3 Border Walls From History and What They Tell Us About Trump’s Proposal
Do border walls keep countries safer, or merely project the illusion of safety?
The US Congress recently worked out a deal on a short-term spending bill to avoid a looming government shutdown. Though the legislative body is majority Republican, remarkably, no funding was set aside for President Trump’s border wall. Building a wall on the US-Mexico border was one of his signature issues during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The border wall is on hold, for now. That debate may be taken up again in the fall. With the dramatic polarization in the country, the debate surrounding the proposed beefing up of the border wall is likely to go on for quite some time. So how can we cut through the ideology? One way is to look back through history and see what lessons can be garnered.
How successful have border walls been historically? We have the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, and the West Bank Wall, to name a few of the most famous ones. Did they really keep out those they were meant to, or did they add expense and backbreaking work, with little to show for it?
Once meant to keep out foreign invaders, the Great Wall is now a tourism boon. Getty Images.
The Great Wall of China is the largest military structure in the world. Its winding dragon’s tail totals in length approx. 13,000 miles (20,000 km). Despite the myth, you cannot see it from space. Begun in the 3rd century BCE, the wall was meant to keep out nomadic warrior bands from the north, mostly from Manchuria.
It was added upon over the centuries, with one particular growth spurt taking place in the 17th century. I’ve been to the Mutianyu section. It’s just a spectacular work of engineering. But like most things wondrous, it has a dark underbelly. It’s a massive graveyard.
The wall was mostly built with the labor of slaves and prisoners. Those who died due to the harsh working conditions often had their bodies thrown in with the mortar, becoming part of the structure itself. The roasting temperatures and barren landscape on the US southern border will also make the work there exceedingly difficult and slow-going, should it begin. But no one’s expected to die.
With China, the Manchurians were able to get behind the wall and conquer the country in 1644, overthrowing the Ming dynasty and establishing the Qing, which lasted up until the early 20th century.
As a history major my Chinese Civilizations professor, Dr. Ken Olenik, told us that the Great Wall was never able to keep out invading armies. They usually either found a way through or paid off the guards at the gate. China is benefiting from the wall today, however. It draws over 10 million tourists per year.
Hadrian’s wall has also become something of a tourist draw. Getty Images.
The Romans build Hadrian’s Wall, named after the emperor who decreed it, in the second century CE. It runs across Northern England and was meant to keep the Picts at bay. These were an ancient tribe who would later become the Scottish. Brutal warriors, during battles hordes of Picts were known to come screaming out of the forest, running naked, painted blue, howling battle cries while waving their axes in a mad onrush toward the enemy. This doubtless shook even the most seasoned legionnaire.
Hadrian’s Wall is 73-miles long. It was manned for 300 years. 5,000 Roman infantrymen built the wall, supported by auxiliary units. Historical evidence shows that the wall was breached dozens of times. For instance, around 180 CE a Roman general and some troops were taken out by a raiding party from the north.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in early 5th century the wall was abandoned, and its stone used as a quarry over the centuries to form parts of castles, churches, barns, and other structures. This lasted up until the 19th century, when archaeological efforts came to preserve the wall. Today, it’s another tourist destination, with some even hiking its entirety as a meditative exercise.
The West Bank Wall. Getty Images.
For a more modern reference, the West Bank Wall was built by Israel in 2002. The Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, was looking to protect the country from Palestinian suicide bombers. However, the 435-mile structure cuts the West Bank completely off from other Palestinian areas, which some call a human rights violation. As a result, the Palestinians refer to it as the “Berlin Wall” or “Apartheid Wall.”
The structure is 435 miles long (700 km). It has 26 foot (8 meter) high concrete walls in some places. When I was there in the mid-2000s, the part I saw was a 6 foot (1.8 meter) high electronic fence. The world court has condemned the wall as a “land grab.” Palestinians say the wall has claimed a significant portion of their territory. Because of the legal and political issues surrounding it, it has never been fully completed.
So how successful is it? There has been a sharp decline in the number of attacks since the wall was built. It has helped, Israeli security officials’ state. Yet, there were a lot of other contributing factors that have decreased attacks, such as Hamas putting a moratorium on suicide bombings, the second intifada waning, and several Israeli military operations in the West Bank clearing out many of the militants there. Still, around 60,000 Palestinians illegally cross the barrier each day, in order to find work in construction, agriculture, or the service industry.
Berkeley's Wendy Brown says that walls may be more about a projection of power than an actual, physical, defensive structure. This projection gives the illusion of security. In that sense, Trump may be using the wall more as something to rally people around, as the ancient Chinese did. Building a wall in this sense is more a subconscious reaffirmation of national identity than a way of providing security.
To learn more about border walls and the issues surrounding them, click here:
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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