President Bush has a strange enthusiasm for walls (strange, because that mother of walls in Berlin isn’t exactly regarded as a stunning success). He would like to put, if not a wall, then at least a barbed wire fence along the almost 3,500 kilometer frontier between the USA and Mexico. And, unless Nouri al-Maliki manages to put the brakes on, there will soon be concrete walls between Sunni and Shia areas of Baghdad, to keep car-bombers out (or in).
Bush isn’t the only one, of course. Israel is busy constructing its West Bank barrier, parts of which are 8 meters high, in concrete. Less well known is a wall put up in Padua in north Italy, as a “crime fighting measure”, around the high-rise Anelli estate. In fact the Guardian last week came up with almost thirty modern security walls, either built or under construction. One, the electric fence between South Africa and Mozambique has apparently killed more people than were killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
The Great Wall of China may be one ancestor here. But the usual western approach is to point the finger back, way beyond Berlin, to the emperor Hadrian. Regret these awful barriers though we do, is the line, there is a fine classical precedent in the second century AD with Hadrian’s attempt to keep the nasty barbarians out of the Roman empire. That is, “Hadrian’s Wall”.
Another misuse of the classical past I’m afraid.