Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Throughout history, human walls and barriers have been erected for various purposes—some good, others bad.
December 12th, 2023
Gregor Craigie looks at both the dangerous walls and those that are benevolent. He has embraced the challenge of educating children about human barriers erected across the globe.
by Senuri Wasalathanthri
As a child, I hardly understood the importance of learning about world history and how things came to be. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized history possesses a tendency to repeat itself. It became evident that understanding significant historical events was a way to arm ourselves against repeating the mistakes of our ancestors.
Consider this: How would our perspective of the world evolve if we possessed knowledge and understanding about major historical events during our formative years? Radio journalist and writer, Gregor Craigie, has willingly embraced the challenge of educating children about walls and human barriers erected across the globe—a neglected detail in world history conversations in Walls: The Long History of Human Barriers and Why We Build Them (Orca $29.95) for ages 9 – 12. He meticulously categorizes all the crucial walls built throughout history based on the most significant purposes they serve.
The act of keeping people out of a particular territory has been the primary motivation for countries and kingdoms to construct barriers along their borders for thousands of years. From the Great Wall of China to Ukraine’s ancient walls, the current United States-Mexico border wall, and the border wall in Hungary, these structures were erected with the sole purpose of restricting entry by people from other nations. Craigie delves into the efficacy of each of these barriers and explores what they are intended to protect. However, he also cleverly shares his perspective on what these walls could potentially harm or destroy.
These physical barriers often serve as painful separations for family members living in different countries, making it difficult for them to frequently see their parents, siblings and loved ones. “Is this a compassionate response to people in need? Or a cruel divide between people who should be allowed to come together?” Craigie writes. “Like so many questions about barriers, the answer depends on who answers and on what side of the wall they stand.”
In stark contrast, some barriers were solely designed to prevent people from moving out of their home nation, trapping the unwilling inside without any possibility of escape. Craigie goes into detail about the events that led to the construction of the Warsaw Ghetto wall in Poland, Berlin wall, Western Sahara wall and Israeli West Bank barrier. He meticulously provides details about Adolf Hitler and the Nazi reign, the Communist Party Alliance with the Soviet Union, the war between Western Sahara and Morocco, and the Israeli and Palestinian conflict – situations that brought about the erection of these walls.
Despite the challenging concept of war and conflict, Craigie writes with precision and care, ensuring to avoid language and details that may sensationalize or be too intense for young readers.
To bring attention to economic and trade implications of human barriers, the book focuses on the Great Zimbabwe walls, the Great Hedge of India and Pueblo Bonito walls that made money by controlling nations, sometimes inhumane amounts as in the salt tax imposed by the British colonial government in India. “The tax was essentially a price that anyone transporting salt across India from the Punjab region, where it was produced, had to pay. The British collected millions of rupees from the Indian people through the salt tax. But it was an expensive fee for one of the essential elements of life, and millions of poor Indians had to pay, even during famines when many were starving and could not afford food,” Craigie writes.
Some walls were erected for benevolent reasons. Craigie includes information about walls that are designed to protect nature, crops, livestock and ecosystems. The Walls of Jericho, Rabbit-proof fence and Dingo fence in Australia were built to protect people from natural disasters such as floods, as well as protecting crops, endangered birds, reptiles and small mammals from other animals that cause ecological devastation.
Further, Craigie goes into detail about the Great Green Wall of Africa, Delaware Estuary Living Shoreline Initiative and the Delta Works Ocean walls in the Netherlands that are imperative for the growth of more trees and food sources, stabilizing the edge of marsh land preventing erosion, and protecting communities from storms and other disasters caused due to climate change.
“It’s been said that people build too many walls and not enough bridges,” says Craigie. “Looking back on thousands of years of human history, it’s hard to argue with that. And looking into the future, it’s hard to imagine people stopping. Let’s hope that in the years and decades ahead, people will choose to build walls that protect all and exclude no one,” Craigie writes, inviting young readers to ponder upon the different outcomes of barriers and solutions that promote inclusivity, unity and hope.
This thoroughly researched and well-written book will aid young readers in understanding how our society came to be, while looking at current systems from different perspectives. For any young person interested in learning more about the history of our world, exploring why humanity has put up barriers as we have evolved and why we continue this tradition, they couldn’t ask for a better resource. 9781459833111
Senuri Wasalthanthri is a Vancouver based publishing assistant, writer and student.