Today’s “Planet Earth Report” — ‘No Invention Has Had Greater Impact on Human History Than Walls’

 

‘Today, a newer set of walls, rising up on four continents, has the potential to remake the world yet again.”

People have been building walls since the tenth millennium B.C., which were built primarily for defensive purposes. Fast forward to the present, they are built more to prevent immigration, terrorism, or the flow of illegal drugs. President Donald Trump’s controversial wall, which is supposed to stretch for nearly 2,000 miles along the United States’s border with Mexico, would be the largest infrastructure project since the U.S. highway system, estimated to cost $18 to $40 billion.

But, as the quote above from David Frye’s new book, Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick, suggests, the idea of constructing barriers to keep others out—or, in the case of the Berlin Wall, to keep people in—is as ancient as human civilization. Only the people being shut out, he says, have changed.

National Geographic interviewed Frye by phone at his home in Connecticut, where explained how the ancient world was split between wallers and non-wallers, how the Berlin Wall set a precedent by being the first wall to keep people in, and why America and so many other nations are “forting up.”

 

 

Trump’s proposed wall on the southern border of the U.S. would stop the flow of immigration from Central and South America along with the motive to stem the flow of drugs from across the border. The latter, reports National Geo, would be something very modern. You wouldn’t find that in the histories of Rome, Persia, or China, or any of the great wall-building states of the past.

Ancient Rome, says Frye, was very open to immigration. In fact, it was an issue in Rome going back to the first century B.C., when people were arguing, “Do we have too many immigrants moving into this city?” It remained an issue for hundreds of years but Rome remained a city of immigrants. At the same time, Rome was building walls for a very different, military purpose. They were worried about invasion, which is in a way a different kind of immigration, an immigration of armed masses coming across the border.

By some cruel irony, says Frye, the mere concept of walls now divides people more thoroughly than any structure of brick or stone.

Frye concludes…

No invention in human history played a greater role in creating and shaping civilization than walls. Without walls, there could never have been an Ovid, and the same can be said for Chinese scholars, Babylonian mathematicians, or Greek philosophers. Moreover, the impact of walls wasn’t limited to the early phases of civilization. Wall building persisted for most of history, climaxing spectacularly during a 1,000-year period when three large empires — Rome, China, and Sasanid Persia — erected barriers that made the geopolitical divisions of the Old World all but permanent.

The collapse of those walls influenced world history almost as profoundly as their creation, by leading to the eclipse of one region, the stagnation of another, and the rise of a third. When the great border walls were gone, leaving only faint traces on the landscape, they left indelible lines on our maps — lines that have even today not yet been obscured by modern wars or the jockeying of nations for resources.

Continue reading at National Geo

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