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Thoughts On Wall-Building

It wasn’t too long ago that President Reagan in a speech in Berlin exhorted the leader of the Soviet Union to “tear down this Wall!” Now we are talking about building one of our own along the entire Mexican border.

I must admit early on that I am not much of a fancier for walls resolving anything. If they are built permanently and “real big,” then they might someday become a tourist attraction — like the Great Wall of China. But, even in its day, the Great Wall didn’t help much to stop the eventual destruction of the Ming Dynasty. It wasn’t the threat of Mongol hordes overrunning China as much as the internal rot of the entrenched dynasties themselves that precipitated their failure.

If anything, walls give you a false sense of security. Fences may keep the “riff-raff” out of your backyard for a while, but eventually, without neighborliness prevailing, the neighborhood will fall apart. Fencing someone out means that you are also fencing yourself in.

For centuries, hard borders around the nations of Europe kept national identities homogeneous; but they also guaranteed a lot of wars. People were never satisfied as to where the fences should be and so the solution was to go to war in order to expand your backyard. Frankly, I have been heartened by the development of the European Common Market, the Euro and the establishment of a European federal union of sorts. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has expanded the concept of what is the “common good” in an area of the world which has had a long history of war.

Another experience of my own makes me suspicious of walls. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War and at the end of that whole sad episode, people found a way to escape — primarily by small boats. If we totally blocked land access from Canada and Mexico with border walls, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect that our shores could then become subject to “boat people” arriving to become U.S. citizens? Then would we have to build fences all along our coasts in order to keep ourselves safe? Border walls in front of beach condos? I don’t think so, but where would it stop?

At the end of the day, philosophically, I just don’t like fences or walls. They may be needed to contain livestock or even pets and required to imprison convicted felons. But, for human beings in general, I think they are a surrender to fear and insecurity. If people enter our country illegally, they should be prosecuted or dealt with under the law. But walls every place? Not for me. In America, it is the very idea of our being a free and law-abiding people which should be our best defense. I have heard enough of walls.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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