lunes, 22 de septiembre de 2014

Walls and the masque of the red death

"The "red death" had long devastated the country," reads the first sentence of E.A. Poe's memorable tale ( "the Masque of the Red Death"). " no pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous..." So the protagonists leave the plague ridden city taking with them a generous supply of fine wine and tasty food and, accompanied by enchanting ladies, procede to lock themselves up in a countryside palace, imagining themselves protected from the ravages of disease and sudden death. Yet to their despair "Death" manages to penetrate the supposedly secure walls and kills all the guests.

The question remains: What do walls protect us from? Throughout history aggressors have taken what they considered to be theirs and erected "walls" to keep their enemies out, or to facilitate internal control. But time has shown such walls to be at best ephemeral guards against violence. Human civilization has not only created physical walls: likewise societies have erected walls against persons of different religions, beliefs or cultural practices, walls separating persons of different social casts or classes, walls that discriminate, walls that separate rather than unite human beings.

The Berlin Wall "fell" 25 years ago with the crumbling down of the so-called "Cold War" that pitted the capitalist "West" against the "Communist" East; yet the penchant for building walls continues to flourish in robust good health. During the dark ages in Europe kingdoms built walls to keep enemies out and keep the knob on commoners; in China the Great Wall served a similar purpose; in recent times, and with the support of the Western governments which backed the establishment of the state of Israel, an enormous and costly wall was constructed between Israel and Palesinian settlements; the United States has invested millions in a wall at the border with Mexico theoretically aimed at keeping out illegal immigrants who at another period in history were welcomed to pick crops... Sooner or later invaders have always found a way to break through the walls.

The walls served their purpose for varying periods of time and with varying degrees of effectiveness but all were overrun as a result of war or a combination of social, economic and culturl changes.

In our so-called "modern" globalized society world voices have arisen to advocate the concept of "one world." It has been argued that if we live in "one world" division along economic, social or cultural  lines does not make sense. At first glance that appears to be a humanitarian argument. However, in practice "globalization" has been mostly one sided. It has meant the breakdown of national barriers so as to enable the implementation of an economic and industrial order tuned into the needs of the prevailing capitalist system. Thus banks, international financial institutions and mutinational corporations advocate "free market" and "fair trade agreements" and show no qualms in the exercise of their immense power to discredit any attempts at policies differing from the "main stream."

This "globalization" of financial operations has set off a process of immigration from the impoverished areas of the world--which provide raw materials for the consumer society--to the U.S. and Europe. Initially these workers were welcomed to do those tasks for which companies could no longer find workers among the local workforce. But with the subsistence of poverty in the "backward" parts of the world, immigrants began to flock to industrialized nations to avoid poverty, disease and war--setting off racist and anti-immigrant reactions among citizens in Europa and the U.S. Numerous new "walls" are now being built to limit the flow of immigration. 

A clear example of how walls are erected and fall can be seen in the case of border conflicts between the U.S. and Mexico. The 1846-48 war between the two countries led Mexico to loose one third of its territory. President James K. Polk explained that the U.S. was motivated by a "manifest destiny" to spread across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The subsequent relations between Washington and Mexico have included numerous incursions and border conflicts.

With the continued arrival of "wetbacks" and the backdrop of drug traffiking, an enormous wall was built recently at the border. Now conservative voices in the U.S.A. are demanding an extention and costly improvement of the 3.200 km wall separating the two countries. One of the firms interested in the deal is none other than a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, the Israeli firm that constructed the wall in Cisjorndania. Nevertheless, the stream of illegal immigrants has continued and there is little evidence indicating that the wall has decreased the entrance of illegal drugs into the U.S. Would a higher and longer wall help? U.S. national security officer Jeh Johnson did not seem too convinced when he asserted that "if I construct a 15 foot high wall, someone will build a 16 foot ladder." (Página 12, Sept. 22, 20014).

Do walls really protect us? 

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