Walls are getting a lot of attention around the world at the moment. I never dreamed the world would ever embrace this mundane topic, which grabbed my attention in 1940 and has held it ever since.
In that year, someone gave me a gift of a history book for children that contained a beautifully illustrated chapter on the Great Wall of China. The text told us: “The enemies of the Chinese never smashed through the wall, climbed over it or dug under it. They simply bribed the gate-keepers!” That burst of worldly wisdom made me hear the clash of Asian cymbals and smell dragon-breath. I was instantly and irrevocably hooked on walls.
I take it personally when President Trump’s adversaries stand up there on TV and solemnly declare that walls don’t work. I despair for our beloved America when liars and lying seem as welcome in our political discourse as those with sterling character who simply will not lie for political advantage. Thomas Jefferson and the boys promised us a free press. They never promised us a fair press!
Before you embrace the oft-repeated (but never substantiated!) mantra of “Walls Don’t Work,” you might want to talk to the Israelis, who attribute their very survival to the West Bank wall that has cut Palestinian terrorism from an almost daily occurrence to a rarity. And while you’re in the neighborhood, see what they have to say in Hungary about their wall, which put an end to the inundation of jihadi “visitors” that threatened to transmogrify the culture of that central European nation. Those are two walls with which those who built them are quite happy, while the American left continues to insist that “Walls Don’t Work.”
Not all “Walls Do Work” stories are happy ones. In 1946, in a speech in Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill warned the world that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent” of Europe. That Iron Curtain successfully imprisoned millions of Communist subjects from the middle of Europe to the Pacific Ocean inside Soviet enslavement that lasted almost a half-century, until President Ronald Reagan, on a visit to then-divided Berlin, faced eastward and challenged. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” That welcome message referred to the Berlin Wall, but it unzipped the entire Iron Curtain and set Europe free. Far too many lives were lost attesting to the notion that walls work.
Before Reagan turned the Iron Curtain into a venetian blind, only a dribble of freedom-seekers had managed to escape the Communist wall. There were boat people who managed to flee from Estonia to Sweden, a hardy few who swam the Danube River, and even a Prague bicyclist who escaped with his wife and two children plus his bicycle in a homemade hot air balloon made of raincoats sewn tightly together that floated them across the barriers to freedom in Austria!
If we had to pick a winner in some “Most-Ingenious-Escape” derby, it would have to go to that resident of East Berlin who used German psychology to win his release.
He first strode up to Checkpoint Charlie boldly, as though he held a first mortgage on it, knowing a guard would stop him. “Where are your papers?” demanded the Communist guard. “Oh,” said our hero, as though surprised. “I think they’re in the guardhouse. I’ll go look for them.”
“No!” shouted the guard. “You stay here. I’ll go look for them!” That allowed him to get past the first guard. The escapee then approached the final guard, inches from freedom. Exhibiting a completely different mood, he begged the guard, “Can you please help me? I live in West Berlin and I just got a call that my mother in East Berlin was suddenly taken ill, and I was so upset I left home without my papers. Could you please let me in to tend to my sick mother”?
“What?” screamed the guard. “You live in West Berlin? This is East Berlin! You aren’t supposed to be here!”
The guard then pointed to the West and ordered, “Get back over there!“