We live in a world that has walls. Some are very visible. Some are less tangible, like the borders between sovereign nations. But they are walls nonetheless. In some places, there is a physical wall or fortification of some description marking a border, as there is on the Korean Peninsula, and as there once was along the border between England and Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall, the remnants of which can still be seen). Even where there is no physical wall or barrier, there is normally at least a checkpoint of some kind at the point of entry into the area controlled by a sovereign nation, that must be negotiated and crossed in some way. Some are easier to cross than others. When entering the United States one is photographed and finger printed (or at least, one was the last time I did so); to get into England visitors often must endure the hell that is the passport control line at Heathrow Airport; to enter Israel from a neighbouring country like Jordan one will expect to be delayed at least an hour as a thorough background and bag check is carried out. Some borders are much easier to pass through than others, but at the very least, when entering a sovereign nation, or the European Schengen Area for the first time, someone will seek to establish your identity, glance over your Passport, and check your visa if one is required.
Whether they are tangible or intangible, made of brick or razor wire, or are nothing more than a uniformed clerk sitting behind a desk at passport control, walls exist to monitor the flow of people from one sovereign nation to another. A nation that has lost control of its borders, like some parts of Somalia, Syria and Iraq, loses, as a consequence, at least some of its sovereignty, being unable to effectively control the flow of people and of things, in and out of its territory. This is not a concept that came into being with the rise of the nation state. In ancient Rome, one of the largest and most important tasks of the legionaries were keeping the borders secure. When this was achieved, the citizens of Rome enjoyed periods of peace and relative prosperity. When it could not be achieved, there was fear, sometimes panic, and ultimately, the sack and fall of Rome itself, and with it, the Empire.
We have heard much about walls, borders, and border control in recent times. A few years ago the island nation of Australia sought, under a new government, to secure its seaborne borders, with a strong response to people smuggling that has worked, stopping the flow of people (thousands at a time), and preventing numerous deaths by drowning at sea. In response, the current government has been more strongly and hysterically criticised than the previous one ever was, despite the fact the previous government had lost control of the borders with disastrous policies that resulted in large numbers of people stuck for lengthy periods of time in overflowing immigration detention centres and hundreds, and possibly thousands, of deaths at sea.
Over the weekend a joint task force proposed to conduct random visa checks on the streets of Melbourne. This act of merely upholding and enforcing the law brought feral students from their campuses to the centre of the city to burn the national flag and indulge in other random acts of confected outrage. In Europe, the crisis created by the flow of people across the Balkans and the borderless Schengen area, some fleeing wars in the Middle East, but others simply looking for a better life, has resulted in one nation, Hungary, building a razor wire wall across its southern border. Whilst there is no doubt many of those displaced persons moving across the European continent are desperate and genuinely fleeing violent fanatics like ISIS, that the vast majority are willing to pass through several other European States to gather at Calais, hoping for a passage to England, shows that it is not all about fleeing to safety.
The fact is, a sovereign nation must have a border, and the border must be defined, and policed. A state that has lost control of its borders is a failed state. The immigration crisis currently gripping the world is complex and tragic, and does require a response borne of generosity and compassion, especially from the wealthier nations of the West. But the answer is not an open border. No sovereign nation could countenance simply opening its border and declining to check passports. The answer to the immigration crisis just cannot be ‘get here any way you can and come right in’! Yet this is, remarkably, not dissimilar to the sort of naïve commentary offered by assorted activists, Greens politicians, and other would be do-gooders and God botherers.
As much as we in the West can, and should assist, with this global problem of immense proportions, an open border would actually create more disaster, more suffering, and more anguish, for more people, effecting, as it would, both the immigrants and those already settled in the nation rendered borderless. Where would thousands of eager migrants, pouring across an open border and into a place like Hungary, Australia, or England, live and work? How would the hospital system, the welfare system, the social housing system, and the education system (and we could go on) cope with a sudden and dramatic influx of people in large numbers? What would be the social consequences?
The fact is, a sovereign nation needs walls, and a secure border, and must enforce its sovereignty as necessary, to protect its own people and guard its own national interest. To fail to do so, is to become a failed state. The Hungarian government, as harsh as it may sound, are doing what is necessary, in constructing a wall of razor wire to secure its borders, as are the British government in securing its cross Channel border, and as are the Australian government in turning back boats carrying asylum seekers. The reality is, we need walls, and so we live in a word in which there are walls.
Let’s give the last words to Colonel Jessop (from the movie A Few Good Men):
“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!”