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VIEWS AND VOICES
Hypocrisy of Bush's war at the U.S.-Mexico border
Tearing down their walls

June 9, 2006 | Page 8

IN 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at Brandenburg Gate in front of the Berlin Wall and issued the now-famous challenge to his counterpart in the Soviet empire: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The Berlin Wall is widely seen today as a symbol of Stalinism and its devaluation of human freedom. With any luck, history's judgment will repeat itself with regards to another wall being constructed today.

But first, a little history. Following the division of Germany by the victorious Allied nations at the end of the Second World War, the capital city of Berlin, deep inside Soviet-controlled territory, was itself divided into four zones of control between America, Britain, France and the Soviets. Neither side was willing to risk German reunification if it meant actual German independence, so both sides set up governments friendly to themselves. Thus, the temporary divisions of occupied Germany became permanent.

The East German regime first erected a barrier around West Berlin in 1961, to stem the tide of emigration to the West (Republikflucht, literally "flight from the [German Democratic] Republic.") Until that time, thousands of East German citizens, disenchanted by the lack of political freedom in the misnamed German Democratic Republic and enticed by the economic prosperity of West Germany, left for a better future.

The East Germans built up the Wall in four stages, making it more permanent and difficult to evade as time went on. The Wall split families and cost East Berliners their jobs in the West. The sudden construction also left many West Berliners fearing an imminent annexation by force, and angry at the Kennedy administration's acceptance of the wall as "an international fact of life."

Peter Schneider's The Wall Jumper beautifully captures the ridiculous and illogical nature of erecting a wall between two peoples sharing a common cultural, linguistic and national heritage.

In his novel, the metaphorical character Kabe persists in "illegally" crossing back and forth over the wall simply because he cannot understand why he shouldn't be allowed to visit the other side. Kabe frustrates his interrogators--West and East--by his simple rationale that defies their twisted Cold War logic.

Today, America's political elite are putting their hypocrisy on full display--and the media is mostly letting them get away with it--in their calls for militarizing and extending the enormous wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recently, George W. Bush pandered to his right-wing base by announcing that he was sending 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. Their presence in a law enforcement role totters on illegality, though Bush has defined their mission as one of paperwork and directing unmanned drone aircraft.

Yet with millions of employees at the disposal of the federal government, why send the Guard? Because sending troops to the border sends the message that we're at war with undocumented immigrants from Mexico. It sends the message that Bush is responding to this (phony) crisis with armed soldiers. That's a gift to his far-right base that embraces the phalangist Minutemen Project.

Sending troops to the border is also a setback for the immigrant rights movement. We marched for amnesty, civil rights and the demilitarization of the border. We defeated the Sensenbrenner bill, but not Sensenbrenner himself. We knocked Washington politicians off-balance, but we didn't knock them out. Now they're trying to regain the initiative through the pseudo-compromise of the Hagel-Martinez bill, with its practically endless red-tape path to legalization for one tier of undocumented immigrants.

When a Stalinist regime closes a border, the U.S. government will point out this brazen abridgement of human rights. The international media will hound those responsible for the outrage. But when the U.S. government closes a border and criminalizes millions of people, that's considered sound policy by the talking heads of cable television.

The East Germans never admitted to the true purpose of the Wall. They referred to the project as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier," protecting its citizens from bourgeois saboteurs and spies.

Nor will George W. Bush and his flunkies likely anytime soon admit that their machinations seek to create a permanent underclass in American society whose legal rights barely exist on paper, let alone in real life.

The sharper Washington's attack on undocumented workers becomes, the weaker the position of all labor will become. The linguistic differences between native- and foreign-born workers are much less important than the class differences between the posh American elite and the working class that keeps society running.

The wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is no less dangerous to human rights than the Berlin Wall. But unlike our brothers and sisters in East Germany who lived in a police state, we have the social weight and relative freedom to challenge the border. Whether or not we throw our collective weight behind this struggle remains to be seen.

Challenging the discourse that undocumented immigrants are stealing jobs from native-born workers, running drugs and sapping up precious welfare dollars will not be easy. Arrayed against us are the liberal and conservative sections of the ruling class, who want to exploit immigrant labor in different ways, but exploit it nonetheless.

On May 1, we revived International Workers' Day in America, its birthplace. Next, we need to revive the very labor movement that led to the creation of International Workers' Day. There won't be any shortcuts to the brass tacks of agitating, educating and organizing relentlessly until the message sticks. Through repetition, our novel, yet logical ideas will gain credence.
John Green, Oakland, Calif.

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