I intended to write in a light manner about President Trump’s wall, the wall he wants to put across the length of the border with Mexico, on lands stolen when the United States invaded Mexico in 1846 and seized its vast territories, a wall supposedly intended to protect the United States from an imminent threat of invasion by the dispossessed. I was going to have some fun comparing it to other walls in history, not the fences being put up across Europe as people flee the imperial wars, climate change, drought, famine and poverty, but the great walls tourists still flock to see.
The Great Wall of China comes to mind, built to keep the Mongols, Turks and Uighurs out of China, or Hadrian’s Wall in Britain and that of Antoninus, built to protect the Roman province from blue painted Picts, or the walls built around Rome itself, around Constantinople, around medieval European towns, the palisades of the Iroquois in Canada.
But then I began to think of the Berlin Wall, built to protect socialist Germany from the fate that befell it when the wall came down, or the Israeli wall dominating the lands of Palestine and making the Palestinian prisoners in their own land. Naturally my thoughts went to John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges, walls dividing, bridges connecting, and to Pink Floyd’s famous metaphor for society, for the individual and social isolation that is one of the primary characteristics of capitalist society. So light became dark as I began to wonder.
The great walls of history were built to defend against military invasions, invasions of conquest or short term pillage. So long as they were maintained and manned they were more or less successful. The Berlin Wall was built to protect socialism in Germany. When socialism in Germany was betrayed, the capitalists tore it down, re-established wage slavery, claimed it freedom, and sold pieces of the wall for souvenirs. The Israeli wall has the opposite purpose. It wasn’t built to protect anything. It was built to divide the Palestinian people from their own lands, to make them permanent prisoners of an occupying army. It’s a prison wall, a ghetto wall. But what is Trump’s wall for?
Mexico is not about to invade the United States. Mexico and the United States cooperate in border security. There is no military threat. Trump claims the threat is the mass movement of peoples from the south. But the movement of Mexicans into the United States has a long tradition. It has been going on since the United States seized Mexican lands. For many Mexicans, on both sides of the border, the borderlands are still part of Mexico even if an American flag flies over the border posts. Mexican labourers have been transiting the border ever since 1846 seeking work. They have been allowed in, or a blind eye turned to their comings and goings, so long as their cheap labour was necessary for the American agricultural and manufacturing businesses that relied on them. Why wouldn’t the Americans want that flow to continue? Everyone benefits.
Even Trump seems to acknowledge this Mexican fact by now claiming that the threat is not so much from Mexicans, though he makes the false claim that many of them are criminals, as it is from countries even further to the south. And lo and behold, the sudden appearance of several thousand people in Honduras, backed by ngo’s that are supported by George Soros, and their trek towards the United States. One wondered at the organisation and logistics it took for all those thousands to walk all that way and wondered that such desperate people did not head for the closest border point near Brownsville, Texas, but instead walked hundreds of miles further to the northwest to try to enter at Tijuana, and wondered why Guatemala and Mexico let them enter and pass through, why they didn’t want to keep going and get to an even nicer country, Canada, and then wondered just where are they now, since they have disappeared from the news. Initially there was day to day coverage as these people moved ever closer to the US border, on arrival tried to cross, and were then attacked by US border security forces with teargas. Even the army was deployed.
Trump used the convenient images from the TV news shows as proof that a wall was needed. The claimed threat and the heavy-handed violence appeared on every screen. The United States was going to be invaded by dark skinned Central Americans. The liberal set egged him on by supporting the trekkers and explaining the trek as due to the conditions created by the US in Honduras and that accepting them would be just compensation. And indeed conditions there are in large part the responsibility of the United States. But once Trump had made his point and made his demands the videos stopped appearing, the news dried up and they simply disappeared from view. The hue and cry died down as Trump began his game with the US Congress as the focus shifted back to the political wheeling and dealing and the constitutional mess they have created. Nothing more was heard of the trekkers. But on the 19th of January the Honduran foreign minister stated that most of those in the first trek, around 7,200 people, have returned to Honduras after failing in their objective. Did they all walk back so quickly? We don’t know for there was no coverage of their return in the America mass media. The return lacked the drama of the approach.
But Trump faces a month long government shut down and still is not getting what he wanted. So people need reminding of the threat, and so, conveniently, news came of another group of hundreds of people gathering again in Honduras prepared to begin another trek to the great land to the north, though why they would expect a different reception from the first group that has now returned is a puzzle. But again this new threat was immediately jumped on by Trump as further proof that a wall is needed, while the liberals dutifully spoke out for the rights of the poor from Central America, though they remain generally silent on the multitudes of homeless in their own country, giving Trump reason to respond with more dire warnings One begins to wonder whether the American people and the world are being manipulated once again.
And is it really about a wall, when the border with Mexico is laced with fences, wire, and armed patrols or is something else going on here? The Trump wall, like Pink Floyd’s wall, can be seen as a metaphor for all that’s wrong with the United States, for the general anxiety about a weakening of its international power, about the paralysis of a political and economic system that is incapable of ensuring the well-being of any of its citizens, and which requires constant warfare against the world to maintain its control.
The wall is meant to convince the masses plunged into despair by their increasingly miserable lot that they are envied, that their miserable lives are actually desired by others, that they still live in the “greatest nation on earth,” that no one has it better, and since many Americans are kept in the darkness of ignorance about other societies in the world, this fantasy is believed.
It is also meant to convince the same masses that the government actually cares about them, that it is doing all it can to protect them as it guts them economically and reduces them to opioid addicts whose deaths are now in the tens of thousands a year. Despair is a difficult thing to escape but it can be used for political and power advantage so we see the despair of Central Americans being used to offset the despair inside America itself.
But as Trump and his opposition struggle over control of the US borders, they order the violation of the borders of sovereign nations around the world. They have invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, send their ships and planes to harass the borders of Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, still have occupation forces in Germany and Japan, have placed military forces all over Africa, Asia, Latin America, operate a torture chamber in Cuba at Guantanamo, and other “black” sites in willing countries, have built a ring of steel and nuclear weapons around Russia and China and now are threatening us all with nuclear weapons in space. We are surrounded by this American wall of violence and the bricks in that wall are being placed inexorably one on top of the other leading to our collective doom unless the people can break free of their illusions, break free of the propaganda, break free of their despair and pull this wall down on the heads of those who created it.
Christopher Black is an international criminal lawyer based in Toronto. He is known for a number of high-profile war crimes cases and recently published his novel “Beneath the Clouds. He writes essays on international law, politics and world events, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”