Friday, August 14, 2009

Seeing Right Through Our Own Great Wall


Barrie Maguire illustration

Barrie Maguire illustration

Despite urban legend, China's Great Wall is not visible to astronauts. But if angels are looking down, they might be laughing.

Stretching out broken and crumbling over 5,000 miles, China's Wall is a monument to political folly. And now, with even less hope of success, we are building an American version.

Built up over thousands of years and costing millions of lives, the Great Wall was able to slow, but never stop, any major invasion from China's north.

It didn't stop the Mongols in the 13th century. Their lord Kublai Kahn swept across and founded what later became Beijing, or "Northern Capital." It didn't stop the Manchus in the 17th century, who poured over to found China's last dynasty, nor did it stop the Japanese in the 20th century.

America's variation is actually a Great Fence, a 10- to 15-foot-high barrier mostly consisting of chain link topped with barbed wire. It now runs over 500 broken miles, mostly along the border between Mexico and three states: California, Arizona and New Mexico. It is projected to run twice that length, well into Texas. It is not intended to cover the entire border; a "virtual fence" with sensors and cameras will fill in the intervals.

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