What we should be talking about


Seems a mea culpa – Latin for “Oops!” – is in order. Who knew our prodigal practitioner could issue a challenge and then dictate rules of engagement for any who dared?  My last ramble apparently strayed far afield from doctor’s orders.

Oops! #2 – my last letter left the impression that China’s “Great Wall” was something of a success.  It was not.  Like Sam Cooke’s song, don’t know much about history.  Especially sixteenth century Ming Dynasty history.  It is a wonderful world, but I’ve got to admit – don’t know much about Chinese history during any century.

Then I read Michael Schuman’s article “China Built a Big, Beautiful Wall, Too. It failed.”  Everything I thought I knew about that wall was wrong.  So wrong it reminded me of an unscripted television moment in 2008.  MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was attempting to defend the indefensible, reciting all the usual excuses for yet another assault on besieged Gaza.  Israel calls it “mowing the lawn” – a genteel euphemism for its periodic butchery of a trapped people with nowhere to run.

Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was a guest on Joe’s show that day. When finally allowed to respond, Brzezinski was brutal. “You know, you have such a stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on that it’s almost embarrassing to listen to you.”

Reading Schuman’s article (in Bloomberg.com) it was obvious I, too, had a “stunningly superficial knowledge of what went on” in sixteenth century China.   Schuman’s conclusion is a sobering, cautionary tale for our own times.

“The ultimate lesson of the Great Wall of China is that a physical barrier, no matter how expensive and impressive, will fail if detached from a broader set of policies to alleviate the sources of insecurity along the border. The Ming never figured that out. Hopefully Washington’s mandarins will.”

Still part of that dwindling minority fired up for Trump’s big, beautiful wall that Mexico will pay for (when hell freezes over)?  Ask yourself what it is about this particular border in the year 2019 of the Common Era that preserves it for all eternity. Why not the borders of 1845 or those that may exist a thousand years from now?

Trump’s “Great Wall” is an exercise in arrogance, a billboard for bigotry. “On this side we are exceptional Americans. On that side, you are not exceptional – stay away.”  Walls deny our own sordid history.  For centuries we have meddled where we did not belong and we have stolen what is not ours.  Like it or not, Americans play a part in much of today’s human misery.

We who have much have a duty to repair what we can, to apologize and pay for what we cannot, and to learn to see our neighbors as equal to ourselves regardless of color or creed or which side of a border we find ourselves on.

This is what we should be talking about.

Jacques d’Nalgar
Hot Springs, Arkansas


Photograph: AFP

Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2019/01/25/what-we-should-be-talking-about/


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  1. Ya Rasheed, I considered not approving your comment. The many “well, what about you?!” questions suggest that you missed the point of the letter — that walls don’t work, have never worked, and there are more important problems before us. Namely, centuries of festering injustice that have created the misery that drives refugees to our border. Nothing will change until those injustices are addressed. I am no Wilberforce or MLK, but did their calls for justice ring hollow because they did not themselves free slaves or adopt Vietnamese orphans? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Sometimes the most powerful attack on injustice is with words — spoken or written, quiet or loud. This is not about radical hospitality, it’s about ridiculing specious arguments defending a wall that is little more than a monument to Trump’s vanity. I never heard of Saul Alinksy until a critic called me his devotee and a martini-sipping liberal (I’ll cop to that one). Saul Alinksy’s Rule #5 is still a pretty damn good one: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” (Alinsky 1972: 128) If America fails to address injustices at home and around the world, particularly injustices that we foolishly set in motion, we will rot from within long before a wall protects anyone from “barbarians” at the gate. Frère Jacques

    • Rasheed Hanna on January 26, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    So, Monsier n’Daglar,

    It’s ok to make broad sweeping statements that those who are supporting a wall are promoting a “billboard for bigotry” but it’s not ok to challenge people to look at their own lives and see if they are actually living out their high moral standards? Hmmm.

    Also, make up your mind – because your vacillating between the two: is this primarily about whether the wall will work as you stated is the main point you are making? Or that this is a great moral issue? From your statement you clearly believe it is both. So, let’s first determine if and where a wall might help before we assert it will not and, second, let’s look at all the other moral issues that we need to work on before demanding that others embrace our moral position on this issue.

    Sincerely, Rasheed

  2. Following is the delusional doctor’s triumphal exit from his self-erected debate stage. It was published immediately preceding the above post o’ mine, and is another manifestation of condescending and simultaneously disgusting, simplistic analogies to explain the necessity of an unnecessary wall to “Democrats” he obviously regards as imbeciles. Migrants and refugees are, in this illustration, nothing more than “intruders” — he threw down a gauntlet and none “objectively” answered (to his satisfaction). You be the judge…

    If no wall, what then?

    Dear editor:

    My two letters of Jan. 15 and 23 asked for objective proof that appropriate and sufficient border walls are ineffective in stopping illegal immigration across our or anyone’s border. Since they have gone objectively unanswered, I feel as if I proved my point and I’m on a roll.

    Therefore, I wish to address the Democrat’s stated counter position on how to secure the border. I will use an analogy to prove my point as to why their offer would be ineffective.

    When the door to your home is unlocked (the equivalent of a border without a wall), does a surveillance camera and motion detector inside your house do any good to keep out an intruder? By the time you discover they’ve gone inside, they’re already in your home and it’s too late. If the intruder knew that even if caught by the police essentially nothing would be done to them, they wouldn’t care that you had surveillance. They would take their chances at not being caught. That’s the equivalent of what the Democrats want to do to secure the border. These measures would only be effective to catch the few “intruders” who somehow manage to get past the wall, not the tens of thousands pouring over our southern border annually.

    As I’ve stated in my first letter, one can have a vigorous discussion concerning whether illegal immigration or unrestrained immigration across our southern border is right or wrong, moral or immoral. But that’s not the purpose of this letter. This third letter is specifically to make a case for the ineffectiveness of security measures that only are capable of apprehending those who have already entered illegally into the United States. Once inside the United States they are just about impossible to remove.

    As Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    Jack Sternberg, M.D.
    Hot Springs

    • Richard Hanna on February 6, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    My only comment is that when someone enters my house without my approval the alarm siren is so loud it frightens people away – as well as calling the police.

  3. I am so tired of condescending analogies. You and Dr. Sternberg should hang out together some time… See my following post for a succinct comment (in the preface) about how I really feel!

  4. What if everything in your house was stolen from others? What then would your loud siren represent?

    • Richard Hanna on February 7, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    What was condescending about that? I’m simply describing a feature of my home security system.

  5. I just want someone to defend the efficacy of a goddamned wall without resorting to metaphors of alarm systems or roofs to keep the rain out or gated communities. What metaphors suggest is that most of us, who don’t favor spending billions on an unnecessary wall when our infrastructure is crumbling all around us, are too stupid to understand anything but simplistic (and usually non sequitur) comparisons. There are other voices, both proximate to the border and experts in security, who are quick to suggest just how ridiculous the concept of a border wall is. Why does your rationale trump (a purgative pun) theirs?

  6. Unless someone offers a Jesus-like parable in support of Trump’s wall call, I am exercising a publisher’s prerogative and declaring that this is the last word: khalas.

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