Adventures in Irony is a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
As I write this Trump is threatening a partial shutdown of the government by midnight if he doesn’t get the border wall he wants. This helps me focus my mind, in particular on this idea: “The border wall Trump wants.”
He has stopped calling for a plain opaque concrete wall. He now wants a barrier that consists of vertical steel slats assembled close enough to each other so you can look through to the other side. It’s much less intrusive. We will have the most tasteful border wall ever. No one’s valuable border real estate will completely lose its view of picturesque Sonora or Baja or Nuevo León.
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that a man who apparently has never read any history book for longer than it takes to form the thought “I’m so smart to be reading this,” has no concept of what abject failures most border walls have been or what really good ones look like.
What does a bad border wall look like? My favorite example of a bad border wall is the Antonine Wall from the Firth of Clyde to the Firth of Forth. The wall itself could not have possibly kept any Scots from invading south and clubbing Romans, were it not for manned garrisons every two miles along the length of it, ready to swoop in if any Scotsmen showed up who knew what ladders were good for.
The Trojan Wall, of course, illustrated how a wall with a gate in it is only as good as the wits of the gatekeepers. “Oh, horsey.”
The Great Wall of China was great to look at but didn’t keep the Mongols out. It turns out that the Mongols had crazy tricks of geometry like “going around.”
OK, then, what does a really good border wall look like?
I’ve already given out a big hint. Good border walls are only as good as their defenders. The Antonine Wall was probably not too bad during the time it was heavily defended by an army. But as soon as the Romans abandoned it — because it was sucking up resources — the wall turned into a tourist destination.
But some walls have been fantastically effective and made more efficient use of guards than others.
The crème de la crème of border walls was the Berlin Wall surrounding West Berlin and built by the communist East German government in 1961. It was justified as needed to keep sneaky Western agents from entering East Germany and bringing their corrupt Western ways and ideas in. The East German government specifically did not want microwaves, Coca-Cola, mini-skirts, or beehive hairdos spoiling the communist paradise.
The authorities played down what was then known in the West as the “brain drain,” the rush of trained professionals from the Eastern Bloc to the West
The Berlin Wall was fantastic at keeping East Germans from escaping to West Berlin, though. It was not just a wall. It was a whole complex of defenses. It was actually two parallel walls with a so-called death strip in between, along with wire fences. It had guardhouses with views all along the death strip. The death strip had features like raked sand and gravel so fresh footprints would stand out, and beds of nails to discourage running.
There were strategically placed heavy concrete barriers on the East German side to keep people from driving cars or trucks at the wall in order to punch through it.
The Berlin Wall had entrances from the East German side so that soldiers could swarm the death strip in large numbers if ever needed. There were also provisions for quickly deploying armored vehicles in an invasion of West Berlin, if they ever got around to that.
There was barbed wire; there were plenty of guard dogs and Czech hedgehogs (anti-tank barriers).
The whole system was so effective they evidently never bothered to install landmines in the death strip.
Trump’s vision of a pretty border wall that doesn’t obstruct views and has no ugly features like death strips and barbed wire is monumentally pathetic.
Also, to quote my wife, Anitra, “Trump is no Nebuchadnezzar II (who ordered the beautiful Ishtar Gate of Babylon built).”
If he’s going to spend billions of dollars of taxpayer money on a long border wall with Mexico, the least he could do is arrange to build one that’s going to work. Or if it’s just going to be for show, get some glazed stone and cool bas-reliefs of dragons, bulls and lions in there.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since.
Read the full Dec. 26 - Jan. 1 issue.
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