Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Border: A wall or a Barrier?

In the current flap over building a wall between Mexico and the United States, it would be well to keep in mind Robert Frost’s injunction “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That “something” is that a wall is a barrier.

In the case of a “wall” between the United States and Mexico, a wall is a manifestation of conflict, just as the Berlin Wall was a manifestation of conflict. Essentially, conflict is an interactive process or behavior. That’s why the Berlin Wall escalated the Cold War. And why a wall be-tween the United States and Mexico will only escalate the enmity between the two countries.

Ronald Reagan’s plea to Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”—referring to the Berlin Wall—is not what brought down the wall. On the contrary, it was Mikhail Gorbachev’s response that brought down the wall. Instead of escalating the cycle of conflict, the Soviet leader chose to ignore the rhetoric of conflict and for whatever reasons take the first step in repairing U.S.—Soviet relations. There is no doubt that the U.S.—Soviet conflict had developed mutually destructive patterns of interactive behavior, the consequences of which heralded Armageddon.

When asked about the U.S.—Mexico wall in a 2006 visit to the United States, Mikhail Gorbachev responded that the United States seemed to be building the Great Wall of China between itself and Mexico (Midland Reporter-Telegram, 10/18/2006).

In the current American rhetoric about controlling the nation’s borders the question looms large: Why on the one hand did the U.S. want the Berlin Wall torn down and on the other hand does it want to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico? There is no evading the possibility of racism and selective amnesia about the history of walls.

While the Berlin Wall did function as the perimeter of a "prison" state, its principal objective was to keep out extra-territorial influences that were anathema to the state dictum of the Soviet Union. A U.S. wall on its border with Mexico has the same objectives -- to keep out extra-territorial influences (the uninvited, the unwelcome, the Undesirable, and the unwanted) that are deemed anathema to the apodictic values of the United States

In Europe and well understood the nature of the Berlin Wall. But a wall between the United States and Mexico is not about penetrability. It’s about “good neighbors.” Why not a wall between the United States and Canada? Or a wall along the Florida coast to keep out Cubans? The inference is that Canadians and fleeing Cubans are good neighbors; Mexicans are not?.
Will a wall between the United States and Mexico help the United States in controlling its border with Mexico?.

In a piece on “Fences and Neighbors,” Rick Toone characterized the U.S.—Mexico wall as “a shining symbol of American economic and environmental arrogance.” And in a article (Sunday, May 27, 2007; B01), Luis Alberto Urrea quotes the Mexican consul in Tucson calling the U.S.—Mexico wall “the politics of stupidity.” In the National Geographic (May 2007), Charles Bowden concludes that “Fences may make good neighbors, but the barriers dividing U.S. and Mexico are proving much more complicated.

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