History’s Great Walls, Good Neighbors or Bad Policy?


Origins:Current Events in Historical Perspective Presents Top Ten Origins: History’s Great Walls, Good Neighbors or Bad Policy? In the midst of a migration crisis in Europe
and strident talk and a standoff about building a wall on the US/Mexican border, people around the world are resorting to an old strategy: building walls. Historically, walls have a decidedly mixed
record in achieving their goals to keep some people out and others in. While good fences may make good neighbors,
as the old cliché has it, neighborliness has not been the reason behind most of history’s
major wall projects. Here is a look at the most famous
of these insular architectural projects. 1. The Wall of Jericho
The Biblical Wall of Jericho is one of the earliest examples of a defensive wall constructed
by a community. Two sets of walls found in Jericho, and excavated
by Ernest Sellin and Carl Watzinger, date back to anywhere between 1950 BCE and 1550
BCE. But the earliest evidence of a wall is believed
to date to 7825 BCE. The most famous Wall of Jericho, however,
is the one mentioned in the Biblical account of the wall that the Israelites destroyed
using the Ark of the Covenant in the Book of Joshua. The wall is believed to have stood five feet
thick, anywhere between 12 and 17 feet tall, surrounded by a 27-footwide and nine-foot
deep ditch. It is hypothesized that the Wall of Jericho
was constructed not only for defensive purposes, but also to protect the city from floods and
for ceremonial usages. The Tower of Jericho may have been a means
to draw individuals into the city. After the wall came tumbling down, according
to the biblical text, every man, woman, and child in the city of Jericho was put to the sword
save for the family who harbored Israeli spies during the siege. 2. Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall, constructed between 122 CE and 128 CE for inspection by the Roman
Emperor Hadrian, was a reaction to rebellions that Rome experienced by the provincial peoples
of Britannia. The wall stood an impressive ten feet wide,
16 to 20 feet tall, and 73 miles long, following the course of the Tyne River. Historians disagree on the explicit purpose
of Hadrian’s Wall, though it is widely considered to have been an attempt at curbing immigration
as well as providing an opportunity to tax anyone crossing the wall. In this endeavor, Hadrian’s Wall was successful. Even when a different wall was constructed
during the reign of Antoninus Pius farther north (the Antonine Wall), the Romans opted to garrison its legions along Hadrian’s Wall. Until the end of Roman rule in the province of Britannia, which was around 410 CE, Hadrian’s Wall stood strong. When Rome lost its hold on the province, however,
the wall was largely dismantled for parts by the “barbarian” populations against
whom it had stood. 3. The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China was not always so great. It began as a series of independently constructed
walls as long ago as the 7th century BCE. Over time, they became connected into a single
vast wall spanning a staggering 5,500 miles during the Ming Era. The wall’s militaristic purpose was to defend
China against the multitude of invaders that plagued the borderlands – primarily the
Mongols and the Manchu. But the walls provided other economic and
social benefits for China, allowing the Chinese to enforce economic duties along the Silk
Road as well as decrease the number of immigrants from Central Asia. As a means of maintaining control over citizens
of China and their trade, the Great Wall was quite successful. However, the wall failed to keep invaders
out entirely. Genghis Khan and his Mongol warriors, the
Liao, the Jin, and the Manchus all managed to invade and take territory across the wall. Though this wall has never been altogether
destroyed, its maintenance was, and is, such a colossal undertaking that large sections
of it have fallen into disrepair over time. 4. Berlin Wall
Officially known on the East German side as the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, this
infamous wall is an extraordinary example of a society’s attempt to halt the movement
of its own people, separating Germans (and often families) into two different worlds. The Soviet, eastern side of Germany had a
vested interest in keeping out the ideals, culture, and economic models of the West during
the Cold War. Upon completion, the wall stood 87 miles long
with another wall running parallel to the original just 300 feet behind it. In its infancy the wall was primarily made
of barbed wire but over time it evolved into an extremely formidable border. Concrete, barbed wire, and a no man’s land
of coverless space between the walls made this barrier system one of the most daunting
walls in human history. It was not to persist, however. In October of 1989, the East German government
decided to allow some citizens to emigrate to West Germany, which resulted in a swarming
of the wall checkpoints by thousands of citizens. And on November 9, the Berlin Wall was officially
opened. 5. Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Snaking across the width of the Korean peninsula, this wall creates a 160-mile-long, two-and-a-half-mile-wide buffer zone between North and South Korea. The DMZ was constructed along the 38th Parallel and is considered the most heavily militarized border in the entire world. Incidents and incursions continue along the
DMZ, although recent peace talks have begun ever so slightly to depressurize the border. The two countries have agreed to allow families divided between the Northern and Southern halves of the border to reunite in a rare effort
at cohabitation. Such efforts do not erase recent episodes
of landmine explosions, cross-boundary rocket fire, and propaganda radio broadcasts, but may ease tensions along the political powder keg that is the DMZ. Since the Korean conflict ended in 1953 in
a truce, the state of war between Seoul and Pyongyang continues to validate the existence
of the world’s most heavily guarded border. This wall stands as perhaps the most effective anti-migrant fortification in all of human history. It has kept the populations of two independent
nations almost entirely secluded from one another for over six decades. 6. West Bank Barrier
This massive wall currently runs along the 1949 Armistice Agreement Line (or the
Green Line) that separates Israel from the territories of the West Bank. This barrier runs a staggering 330 feet in
width at certain places and up to 26 feet high. The primary reasons for the construction of
this barrier (which began in approximately 2000) are contentious. The Israeli government states that the wall
is being built to protect Israeli citizens from suicide bombers and radical terrorist
organizations. Opposition groups argue that the barrier is
a land-grab disguised as a defensive perimeter. Although the construction on the wall has not yet been completed, some reports indicate that there has been marked decline in the number of suicide attacks within Israel. 7. The Hungarian Border Wall Standing 13 feet tall and projected to reach completion across the entirety of the 109 mile long Hungarian-Serbian border, this wall is part of an extremely tumultuous time for border control in Europe As hundreds of thousands of migrants flee conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa, Europe finds itself challenged by the influx of refugees. Hungary, unlike most of its European counterparts,
has opted to build facilities and enforce strict border policies instead of facilitating
migrant travel. By utilizing tear gas, water cannons, razor
wire, and the Hungarian military to deal with the migrants, this most recent emergence of
an historic wall will surely be a point of contention for years to come.

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