The United States has never before constructed a long fence as a border barrier. Yet this is what this nation is now doing along the Mexican border. However, such a fence runs counter to the American tradition of open space.
Robert Frost, one of the great poets of the American landscape, wrote in his famous poem “Mending Wall” that “Something there is that does not love a wall.” In similar sentiment but different medium, a popular American song in 1945 had as its title this imperative: “Don’t Fence Me In.”
Turning away from that no-fence, open space tradition, the current American government is also establishing a precedent by keeping people from a friendly country out. The history of national fences, walls and protected lines is an old one in which the purpose is to assure that unwanted or enemy hordes are kept out. Hadrian’s Wall in Roman England is an old example; however it is overshadowed in scale and historical significance by the Great Wall of China. In more recent times, there was the Maginot Line, a defensive fortification the French put up at great cost soon after World War I to keep future invading German armies out of French territory.
The exception to the historical rule was the Berlin Wall, constructed during the Cold War to keep the East German population from getting out.
All such lines of defense have sooner or later been greeted with failure. If there are two globally wide and historically enduring human activities, they certainly are migration and war. Human ingenuity, skill and determination have been unable to halt either.
Will the erection of the fence along the southern American boundary do anything other than reinforce the first element of this historical tradition?