. The Berlin Wall had an especially short life-span. Given these precedents, should we be concerned about the recent enthusiasm for wall building by the US? It seems to me that concern would be prudent. However, if these walls are just symbolic of the immanent demise of the incompetent Bush administration, then this may not be too bad. We shall see.

The CP

4 Comments:

Blogger sonia said...

supposedly to prevent attacks from Palestinian territories

More like 'certainly'. And it works. There have been a big drop in suicide bombing since the wall is up...

11:04 AM  
Blogger roman said...

The negative connotation made between the earlier wall debacles and the current ones is not definitive. The Mexico/US barrier actually works amd so does the Baghdad wall. When a six ton dumptruck laden with explosives driven by a suicide jihadist comes barrelling at you, a fence just won't do. Different times, different circumstances.

3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

supposedly to prevent attacks from Palestinian territories,

Your accusation is absurd. Israel is a free society with a very open press-so it wouldn't be hard to know the facts. The fact is that it was the Israeli left that was initially in favor of the wall for many years. Sharon was against this, as were others on the right, as they were opposed to territorial concessions and felt that a wall would be a symbol of splitting up what the right always felt was "greater Israel".
However, when daily terrorist bombings became a horrific reality, when people were terrified to ride a bus knowing that they might not make it home (and many didn't), and when stopping terrorism became a national goal that united left and right, the wall went up. And it has been successful.
Why do people like you believe Israelis have to sit back and allow themselves to be bombed?
-We're criticized if we try to minimize civilian deaths by killing the leaders of the terrorists (targeted assasinations)
-we're criticized if we attack the terrorist hubs (jenin)
- we're criticized if we build a wall to keep the terrorists out.

So what would you have us do?
Give them a state? We've tried to do that and where has it gotten us? The vast majority of Israelis are in favor of a Palestinian state. The problem is getting to one that is peaceful and not bent on our destruction. Oh, and by the way, Hamas has never claimed that if we gave them a full state that would make any difference. Only annihilation of the Jewish state is acceptable.

Should we disengage? Lot of good that did, huh?

It's easy to give armchair criticism. Let me ask you--if you lived in a country where there were daily terrorist attacks and literally everyone was afraid on a daily basis, would you expect your country to do nothing? If you lived in Texas and the terrorists were coming from Mexico, would you be so opposed to a wall to keep them out?
Yaron

3:48 PM  
Blogger The Combat Philosopher said...

Anon and others,
You fail to read carefully enough. I merely reported what has been said elsewhere. If the walls were not built to prevent attacks, then what the hell are they there for? Is that not what they were 'supposed' to do? There is no 'accusation' here. Also, the Israeli walls remarks are used here as a simple transitional device, between the discussion of older walls and more modern ones. This is a minor point, in the broader discussion. So, please chill!

The CP

9:01 PM  

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