Closing off problems with walls doesn't solve them

From immigration fences to security barriers, 'wallitis' is spreading.

Building a wall may mean safety for some but tragedy for many. I got my indoctrination into the horror of mortar and concrete on August 13, 1961, watching East German communist police close off East Berlin, first with barbed wire, then with concrete. On the West Berlin side, people came up to the wall in tears as families were divided and East Berliners were cut off from their jobs in the West.

In one of my television reports, I quoted a line from a Robert Frost poem: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/ That wants it down."

Twenty-six years later, President Reagan spoke for unhappy Berliners, and also for the world, when he stood before the closed-off Brandenberg Gate and challenged Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Two years later the wall did come down. I have a piece of it in my office.

This memory comes back to me because we seem to be afflicted with another spell of "wallitis" – hoping that closing off problems will solve them.

American soldiers have been engaged in a project of closing off the Sunni district of Adhamiya in Baghdad. Israel has been working for years on a 436-mile fence that, in part, closes off the Arab section of East Jerusalem. Paki-stan is building a fence to close off Taliban routes into Afghanistan. And, lest the United States miss out on the closing-off festival, it has started work on what will eventually be a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border.

Proponents of that wall speak of keeping out terrorists as well as job-seeking illegal immigrants. That is hard to establish. But what can be established is that the projected fence has helped to stimulate a booming business in tunnel building and another booming business in forging identity documents.

As Robert Frost wrote, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall."

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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