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Famous wall failures in history

The political fight to build a wall across America’s southern border ignores one historical fact:  Walls don’t work. History is filled with examples of failed efforts to secure countries from barbarians, Mongols, Germans and Amorites with stone, rock, concrete and barbed wire. None were successful.

Here is a partial list:

• The Amorite Wall – (From -- During the 21st century B.C., the ancient Sumerians constructed what is known as the “Amorite Wall” (to keep out the Amorites) which stretched for over a hundred miles between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It failed when it was either over-ran or hostile nomads simply went around it.

• Hadrian’s Wall – Around 122 B.C. Roman Emperor Hadrian built a wall to keep barbarians out of Roman controlled Britain. This wall stretched for 73 miles and may have served a purpose for many years, but eventually time and looting it for personal building materials led to its destruction in many areas.

• Great Wall of China – Made of different materials and in different styles it stretches for thousands of miles across China’s north. It was built over several hundreds of years (starting in the 3rd century and still under construction in the 1600s) with portions up to 25 feet tall and complete with watchtowers. Despite hundreds of years of construction, costing an untold number of lives (forced labor), the wall was ineffective as the Mongols bypassed it (some say from un-manned gates) and sacked Beijing in 1550. It was again busted through in 1644 by the Manchus ending the Ming Dynasty.

• The Maginot Line - A series of concrete fortifications built by France following World War I to deter invasion. It was declared a “work of genius” in the 1930s as the French felt they would be safe from all future German aggression. But it was based on their experience with trench warfare, and obviously served as little deterrent when World War II occurred as the Germans had also re-thought their tactics (From Wikipedia).

• The Berlin Wall – Built in 1961, described it as “the Soviet-aligned East German government built a series of concrete partitions separating East and West Berlin. While Communist leaders claimed the barriers were designed to keep out fascists and other enemies of the state, their real function was to prevent East Germans from defecting to the West.” Many were killed trying to scale it, but thousands did succeed. It stood for 28 years before it was demolished to great excitement around the world.


There are several clear warnings from history of why walls fail. Even the Great Wall, so massive it can still be seen from the moon, and with China’s massive population and an emperor who could command and punish by lopping off heads, failed as they couldn’t keep it manned.

Other walls failed due to technology. The French felt they were so smart with their defense line to stop WWI-style invasions but found out that walls are static while tactics to go around them are fluid. In building a wall to secure a border, we are simply challenging those who want to come illegally to find another route – by sea, tunnels, falsified documents and tricks at airports. In fact, one common way that illegal workers end up illegal is by coming on visas through normal channels and then not leaving – something a wall wouldn’t deter. And the illegal drugs already arrive by cars on roads, evading detection at recognized checkpoints - something else a wall won’t deter.

At least one wall failed due to politics or became obsolete as people on both sides no longer wanted the Berlin Wall, a political lesson we might want to consider. It is sheer arrogance to believe that our American wall, proposed to cover 1,000 miles of the 2,000 mile border in some discussions, will buck the trend of history.

Regardless of your political views, the saying that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it is a hard fact to argue with.