Donald Trump is short on specifics when it comes to policy decisions he would make as president, but one thing is clear: he wants to build a big wall on our border with Mexico. Not only would this be enormously expensive, but also a colossal waste. Throughout the history of the world, great empires have constructed fortifications to defend their borders. Today, those barriers lie in ruins wherever they have not been utterly destroyed. Below are the most famous examples of these monuments to obsolescence which have–without exception–fallen to invasions, upheavals, and neglect.
Perhaps the most famous wall of all, the Great Wall was actually a series of many walls and, contrary to urban legend, is no more visible from space than any other man-made structure. The Great Wall was initially built to defend against Mongolian invasions, but was overrun by the Manchu when a traitorous general opened the gates in order to ally himself with the invaders to avenge the murder of his family at the hands of the rebellious Shun faction. The Manchu went on to defeat the Ming dynasty as well as the rebellious self-proclaimed Shun emperor and established the Qing dynasty. As the Qing expanded their rule over Mongolian lands, the wall became obsolete. Besides, no wall can defend against internal divisions and strife. Donald Trump has built his campaign on sowing division, discord, and distrust. When his wall is finished, what will be left inside it worth defending?
After difficulty subduing the native Pictish tribes of the Scottish Lowlands under the reign of Trajan, the Roman Empire pulled back to a frontier very close to the modern-day border between England and Scotland. However, most evidence suggests that the wall was more symbolic than practical as the Picts crossed the boundary often, not in arms, but to trade. Today, England and Scotland are both part of the United Kingdom and the overgrown and decaying wall is a lovely scenic backdrop for picnics. Likewise, Trump’s wall will do little to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and smuggled narcotics. Maybe it will make for good photo opportunities for both supporters and opponents of more liberal immigration policy, but unless Trump plans on halting all trade and tourism the one thing it will not do is keep anyone out.
Unlike previous walls, the Iron Curtain and the wall surrounding the enclave of West Berlin were constructed to keep people in. During the Cold War, the Soviets improved their border defenses from simple barbed wire fencing to multiple layers of walls and guard towers at strategic locations. In Berlin, buildings were demolished and “ghost stations” on the subway were closed. All this was not enough to stop thousands of people from risking their lives to make it to freedom. In 1989, massive protests erupted in response to the weakening of restrictions under Gorbachev and today, most of the wall sections have been dismantled or ground to dust. Whether Donald Trump likes it or not, it is far too late to stop the demographic changes that he rails against and even if we could, people will continue to risk their lives to come to America. Future generations of Americans will have no reason to maintain a wall that separates us from our cousins to the south. Perhaps, like the Berlin Wall, spray-painted chunks of Trump’s folly will be preserved only in museums.
Despite having proved the ineffectiveness of fixed fortifications in his own invasion of France, Hitler pursued a megalomaniacal program of massive construction along the coast of the English Channel and the North Sea to protect against the inevitable Allied counterattack. Just as with the Maginot Line, advances in mobility, firepower, armor, and tactics made the Atlantic Wall obsolete from the start. On D-Day, special operations teams, sappers, paratroopers, glider transports, aerial carpet bombing, and a devastating naval barrage destroyed in a matter of hours the fortifications that took millions of forced laborers years to build. Trump claims he would have the Mexicans pay for a wall along the Rio Grande, but as this is unlikely, maybe he plans on rounding up Mexicans in prison camps to do the job. Moreover, if Mexicans can’t be trusted to come live in this country, why would Trump trust them to build our defenses? Like the French under Nazi rule, they would almost certainly sabotage the project and intentionally create weak points for later exploitation.
The Crusader armies brought their techniques for castle-building to the Holy Land and constructed many imposing fortresses in an attempt to control the native population. Over time, these citadels fell, one-by-one to Muslim armies. The coastal city Acre was one of the longest to hold on, but after a century of being held by the Christians after the loss of Jerusalem to Saladin, it fell to the Mamluks signaling the effective end of the Crusades. By arguing for a wall, Donald Trump puts America on the same defensive, defeatist path to annihilation. America is strongest when we project power abroad and provide a generous welcome at home. If we shut ourselves up inside a fortress while dangerous forces wreak havoc around the world, the rest of the world will conclude that they no longer need us–and they will be right.