“Possessing the best part of the earth and sea,” the Greek author Appian observed, the Romans have “aimed to preserve their empire by the exercise of prudence, rather than to extend their sway indefinitely over poverty-stricken and profitless tribes of barbarians.”

John Curry[1]

[Here it is, Wednesday, the Indiana primary is over, and Donald Trump pulled 53% of the popular vote in a 3-way race. How many delegates does that add to his total? Fifty-seven, according to NBC; but who knows? These days, at least among Republicans, primary voters sometimes elect delegates to the National Convention, but the delegates, or at least some of them, aren’t really bound to vote for anybody in particular after the first ballot, if then.

On the other hand, who cares? Ted Cruz, Trump’s principal opponent, also dropped out of the race last night, and no significant opposition remains. [In case you’ve forgotten, the Convention is scheduled for July,[2] in Cleveland.] So let’s assume for the moment that Republicans do a rational thing; perhaps even select the person who gets the most votes in their primaries; and that turns out to be Donald Trump. If so, who will win in November? Will it be Hillary Clinton, the person everyone thinks the Democrats will nominate? Or will it be Trump?

What can we say about that? Well, the election is six months away and that’s a lifetime in politics. Anybody who says otherwise is a pundit, a pollster, a gambler, or a f___ … sorry, I’m repeating myself! There’s no way to know a future that distant.  Political news is random; a riot here, a murder there, a bombing overseas, a hurtful statement somewhere else, and so forth. For the most part the press treats each week as a separate news cycle, and clusters around the first story arc that looks promising, ignoring everything else, at least for the time being. But stories rejected one week may be picked up later, if there’s nothing more “newsworthy” to put on the air. The needs of the media control, and what the media needs is to fill a news cycle that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, over possibly hundreds of channels.

This blog doesn’t try to keep up with that pack. Instead, we look at things the baying hounds have rushed on by, hoping that we discover the occasional odd fact or trend that might be important. And this brings us to our topic for today – walls – and how nations use them. I’m speaking, of course, about the wall Donald Trump proposes to build along our southern border. Fred, our specialist in government and the preternatural, will be our analyst. As most of you know, he likes the unusual, so the Trump Wall is a natural for him; and he doesn’t dismiss the idea out-of-hand. In fact, he sees advantages to it, but I’ll let him tell you about that.]

Thanks, G – Oh! You forgot to introduce yourself! Our moderator today is G. Sallust, the editor and a principal contributor to this blog. He’s been absent for a while, perhaps by popular demand; but has decided to manifest himself again, at least through July; after that, we’ll see if he gets run out of town again. In case you’ve forgotten, he’s a “birther,” one who thinks Ted Cruz, even if elected, isn’t eligible to be President of the U.S., because he wasn’t born in this country. But that’s not my issue, thank God; instead, I get to talk about Donald Trump’s wall.

So why do nations erect walls around themselves? Well, for answers we could look to Israel, and the complex system of walls, gates and screens it has built to separate itself from Palestinians in the occupied territories[3]; or to the walls and fences being hastily erected in parts of Europe to control immigration[4]; or even to the Berlin Wall[5], erected when I was a child to keep Westerners out of Soviet-dominated East Germany. The common justification seems to be that walls are necessary to keep trouble – or troublesome people – out of the homeland.

Walls have other uses as well. To steal a joke from an old boss of mine, who retired one day and later came back to work for a visit, he said: “You folks think that fence outside is there to keep the troublemakers out, but actually it’s to keep you in. I know that now.” Now, I’m not saying that jobs are a prison, or anything like that; most of us are lucky to have one – a job, that is – if we do. But some countries don’t like to have their people travel without supervision. The East Germans were like that, in the days of the Soviet Union; and today the North Koreans are famously strict with their population about foreign travel. Truth to tell, even in the U.S. we like to keep some people from traveling abroad, if we can.[6] And how does our Government do it? By screening travelers at checkpoints, airports, etc., and other places like that. A wall, with a gate, would work just as well for ground travelers.

While the world has plenty of walls these days, they’re new; that is, we don’t know if any will work over the long haul. Generally walls are billed as a sure, but not necessarily quick way to keep the enemy out. Just close the door, lock it and no one will get through. Why? Well, because the door is locked. That’s just the way things are.

But of course we all know that’s not true. If you put up a wall, an enemy can defeat it by (i) going around it, if it’s too short; (ii) burrowing under it; (iii) going through a gate, by stealth or bribery; (iv) flying over it, either in person or by sending drones; or (v) by breaking it down. So I’ve concluded, by this little thought experiment, that if we, the good old USA, are going to put a wall in place to defend our southern border, we’ll also need to station troops – probably a large number of them – to monitor, police and defend it.

How do I know this? Well, through simple logic, but also from history or, more specifically, from ancient history. Bear with me while I explain. If you ever visit Great Britain as a tourist – don’t do it for the food, by the way – you’ll no doubt be told to visit Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England.[7] Hadrian was a Roman Emperor, and according to Wikipedia, he ordered the thing to be built in 122 A.D.[8] Other sources tell a more complex story, about a series of fortifications built by the Romans starting in 81 A.D., and ending with the end of Roman influence in the 400’s.[9] Nevertheless, there is common agreement on one thing: that the fortifications were intended to separate the Picts and Scots who lived in the north from the Romanized population in the south.[10] The Romans also provided troops for that purpose, either stationing them in Britain or in Gaul [today, France], or at least did so until 426 A.D. That’s when after a great, and successful battle, the Romans advised they couldn’t do that anymore, and that the south “ought to take arms … and train up their people to military discipline ….”[11] Does any of this sound familiar? By the way, the Western Roman Empire officially disbanded in 476 A.D.

Anyway, quite a bit of archeological research has been done on the Wall [or walls], [12] so much so that a consensus has developed that they did more than separate the hostiles in the north from the more peaceful tribes in the south. Where there were walls there were also gates, and the gates made commerce possible. The walls’ real purpose, or at least one of them, was to control this sort of movement.[13] Goods coming from the north could be taxed; one scholar of the classics calls this the “fleecing” of the northern populations;[14] others might consider taxes on imports to be simple tariffs. You decide. In any case, the walls were semi-permeable, in that – in peacetime – people and goods could come and go, with some restrictions.

If today we build a southern wall, no doubt it will be expensive, and will have to be policed, so that the important bits aren’t stolen [you know, the technology, the construction materials, and so forth] and undesirables don’t sneak through.

But there are offsetting advantages. When our military arrive in a place, prosperity often follows. Military people have steady incomes, families and all the rest; they require housing, schools, health care, and other services; so I can see towns springing up wherever the military deploy. Communities along our southern border might benefit greatly from that. Also, with the military ensuring some stability in the area, we might finally get a handle on the cross-border traffic in drugs, and the violence that comes with it. We’ve proved, I think, that the few and outnumbered really don’t dent it; so why not employ the many and well-equipped, instead?

So outside businesses might well be attracted to take advantage of the new security, inexpensive real estate, and a plentiful labor supply along the border. Why would labor be plentiful in the desert? Well, if there are jobs on the border, people will come, from the north and the south. U.S. citizens are free to travel in the U.S., at least for now, and can follow the job market.  Folks from the south will need our permission to get through to work, but with the right policies many will qualify, and share in the economic boom.

Hopefully as prosperity spreads, so will employment. Anyway, that’s what I’d like to see happen.

[That’s pretty good, Fred. I don’t know that I have anything to add. Effective policing of the border, control of the cross-border drug trade, and general prosperity in the affected area: What could be better than that?

Your points are obvious, and very good. Today we have our military spread all around the world, spending their incomes in foreign lands, rather than here. To the extent we bring them home, we cut back on foreign expenditures, and import our own cash. You and I know that local economies usually prosper when the government arrives and sets up shop permanently. We’ve seen that happen around military installations, and, of course, the Washington, D.C. area is proof positive that the phenomenon works also on a massive scale. That area has been drenched in massive government spending for decades, and has done nothing but expand. It’s time to move some of that prosperity to other parts of the country.]



[1] See National Geographic, Curry, Roman Frontiers (September 2012), available at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/09/roman-walls/curry-text

[2] Actually, the 2016 Republican National Convention will be held in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena from July 18-21, 2016. You can find the official website for it at http://convention.gop/

[3] See, e.g., the Wikipedia entry on the Israeli West Bank Barrier, available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_barrier  ; NBC World News,  Engel, Israel becomes a fortress nation as it walls itself off from the Arab Spring (March 20, 2013), available at http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/20/17360084-israel-becomes-a-fortress-nation-as-it-walls-itself-off-from-the-arab-spring?lite  .

[4] See, e.g.,  Der Spiegel, Popp, Europe’s Deadly Borders: An Inside Look at EU’s Shameful Immigration Policy (September 11, 2014), available at

[5] Wikipedia has a good entry on this; just search at “Berlin Wall,” or go directly to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall

[6] You need a passport, and there are restrictions on those. Let’s not go into the gory details. If you want to know more, take a look at the State Department’s official website, at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html  For example, check out Passport Information for Criminal Law Enforcement Officers.

[7] See Hadrian’s Wall, World Heritage Site, available at http://www.great-britain.co.uk/world-heritage/hadrians-wall.htm  For an individual blogger’s personal reaction to the wall, take a look at Marshall, A Modern Visitor to Hadrian’s Wall, Sivarajah and Nero (2015), available at http://hadrians-wall.org/ The BBC also has some scenic photographs. See BBC, Hadrian’s Wall Gallery, available at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/hadrian_gallery.shtml

[8] For a general overview of Hadrian’s Wall, take a look at the Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall . There’s also a short entry in the online Encyclopaedia Britannica. See Encyclopaedia Britannica, Breeze, Hadrian’s Wall (no date), available at http://www.britannica.com/topic/Hadrians-Wall

[9] See Global Security.org, The Roman Walls (no date), available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spqr/walls-britannia.htm

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Wilmott (editor), Hadrian’s Wall: Archeological Research by English Heritage, 1976 – 2000 (English Heritage, 2009), available at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/myads/copyrights?from=2f6172636869766544532f61726368697665446f776e6c6f61643f743d617263682d313431362d312f64697373656d696e6174696f6e2f7064662f393738313834383032313538375f616c6c2e706466  You have to agree to the terms of use and access to get the document.

[13] See n. 1: “’Isaac’s analysis has come to dominate the field,’ says David Breeze, author of the recent Frontiers of Imperial Rome. ‘Built frontiers aren’t necessarily about stopping armies but about controlling the movement of people.’ The Roman frontier, in other words, is better seen not as an impervious barrier sealing Fortress Rome off from the world but as one tool the Romans used to extend influence deep into barbaricum, their term for everything outside the empire, through trade and occasional raids.”

[14] See Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Lemak, Review of Hadrian’s Wall and Its People (2007), available online at http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2007/2007-07-59.html