One of Robert Frost’s best known lines comes from the poem “Mending Wall”.
First published in 1914 in North of Boston, “Mending Wall” has appeared in many anthologies of poetry. Its famous first line reads, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”
The Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall in England, the Berlin Wall, the concrete barricade between Israel and the West Bank, the wall on the US-Mexico border, and the barbed wire fence between Hungary and Serbia were intended to contain people, to keep them in or out. In recent times, such barriers have been put up to prevent migration.
Along with physical barriers must be counted those uncompromising obstacles erected by the global economy in a world where the rich control 90% of the wealth in developed and developing countries alike.
There are other kinds of barrier that are more sinister and lethal. The longest continuous minefield on the planet is a militarized zone in Western Sahara running for 2,700 kilometres and dividing the Sahrawi people. In 1975, after decades of a violent independence movement, Spain ended more than 90 years of colonial rule of Western Sahara. And when the Spanish left, Morocco sent 350,000 settlers and 20,000 troops into the territory, starting a war that lasted 16 years. The insurgency ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence which has yet to take place.
The Sahrawis were led by the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria and Libya. Morocco was backed by France and the United States. Tens of thousands of people died and more than 100,000 were displaced. As Morocco settled the western side of the country, it built a wall down the middle to keep Sahrawis confined to the eastern desert. The wall consists of a series of sand ridges fortified with Moroccan soldiers and landmines. It is still there.
In the USA, Donald Trump is still threatening to build a wall along the border with Mexico. But there is some confusion over its extent, its cost, and exactly what kind of wall is meant. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently challenged by journalists after Congress approved a spending bill that included an allocation of $341.2 million to replace about 40 miles of “border fencing” in the country’s southwest. That’s $8,525,000 per mile!
In “Sean Spicer clashes with press over definition of a wall” (The Guardian 4 May 2017), David Smith noted Spicer’s confusion about the kind of barrier to be put up, finally settling on a 20ft high bollard wall that Homeland Security had determined was most effective. Both Trump and Spicer have obviously forgotten (or could it be that they don’t care?) later lines from Robert Frost’s poem:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.”
It is unlikely that a complete wall will ever be constructed between the USA and Mexico. While sections of existing barriers will undoubtedly be repaired, the “wall” will eventually become another in the long line of Trump’s broken threats (in this case all to the good). But what Trump and his cronies fail to realise is that there is more to be gained from mending fences than from building walls.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”