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Averyt: Before Building A Wall

Robert Frost, poet, Vermonter, and sometime farmer, captured the conundrum of walls perhaps better than anyone else, when he wrote, more than a century ago, "something there is that doesn't love a wall."

In fact, history has witnessed the rise and fall of many walls; walls to keep people out; walls to keep people in; walls that all eventually crumbled; walls that failed.

The Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a stone barrier around 122 AD to protect Roman Britain from “barbarian” tribes to the north. Hadrian’s Wall was a 73-mile rampart, roughly 10 feet wide and 15 feet tall. Where it was heavily manned, it proved a deterrent, but its overall effectiveness is doubted.

The Great Wall of China took more than 2000 years to build and upon completion was the largest man-made object in the world - thousands of miles long with sections rising 25 feet tall – that still often proved ineffective as a defensive barrier.

The infamous Maginot Line was a long stretch of fortifications built prior to World War II to protect the eastern border of France. Yet it was easily overrun by the German Army - its name now synonymous with a strategy that inspires a false sense of security.

In the long history of walls, perhaps the most famous failure is the Berlin Wall - first touted as a "protection wall", it eventually became known as the "wall of shame." Built in 1961 by the Soviet-aligned East German government, the wall was a maze of 12-foot barriers, guard towers and electrified fences, built to keep enemies of the Communist state out - and residents in. More than one hundred people died trying to escape over the wall to freedom but thousands more succeeded.

President Kennedy called the Berlin Wall a "symbol of failure" – an epitaph that proved true when the East German government abandoned the wall in 1989, sparking waves of celebration, as East and West Berliners dismantled it - often with just bare hands.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the long history of walls, it’s that walls may separate and divide, but eventually they crumble and fall.

So before building one, we might want to take Frost’s sage words of advice and consider, “What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence."

Free lance writer, Anne Averyt, lives in South Burlington, with her cat Sam and as many flowers as possible.
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