Monday, April 23, 2007

The NPR/NYT-addicted goon that I am, I have been fully bombarded with the latest news on the Baghdad Wall imbroglio. Before I go any further, to fulfill the obligatory comparison:

The Wall in figures*

Overall length : 103 miles

Length inside Berlin : 26.8 miles

Length between Berlin and the GDR : 70 miles

Wall passing through inhabited areas : 23 miles

Wall passing through industrial areas : 10.6 miles

Wall passing through wooded areas : 18.6 miles

Wall passing through waterway areas : 14.9 miles

Length of concrete wall (13' high) : 66.6 miles

Metal fencing (9-13' high) : 40.5 miles

Anti-tank ditches (16'6" deep) : 0.6 miles

Anti-vehicle ditches (8' deep) : 65.5 miles

Surveillance tracks (20-23' wide) : 77 miles

Tracks with sliding cables for dogs : 259

Number of dogs : 600

Watch towers : 302

Concrete shelters : 22

Border guards : 14 000

Number of shots fired by border guards : 1 693

Bullet marks in the West : 456

Persons successfully scaling the Wall : 5 043

of whom members of the armed forces : 574

Persons arrested in the vicinity of the Wall : 3 221

Fugitives killed : 239

Soldiers and policemen killed : 27

Persons wounded : 260

Attacks against the Wall : 35

Building any kind of border wall is obviously a violent and incendiary event; however I'm not sure that the Berlin Wall is the best analog. The people discussing the Israeli/Palestinian border "systems" are probably more on track (morphologically and operationally).

I have to say, however, other than being struck dumb at the (escalating) hubris of our military, the most striking moment of this story was the way in which the military tried to spin the news: by referring to the walled area as a "gated community."

Jokes about accuracy aside, the equating of this controlled military compound with an Atlanta suburb makes my mind reel. Not because of the implication that people that live in suburban enclaves are self-imprisoned. It's rather the opposite that is staggering, the application of psychology of exclusivity to this violent rupture of one street from another. It makes me think: are we exporting fear along with "democracy?" Does the officially proclaimed and branded "American Way" have an intrinsically xenophobic core? It's true that our society (from any side) seems to have a new found obsession with purity, privacy, and control, and a growing fear of the collective and unconstrained. But is it perhaps this mindset, as much as a blindly jingoistic Washington, war profiteering, or a national thirst for oil, that is undercutting any kind of diplomatic success in these last eight years? We've never been that good of a people at self-understanding. Maybe we're all more fearful of our neighbors than we let on to ourselves.

*All numbers are from the incomparably fantastic book "The Ghosts of Berlin" by Brian Ladd.

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