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David Nightingale: Walls

Part of Hadrian's wall near Housesteads. Photo taken July 2005.
Wikimedia Commons

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ – begins Frost’s famous poem of 1914.  [Ref.1.]

Our boundary with Mexico runs 1954 miles from California through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The sections of wall that already exist are made of concrete and steel, about 17 feet high – but in the poem Frost and his neighbor were just placing stones. Frost wrote, ‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/ What I was walling in or walling out ...’

The now completed wall that separates Yemen from Saudi Arabia is over 1,100 miles long, from the Red Sea in the west to Oman in the east. Begun before 2008 it is to protect against Yemeni hashish traders as well as to keep Al Qaeda terrorists out. Saudi Arabia also has a 540 mile wall with – or perhaps one should say ‘against’ – Iraq.

The heavily guarded Uzbek-Afghan border wall, started in 2001, is 100 miles long, and consists of barbed wire as well as a higher 380 volt barrier.

In England, Hadrian’s Wall, begun in the year 122, and 73 miles long, was built by Emperor Hadrian to keep the Picts and Scots from marauding inside the Roman Empire. It runs east/west, as does the 39 mile long Antonine wall, further north, begun 20 years later.

Pakistan is building a wall against Afghanistan, and Iran is building one against Pakistan.  

Austria has had to build a wall against Slovenia, because the influx of migrants in the 21st century coming up through Slovenia towards Austria and Germany has become uncontrollable. Irrelevantly, every time I look inside my 20-year-old GE refrigerator I see the label ‘made in Slovenia’, the country in which our first lady grew up.

There is a 300 mile long electric fence between Botswana and Zimbabwe, meant to control the spread of foot-and-mouth disease by cattle, as well as the numbers of migrants fleeing Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Between Mozambique and Zimbabwe there are stone walls from previous centuries, some sections of which that can best be described as lovely, with stone turret-lookouts atop the massive walls.

The Great Wall of China was begun a few hundred years BC, and separate sections and routes were built, under different dynasties up into the 1800s. The aggregate is about 4,000 miles, from the Tenger desert region all the way to North Korea. Its purpose was originally to defend against marauding tribes from Mongolia and Russia, as well as to collect duties from traders on the Silk Road. Parts of it of course are a beautiful tourist attraction – which prompts a question: will any of the 21st century walls become such?

This century the globe is becoming more walled, and while Central Americans are fleeing from drug terrorists and failed civilizations, it more often than not comes down to separating rich from poor. Indeed, gated communities abound, basically isolating haves from have-nots.  A few years ago I didn’t think much about the problem, and dismissed the idea of a wall with Mexico, feeling that it wouldn’t work because of ladders and tunnels. Frost wrote:

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.’ ….

But he ends the poem with his neighbor saying, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ 

Perhaps there is a faraway future where they will no longer be needed.


1. Robert Frost: “Mending Wall”, in North of Boston, 1914.

David Nightinglale is an emeritus professor of physics at SUNY New Paltz where he taught for 31 years. His first novel, The Centauri Settlement, is produced by TheBookPatch.com .

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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