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Good fences make good neighbors

(Author's note: yes, this is the piece I alluded to yesterday in my "throttling back" piece. I figured what the hell, better late than never.)

Last Saturday, the inimitable Austin Bay discussed the rise in violent incidents along the US-Mexican border, with Mexicans using military vehicles and ordnance in their attempts to bring people, drugs, and lord knows what else across the US border. As usual, Austin hits all the right points with his usual brilliant analysis, but I think I can see a couple of points that might have missed.

First, the story says the attacks are by gangs using stolen military equipment (and, in some cases, uniforms), but I have my doubts. I would not be a bit surprised if the gangs had gone beyond buying equipment and were actually hiring actual soldiers to do their work. It'd be cheaper and more efficient in the long run, and the Mexican military doesn't exactly have a sterling record for integrity.

Second, the "flavor" of the attacks seem a bit familiar. They have yet to reach the level of the almost-daily attacks on Israel's borders, but's that's largely because of the nature of the invaders. They're not looking to kill and conquer, but to make a buck. Their motive is not violence in and of itself, but money. They put profits ahead of prophets. As such, it's not in their interest to be overly violent.

Regardless, the basic principle remains the same: Israel needs to control its borders, to regulate who enters and what they bring with them. As do we. That is a basic right of any nation, and a fundamental obligation of any government. A nation is defined by its borders, and maintaining them is essential to preserving the state.

Israel's solution was radical, but seems to be working. The separation barrier (I reject "apartheid wall," as an overwhelming percentage of it is a fence, and "apartheid" is just plain wrong) has greatly reduced the terror attacks in Israel.

Now to dismiss a few other standard arguments.

Critics often cite France's Maginot Line as a fortified border effort that failed. That failed because France only fortified their border with Germany. They didn't take into account the idea that Germany would bypass their border and invade by the Low Countries -- just as they had done in World War I. Would-be illegal aliens lack other options; our sole southern border is with Mexico.

Another argument is that the issue is a law-enforcement issue, not a military one, and the military should not be involved in it. This one holds great power with me; the distinction between military problems and criminal problems is one that I think crippled the Clinton administration's response to the growing Al Qaeda threat, which culminated in 9/11. I also have the libertarian deep-seated fear against using the military as police.

But securing our borders IS a military matter, when the nation is facing an invasion. And it's becoming more and more clear that this is a form of invasion, complete with military-grade weaponry and equipment.

Perhaps it is time to consider using the National Guard to enforce our border laws. Or to declare certain well-trafficked border areas as military weapons ranges, where every now and then things just randomly blow up. Or just build a solid wall, with security monitors and cameras and the like.

The great poet (and my fellow New Hampshirite) Robert Frost knew the wisdom of such things.

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

Comments (13)

I like the shooting range a... (Below threshold)

I like the shooting range angle. Word would travel very fast in Mexico... Of course there would be signs downrange, for humanitarian reasons...

But the moment a Mexican go... (Below threshold)

But the moment a Mexican got killed by American weapons the hue and cry would be upon us. Mexico would flip, American liberals would flip, and the rest of us would have to deal with their foaming shrieks of outrage for weeks.

Just build a fence. A nice, thick, high fence topped with machine guns on turrets and security cameras.

Well at least i don't leave... (Below threshold)

Well at least i don't leave the Mexican border. PS Apatheid wall is the wrong term. Taking the wall down won't make a big family reunion like in Berlin, Germany some years back :)>

Actually, the French didn't... (Below threshold)

Actually, the French didn't neglect the idea that the Germans could come through the Low Countries. They were very aware of that possibility.

They were concerned, however, about the reaction of the Belgians to the building of a wall between the two friendly countries. The Belgians had said they didn't like the idea, so plans for extending the Maginot Line to the English Channel were put on hold. Just a little too long, obviously.

Good fences make good ne... (Below threshold)

Good fences make good neighbors. And bad neighbors require even better fences. Nations have traditionally defended their borders with guns, dogs, barbed wire, minefields -- whatever's required. And we should do no less. Mexico has asserted that "soldiers" sighted in Mexican uniforms at the border are just narcotics trafficers in stolen uniforms. Let's take them at their word. Shoot the "soldiers". Then announce to the Mexicans, "You were right. They were just narcotraficantes."

Back in the day, I applied ... (Below threshold)

Back in the day, I applied that very poem to the crisis Israel faces. Predictably the super-squishy lib English grad student flipped out. I still know I'm right, and it's exactly appropriate.

and the rest of us woul... (Below threshold)

and the rest of us would have to deal with their foaming shrieks of outrage for weeks.

If "weeks" are all they could muster...

Putting the issues and your... (Below threshold)

Putting the issues and your arguments aside for the moment, I thought you should know that you're wrong about Robert Frost.

Frost is being ironic, and has little sympathy for his neighbor's oft repeated cliche about fences.

As Frost so eloquently states (although, apparently not clearly enough for the more literal minded) walls separate us from each other and from nature. We should be asking ourselves why we build them and what purpose they serve, not stacking them up out of fear or traditionalism. A great deal of Frost's work focuses is on reconnecting with the life and landscapes around us, and on questioning commonly held assumptions, like "good fences make good neighbors," as "Mending Walls" invites us to do.

A narrow, sound bite reading of his poetry does a disservice to his work and his beliefs.

Burgess is correct on Franc... (Below threshold)

Burgess is correct on France/Belgium--
Also, not extending line beyond Luxembourg greatly increased the chance that another attact would all but have to come through Belium thus increasing the chance that the British would again intervene on France's side in case they hadn't already.

I'd have to agree with Some... (Below threshold)

I'd have to agree with SomeGuy that Frost was against most fences, and almost cruelly mocks his neighbor's lack of imagination. But "good fences make good neighbors" is most often used incorrectly as a supporting argument in favor of walls or fences.

However, we cannot declare this poem to be against fences altogether. "Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it/Where there are cows?" Here Frost seems to acknowledge that some fences are necessary and worthwhile, in this instance citing the need to keep cows from eating the neighbor's vegetables. This does support walls, and the people who want a wall between the US and Mexico likely feel that the wall would be necessary and worthwhile. "Good fences make good neighbors" sounds a lot sweeter, unfortunately.

"But here there are no cows." Frost is a wily one. You have to examine each fence and determine if it is worthwhile and necessary. His neighbor is spouting some belief handed down from his father about the need for fences, when the nature of the two properties does not really require it. That's a relatively harmless belief. What about the boy whose father fills his head with racism? The fences Frost is concerned with are figurative, not literal.

You say aparthied wall is t... (Below threshold)

You say aparthied wall is the wrong term but before the wall and after it in other areas Israel is an aperthied state, Palistinians have not been allowed to live in the same areas or go to the same schools as israelis now this is partly because they don't want to get attacked by palistinians and partly because they want to be seperate, it was the same in South Africa the whites didn't want to live with primitive criminals its just that no one criticises the israelis for it because they are jews.

Frederic:1) How ma... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:


1) How many Palestinians are members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament?

2) How many Arab/Muslim governments have any Jews in their government?

3) How many Jews can even vote in those nations?

4) How many Jews can even LIVE in those nations?

Say what you want, Frederic, but I'd be willing to bet that Palestinians have a higher quality of life than they do in any Arab/Muslim nation.

So, where's the real problem?


As long they continue to mo... (Below threshold)

As long they continue to mow my lawn they can grumble in that spic mumbo jumbo all they want.






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