Trump’s Folly: the Delusion of a Working Wall

Despite the Democrat inspired laws on Sanctuary Cities and the Border being so bad and one sided, I have instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country. It is a disgrace. We are the only Country in the World so naive! WALL

Just a typical Donald Trump tweet, filled with hyperbole and random capitalisations. The threat of invasion looms ever closer, it seems. The President’s obsession with building a country-wide wall along the Mexican border to ‘stop immigrants’ has not diminished since he ascended to the highest seat of power.

His plan is not a novel one; Hungary and its Eastern European neighbours have erected barriers topped with razor wire to stem the tide of refugees arriving from the Middle East for instance. But the idea sits uneasily with what America is supposed to be: the land of the free, the land of immigrants?

There is symbolic potency in Trump’s grand vision – however muddled – but what will it actually achieve? Looking at history, the omens are not promising for the President and his chest-thumping brethren.

Trump inspecting prototypes for his wall

The East-West Divide

Never has a physical barrier carried such ideological weight as the Berlin Wall. Constructed almost overnight in 1961 by the Soviet-backed East German government, it became the defining symbol of the Cold War: Capitalism vs Communism. Good vs Evil.

It was perhaps also the greatest propaganda misfire of the Soviet regime. As soon as the Wall went up those yet to decide on their allegiance in the Cold War – and you had to pick a side – veered towards the West. How could you physically separate a people? It looked like a horrible retribution for World War Two (WWII).

That more than 5,000 defectors successfully crossed into West Berlin during the existence of the Wall also speaks to its strategic failure. When the first boulders were hauled down in 1989, the world rejoiced.

The ultimate symbol of division: the Berlin Wall

One can imagine parallels with a Trumpian wall; the brutal eyesore, the separation of families, the ideological statement of exclusivity and isolation. One can also imagine it being hauled down; ad hoc, with ropes…Saddam Hussein in Texas. 28 years is a long lifespan to emulate.

If Trump really is seeking to avoid the ideological and symbolic connotations – and it’s difficult to see how he can – then what of the practical elements? Will his wall dam the flow of illegal immigrants, of drug traffickers and fugitives from justice?

The Chinese Experiment 

From the 7th century BC until the heady days of the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese embarked on an engineering marvel that continues to wow visitors to this day. The Great Wall of China stretches some 13,000 miles, specifically built to prevent invasion from the windy steppes to the north.

It was not built as a single entity, rather in stages and as it was required. In addition to its primary purpose of defence, the Great Wall helped control the flow of trade, administer taxes, emigration and immigration. Trump must be an admirer.

But policing a 13,000 mile stretch of property had its obvious logistical difficulties, even for a country as populous as China. The invaders were not repulsed – indeed the Mongols would conquer China and create a dynasty – and as sections of the Great Wall fell into disrepair and the costs of reconstruction became increasingly prohibitive, the border pores opened up.

The beauty of China’s Great Wall draws 70,000 visitors per day. How many will visit the ruined facade of Trump’s monstrosity in 50 years’ time?

Trump’s Wall

Trump’s wall will be a tenth of the size and, if he gets his way, he’ll have the money and manpower to ensure that its construction is sturdy and its posts constantly manned.

But so what? Border guards can be bought, as they are now. Who can truly stop corruption when the riches of the Cartels are in play? The costs of loyalty will be astronomically high, the endemic paranoia of Trump’s administration always likely to fear betrayal.

Trump sees his wall as a symbol of American power and prestige. Some would argue that China’s Great Wall demonstrated a civilisation of incomparable strength, at its zenith, with the resources and the tenacity to engage in such an undertaking.

But a wall is essentially a defensive measure. It is a sign of weakness, particularly where America is concerned. There are no armed invaders lurking on the borders. Should such an unlikely scenario ever occur than the US military could destroy it without even having to travel to the national boundary.

Trump’s proposed wall is far from unanimously popular: protests of sprung up across the country

Ultimately it is a move of insanity; an expensive, divisive, symbolically damaging and egocentric waste. Yes, illegal immigration is a problem to be tackled, as is the trafficking of narcotics. But this should never happen. It makes no sense. History should warn him. His wall will be torn asunder by the next generation. It is not America. It is foolish and angering and it will fail in every sense of the word.

I leave you with Luc Besson:

It’s always the small people who change things. It’s never the politicians or the big guys. I mean, who pulled down the Berlin wall? It was all the people in the streets. The specialists didn’t have a clue the day before.

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Trump Ascent Raises Nuclear War Fears: yet a nuclear accident remains far more terrifying

The possibility of nuclear war is a persistent concern of the human race. It seems to be the only way in which we can destroy ourselves in one fell swoop. Perhaps Donald Trump’s ascent to the US presidency will exacerbate these fears; perhaps his isolationist tendencies will alleviate them. Either way, the fear of nuclear destruction remains a constant, even if such a likelihood is in reality remote.

Some fear that a Trump presidency will lead to nuclear proliferation and perhaps war

Whether it is rogue states possessing nuclear weapons (North Korea, Iran), deranged leaders with their fingers on the red button (Kim Jong-un, Trump?), the potential for swift nuclear proliferation (the Middle East, Asia-Pacific) or the acquisition of nuclear devices by terrorist organisations, the worst-case scenario of nuclear war never fails to unsettle world leaders.

In part it is a hangover from the Cold War when mutually assured nuclear destruction did at times seem imminent, no more so than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, as Dr Strangelove magnificently parodied, it would have taken major misunderstandings and maniacal decision-making for such an eventuality to have materialised.

A more plausible scenario for nuclear annihilation is an accident. We have seen in recent years the devastating radioactive fallout caused by the Chernobyl disaster – whose crumbling reactor is soon to be encased by a giant shield – and the Japanese tsunami of 2011 which caused major damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Disaster at Chernobyl, 1986
Disaster at Chernobyl, 1986

Such terrifying incidents have raised major questions over civilian nuclear power generation, not to mention further strengthening the case for nuclear non-proliferation.

Just as alarming as these unfortunate, if potentially avoidable, disasters are the ‘near-miss’ operational incidents involving nuclear weapons, most of which remain shrouded in secrecy.

The possible discovery by a diver last week of a missing Mark IV nuclear bomb off the coast of British Columbia brought such eventualities back into the spotlight. In 1950, a US Air Force B-36 aircraft began to experience engine trouble during a flight between Alaska and Texas. The device now thought to have been uncovered off the Canadian coast was jettisoned before the crew ejected, allowing the plane to continue on autopilot until it crashed into a mountain range. This was the first recorded loss of a nuclear weapon in history.

Although some aviation experts have dismissed the possibility of the device being the missing Mark IV, either way it is not nuclear-ready; i.e. it is has a lead, uranium and TNT filling but not the plutonium necessary for a nuclear detonation.

Other past operational incidents have further demonstrated the precariousness of ‘routine’ nuclear weapons deployment.

For instance, on the 27th July 1956 a B-47 bomber crashed into a storage igloo at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, within which three Mark VI nuclear bombs sat silently. As with the B-36 incident, the bombs did not contain any fissile material yet they had a considerable amount of high explosive content and a detonation could have proved catastrophic.

More controversially, on the 21st January 1968 a B-52 bomber crashed near Thule Air Base in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs on board during a ‘Chrome Dome’ alert mission at the height of the Cold War.

The nuclear payload of the four devices ruptured and dispersed across the sea ice as the conventional explosives in the aircraft detonated. More worryingly, despite an extensive clean-up operation by the American and Danish authorities, it has since been revealed that a secondary stage of one of the weapons was never accounted for. The Danes had kept the American nuclear presence on Greenlandic soil a secret from their own people, leading to a major political scandal almost three decades later.

Blackened ice at the Thule crash site
Blackened ice at the Thule crash site

There have been further military-related nuclear incidents, several associated with the meltdown of reactors in Soviet submarines. It is likely that others have yet to be disclosed and perhaps never will be without a whistleblower breaking the radio silence.

It seems that the apocalyptic consequences of a military-nuclear disaster resonate with us and our leaders in a more poignant way than ongoing crises such as climate change, rising sea levels and mass population displacement, all of which will ultimately have dire consequences if left unresolved.

Soviet submarine K219 sunk after a fire - possibly caused with a collision with a US sub - in a missile tube. It went down with 34 nuclear warheads which were not recovered
Soviet submarine K219 sunk after a fire – possibly caused with a collision with a US sub – in a missile tube. It went down with 34 nuclear warheads which were not recovered

Whilst efforts to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology at a state level remain critical, putting further safeguards in place to avert an accidental nuclear catastrophe are even more important, for such a scenario is considerably more likely than nuclear war.

As Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control has demonstrated, there is an ‘illusion of safety’ when it comes to nuclear weapons, regardless of the perceived responsibility of those powers controlling them.

In the absence of a nuclear-free world – now an unattainable goal – it is hoped that military leaders, and their counterparts in the civilian world, take note of the near misses of the past to try and securitise the future as best they can.