A Meditation on the Building of Walls

Good fences make good neighbors, but such walls can be individually and societally dangerous. Especially when they separate you from reality — and from your heart’s best instincts. That’s why impeachment is a necessity, ASAP.

I know there is truth in poet Robert Frost’s famous line in “Mending Wall” (quoting the man living next door) that “good fences make good neighbors.” But, in a political context, I can’t help but also believe that the creation of barriers between human beings is a testament to failure, and is often self-destructive at that.

Frost’s own voice in the poem raises the reasonable thought: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out…”

In my college days, I got to hear the Great American Poet read “Mending Wall” — all sensitive and silver-haired and incredibly ancient, it seemed to me — and was impressed by Frost’s calmness and clarity of thought. He came across as a wise, gentle soul.

I was entranced by the grand metaphor with which he was working. Consider: A fence, a wall, can be built to keep something out (the Great Wall of China) or something in (the Berlin Wall). That could be people, or ideas.

On a larger scale, walls and other barriers are designed to protect the status quo and stop change in its tracks. But before we get deeper into that thought, let’s examine just a few fences and walls, and see if and how they work.


  • The Berlin Wall was designed to keep East Germany’s put-upon residents, chafing under their bleak Communist rule, from fleeing to the lively, prosperous West, and to try to keep Western ideas and practices from penetrating into regimented East Germany society. There were periodic escapes over, around and under the Wall, but, by and large, the barrier worked for nearly three decades: East Germany became a locked-down society in all senses of that term. Eventually, the Wall, which had become a larger-than-life symbol of Cold War repression, was torn down as Communist rule decomposed in the Eastern Bloc.

  • Israel has nearly finished its giant Wall of Separation, ostensibly to keep out would-be Palestinian terrorists. It seems to have worked to a large extent in this regard, but is no less controversial. Israel claims that the wall is “temporary,” and easily could be removed if and when peace arrives in the Middle East. In other words, it’s permanent. Rather than bringing peace and quiet, the wall exacerbates anger and resentment. In building it, the Israelis carried out a blatant annexation of Palestinian land that stands as a clear impediment to peace; indeed, it is a gross incitement to continued violence, since major Israeli settlements, on land supposedly reserved for Palestinians, are now placed on the Israel side of the wall.

  • The Bush Administration is starting to build parts of a huge barrier fence along the Mexican border to keep out hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants seeking a better life in the U.S. Whether that wall will be effective is problematic; it’s virtually impossible to seal a several-thousand mile border. (And let us not forget that there is also a fairly porous border to the north of the United States, also several thousand miles long.) As with so many such barriers, the border fences envisioned for the Southwest are designed more for domestic-political reasons — although they do not take into account the power of the agribusiness lobby, which wants cheap, non-unionized labor to harvest America’s crops.

  • As a way of tamping down the sectarian violence in Baghdad, the U.S. military has constructed a huge concrete barrier around a Sunni neighborhood, ostensibly to keep Shia death-squads from entering. The local residents claim they are being ghettoized — using the analogy of the Warsaw Ghetto where the Nazis crowded Jews — and thus are more vulnerable with the wall in place since the residents are more tempting targets, massed all in one place. Also, they complain, it’s more difficult for them to escape when the wall is breached by killers — or when those guarding the entry and exit turn out to be their executioners.

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