Nice piece by Olivia B. Waxman of Time.
In the days after President Donald Trump signed an executive order authorizing “immediate” construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, followed by another executive order temporarily prohibiting refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. (and blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely), four words were heard in many places across the United States this weekend: “No Ban! No Wall!”
As thousands of protesters camped out at JFK International Airport in NYC and other international airports nationwide to protest Trump’s actions, the sentiment became a popular one for signs and chants.
But Trump’s wall is not just controversial. A look at which groups have put up walls throughout history—and why—can help us understand just how unique the proposed wall would be.
“The distinctive thing is this is a wall against immigration—and to some degree also contraband drugs and gun-running—whereas historically, the other famous or infamous walls have almost always been about blocking invading armies,” says Wendy Brown, author of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty and professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley.
Superb bit. Discusses many walls and how they came about.
In the end, not all walls are bad. But usually walls are erected under some kind of hostility. US-Mexico share such deep trading with each other and think of a wall here is unprecedented.
“The story of walls as only separators isn’t particularly historically accurate,” says Thomas Oles, author of Walls: Enclosure and Ethics in the Modern Landscape and a professor of landscape architecture at The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. He argues that the Berlin W all is a key reason why Berlin’s art scene is currently thriving, as it became “a place where people could live in a way that diverged from the standards of the rest of Germany.” (Graffiti artists also used the wall itself as a canvas.)
Though it can take time to see the true effects of a wall, rarely is the outcome a mere separating of sides.
“Walls bring people together through the process of their construction or deconstruction,” he says. “They exclude. They include. They divide. And they bind.”
So what does all of this history mean for President Trump?
For one thing, the groups kept separate by a U.S.-Mexico border wall would be an unusual pair for finding themselves on opposite sides of such a structure: as Andreas points out, walls are historically built between nations that are enemies. “Today, Mexico is America’s third-largest trading partner,” he says. “The idea of erecting an almost 2,000-mile long wall between friendly, highly-integrated economies, is unprecedented, historically or today.”
History is always so fascinating…