Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Two Walls Not to Like

The Wall on the U.S. southern border is a barrier of shame.

I think of Robert Frost’s timeless line, “Something there is that doesn’t like a wall.”

We hated the Berlin Wall throughout its some 25 years of miserable existence and joined the recent anniversary celebration of its collapse. Some people still imagine that Reagan’s words alone toppled it, as if the pope and the Solidarity movement never existed, and prompting the joke that when Ronnie said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he was standing at the Vietnam Memorial.

Berlin’s wall kept people in, and became a symbol of oppression and injustice. We all detest being “walled in” or “walled off” from anything, whether from opportunity, our potential and especially our freedom. Frost was right: something in us doesn’t like such walls.

Of course, we like that new monstrosity on our own southern border– the one that keeps people out. How, after all these years of enduring Berlin’s wall and exulting at its downfall, can we keep a straight face at the existence of that defamation of freedom?

History is full of ironies and, more disgracefully, of anecdotal information and self-serving untruths. All kinds of nonsense is believed about the Berlin Wall–that it was built by Stalin, when it wasn’t; that it was Russia’s fabrication instead of East Germany’s. The Commies fully expected us to tear it down from the first appearance of its barbed-wire and initial concrete installations, and Eastern guards readily allowed refugees through, often holding barriers aside to assist their passage, smiles on the faces of all concerned.

But Kennedy and Co. called their bluff by letting it all proceed, and deprived the East of another brief Soviet-style confrontation, the USSR’s stock in trade. But the brain-drain had already occurred, along with arrival in the West of the most able-bodied Eastern populace, and the flow of immigration was getting to be a problem.

Kennedy chose to let them seal it off, take the blame for the halt to immigration, and the East was left to finish what it only wanted to start: a big, expensive installation complete with the burden of maintenance and a big black eye on their propaganda, to boot. Give Kennedy an A+ for that one. Actually, most history books said little about the Wall till much later because, in truth, the symbolism was more than its actual strategic importance.

So we hate walls built by others but love those we erect to serve our own political purposes. Our policies have left Mexico and much of South America under our thumb and in dire poverty. Two countries that tried to destroy us in World War II became beneficiaries of American largesse in the aftermath: we didn’t want Germany to go Communist, and Japan’s location on the map is why we rebuilt it too, and now both thrive in ways that Mexico can only dream of.

To visit Mexico in this Year of our Lord, on the other hand, is to see what is virtually a Third World nation–thanks to us. The pressure of poverty forces them northward and they have migratory pressure from their own southern border from people even poorer than they–who head for the U.S. too but find they can be slightly better off in Mexico and avoid a language barrier, so they stop and stay. Small wonder a Mexican leader famously said, “Poor Mexico–So far from God, so close to the United States!”

In his “Mending Wall” poem, Frost hears someone say that “good fences make good neighbors,” and Frost responds,
Why do they make good neighbors?…
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
what I was walling in or walling out,
and to whom I’d give offense.”
And then concludes,
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
that wants it down.”

So here’s to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and may it not be twenty years before we dismantle that impolitic barrier that separates us from our nearest friends: Mexico. Too bad our generation already has demonized them.

So Berlin’s Wall at last is down, and ours is newly up.

Hey, world: how cool is that?

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