Up against ‘The Wall’

“Now the government wants to build a barrier like ol’ Berlin, 8 feet tall, But if Uncle Sam sends the illegals home, who’s gonna build the wall.”

— Tom Russell, 
“Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall”

The Mother of All Bombs (MOAB), 59 Tomahawk missiles, a song, “Manzanar” by one of my favorite singer/songwriters and another of Tom Russell’s songs about The Wall. How does that all mesh into an editorial page column?

As I sometimes say when asked to give a speech, “I’ll be interested in what I have to say.”

A couple of weeks ago, a windy afternoon in California’s Owens Valley found us touring Manzanar, the World War II internment camp memorializing the blot on American history when thousands of Japanese, most of them U.S. citizens, were forcibly detained. Though it was our second time visiting the former camp nestled against the Sierras, it was still a moving experience.

The bronze plaque out front carrying the words of the post-war Commission on the Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians puts it succinctly: “Executive Order 9066 was not justified by military necessity…the broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

Former president Ronald Reagan, while signing 1988 legislation providing reparations for families of WWII Japanese internees, also made a formal apology for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. His apology included words he first spoke in 1945.

“America stands unique in the world,” he said, “the only country not founded on race but on a way, an ideal. Not in spite of but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. That is the American way.”

It wasn’t hard to feel the irony of visiting Manzanar a few days after our military sent 59 Tomahawk missiles and the MOAB into Syria. The words on that monument still seem significant at a time when our president is also still intent on building his wall and implementing his travel ban, both targeting specific populations.

The bombing and missile attacks were supposedly inspired by the gassing of children and others by the Syrian government. That doubles down on the irony in that, while bombs and missiles are supposedly an appropriate response, those same children would be barred from entering the U.S. as refugees by the travel ban.

One also has to wonder how much could have been done to relocate Syrian children and their families, and those in other countries impacted by the travel ban, with the $80 million spent on those attacks. And that figure some doesn’t include the associated costs for planes, pilots, fuel, missile crews and other “back shop” work on the efforts.

Another bit of irony is that Reagan, the president most revered by conservative Republicans, called upon an international rival to tear down the Berlin Wall which then divided East and West Germany in the same fashion as the proposed barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” Reagan famously said 30 years ago.

This week, administration officials are signaling that failure to include a “down payment” on President Trump’s wall might be one cause of another federal government shutdown by the weekend over budget issues.

Polls show 58 percent of Americans oppose and only 28 percent support new spending for a wall. Border lawmakers, including GOP members of Congress oppose it, as do property owners along the boundary. It’s a promise beset by geology and terrain, one which would also cause cross-border wildlife issues.

The wall’s $22 billion estimated cost translates to $120 to be paid by each U.S. household instead of promised payment by the Mexican government. It’s a solution in search of a problem since the number of Mexicans apprehended at the U.S. border declined 85 percent from 2000-2014 and more Mexicans are returning to their home country in recent years than are heading north across the border.

And it’s a wall that, if completed, would compound mistakes of the past…mistakes made because of, as that plaque in front of the Manzanar visitors center states, “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

”…But on moonless winter nights, I often wish upon a star

That I’d forget the shame and sorrow that I felt at Manzanar.”

— Tom Russell, “Manzanar”


Just some of the things Jim Spehar thinks about while wandering 2,600 miles in his 43-year-old Land Cruiser. Comments welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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