General George Patton gave a famous quote, “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can be overcome.”
The secure fence act of 2006 authorized the United States to spend $1.2 Billion to construct 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. Mexico border. The border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is nearly 2000 miles long. The question a history fan will ask: Is this a good idea?
We always hear how history repeats itself. I want to take a look at several examples of walls or fences that were constructed to divide international borders. How have the defense walls done throughout history? Let’s examine several walls to see if they were successful.
The Great Wall of China:
The Great Wall stretches over approximately 4,160 miles in total. At its peak, the Wall was guarded by more than one million men. It has been estimated that somewhere in the range of 2 to 3 million Chinese died as part of the centuries-long project of building the wall.
Did it work? The Wall was built to defend China from invasions from the north. In 1115, the Manchu invade from the north and conquer China. In 1264 the Mongols conquered China and begun the Yuan Dynasty. In 1644 The Ching (Manchuria) Dynasty invades takes over power from the Ming.
The Great Wall last served to defend China from Japanese invasion from Manchuria during WWII. While the defensive fortification did manage to slow down invasions over the last two centuries, the invaders found a way over, around, and through the Great Wall time and time again.
Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a Wall across Britain in 122 C.E. separating the northern territory held by the Scots and Picts (Two separate tribes of native peoples) from the rest of Roman Britain. The wall was 80 miles long and 3 meters wide by 5-6 meters high. The Scots and Picts raided Romano British villages, then returned to the highlands where it was difficult for Roman Legions to find them. They were the insurgents of their time.
The invasions continued even with the wall in place. Another wall was built even further north, but it still did not stop the raids. Eventually the British hired the Anglo-Saxons (A Germanic barbarian tribe) to assist them in fighting the Picts and Scots. Who better to fight a Barbarian than a Barbarian right? Well the Anglo-Saxon’s decided that while they were there, why not just take over the British cities as well. It was easier to attack a standing army with rich cities than fight the guerilla tactics of the Scots and Picts with no real wealth to pillage. Even with the heroics of the legendary Romano-British leader Arthur, The British were forced to move west into modern Wales while the Anglo-Saxon’s took control of most of Britain renaming it England. They have been there ever since.
New Amsterdam Wall:
New Amsterdam settlement in present day lower Manhattan Island constructed a wall along its northern border in the 1640’s to protect Dutch settlers from Indian attacks. Later, the Dutch West India Company constructed a stockade. By the time war had developed with the English, a strengthened 12-foot wall was fortified by palisades. In 1664, British ships sailed to the port and seized control of the city without ever having to penetrate the Wall. The Fur traders along the Hudson River would meet at the Wall to exchange goods. When the British took the Wall down, they built a street in its place and named it Wall Street. This informal fur trading center eventually became the New York Stock Exchange.
The Maginot Line and the Atlantic Wall:
German invasions into France had been occurring since the Roman Empire. Following the Great War, France constructed a series of fortifications and defenses along the border with Germany. In 1936 Hitler militarized the Rhineland breaking the treaty of Versailles that ended WWI. France countered by heavily reinforcing the Maginot line. In 1940, Germany engaged the French with small holding attacks against the Maginot line, and sent its main force through Belgium and Holland into an unprotected France. Germany’s Right Hook caught France on the chin and Paris fell before the French troops at the Maginot Line could react. The Allies lost 2,292,000 troops due to the failed Maginot line Defense including 1.8 Million French troops who surrendered. The British successfully evacuated 300,000 troops from Dunkirk before they could be captured.
Germany did not learn from this wall defense strategy. After the capture of mainland Europe, they built an Atlantic Wall to keep the Allies from launching a counter-offensive into Europe. On June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion of Normandy breached the Atlantic wall and advanced inland in only a few hours of fighting.
The Berlin Wall:
After Soviet occupation of Berlin during WWII, the mass migration to the west began. Germans wanted to be in the U.S./British West instead of the Communist controlled East. The Berlin wall was built in 1961 to keep people in instead of keeping people out. So East Germany was essentially a prison. The wall divided families, and kept people from their jobs. The wall did not stop people from escaping. An estimated 5,000 Germans illegally crossed into West Germany by tunnels, canals, trains, and even hot air balloons. A standing order to shoot anyone trying to cross was in effect until the wall fell. An estimated 200 people were killed attempting to cross the border. The last death was in 1989, where 31 year old Chris Gueffroy was shot by guards.
The Iron Curtain was opened in Hungary in August, 1989, and 13,000 East Germans poured out of the country. Czechoslovakia soon followed suit. Nearly a million people protested outside the wall throughout 1989. In order to ease the complications, the politburo decided on November 9, 1989, to allow people to exit directly through crossing points for business purposes with proper approval. The announcement went out on Television, but the restrictions were not mentioned. Tens of Thousands of Berliners immediately flooded the border checks and demanded exit from East Berlin. The overwhelmed guards opened the gates and November 9, 1989 became the day the Wall fell.
So, in conclusion, walls do not work. They are a waste of time and money. Rivers, deserts and mountains are crossed by illegal immigrants every day. How is a fence going to keep people out? The border fence is a ridiculous proposal that will do more harm than good for the security of the United States. The thought of defense is totally backward. The solution is offense.
How do you keep illegal immigrants out of the United States? How about spending the $1.2 billion on economic revitalization programs in Mexican border cities? U.S. engineers and construction companies could get back to work by building power plants, roads, factories, bridges etc. They could finally build a sewer system that actually works. The labor would come from Mexican workers. If they have jobs, they would not come here. A fence does not keep illegals out, it keeps them in! With all the jobs created in Mexico, there would be an emigration of migrant workers back to Mexico. Isn’t that really what we all want?