Will High-Tech Border Fence Become a Tourist Attraction?

Other walls that kept people apart eventually draw tourists together

Walls are sometimes meant to keep people in (prisons, for example) and sometimes to keep them out (fortresses). The Great Wall of China to keep the Mongols out, Hadrian’s Wall to protect the Roman presence in Britain against raiders from the north, the Berlin Wall to keep the East Germans in and Israel’s walls to contain Palestinians are just a few examples over the centuries. 

I’ve walked along the Great Wall of China in both directions from Bandoling, an attraction for foreign tourists and visitors alike, because it is the most convenient segment to Beijing and the most developed as well.

The Great Wall of China, built in the 3rd century, B.C.

I’ve hiked along a section of Hadrian’s Wall west of Carlisle. Once a formidable barrier, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and north England’ s most popular tourist attraction.

Hadrian's Wall, begun in 120 A.D. and more than 70 miles long.

Nothing symbolized the Cold War more than the Berlin Wall, which divided the city that once was (and is now again) the capital of Germany.  Segments of the Wall have been relocated all over the world to memorialize the terrible tensions of the Cold War era and all the repression involved. The first time I went to Europe, I passed through Checkpoint Charlie separating the two halves of divided Berlin. Germany and Berlin have been reunified, and I’ve seen segements of the wall in Manhattan, Rapid City and elsewhere. I haven’t seen the one at Israel’s Ein Hod Artists’ Village, an sad and ironic place for it, since Israel is still building its dispiriting security wall.

Built in 1961 to divide East and West Berlin

Israel started building a formidable wall after the Second Intifada in 2003, and they haven’t stopped yet. An eight-foot wall cuts through some Palestinian towns and surrounds others, separates farmers from their field and their livestock, and makes Palestinians prisoners on their land. I passed through it in June going to and from the airport in Tel Aviv. It is not a tourist attraction but rather an impediment to Palestinian people and a provocation to them. Hopefully, a two-state solution will be hammered out of this bitter conflict and the wall (or small sections of it) will eventually become a curiosity and tourist attraction too.

The wall was begun in 2003 and is still under construction. When completed (or if completed) it will be 760 kilometers long (430 or so miles -- but correct my arithmetic if I'm wrong).

Another barrier, this one high-tech rather than brick and mortar, is/was a planned “virtual” border fence between the US and Mexico. This Bush administration brainchild, conceived in 2005 and was sold to Congress and the tax-paying public as chain of cameras, ground sensor and radar installations that were to detect “illegals” crossing the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico. Boeing has raked in a billion dollars, only about 53 miles of fence were ever constructed. Janet Napolitano is the  former governor of Arizona (you know, the state where Congresswomen, federal judges and 9-year-olds occasionally get shot), knows something about border problems and immigration issues. She is now the Secretary of Homeland Security and announced a few days ago that the project is dead. What took the Obama Administration so long to dump it? It cost $15 million a mile — money that could have gone elsehwere. Looking at previous attempts at fence-building, I wonder whether the bit of “virtual” fence will ever be a sightseeing attraction. You be the judge.

Installations like this were supposed to secure the 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border. Only 53 miles have been built, and that's it. Have taxpayers gotten their billion bucks' worth?

 With the dream of a high-tech barrier stretching from one end of America’s southern border to the other – originally hailed by then-President George W. Bush as “the most technically advanced border security initiative” ever – officially canceled, I wonder what the next frontier will be to keep people out or in or have something to look at when it’s finished.

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In announcing that it would pull the plug on the troubled “virtual fence” project, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Friday it would instead pursue a region-by-region approach, with different parts of the US border protected in different ways as dictated by terrain and other area-specific conditions.

“This new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a statement.

3 thoughts on “Will High-Tech Border Fence Become a Tourist Attraction?”

  1. I don’t know, but I’d guess the contractor(s) got the money, even though the fence did’t go far. It is possible that the Dept of Homeland Security didn’t give useful specs or changed the specs in mid-project. Just conjecture.

  2. I certainly will .. I have several friends that have gone to the ‘sections’ of the fence that you can find here & there down backroads in South Texas & done the whole picture taking thing by the wall. Not sure we will make our money back in the tourism revenues though!

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