The History Of Border Walls: Do They Work?
The history of border walls demonstrates that President Trump has made a bold move with his government shutdown strategy. In fact, the history of border walls shows that such barriers have achieved both great success and spectacular failure depending on the situation.
Historically, a wide variety of governments ranging from Romans to Communists built border walls. However, the overall history of border walls reveals that such structures only work under certain conditions.
As shocking as it may seem, border walls do often work against the threats governments design them to stop. Notwithstanding, border walls rarely keep out greater threats that leaders do not expect.
The History Of Border Walls Shows When Walls Work: The Great Wall Of China
The biggest, most famous, and most successful border wall in history is the Great Wall of China. Notably, the Great Wall is over 5,500 miles long and 28 centuries old.
In particular, the Great Wall helped preserve China as the world’s oldest and most successful nation. For example, the Great Wall kept out some invaders and allowed China’s emperors to collect customs duties.
Significantly, the Ming Dynasty (1388-1644) built the current Great Wall. The current wall was partially successful because it kept out central Asian invaders such as the Mongols. Nevertheless, the Wall did not stop the Manchus, a northern Chinese people, from conquering China and setting up the Qin Dynasty in 1644.
In addition, the Great Wall provided no protection from a far more dangerous group of invaders, European colonialists who arrived by ship. For instance, the Great Wall did not stop British, Indian, and French forces from sacking Beijing and looting the Imperial Palace during the Second Opium War in 1860.
As a result, the resources spent maintaining the Great Wall could have been better utilized on a Chinese Navy. Then again, it’s important to remember that a wall will never solve every security and defense issue on its own.
The History Of Border Walls In Roman Times
The most famous Roman wall was Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. This structure’s purpose was to contain Roman imperialism and prevent overexpansion rather than to keep invaders out. To explain, Emperor Hadrian was trying to avoid a costly Roman occupation of Scotland.
Consequently, Hadrian built a wall clear across the island of Great Britain. The idea was to protect Roman Britain from Scottish raids without occupying Scotland.
In essence, Hadrian’s Wall marks the northern boundary of Roman Britain. Furthermore, some historians believe that the purpose of Hadrian’s Wall was to control immigration.
Hadrian’s wall ultimately worked, as it kept Scotland and Roman Britain (England and Wales) as separate countries with separate languages and cultures for centuries. Moreover, Hadrian’s Wall runs along today’s English/Scottish border.
The History Of Border Walls That Work: The Walls Of Constantinople
The walls of Constantinople may be the most successful fortification in human history.
Specifically, the walls kept Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) safe from invaders for nearly 1,000 years. The walls of Constantinople also kept the city and the Byzantine Empire safe through dozens of sieges.
On the whole, many historians credit the walls of Constantinople with preserving Christianity and western civilization. To elaborate further, Arab forces could not get through the walls during the Siege of Constantinople in 674 AD–678 AD.
The belief is that the Arabs could have overrun all of Europe if they had conquered the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire in its capital of Constantinople. In the final analysis, Europe and America could be Muslim today if it were not for the walls of Constantinople.
Historic Border Walls Eventually Fail At Constantinople
Nonetheless, the walls of Constantinople could not keep out the Catholic knights of the Fourth Crusade. In 1204, the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, looted the city, and set up the so-called Latin (Catholic) Empire of Constantinople.
On the other hand, the Orthodox Christian Greeks would reconquer the city in 1261 and restore the Byzantine Empire. Yet, in 1453, the Ottoman Turkish Forces of Sultan Mehmed II blasted through the walls with cannons during the fall of Constantinople. But no army would enter Constantinople again until 1918 when British forces occupied the city at the end of World War I.
The History Of Border Walls That Did Not Work In The 20th Century
Recent history, though, demonstrates that border walls often fail as well. For example, most of the walls built in the 20th Century are failures.
To illustrate, historians regard the Maginot Line, a series of fortifications on the French/German border, as a spectacular failure. The success of fortresses in World War I had convinced the French army to build the Maginot Line. However, new technologies like airplanes and tanks allowed modern armies to bypass fortresses.
Notably, the Maginot Line failed because it did not cover France’s border with Belgium. As a consequence, the Germans went around the Maginot Line to conquer France in 1940 during World War II. By and large, the fortresses stuck French armies on the Maginot Line while the Germans were already rolling into Paris.
The Atlantic Wall
Conversely, the largest border barrier of the 20th Century, the 3,231-mile long Nazi Atlantic Wall, was partially successful. In particular, the Allies did not attack most of the areas that the Nazis fortified between Norway and Southern France.
Nevertheless, the Allies could pierce the Atlantic Wall in two places. First of all, British, Canadian, and American forces landed far to the west of most German defenses in Normandy at D-Day during June 1944. Secondly, American, French, and British forces made an uncontested landing in the south of France during Operation Dragoon in August 1944.
All in all, the Atlantic Wall was a failure because it did not prevent the invasion of Europe. Additionally, the Atlantic Wall contributed to Nazi Germany’s defeat by diverting forces from the Russian Front, Italy, and North Africa.
The Berlin Wall, The Biggest Wall Failure In History
The most famous wall of the 20th Century, the Berlin Wall, may very well be the most unsuccessful as well.
The Berlin Wall’s original purpose was ostensibly to keep immigrants in the country of East Germany. To explain, East Germany’s communist dictatorship built the wall to keep its citizens from leaving. Notwithstanding, the official name of the Berlin Wall is the Anti-Fascist Bulwark. This is because East German propaganda claimed that the wall kept fascists out of East Germany.
The Berlin Wall is a failure because its fall in 1989 signaled the end of East Germany and the Cold War. Altogether, East Germany’s end came when two million people from East Berlin flooded through the Anti-Fascist Bulwark to enjoy freedom in West Berlin.
Notable moments in Berlin Wall history include speeches by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and a concert by David Hasselhoff. Oddly enough, Hasselhoff gave a concert at the wall on New Year’s Eve 1989, which was the night it came down.
In fact, the Baywatch and Knight Rider star is a major pop singer in Germany. Moreover, Hasselhoff’s ballad Looking for Freedom is a beloved song in East Germany.
The History Of Border Walls Is Still Incomplete
In conclusion, history teaches us that walls work best against expected enemies and threats. As we’ve seen, the Great Wall of China was no defense against British warships in the 19th Century.
So, Trump’s border wall could certainly hinder illegal immigrants from Central America. However, the wall would be no barrier to seaborne migrants from countries like Venezuela. Significantly, the Brookings Institution predicts that eight million refugees could flee hyperinflation and political turmoil in Venezuela this year. Only the future will tell us if Trump’s wall will work effectively, but should undocumented immigrants be able to simply walk across the border without any deterrence whatsoever?
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Do you have any other thoughts or observations on the history of border walls? Will President Trump’s border wall work? Let us know in the comments below.
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