January 19, 2019

`Good fences make good neighbors,’ wrote American poet Robert Frost. But not according to President Donald Trump whose proposed Great Wall is supposed to protect the nation from hordes of rabid, murderous, drug crazed rapists and unwhites from south of the border.

I’m a life-long student of military architecture, with a particular passion for modern fortification, chief among which is France’s own Great Wall, the magnificent and unfairly reviled Maginot Line.

Given the heated debate in America over Trump’s proposed barrier along the Mexican border, it’s worth looking back to the Maginot Line. It was supposed to have been France’s savior after the bloodbath of World War I.

Proposed by Deputy André Maginot in the 1920’s, the Line was supposed to cover key parts of France’s frontiers with German and Italy. Due to the terrible losses of the Great War, France did not have enough soldiers to properly defend its long frontiers. So it made sense to erect fortifications to compensate for manpower weakness and to block surprise attacks from next door enemy forces.

The first large Maginot fort was built in the 1920’s north of Nice to protect the Cote d’Azur from possible Italian attacks. Mussolini was demanding France return the Riviera coast to its former Italian rulers. Work on the principal Line along the German and Luxembourg borders began soon after. Phase one covered 260 miles from near the Rhine to Longuyon, a rail junction south of the Belgian border.

The Line consisted of hundreds of steel and concrete machine gun and anti-tank casemates with interlocking flanking fire. They were surrounded by upright rails designed to halt tanks and dense belts of interwoven barbed wire covered by machine guns. Artillery casemates with 75mm, 81mm and 135mm guns covered the fort’s fronts and sides.

Within and behind the Maginot Line were based an army of specialized fortress troops and hundreds of field artillery guns. The era’s most advanced electronic communications systems meshed the defenses together. The big forts were mostly buried 90 feet underground, proof from any projectiles of the era.

But the problem was that a wall or barrier is only effective so long as there are adequate troops to man it.

In the spring of 1940, France had deployed nearly a third of its field army behind the Maginot Line. But then the Germans staged a brilliant breakthrough north of the Line across the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes forest region. In 1938, a French parliamentarian named Perrier (from the French water family) had toured the Ardennes area and warned the military that it was very vulnerable to a German breakthrough. The generals scoffed at ‘this civilian’ and ignored Perrier’s warning.

Sure enough, the German armored and infantry assault came right through this Ardennes weak point near Sedan, forcing a rapid retreat by French and British forces in the region that ended up at Dunkerque.

As outflanked Allied forces pulled back from the frontier, they exposed the northern flank of the Maginot Line. The French high command, fearing their armies around the Line would be encircled, ordered the interval forces to retreat towards the highlands of central France. The Line was thus denuded of its troops and artillery. These units, who were armed and trained for static defense, had to make their way cross country on foot. Most were captured en route by advancing German forces.

In spring 1940 the Line was unfinished with large gaps and open flanks due to budgetary constraints caused by the 1930’s depression. The Germans drove through them, wisely avoiding most of big forts, and attacked the Line from the rear. Ironically, in 1944/45, German troops ended up defending the Maginot Forts from the advancing US Army.

The Line worked as planned, protecting vulnerable areas. But it was never extended to the Channel due to Belgium’s high water table and reluctance to fortify behind the French ally. The Belgians believed their powerful forts near Liege would delay the Germans until the French Army could intervene. They were wrong.

The French public ascribed almost magical powers to the Line. It would keep them invulnerable they believed. Building the fortifications became a national works project during the Depression, rather like the US WPA labor program. But Adolf Hitler vowed he would go around the Line and chop it up. He did.

A Trump wall or barrier will cost far more than believed and be likely unfinished, with large gaps like the Maginot Line. Some better way of blocking the border must be found. If not, we may end up having to wall and garrison the Canadian border as well.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2019

This post is in: France


  1. Mike Smith says:

    The Americans and immigration has been an ongoing problem for far too long… and any wall that gets built will not solve it. To me, here are my problematic answers… First you need to sort out who is who, I would propose some sort of National Identification Card and Database system… an expensive undertaking, but if you combine Social Insurance, Drivers Licenses, etc to this card and in addition have it identify the state you reside in… it would be worthwhile. Second, revamp immigration and citizenship rules… make it easier and faster for people… even illegals to comply with the law… after all the goal is not to toss out people who work and have lives in the US right? Third… ramp up penalties to people who employ, or rent to people without the new IDs, or who circumvent the system… also make it faster to toss out people who it is decided need tossing. Also make illegal crossings a zero tolerance law… you get photographed and printed and you are banned for min ten years unless you cross properly. Fourth… at the border speed up processing and have each state decide how many applicants they are willing to take in AND support through the process to citizenship… while this would only apply to refugees and migrants, it would take pressure off the border states and spread the burden… also it would make each state responsible for initial housing, job assistance, etc. You can’t just build a wall and not deal with the system that has failed inside the country and call it good.

    • This ID could be used for voter registration with the requirement that all states accept this as valid ID for state elections, too.
      The American system, as it is set up discourages minorities from voting by making it easy to disqualify them and difficult for them to register. It makes election boundaries really odd to influence the vote and makes travel distance unnecessarily long. The photo ID card would solve major issues. Some GOP politicians may not like this problem solved.

  2. Your first paragraph sums up the problem with America, “…unwhites from south of the border.”
    This theme filters through their world dealings and foreign policy. Everyone with the exception of the GOP is an inferior and deserves to be treated as such.
    I’m not so sure the reviled Maginot Line doesn’t deserve it’s place in history. It appears to be a pretty good string of defences ‘with a hole in the design’. With the Ardennes woods being a substantial vulnerability, one would have thought that this would have been addressed. That this vulnerability was exploited speaks so much about the state of politics, then and now. Any government reports about the failure of the Maginot Line would have quickly ‘glossed over’ this political malfeasance. Like champagne bubbles, French arrogance seems to bubble upwards.
    The string of forts maintained by the Swiss is similar to the Maginot Line, but, better executed. I’m not sure of the history of these, but, the forts have served to protect the Swiss from foreign invaders. The terrain is terrible, but, the rewards are great. Their ‘home grown’ militia is also a source of national pride; as noted, there appears of late a movement to dispense with this. The mandatory training is noteworthy. This does not appear to be a ‘draft’, but is a national obligation and is viewed as such. With the American draft, soldiers were ‘pressed’ into service to impose the American way of life on to others, whether they wanted it or not. A standing army is good for invasion of other countries, or forcing the American will on them. I think this type of militia was the original intent of the ‘founding fathers’ as included in their Second Amendment.
    Physical walls are an interesting concept. They can be scaled, tunnelled under, or simply walked around. There seems to be overwhelming examples of drugs and other contraband coming in through established ports of entry and that most illegal aliens just simply overstay their visas. A fence does little to address this.
    Your comments about target range being 300m, and not 100m is interesting. I used to do a lot of hunting and target shooting including ranges of 1000m. Most people are unaware of the definition of ‘point blank’. This is the distance where a projectile rises above the sight line and falls below it by a distance of 4”. Most people think of point blank range being within inches of a couple of feet from the muzzle; this is incorrect. The 8” distance being considered as the ‘killing area’ on a target. A rifle sighted in for 100m, the effective point blank range would likely be 125m. A rifle sighted in at 300m, the effective point blank range might be 325m. This increases the effective point blank range by 200m (sighted in at 300m, the projectile may be above the line of sight by a distance in excess of 4”).

  3. Interesting narrative about the Maginot Line. The somewhat joking mention of a possible future wall along the Canada-US border has been suggested in the past. During the 2016 Republican Party presidential nomination race, one of the candidates, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, suggested building just such a barrier. If the US ever wants to try building a wall along its northern border, it’s welcome to try, because it would be a major engineering feat – especially over the Rocky Mountains along the northern borders of Washington, Idaho, and Montana and also across the hills of northern Maine. But, it could serve to deter the streams of illegal migrants who regularly cross into Canada along the borders of southern Quebec and Manitoba.

    • The illegals that have crossed into Manitoba have mostly been welcomed. The CBC had a photo in one of the stories showing a mountie helping a tiny child by carrying it… you cannot buy that type of advertising. One of the illegals lost several of his fingers due to frostbite.

  4. A wall is needed to protect the US (and Europe) from the impacts of failing societies to the south. European walls have succeeded but walls aren’t the whole solution, they are just a defense.

    The US has destabilized Mexican society with the massive dumping of corn into the Central American region, forcing farmers off their land. Corruption is widespread and birth rates high. Unless there is a comprehensive approach to the fundamental problems, the US border will feel continuous pressure. A wall will help but it isn’t a solution.

    The “rapist, gang member” tag, although true to some degree is only a headline – the real issue is swamping the US market with cheap labour. California is the poster boy for the full spectrum of impacts and is now a basket case. Labour rates are falling, tax base is disintegrating and social programs are failing. Look at the teachers strike in LA. It is impossible to build a strong social safety net on the backs of a growing pool of cheap labour. Particularly if the cheap labour is working for cash. The middle class is leaving California while its “livability index” has fallen to number 50 out of 50 states. Imagine, California, once the epitome of the ideal western lifestyle now at the bottom of the heap.

    The US needs to eliminate the hiring of illegals by implementing the program which forces employers to check the legal status of prospective employees. Fines have to be truly prohibitive. The US needs to support progressive social programs and stop undermining civil government south of the border. Otherwise, these failing states will continue to spew people.

    The wall, barrier or whatever will help stem the flow of illegals into the US but it is more important as a signal that the US will deal with the issues on a comprehensive basis. If not, the wall will only slow the process rather than acting as part of the solution.

    John M.

    • “European walls have succeeded but walls aren’t the whole solution, they are just a defense.”. Can you list some of the successful ones, other than those surrounding cities which were short and continuously manned? It’s not known how successful Hadrian’s wall was and it’s length was about 70 miles, not thousands of miles. The Berlin wall was relatively successful only because it was manned 24-7. Even the Great Wall of China was breached on numerous occasions and it was generally manned.
      “The US has destabilized Mexican society with the massive dumping of corn…” So the US has created the problem they are loathe to fix?
      “A wall will help but it isn’t a solution.” None of the walls that I mentioned were effective; why will a new wall help? It is a costly waste of taxpayers’ money.
      “The “rapist, gang member” tag, although true to some degree…” Immigrants have a lower criminal footprint than local American citizens.
      “…is swamping the US market with cheap labour.” The immigrants take very few jobs from Americans, and the jobs many of them do are ‘beneath’ American citizens.
      “California…is now a basket case.” Last I heard, California was about midway. They have their problems, but, things are much worse in other locations.
      “Look at the teachers strike in LA.” This was successfully resolved with classroom sizes being reduced [only] slightly and funding for supplies and salaries of teachers being increased. This is all to improve education. Unfortunately they are only #26. The education system in the US has failed. Catch the following:

      Small class size, excellent teachers, a high-quality curriculum and parent involvement all contribute to Alberta being one of the best learning systems in the world.
      According to the link for overall best state rankings:

      California ranks as #31 and Texas is #36 and the bottom of the list is Louisiana. Economy is #4. Fiscal stability and Quality of life are near the bottom.
      “California, once the epitome of the ideal western lifestyle…” I was never aware of this title; do you have a source?
      “The US needs to eliminate the hiring of illegals by implementing the program which forces employers to check the legal status of prospective employees. Fines have to be truly prohibitive.” Someone should inform you President Trump of this; he has adequate finances to pay very large fines, from money he’s saved by hiring illegals.
      “The wall, barrier or whatever will help stem the flow of illegals…” Most illegals arrive by air, and overstay their visas.
      You might be better served by staying away from that ‘fake news’.

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