There are certain historical ideas and precedents that we probably shouldn't embrace if we want people to take us seriously. For example, we shouldn't describe a solution to a problem as the "final solution." Likewise, no one should ever say anything resembling "slavery was good for the blacks because..." (I'm looking at you, Pat Buchanan), or if someone within ear-shot begins to say "that Bin Laden guy was right about one thing..." please feel free to karate chop them in the throat.
If you find yourself inadvertently traveling down such a road, you'd better slam the ejector-seat button and get the hell out as best you can. But if you choose to deliberately ignore this basic rule, I don't even want to know you.
Take Bill O'Reilly for example. Last week on his show, he went there. During a segment in which he chatted with guest Karl Rove about the immigration situation, O'Reilly suggested that it'd be a fantastic idea to build a wall along the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border -- just like the Berlin Wall.
If O'Reilly was a normal human being on a collision course with sounding like he's about to positively invoke the Berlin Wall, he would've aborted long before the words "Berlin Wall" gurgled out of his face-hole. Sadly, O'Reilly isn't a normal human being, and so, like Charles Krauthammer before him, he clearly sees the Berlin Wall as a masterstroke of genius to be borrowed and duplicated, rather than a ghoulish symbol of totalitarian oppression -- a shameful relic of history to be avoided at all costs. Via MMFA:
O'REILLY: [Charles] Krauthammer on this program said, um, I guess about two weeks ago, that if you build a border fence like they did in East Germany, all right? Did you ever see the East German fence?
ROVE: I've been through the East German fence.
O'REILLY: I've been through it. I was there for it, the wall coming down in Berlin, I was actually there on the scene. Nobody could get through that fence, all right? Nobody. It was a formidable obstacle. And the Israelis have done the same thing to keep out terrorism there. So, we haven't done that on the southern border. And that is mistake number one. Mistake number two, in this current flash point situation in the Rio Grande Valley not far from where you live in Austin, you could put National Guard there, and stop the madness, just as you stopped the madness in the Rodney King riots, like with Hurricane Katrina and all of those other things. There is a dereliction of leadership here...
Wow, Bill O'Reilly applauded the despotic saber-rattling of communist East Germany and the Soviet Union. Why don't we do what they did? Well played, Khrushchev, you magnificent bastard! It's not difficult to grasp why (until last week) there was so much adulation for Vladimir Putin and his mighty pectorals among certain players on the right, but the signature achievement of communist East Germany? Obviously, the disdain for Mexicans, Hondurans and Guatemalans supersedes the disdain for the Berlin Wall.
By the way, O'Reilly's idea was too radical for Rove. The conversation continued:
ROVE: Well, first of all, it is a little different, the wall in the city of Berlin --
O'REILLY: No, in the countryside and marshes, they added the wall everywhere.
ROVE: They had a big wall in a limited part of it, Bill.
O'REILLY: I was there.
ROVE: We got a much larger border and there are parts it where a wall, at the top after 400-foot cliffs that run through several hundred miles through Big Bend, you don't need a wall.
Isn't "Karl Rove: Voice Of Reason" a sign of the end times?
Reminder: the renewed immigration debate has been precipitated by unaccompanied children crossing the border to escape violence in Central America. It's not an illegal immigrant problem, it's a refugee problem. For this, O'Reilly wants to deploy the National Guard while constructing Berlin Wall 2: Electric-Fence Boogaloo. And we nearly careened past the fact that it wasn't entirely his idea. He's basically cribbing it from Charles Krauthammer. So, this is becoming a real thing.
Tacking off Rove's [cough] smart point about the comparative length of the U.S./Mexico border, let's answer some basic questions about this endeavor.
1) How long is the U.S.-Mexico border?
1,933 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). That's approximately the length of 20 Berlin Walls, stretched end-to-end.
2) How secure was the Berlin Wall?
In order to match the fortifications of the original, our wall would have to feature numerous layers, including multiple cement and chain-link barriers, barbed wire fencing, metal obstacles called "Czech hedgehogs," guard towers, dog-runs and so forth.
3) How much would it cost to build and maintain 1,933 miles of this kind of barrier?
Construction costs alone would be astronomical. First of all, an existing border wall was built by the federal government at the expense of taxpayers from Maine to Hawaii. Beginning in 2006, a 670-mile fence was constructed, costing $2.4 billion. That's a fence, nothing more. So, to extend the existing fence by another 1,263 miles, creating a Berlin Fence along the entire border -- one layer, no guards, no dogs, nothing except a fence -- would cost around $4.8 billion. Add the man-hours for guard towers, the cost of buying the land, supplies, ammunition, plus a 1,933-mile concrete wall, per the Berlin specs, along with barbed wire, obstacles, guards and guard-dogs, and the price tag could easily top $700 billion. And that doesn't include maintaining every last inch of it in perpetuity. If we eliminate all of the Berlin-style extras, and just build a double-layered fence, the construction cost would be $14.4 billion.
Just as a point of reference, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the dreaded "stimulus," cost $787 billion. I thought guys like O'Reilly were against big federal spending bills like this. If they're suddenly in favor of such a proposal, I fail to see why they're so against something like high speed rail, which, unlike a 1,933-mile Berlin Wall, would break even in the long run. In fact, if we use our bare-bones construction cost for a double-layerd fence as a baseline ($14.4 billion), we could build roughly 1,440 miles of high speed rail for the same price. That's the complete distance from Miami to Boston.
But these are all nitpicky details. Invoking the Berlin Wall, of all things, as a model for a U.S./Mexico fence is not unlike proposing the construction of more nuclear power plants, just like the excellent ones in Chernobyl and Fukushima. It's that fucking bad.